Wednesday 19th June 2019,

Daimler SP250 Dart 1959 – 1964

Every young boy has his favourite car poster on the bedroom wall. The Dart was mine. Considering that the year was 1959, the Dart was futuristic and space-age in shape. Daimler, for those who do not know, is a maker of luxury saloon cars and limousines. Therefore, a sports-car was a huge departure. Not just another sports-car though.

It was built with all the refinement expected of Daimler and bore no resemblance to any sports-car on the market. Walnut and leather interior complimented excellent instrumentation… a quality of finish second to none. It was launched at the New York motor show, straight into a controversy. The US market was vital for a V8 sports-car but Chrysler`s Dodge division objected to the use of the name `Dart`. The Dodge Dart was a market leader and Daimler was forced to drop the `Dart` tag. The car was therefore marketed as the SP250, very successfully as it turned out. The majority of production was exported to the US, as planned, in spite of three design problems.

The clutch and steering were both very heavy, making the car unpopular with slightly-built drivers. The third problem was more serious. The chassis was sourced from the Triumph TR3 and was prone to flexing in high-speed corners. This caused the doors to `pop` and the door-locks to go to `safety-mode`. Not really dangerous but irritating. However, the Dart was fiberglass-bodied and did not control the flexing. This was later rectified after Jaguar took Daimler over in 1960.

Early after-market modifications took place, replacing the coil-spring clutch with a diaphragm-type and the heavy `worm and peg` steering box with a rack & pinion system. The Dart was very light and to keep the kerb-weight down Daimler did not fit full-width bumpers. Instead the car was fitted with short, vertical over-riders which made the bodywork vulnerable in car-parks. Full bumpers were added to a long list of optional extras and were usually specified ex-works. The Dart was not cheap at 1500 GBP and took a little while to break into the UK market. The Dart`s impact was greatly assisted by the police because the London Metropolitan Police bought 30 black cars for pursuit work. The `Met` found that the performance and handling made it a match for any naughty motorists in the era before motorways. The Dart went through three `specs` or types. We will concentrate on the `C spec`.

Body and chassis;
The chassis came from the Triumph TR3 but, as stated above, the fibreglass body-shell of the Dart did not prevent the chassis flexing in high-speed corners. In 1960 Jaguar acquired Daimler and solved the problem by welding extra outriggers to the chassis and adding a strengthening `hoop` over the windscreen. Problem solved. Girling disc brakes were fitted all-round with an optional servo. Front suspension was by way of independent coils and wishbones, the rear end used a live-axle with semi elliptical leaf springs and heavy-duty dampers. Steel 15” wheels were standard with wire wheels as an optional extra. The steering system was disappointing, `worm and peg`. Heavy and slow, it made the Dart very much a `man`s car`. Many owners later fitted rack and pinion steering gear which was a great improvement. A `works` hardtop, beautifully crafted, was a popular optional extra, as were the heater and screen washers!

The engine, accurately described as a masterpiece, was designed by Edward Turner. British manufacturers rarely designed V8 engines and Turner was breaking new ground. The 2.5 litre (2548 cc) was superbly engineered. The crankcase was of cast-iron with a lightened, balanced and hardened crankshaft. The quality of engineering was of Daimler`s usual high standard, which made the motor smooth, reliable and surprisingly economical. The cylinder heads were of alloy with hemispherical combustion chambers. The single cam-shaft was mounted in the `Vee` driving two valves per cylinder. Twin SU carburetors supplying the right mixture were fitted, fed by an SU electric fuel pump. The engine used a compression ratio of 8.2 to 1 and drove through a coil-spring clutch and a 4-speed manual gearbox. The gearbox had synchromesh fitted to the top three gears. Laycock de Normanville overdrive was a popular option. Borg-Warner`s Model 8 3-speed automatic transmission was also offered, favoured by the Met police.

The power output was a creditable 140 bhp with a torque output of 155ft/lbs. Available top-speed was 124 mph with an acceleration rate (0 to 60 mph) of 8.9 seconds. These figures were considerably superior to the competition at that time with a power-to-weight ratio of 149 bhp per ton.

