The foregoing may stimulate interest and discussion. Whether or not it does so I am glad that Lord Montagu recognises, in his fascinating book of automotive lost causes, that “Of the firms who toyed with this impressively lengthy power unit in Britain, only Daimler emerged scatheless.” I am glad, because for some time I have been pondering whether, amongst all the magic and legend surrounding the older Rolls-Royce models, the comparatively un-sung Daimlers may not have virtues exclusively their own, and perhaps nearly as appealing. Daimler did rather more than toy with the straight-eight engine, producing four different versions between 1936 and 1946, as explained in my article on Daimlers published in the issues of Motor Sport for May and June 1961, of which the biggest was available to special order as recently as 1953. Recently I was able to investigate some of these eight-in-line Coventry-built Daimlers. . . .
My interest in these in-line 8-cylinder Daimlers was increased when I discovered what an excellent performance the Light Straight-Eight model had put up when road-tested by The Motor in 1936. Two models were submitted for test, a close-coupled 4-seater d.h. coupe and a roomy six-light 4-door saloon. The coupe achieved a timed speed of 90 m.p.h. on Brooklands Track, was capable of 75 m.p.h. in 3rd gear, and covered a s.s. 1/4-mile in 20.8 sec. It accelerated from 0-50 m.p.h. in 12.6 sec., 0-60 m.p.h. in 17.6 sec. These are outstanding figures for a 3 1/2-litre car weighing nearly two tons and selling for a modest £1,075 thirty years ago. Moreover, the testers wrote of comfortable cruising at 70-75 m.p.h. on a small throttle opening, and extreme smoothness of engine and transmission. A minimum speed of “a mere crawl” was attainable in the 4.37-to-1 top gear and 15 m.p.g. was obtained “at high cruising speeds.” (The Autocar also tried this pair of cars, getting nearly as good acceleration and fuel consumption figures, and timing the coupe at 90, the heavy saloon at 85 m.p.h.)
With this Rolls-Royce-challenging performance in mind I was determined to investigate the in-line-eight Daimlers. “Case History,” issued by jaguar Cars Ltd., remarks that “had it not been for the coming of the Pomeroy-designed straight-eight engine, this period [of the B.S.A.-Daimler-Lanchester merger] could well have caused the Daimler marque to lose much of its individuality.”
In the middle of what we now call the vintage years, L.H. Pomeroy, father of the late Laurence Pomeroy and designer of the 30/98 Vauxhall, joined Daimlers as Chief Engineer, and became Managing Director in 1929. His main achievement for Daimler was introducing the fluid flywheel transmission (licensed under Vulcan-Sinclair and Daimler patents), at first in conjunction with a cone clutch and normal gearbox but, on the initiative of Percy Martin, soon allied to an epicyclic pre-selector gearbox. He also woo-ed Daimler from the Knight double sleeve-valve engine.
The first Daimler straight-eight was the work of L.H. Pomeroy. It came out in 1934 as a sleeve-valve engine but was soon redesigned to conform to Daimler’s re-adoption of poppet valves, as a 4.6-litre power unit of 31.7 h.p. by R.A.C. rating. There is little doubt that. Pomeroy had been influenced in taking this step towards mufti-cylinderism by George Lanchester’s impeccable Lanchester straight-eight of 1928, which introduced him to the ingenious induction system using a dual-choke Zenith carburetter, each half of which supplied four cylinders. In May 1936 Mr. C.M. Simpson was appointed Chief Engineer and he developed further straight-eights.
Driving out of London in festive mood last Christmas Eve I called at the Atherstone Mews premises of Debnam Motors, who have been Daimler and Lanchester specialists since 1913, to ask them about Daimlers with eight pots. They told me they seldom deal in pre-war models nowadays but telephoned Stratstone Ltd., formerly Stratton-Instone Ltd., the London Daimler agents who supplied all the Royal Family’s Daimlers. Help was immediately forthcoming. Catalogues of the different straight-eight models were supplied and I was put in touch with an undertaker in Surrey who had pensioned off one of these cars on taking delivery of a new Daimler Majestic Major V8 limousine to follow his Rolls-Royce Phantom I hearse.
