Launched in New York as the Dart, Daimler’s first sports car was officially renamed the SP250 after Dodge claimed copyright. The car was a barefaced attempt to ride the wave of popularity for British sports cars in America, and it looked much more transatlantic than the Triumph or MG competitors on which its chassis was based.
Daimler’s boldness, and hurry to enter the market, resulted in confused styling. From the front, the fibreglass moulded lines curl sinuously down to the wide grille. From the rear three-quarter view, the futuristic horizontal and vertical lines forming the SP250’s outrageous fins seem to belong to another car.
Even so, the awkward design looks sexy — but it is the authoritative throaty rumble from the SP250’s twin exhausts that confirms it. Powered by a 2.5 litre V8 engine, the SP250 is a joy to drive. Once initial problems of the chassis (the doors on the original ‘A spec version had a tendency to fly open on tight bends) had been ironed out, the car began to fulfil its destiny as a two-door, open-topped king of the road. It was, and is, fun. Its responsive acceleration appeals as strongly to enthusiasts as it once did to the British police, who fielded a number of automatic versions as high-speed pursuit vehicles.
The real surprise is that Daimler ever made the SP250 (Dart). For decades the company had been associated firmly with upmarket family saloons and limited production of luxury limousines (clientele included the British Royal Family). The SP250 is really a delightful aberration. Its oddity, as well as its success, marks it as a product of a very specific, late 1950s social climate.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
2,548cc OHV V8
Top speed of 123mph (198 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 9.2 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW.
Take a head-on look at the SP250 (Dart) engine grille, and you won’t be surprised that some enthusiasts call it ‘the Catfish’.