The Daimler SP250 Dart was a remarkable car which now enjoys classic status. Only 2645 examples were produced, most of which were exported to the US. Many of these US cars were eventually fitted with much bigger V8 engines and achieved much racing success. It is reasonable to assume that the Dart`s success was an influence on the later development of the AC Shelby Cobra.

Daimler SP250 Dart 1959-1964
Body Type2 Seater Drophead Coupe
Engine PlacementFront
Drive TypeRear wheel drive
Cargo VolumeSurprisingly large for a DHC
Engine2.5 V8 OHV 16V
Displacement2548 cc155.5 cui
Power104 Kw140 bhp5800 RPM
Torque210 Nm155 ft. lb3600 RPM
Power/weight149 bhp/t
Top Speed200 km/h124 mph
Acceleration0-100 km/h - 0-60 mph8.9 s
Fuel consumptionl/100 kmImperial mpg
Gearbox4 speed manual3 speed automatic
Weight940 kg2072 lb
GD Star Rating
Daimler SP250 Dart 1959 - 1964, 8.4 out of 10 based on 7 ratings
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About Bev Roberts

Speed, the smell of hot oil, the roar of a straight-through exhaust and the scream of an engine at max revolutions. They have all been a large part of my life for almost 50 years. It is time to share my experiences with you, dear reader. Do you want to know more? Read on through my `Full Bio` and many articles.

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I was born in Hereford UK in 1948 and brought up in Gloucester UK. I played Rugby football internationally as a schoolboy. At the age of 17, a new and wet driving license in my paw, I entered motor racing. I was supported and financed by my parents and so my journey began.

In 1965 I bought a 1293cc Mini-Cooper `S` and campaigned it for a season. Having quickly made some good friends in the racing fraternity, several interesting opportunities came my way. I joined a sports-car team and raced in the Le Mans 24 hours in 1968 and 1969 in a Lola T70. Mechanical failure defeated both efforts. During that period I owned and raced a `D type` Jaguar and an AC Cobra. In those days cars like that were available and not too expensive, now they reside in museums and private collections. I had a chain of interesting cars through my youth including Jaguars, Minis, Mustangs and Lotus-Cortinas.

As a young driver I had my share of accidents too. Often the car would only be worth scrap-metal value by the time I got it home! I worked for an Aston-Martin/Jaguar dealership for a while, which enhanced my experience and gave me the opportunity to sample some very exotic machines, Ferrari, Facel-Vega, Iso and Maserati to recall a few of them.

At the end of 1969 I moved to South Africa to work on my uncle`s farm but the S.A. government had other ideas and drafted me into the army. After five years had passed I was thanked and released from the service. While I was there I bought a beige Cadillac Eldorado, previously the property of Marilyn Monroe. While I was away on a patrol my girlfriend had it re-sprayed pink! I was unimpressed by both the joke and the bill for the work!

When I returned to UK in 1974 I left it behind. On my return I found that the once-mighty British motor industry was in decline and was headed for oblivion. Motor racing was now very expensive so I turned to commercial transport. Driving large trucks gave me freedom and a chance to see some of the world. I don`t remember ever making a career choice but for the next thirty years a truck was my home. For about ten years in that period I owned two trucks of my own.

I also owned a famous MGB-GT, known as `Lucky`. If you`d like to read `The Story of Lucky` there is an article in Inopian`s archive. I finally retired, due to ill-health, in 2008. Since I had varied knowledge and many experiences on our subject I decided to share the stories of the cars I enjoyed (and hated) with the new generation.

Enjoy Inopian… it is constructed and written for you.

1 Comment

  1. Duncan Rollo 19. October 2014 at 12:28

    I do not believe that the SP250 had any influence at all on the conception ordevelopment of the Cobra. Shelby raced in the US and Europe and would have been familiar with the machinery racing, including the AC-Bristol. The SP 250 would not have figured in that world.

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