At the end of the vintage era Daimler had consolidated their reputation for silence and smoothness fostered by the early sleeve-valve sixes with their fabulous Double Six cars, of which, alas, very few now exist in running order, their complicated power units having proved too much for owner-drivers. The first Pomeroy straight-eight was intended to maintain the reputation of a make which—I quote from the appropriate catalogue “For two generations has stood up to scrutiny in the intimate lives of the distinguished families of Great Britain, and can pride itself on being the Royal car since cars began.”
The engine had a bore and stroke of 80 mm.x 115 mm. (4,624 c.c.), with cylinders and crankcase in one unit, T-slot pistons of heat-treated, high-silicon aluminium alloy, and a fully counterbalanced crankshaft running in nine bearings and possessing integral balance weights and a vibration damper. Overhead valves were operated by push-rods and rockers, the camshaft being chain-driven from the back of the crankshaft, and silent action extremely large-clearance tappets were used, such as Pomeroy employed for the 30/98 Vauxhall. A dual downdraught carburetter fed through the aforesaid manifolding, with water-heated hot-spot, and ignition by a coil, with a spare beside it, on the n/s of the engine, which was hi-axially mounted on rubber at five points, gearbox and silencing system also being rubber-mounted. The drive went through the fluid-flywheel and Wilson 4-speed pre-selector gearbox to a Daimler underslung worm-drive back axle. The chassis was braced by tubular cross-members, had 4-elliptic springs, 38 in. long at the front, 56 in. long at the back and a stabilising front bumper combating torsional frame vibration, while the aluminium dash formed part of the chassis structure. The practice of shackling the front springs at both ends and locating the axle with radius rods did not appear until the advent of the Light Straight-8 model. Braking was by Dewandre vacuum-servo-assisted Girling rod-operated brakes, and equipment included a lever-operated in-built jacking system and, on later cars, driver-control of the front and back hydraulic shock-absorbers. Each engine was bench-tested for eight hours, during which it was run from slow speed through to maximum r.p.m., checked for oil and water leaks, adjusted and washed down, after which no further running-in was required. This fine chassis cost £975 and limousine bodywork by Barker, Hooper, Arthur Mulliner, Windover, Rippon Bros., James Young and Freestone & Webb was listed, prices ranging from £15,550 to £1,825.
The 1935/6 car I drove, which an under-bonnet plate quoted as a Type V 4 1/2-litre, No. 41293, had all the ingredients of regal travel in pre-war times. The rear parlour was upholstered in grey Bedford Cord, now moth-eaten, with a central arm-rest for the very luxurious back seat, which was very much narrower than that of a modern Daimler Majestic Major limousine. There was a microphone (inoperative) to the driving compartment, occasional seats neatly stowed beneath walnut valances which dropped to form a shelf, the usual companions, the o/s one having a button controlling the rearmost of two roof-lamps, the other lamp being switched on and off from a button on the n/s companion. Entry was effected with the aid of broad running-boards, and the polished body foot-rail plates proudly proclaimed that Hooper built for H.M. the King, H.M. the Queen, the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal and the Duke of Connaught. . . .
Blinds covered the Triplex division, rear window and rearmost side windows but shot up at the touch of a button, the rear quarterlights opened as vents, and ornamental pulls assisted the duchess to rise from the back seat. The leather-upholstered front compartment was extraordinarily cramped, obviously intended for chauffeur and groom. The wiper motor protruded into it, the petrol reserve had massive rod-connections to the under-bonnet pipeline, and the wooden dash housed its Jaeger instruments on a central panel, the very big 100-m.p.h. speedometer flanked by four small dials, none of which worked. For operation by the right hand there were a choke knob, front-compartment roof-light switch and wipers’ switch. The ignition switch was a Yale lock (but a supplementary tumbler-switch had been fitted), and a small starter button, inspection-lamp socket, dash-lamp switch. two board-type vizors, and two buttons sounding, respectively, soft and Klaxon electric horns, completed the layout. There was a small cubby-hole on the left.
