Estimate: £36,000 - £46,000
The Daimler SP250, otherwise known as the Dart, is a car that stands today as a representation of Daimler’s ambition back in the late 1950s. It was a car on which the company pinned high, high hopes, and it was - as far as Daimler bosses were concerned - going to be a car that would change the company’s fortunes for the better. As well we know, however, that was never the case. Daimler had hoped of selling 1,500 cars in year one and double that in year two. The SP250 was to make hundreds of thousands of pounds in profit. It was the car that would penetrate the difficult American market. In the end though, just 2,654 were built over its five year life. And that, well, that’s a shame.
The SP250 was a car dripping with brave design and cutting-edge technology. For starters, the body was of a fibreglass construction which was not only incredibly light and impervious to rust, it was also far cheaper to produce than steel. The engine too was a masterpiece. Designed by Edward Turner, it featured hemispherical combustion chambers, overhead valves, alloy cylinder heads and five-bearing main crank. All while being just 2,547cc in capacity. The SP250 was a light, powerful little sports car with a soundtrack to die for care of that engine.
Sadly though, the SP250 was hindered from the start. Firstly, Dodge (who owned the Dart name) threatened legal action should the name not be changed, hence the use of the development SP250 title. Then there was the fact the chassis on the A Spec launch cars was a little too flexible, which compromised handling. And finally, there was the brave, bold style of the car, which not everyone could get along with.
Thankfully though, the years have been good to the SP250, as is evidenced by the car you’re looking at here. It has grown into its looks, and somewhat ironically, the limited production run has made it an extremely sought after car today. It’s a car that was ahead of its time in many respects, which is why there is such an invested and passionate following for them. And cars like this one, with the much improved B Spec chassis, are arguably the most desirable.
The car listed here is, as mentioned above, the most desirable specification. In response to the issue of the chassis flexing on early cars, Daimler released the B Spec version, which is what we have here. This version benefited from significant chassis strengthening, which improved the torsional rigidity massively. Extra outriggers and strengthening between the A pillars across the car were the solution.
This car is an older restoration, which was obviously done to a good standard. The interior is, remarkably, original. However, the car has been painted over the course of its life, and the chrome has also been restored. As such, the car looks wonderfully fresh and clean. This is helped, of course, by the durability of the fibreglass body.
Under the pleasingly light fibreglass bonnet lives that 2.5 litre ‘hemi’ V8. In the case of the car listed here, the current owner tells us it was completely rebuilt by the last custodian. However, as said custodian was himself a skilled mechanic, there is no paperwork to back this up. Happily though, the engine starts with a pleasing keenness and revs freely and without any trace of smoke.
The current owner, who has a small collection of classics, has owned this SP250 for just over two years, and during that time it has been used only for recreation and when not in use, it has been stored in a dry, well ventilated garage. There is a small amount of paperwork with the car that illustrates past works, which have included the fitting of new tyres, a new fuel tank and filler next, new seat springs and new suspension bushes amongst others.
As you can see, this SP250, which is from 1961, wears its years exceptionally well. The fibreglass body, while durable, can be prone to ‘spidering’ and cracking. Happily, there is nothing to report here. The ivory white paint is deep and rich and free from any major damage or signs of neglect. The only minor drawbacks with the body, and they are minor, are the two small cracks on either lower rear flank. Undoubtedly, this has been caused by something heavy sliding about in the boot in a past life. However, we had to have these minor imperfections pointed out to us - they aren’t obvious.
While we’re at the back, the boot is clean, dry and houses a spare wheel with new tyre. There is also a small tool kit (not original) included. The boot floor shows no signs of damage or past trauma and the boot lid itself fits well.
The doors also sit well, and there is no ‘drop’ when they open. The A pillars also look to be solid and free of corrosion and past repair. The passenger side window, however, can be temperamental and perhaps needs to be relocated and secured into the winder mechanism.
Around the front, the chrome is bright and free from serious corrosion or damage. This car, interestingly, wears both a front bumper (this was optional) and the ‘whiskers’ from an A Spec model. The bonnet is pleasingly light, and again, has excellent panel spacing. The engine bay is clean, impressively so. The ‘hemi’ V8 has clearly been loved over its life, and has been on the receiving end of much polish! It’s an engine you will most definitely want to show off!
Underneath the car, the steel structure seems to be in excellent order. There is an abundance of rust protection applied, which is deeply reassuring on a car where the chassis integrity is key. The only slight area of concern is at the front, by the radiator bleed tap. There seems to be some slight damage to a support, but nothing that a quick dab of paint won’t sort out. As for the wheels on which the chassis sits,they have been powder-coated and stove enamelled and they are wrapped in new Firestone tyres. The ‘dog dish’ hubcaps are all present and in excellent order.
The interior, as stated, is in excellent order and is all original. The car has only covered 40,000 miles and the interior condition reflects it. The seats are just about broken in, the carpets are settled but still deep and free of damage. The steering wheel and gearstick are in good order and fall to hand well. The only thing to be aware of is the heater fan, which is now wired into the panel lights, as the original switch was faulty. The roof, which is new, functions as it should and is free of damage or frame corrosion. As can be seen from the many images. There is also a new, full-size tonneau cover with the car, to further protect the interior.
The SP250 truly is in excellent order. It’s obvious from the condition and from the mileage that this car has lived a cared for, cherished life. To find a car like this, in this condition is a very rare thing indeed.
You will buy this car for the sound, make no mistake. The V8 engine is always one to provide a more-ish soundtrack, but in the case of the tight, rev-happy 2.5 in this Daimler, it’s something else. The engine starts with a pleasing keenness and revs freely and eagerly. There are no untoward noises, there is no sign of any smoke, and the engine settles up to temperature without fuss or drama and shows no sign of overheating.
This car is fitted with the four-speed manual transmission with crash first, and no overdrive. The gear change is crisp and clean with no drag and no collision of the mechanism for the most part, though the seller advises that the synchro is a tad weak on third and so fast, aggressive changes are best avoided. The clutch, while understandably not the lightest in the world, operates at a healthy bite and without any signs of slip. The thrust bearing can complain when cold, but this soon goes with use. As for stopping, this car was, impressively for the time, fitted with disc brakes all round.
The car has a fresh MOT and is ready to drive wherever you may wish. Some old cars give you a sense of fragility, a feeling that perhaps they should be nursed. That’s not the case with this SP250. There is a pleasing solidity to it. It’s the kind of car you could drive from one side of the country to the other. Roof down, of course, as you’ll want to hear that engine sing.
There’s a pleasing simplicity to this car. The subtle paint, the steel wheels, the plain black trim. It’s not like the others, loaded with chrome and almost, dare we say, with something to prove. No, this car is honest and is happy in its own skin, or should that be fibreglass. The SP250 was a car that took a long time to grow into its looks, but this one has. It’s understated and restrained. This SP250 in particular is a car that wants you to drive it, not look at it. And drive it you will. The cabin is inviting with swathes of black leather and that big steering wheel.
On the road, the SP250 is a serious performer, and that’s where the sense of solidity mentioned above comes into play. The V8 has 140bhp to play with, and play it will in a car that weighs just 940kg.
This is a car for driving. A classic with a glorious soundtrack and with mechanicals that you instantly feel you can not only trust, but that you can also exploit to their maximum ability. Drive this car, and you will fall in love with. The SP250 is very much an event. It turns heads as it drives by, and it will fill your own head with that glorious V8 sound. Honestly, you should have bid by now...