No less an authority on grace than Sir William Lyons was rumored to have tossed his scones on his first sight of a Dart
Daimler of England startled the automotive world in 1959 with the Dart roadster, a swoopy sports car powered by an advanced 2.6-liter, hemi-head V8. With a chassis inspired by Triumph's TR3A and a fiberglass body, it weighed barely over 2,000 pounds, giving Daimler's new roadster obvious potential. Despite this highly sophisticated sports car's good handling and powerful engine, production over its six-year run reached only 2,648 cars.
The SP250 Dart offered here is an outstanding example. It has been completely re-trimmed and the original Derrington wood-rimmed steering wheel remains. The engine has been upgraded to approximately 200 horsepower, having been fitted with Venolia pistons. A very rare and unusual British sports car, this is a fun automobile, ready to drive and enjoy.
|1962 Daimler SP250 Dart
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|brass plate riveted to cowl on left side
|Engine Number Location:
|Daimler Lanchester Owners Club, P.O. Box 719, Southampton, England SO14 3RR
|1964-67 Sunbeam Tiger, 1967-69 MGC, 1957-61 Triumph TR3A
This 1962 SP250 Dart Roadster sold for $17,050, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Monterey auction held on August 13-14, 2004.
At the outset, I have to confess to owning an SP250. I bought mine because it was cheap and I thought I could make a few bucks. But I wound up liking it enough to spring for a quality respray, and it became a keeper. For those who can accept its controversial looks, the SP250 is a surprisingly satisfying sports car that is a cut above its contemporaries in performance.
Many cars acquire reputations that stick like duct tape on a hot day. Volvo wagons are safe. Mercedes-Benz sedans well engineered. Slant-six Dodge Darts run forever, or until the body rusts away from the powertrain. Daimler’s Dart-dubbed the SP250 for the U.S. market, so as not to run afoul of Chrysler-got tagged with a bad rep early on. “Homely” and “poorly executed” were just two of the slurs applied.
Although automotive style is subjective, no will ever accuse the SP250 of being a paragon of grace: No less an authority than Sir William Lyons was rumored to have tossed his scones on his first sight of a Dart. In
profile, the character lines, full-wheel cutouts and low screen give the car a satisfying enough appearance. However, the overall look seems to be thrown together from a disparate collection of elements from other period British sports cars, and the sharp drop from the bonnet to the frowning grille is not the car’s best feature. Editor Martin’s infamous “angry
catfish” reference aside, it bears asking: Is the front of an SP250 really any less attractive than the bluff, bug-eyed, big-mouthed Triumph TR3A?
The other piece of conventional wisdom about SP250s is that they are “flexi-flyers” whose doors have a propensity for flying open by themselves on rough roads. While this may have been true of the very first examples, Jaguar bought Daimler fairly early in the SP250’s production run and reinforced the chassis and cowl for the so-called “B-spec” cars. As a result, the doors stayed shut and the cars had little perceptible cowl shake. Although it does have a fiberglass body with a separate chassis, creaks and rattles are not prevalent, and a well-sorted SP250 Dart is a pleasant driver.
The real attraction is the motor. Had the SP250 gained greater positive attention, its little hemi-head V8 would surely have gone down in history as one of the truly great sports car powerplants. The exhaust note is to die for, sounding like a V8 of twice its displacement. Flexible and rev-happy for a pushrod design, it made its peak 140 hp at 5,800 rpm, enough to propel the one-ton SP250 to a top speed of 125 mph.
With 0-60 mph times reported in the mid-eight-second range, the Daimler Dart was quicker than any contemporary Healey, Triumph or MG, and roughly on par with a Jaguar XK150 DHC in standard tune, or the later Sunbeam Tiger Mk I. Unlike the Tiger, however, its four-wheel disc brakes also stopped well.
The underhood display almost makes up for what the body lacks in aesthetics, with the hemi signature “spark plug through” valve covers, carb dash pots and generator cover all in polished aluminum. Everything is also nicely accessible for service.
The interior details are nice as well. Full instrumentation with a
polished aluminum surround, cool toggle switches, polished stainless door top finishers and chrome trim around the roll-up side glass give things a high-end look. The soft top is both attractive and nearly weatherproof. Leather everywhere in the cockpit including the dash, door panels and occasional rear seat is a touch consistent with the car’s original price, which was higher than a Healey or a TR. As an added bonus, the heater is effective when you want it, but when it’s off, little engine heat invades the cockpit, unlike some British sports cars.
Underway, my kidneys and backside judge the ride from the lever damper front suspension and rear leaf spring and live axle to be less punishing than a TR3, though an SP250 will lose its composure in bumpy corners. Cruising at 80 mph, the car feels safe and stable with no wander. The Daimler SP250 is a capable high-speed tourer, but with no overdrive offered, the car is not as relaxed as it could be.
The two things that detract from the driving experience are the heavy, vague cam-and-peg steering (though rack-and-pinion conversions are available), and a gearbox reminiscent of a Jaguar Moss unit. Slow, deliberate shifts are required, especially at high rpms.
SP250s are surprisingly easy to live with. The V8 is robust, the fiberglass bodies don’t rot, and serious frame rust is uncommon. For a comparatively rare car, parts are still available. Happily enough, even body panels can be had for a price. Having just restored one of these beasts, I was amazed at what can still be sourced from John Carey at New England Auto Restorations (978.356.4745), in Ipswich, MA.
The 1962 Daimler SP250 pictured here was pretty much “just a car.” The chrome was average and the prep work on the paint was just okay, with overspray noted in several areas. The two-tone paint and pinstripes were nothing short of bizarre and downright off-putting, so you’d have to figure in a respray before taking this car out in public. As far as the alleged engine mods go, to me, they don’t add anything, especially if they threaten the longevity of the engine.
SP250 values are a bit hard to peg, as public sales in the U.S. are rare. One particular dealer in Florida does do a brisk business in SP250s. Last year, he offered me a very nice car in the low twenties-I dithered and it sold fast. A barn-fresh (albeit low-mileage car) recently sold on eBay for over $14,000 with active bidding. My sense is that honest, running, driving cars in need of attention start at around $11,000. Restoring an SP250, however, is a labor of love, as the low twenties seems to be the end of the earth right now. In light of this, I would have to call this example fully priced.
The upside to buying an SP250 Dart now, however, is that the club of comparable V8-powered British two-seaters still trading for under $100k has shrunk to the Sunbeam Tiger and Triumph TR8. Given the level of performance that all of these cars offer, there may be an eventual rise in values. The Tiger is most likely to appreciate, and I figure that by the time the market realizes the inequity of 289 Cobras selling for seven times the Tiger’s going rate, the SP250 might finally get its day.
(Historical and descriptive information courtesy of the auction company.)u