An eccentric hybrid, the SP250 was the car that sunk Daimler. By the late Fifties, the traditionalist Coventry-based company was in dire financial straits. Hoping to woo the car-crazy Americans, Daimler launched the Dart, with its odd pastiche of British and American styling themes, at the 1959 New York Show. Daimler had been making buses out of fiberglass, and the Dart emerged with a quirky, rust-free glass-reinforced-plastic body.
The girder chassis was an unashamed copy of the Triumph TR2 and to keep the basic price down, necessities like heater, windshield wipers, and bumpers were made optional extras. Hardly a great car, the SP250 was a commercial failure, and projected sales of 7,500 units in the first three years dissolved into just 2,644, with only 1,200 going Stateside. Jaguar took over Daimler in 1960, and by 1964, Sir William Lyons had axed the sportiest car Daimler had ever made.
THE DART CONCEPT
The Dart was a Fifties concept born too late to compete with the New Wave of monocoque sports cars headed by the stunning E-Type. It stands as a memorial to both the haphazard Sixties British car industry and its self-destructive love affair with all things American.
Fibreglass hood had a nasty habit of springing open at high speed.
Vestigial rear seat could just about accommodate one child.
The cockpit was pure British, with center gauges mounted on an aluminum plate, leather seats and dash, an occasional rear seat, fly-off handbrake, wind-up windows, and thick-pile carpets. Borg-Warner automatic transmission was an option but tended to slow the car down considerably.
Dart development had three phases: 1959–61 A-spec cars came with no creature comforts; April 1961 and later B-specs had standard bumpers, windshield wipers, and chassis modifications; while the last and most refined C-specs, produced from April 1963 to September 1964, boasted a heater and cigar lighter as standard.
The turbine-smooth, Edward Turner–designed V8 was the Dart’s tour de force. If you were brave enough, it could reach 125 mph (201 km/h). With alloy heads and hemispherical combustion chambers, it was a gem of a unit that survived until 1969 in the Daimler 250 sedan.
The guppy-style front could never be called handsome, but when Sixties drivers caught it in their rearview mirrors, they knew to move over. The drastic plastic Dart was seriously quick. Contemporary tests praised the Dart’s performance and sweet-running V8.
Fluted fenders looked good and gave the body extra rigidity.
At high speed, the Dart was hard work; the chassis flexed, doors opened on corners, and steering was heavy. Road testers admired its speed but thought the chassis, handling, and body finish were poor.
Chrome-on-brass rear light finishers were monogrammed with a dainty “D.”
Top furled away neatly behind rear seat, covered with a fabric bag.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Daimler SP250 Dart (1959–64)
PRODUCTION 2,644 (1,415 LHD, 1,229 RHD)
BODY STYLE Two-door, two-seater sports convertible.
CONSTRUCTION Fiberglass body, steel girder chassis.
ENGINE Iron-block 2548cc V8.
POWER OUTPUT 140 bhp at 5800 rpm.
TRANSMISSION Four-speed manual or three-speed Borg-Warner Model 8.
SUSPENSION Independent front with wishbones and coil springs. Rear live axle with leaf springs.
BRAKES Four-wheel Girling discs.
MAXIMUM SPEED 125 mph (201 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 8.5 sec
0–100 MPH (0–161 KM/H) 19.1 sec
A.F.C. 25 mpg (8.8 km/l)