The big high-set typically-Daimler 5-spoke steering wheel carried lamps, ignition and throttle levers, the only indications for the latter two being “retard” and “closed.” A long thin treadle accelerator was close to the brake pedal and there was a r.h. brake lever.
The car had big Lucas headlamps, was shod with a mixture of Dunlop Fort and Michelin 7.00 x 18 tyres on disc wheels, with two Fort-shod spares mounted one each side, and the bonnet was of the famous Daimler pattern, the top panel releasing easily and sliding upwards as its prop traversed a horizontal tube. The carburetter was a downdraught Solex, there was a queer device, with external lever, presumably a thermostatic heater, on the exhaust manifold. and the valve cover listed the tappet settings (hot) as 52-thou. inlet, 54-thou, exhaust, while the oil-filler cap bore the legend : “Drain sump every 1,500 miles and fill with Daimler oil:” The alloy scuttle had a big box for tools, supplemented by a full-width drawer below the front seats. But there was no provision for luggage.
Driving this massive Daimler was extremely easy, thanks to the fluid flywheel but, probably because it had been standing idle for six months and the king-pins needed lubricant as badly as the tyres probably needed air, directional stability was extremely vague, while there was a rather perturbing tap from the engine. Otherwise, we sailed along grandly, in notable silence, and there was evident power to accelerate this very heavy car. I would think this Pomeroy-designed Daimler as quiet as a Rolls-Royce, except when the engine was accelerating, and the case of change-down and silence of the gears was remarkable; a characteristic thump occasionally emanated from the region of the propeller shaft. The ingenious transmission functions more smoothly than many modern, fully autonntic gearboxes and provides positive control over all four gears and normal engine braking on the overrun. Admittedly Daimler and Lanchester drivers are denied the sheer ecstasy of mastering a vintage crash-type gearbox, nor do they enjoy the pleasurable experience that emanates from using a good p.v.t. syncromesh gear-change, but there is a subtle compensation derived from the knowledge that they are operating an ingenious and precise piece of mechanism which is nearly foolproof (but remember to keep your foot off the gear-changing pedal!) and seemingly unexpectedly dependable. Before one stretched the long top panel of the bonnet, unbroken by rivets or studs, with the fluted radiator ahead of it. Daimleris second only to Rolls-Royce in having retained, down the years, its classic radiator form. It was all very redolent of royal-progression in an age of dignity and leisure.
I also encountered a similar 1937 straight-eight Daimler, a Type V. car No. 44203, in another part of Surrey, the condition of its Hooper body absolutely immaculate. Owned by a doctor, this one was taxed and in regular use. but it developed a cracked cylinder head and piston before I was able to drive it.
However, in the meantime Mr. Harry Hill had written, suggesting I paid him a visit at Litton Court in Berkshire, and enclosing a photograph of his elegant early 1936 4 1/2-litre straight-eight Daimler, yet another Hooper-bodied limousine, a Type V. car No. 45534. Although Mr. Hill has an Aston Martin DB3 for more exciting motoring, he also has a fine stable of Daimlers, for, apart from the 8-cylinder, in the outbuildings of the estate I was shown two 1949 DE27 6-cylinder Charlesworth 4-litre saloons. in regular use, and a pre-war Lanchester 12/6 being rebuilt for his wife’s pleasure.
