DAIMLER SP250 'DART' REVIEW

Better known for luxury saloons, Daimler could do sports cars as well.
 

Anyone with experience of Daimler’s usual luxury fare will probably be expecting a soft cruiser, but make no mistake the SP250 is a proper sports car. It’s helped in no small part by the V8 engine, which has a lovely burble at tickover put provides plenty of torquey performance on the open road. 

The cabin may be a bit cramped as a 2+2 but there is plenty of room for the driver and the controls falling nicely to hand. The GRP bodywork means it’s a surprisingly light car too, and the SP certainly feels at home on a twisting B-road. Completing the package are confidence-inspiring disc brakes and generally accurate – if a touch heavy – steering, though we’d probably opt for the rack-and-pinion conversion if it were our money.

VITAL STATISTICS

Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’

 

Engine                                    2548cc/V8/OHV

Power (bhp@rpm)                  140bhp@5800rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 155lb ft@3600rpm

Top speed                                124mph

0-60mph                                  8.9sec

Consumption                            23mpg

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

The GRP body means no rust, but you need to check for the cracks and crazing that can afflict the material. Poorly repaired accident damage is expensive to put right so look for serious rippling in panels (particularly the inner wings), as well as the fit of the panels themselves. Stress cracks can develop around hinges, and the doors can be prone to dropping as the hinge wears. The bonnet is a problem area as it had a habit of coming open on the road, resulting in damage. The main cause is corrosion of the radiator supports (GRP-coated steel), which allows flexing causing the bonnet catch to release. A cheap secondary safety latch is the cure. A hardtop was optional so check its condition and mounting points – but don’t forget to check the soft top as well. 

Plenty of chrome and Mazak parts adorn the SP250 and missing or damaged bits will rack up hefty bills.  The imposing front grille isn’t available, bumpers are hugely expensive, and sorting a tatty windscreen surround can cost around £1000.   

The chassis is prone to rot and may well have been replaced by now. Problem areas include the main box sections, front cross-member, steering box mounts, front suspension turrets, and rear cross-member. Repairs aren’t too difficult but the body will need to come off if it’s too far gone. Check with a specialist before taking this route, though, as many repairs can be done with the body in-situ, despite what you may read elsewhere. Take a look at the fuel tank as this can corrode – access via the boot is tricky. Ultimately, unless you’re sure of any work that has been done, the best advice is to get the car on a ramp for a thorough inspection. ‘B-Spec’ cars from 1961 had a stronger chassis.

ENGINE

The V8 is capable of high mileages with proper care. Overheating is the issue most likely to cause harm, so a healthy cooling system is paramount. Correct coolant strength helps avoid internal corrosion of the alloy cylinder heads, and the warping and head gasket failure that ensues. Replacement heads aren’t available, so refurbishment or a unit from a V8 saloon is the only answer. Check carefully for a clogged radiator or any sign of water leaks, and keep a close eye on the temperature gauge on the test drive. Fitting an electric fan is a sensible – and popular – modification. Watch for oil leaks and excessive exhaust smoke; the latter is sometimes caused by valve guide problems (there were no stem oil seals fitted originally). Oil pressure of 40psi when warm and at least 20psi at idle is ideal. Listen for a cracked exhaust manifold as repairs are costly.

 

RUNNING GEAR

The four-speed manual gearbox can be a touch fragile. It lacked synchromesh on first gear so some noise is to be expected, but it shouldn’t be excessive.  A car with optional overdrive is a plus, although specialists can supply a conversion along with a re-built ’box for around £2500. The Borg Warner automatic was popular on police-spec cars, but oil leaks and hefty re-build costs mean the manual is the safer bet. The rear axle on early cars is also a weak spot – check for clunks on the move.

Unassisted Girling disc brakes are generally trouble-free (although handbrake linkages can seize), but a servo-conversion aids driveability. Tired springs and dampers aren’t difficult to sort, and worn or seized front trunnions/vertical links are usually caused by a lack of regular greasing. The links are notoriously expensive to replace – £1000 or more each side on an exchange basis – so get a specialist’s opinion if you suspect stiffness or excessive play. Play can also develop in the worm and peg steering box, and many owners have opted for a rack-and-pinion conversion which lessens steering effort. Budget around £2500 at a specialist including fitting.


INTERIOR

The 2+2 cabin used high quality materials that are expensive to replace. Complete decrepitude could see a restoration running into thousands, so budget accordingly. Brittle wiring and corroded connectors are common on cars of this age, so check thoroughly for any electrical malfunctions.    

OUR VERDICT

Despite having a straightforward mechanical layout, the SP250 is not an especially easy car to buy and there are a number of pitfalls that could land an unwary buyer with substantial restorations costs. Care is needed and we would certainly recommend getting a specialist to take a look at a prospective purchase. Find one that’s been pampered and you won’t be disappointed with what the SP250 has to offer.

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