Daimler SP250 Dart Driven

It is estimated there are no more than 700 left in the UK and so quite remarkable that we got to drive Lorimer Burn’s superbly restored Daimler SP250 Dart.

In the late 1950’s Daimler was in financial trouble and desperate to emulate Triumph’s and Jaguar’s success in capitalising on the American market. What evolved was the Daimler SP250 Dart, quickly renamed the Sports 2500 or SP250 for short after Dodge claimed the name ‘Dart’ for a sports car they had planned at the time. Sadly it wasn’t the success Daimler needed, or developed any further after company ownership moved to Jaguar who already had the hugely popular E-Type range. This is a real shame because as Lorimer’s very tidy example reveals, the unique motorcycle engine derived 2.5 litre hemi V8 make the Daimler SP250 Dart a genuine contender as a proper British sports car.

Daimler SP250 Dart
View whilst on the move

There is something about a V8 engine that makes a classic car very desirable indeed. Normally associated with small and large block American Muscle cars, Daimler’s unique 2.5 litre take on this popular format is a real gem. Being British of course it wasn’t labelled a Hemi, like many counterparts, but did in fact have hemispherical heads, a first for the time. Also, although being derived from four motorcycle twin engines doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, much work was done on materials selection and the design to make it a truly bombproof and highly tuneable unit. With just 2,640 cars produced this is something in danger of being lost in the passages of time, save for the efforts of relatively few dedicated owners spread across the globe like distant family members.

In the UK, where just 700 cars remain, there is a book produced by the SP250 Register each year called ‘PasSPort 250’ which literally contains passport level details of all 450 Daimler SP250 Darts officially registered in the UK. Owner details, car details, chassis and engine numbers, modifications, all searchable by car, owner, and region. This family may be small when compared to some, but you cannot fault its dedication to the cause, serving as comfort to anyone thinking of entering into Daimler SP250 Dart ownership for the first time. When you do you will enjoy a proper British sports car in truly rarefied form. The basic design of the car and strength of the engine also translate into comparatively cheap and reliable motoring, after a decent rebuild. Parts supply is also surprisingly good for such a rare beast.

Daimler SP250 Dart
Nice to see you to see you… (Pictures: Julia Nichols)

Lorimer’s 1960 car was painstakingly rebuilt over five years after being found in a field, completing in 2009, and has proved reliable since. Its spec B chassis was naturally upgraded to the stiffer spec C, which helps with the handling out on the highway. Not that the Daimler SP250 Dart is ever going to be as sophisticated as a Jaguar E-Type for instance, it’s not. It certainly hangs on in the bends though and is great fun to hustle along. The GRP body may also not be to everyone’s taste, but being thickly layered is strong and of course guaranteed not to hide any rust horrors. Basically as long as the chassis is sound, there is little else to worry about. Worth remembering also is that welding chassis rails is generally far easier than body panels. Also not to everyone’s taste is the design of the nose, which is just a little odd from some angles with its somewhat extended chin. No such problem with the rear which is handsome, having a bit of the Triumph TR4A about it, with pin sharp fins.

Daimler SP250 Dart
The controversial nose may well be up for discussion, the rear on the other is hand is not

Inside, the Daimler SP250 Dart is a great place to be with your legs stretched out flat in front of you. Lorimer’s car has retro-fitted front seats with built-in headrests and a matching modern wind deflector to greatly reduce hair raising moments. Behind the classically styled thin rimmed wheel are period road speed and rpm dials, with a single stalk for indicators. Dip beam is switched from the floor. All the secondary dials and switches are centrally mounted with a large overdrive switch positioned to the right. One that is like lightening to respond to inputs, requiring some throttle left on when switching off to smooth progress and avoid rear end lock-ups. The gearbox has a very mechanical feel with the ratios and gear movement spread over a large area and no synchromesh in first gear.

Daimler SP250 Dart
Stunning 2.5litre Hemi V8

To pilot the Daimler SP250 Dart is to experience driving from a bygone era without safety systems, sophistication and slack. The upgraded rack and pinion steering on this car is very direct being devoid of power assistance and therefore quite heavy to turn at junctions. The servo-less all-round disc brakes also work very well, just requiring a firm press. The mechanical gear change is as described which leaves the pièce de résistance, that glorious V8. This is where a Daimler SP250 Dart lifts itself above early Triumph TR’s to threaten bigger brands. It sounds gorgeous and when combined with the overdrive gearbox is an ideal companion for swift, if slightly bouncy, cross-country progress. Overtakes that involve switching off overdrive in third providing perhaps the biggest thrill of all. If you are after smoothness and sophistication in the same price bracket then go for the best E-Type you can or have a look at the retro-styled HMC Healey MKIV. Want something raw and cannot stretch to an original Healey 3000, then look no-further, this may well be the car for you.

The Daimler SP250 Dart is a proper British sports car that is both engaging to drive, easy to maintain once restored and comes with a very special V8.

How does this car make you feel?

In one word: British

As a favourite meal: Sunday Roast, bacon joint this time, with lots of tasty leftovers to tidy.

Anything Else: Driving a Daimler SP250 Dart is like uncovering one of Britain’s best kept secrets

Key Ingredients: Rarity along with 2.5 litre V8, superb overdrive gearbox, lightweight GRP body, raw handling characteristics and yet comfortable ride.

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With thanks to Lorimer Burn

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