The straight-eight Daimler was bought new in 1936 by the Hon. Mrs. Nellie Ionides. She kept it until 1959, when It passed to the ownership of her chauffeur. Mr. Hill acquired it at the end of 1964 and sent it to Mason’s of Edmonton for a thorough overhaul. It is very similar to the car already described, the apparent differences being that the dual horn-buttons are on a long r.h. staIk instead of on the dash, and a needle-type petrol gauge replaces the vertical-tube gauge of the earlier car. No oilpressure gauge is fitted to this car, a warning light sufficing, but there is an oil thermometer which normally reads 95-100 deg., and a water thermometer which indicated 180 deg. F., the fourth gauge being an ammeter. Triple belts were provided to drive fan and dynamo but Mr. Hill’s car manages with single belts. The mixture thermostat for the Solex carburetter on this car is of a strip-type attached to the exhaust manifold, and the imposing long engine can be illuminated at night by two under-bonnet lamps. The tyres on this car are new Dunlop Fort all round, and new slats cover the petrol tank—a typical Daimler recognition feature. A little control on the right of the facia varies the setting of front and rear Luvax shock-absorbers, the settings being labelled MIN.. MED. and MAX.
Because the engine was being run-in following its overhaul the speed is kept down to 40 m.p.h. but the smooth, quiet running of this Daimler rivalled that of a Rolls-Royce and the high-set five-spoke wheel controlled light steering, while the vacuum-servo brakes functioned well.
So far I have not encountered a 4-litre Daimler straight-eight, probably because the war interfered with its promotion, nor have I been able to sample one of the allegedly-fast, owner-driver Light Straight-Eights, nor drive a post-war 5.4-litre DE36 eight-in-line Daimler (although a remarkable 3-abreast-seater Hooper coupe version of the latter stands forlornly in a Beckenham front garden).
But I have been able to satisfy myself that the pre-war 4 1/2-litre models are fine cars, albeit perhaps more cumbersome to drive and less lithe than a Rolls-Royce. Because they appeal to a very limited clientele, a three-figure sum is almost extravagant for an average example, which is as it should be, with post-war 100-m.p.h. 6-cylinder Daimler Conquests selling for appreciably less than £1,300. But it is pleasing to know that some of these great cars from Coventry are still cared for; come to think of it, apart from the three mentioned above, I was followed down Oxford Street by another of them, on Trade Plates, just before Christmas and there was yet another for sale recently in Hereford, the latter originally used by the High Sheriff of Glamorganshire but in recent years used to take fudges to the Assizes in Herefordshire and act as the Mayoral carriage—this, a 1937 model which has run perhaps 50,000 miles, is on its second set of tyres and, still immaculate, is yet another Hooper limousine, Type V. car No. 44205, recently retired amid a bevy of Princesses bemuse of the difficulty of finding a driver to treat it sympathetically, and for sale at less than a third of the price asked for quite ordinary 20/25 RollsRoyces of equivalent age.
So pistons still reciprocate within the eight cylinders of these beautifully made, L.H. Pomeroy-conceived engines.—W. B.
Two new Lesney “Matchbox” miniatures were released last month. No. 27, selling for 2s., is a splendid Mercedes 230SL.. to a scale or 60 to 1. making it only 2 1/2 in. long. The doors open, nevertheless, and the finish is in cream, with red interior and plated fittings. The model is fully detailed, even to all-independent suspension, but a towing hook seems superfluous on such a car.
The other Lesney is a really delightful 1911 Type A12 Daimler tourer, in bright yellow, No. Y-13 in the “Models of Yesteryear” series. The scale is 45 to 1, and this 3 in.-Iong model has dumb-irons, wire wheels with crossed spokes (a great achievement). brass headlamps and sidelamps, radiator thermometer, divided screen, spare wheel, outside levers and ribbed.”upholstery.” It represents the smallest of the Knight double-sleeve-valve Daimlers, a version produced only for 1911. The Lesney revival is priced at 5s., which is very good value indeed.—W.B.
In your report of the Pomeroy Memorial Trophy Competition you say that my Volvo proved faster than Bernard Harding’s. If only this were true! The facts are that he beat me comfortably in every test (except the noise test), and in the hour run tapped me twice in the first half, though it is true that fear of possible fuel shortage slowed him enough for me to catch him up by the end of the hour.
Not only is the Volvo 122 faster than the 121 but—let’s face it—Bernard is a faster driver than myself.
London, W.6. Hugh Bergel.