The Docker Daimlers
Following Lady Docker’s appointment as a director of Hooper, and her well publicised comments about Daimlers being mistaken for Delahayes, she began a publicity campaign for Hooper and Daimler which included a sensational car built for the Earls Court Motor Show each year from 1951 to 1955.
1948, Green Goddess
While technically not one of the ‘Docker Daimlers’ the Green Goddess was the car which inspired the first of them. This was launched at the 1948 Motor Show, one year before Norah Collins married Sir Bernard and became Lady Docker.
Built on the DE36 chassis, chassis number 51223, this five-seater drophead coupé with streamlined bodywork was painted jade green with green-piped, beige, leather interior. It was the most expensive car at the Motor Show in 1948, costing £7,001 and was named the ‘Green Goddess’ by the motoring press. All seven of these cars produced were known as Green Goddesses irrespective of their colour.
The convertible roof was electro-hydraulically powered, including the metal tonneau cover under which it was stored when retracted. The side windows in the doors were electrically powered and the raked, curved windscreen had three wipers, needed to clear the low, wide screen.
The headlights were in recesses in the front wings, behind Perspex covers held in chrome bezels that were fluted at the top to match the trademark Daimler radiator grille. There were aluminium spats set over the rear wheels, with spring balanced arms to move them out of the way for access to the wheels.
The car had seating for five, with an adjustable front bench seat with three individual backs, the outer two of which folded for access to the two rear armchairs. The backs of the rear armchairs could be folded for extra luggage space. The rear seats were centred such that their occupants could look between the heads of the front passengers for an unobstructed forward view.
The column mounted gear selector was extended almost to the rim of the steering wheel providing fingertip control, while the speedometer could be switched from miles to kilometres per hour .
Three left hand drive cars were exported to the USA, one of them being bought by James Melton, “America’s Favorite Tenor”, an opera singer and renowned antique car collector. He displayed 55 of his collection of almost 100 cars, at The Melton Auto Museum opened in Norwalk, Connecticut. The collection moved from Norwalk in 1953 to his new Autorama Museum in Hypoluxo, Florida and was dispersed after his death.
This ‘Green Goddess’, although painted grey and black, was bought by Ford US and is now in the Jaguar Collection.
1951, The Golden Daimler
Based on the DE36 chassis, this limousine was the first of Lady Docker’s specials and was variously referred to as the Gold Car, the Gold Daimler, or the Golden Daimler. The car was named for the use of gold on all the trimmings where chrome would normally have been used, and for the 7,000 gold stars on the sides of the car, below the waistlines. According to Lady Docker, the production price was £8,500 including £900 worth of gold plating.
The upholstery and headliners in the rear were made from hand woven, gold silk, brocade. Cabinets in the passenger compartment were made of Australian camphor wood, chosen for its golden colour. The left cabinet contained a crystal and gold (instead of the usual silver) cocktail set, the right cabinet contained a black and gold china tea set with a gold-plated Thermos tea jug. The divider also contained a pair of folding tables and a gold vanity set. Gold-plated radio controls were in the armrests.
The upholstery in the driver’s section was black leather with gold piping. All side windows were double-glazed and the rear window had an electric demister, while the sunroof in the rear enclosure was made from toughened glass. The sunroof, side windows, and the division window were all electrically operated.
Design elements carried over from the Green Goddess included the flush rear wheel spats on spring-balanced rods and the headlights faired into the front wings behind Perspex covers. The bezels holding the headlight covers were plain, and were not fluted as on the Green Goddess.
The Golden Daimler won its class in the annual coachwork competition held by the Institute of British Carriage and Automobile Manufacturers.
This car was much changed over succeeding years. After Sir Bernard was ousted the car was de-commissioned with the gold being removed and more traditional headlamps being fitted. During the ownership of Norris Allen, an American collector, it was repainted in black and grey.
1952, Blue Clover
Hooper’s show car for 1952 was again on the DE36 chassis but was a touring fixed-head coupé rather than a limousine. The car was painted in two tones of powder blue and grey, with the lighter panels covered with a regular pattern of four-leaf clovers painted in the darker shades. The headlights were again set behind Perspex covers as done with the original Green Goddess and the Gold Car. The front wings tapered to the back of the car, which did not have separate rear wings and the rear wheels were again covered by spats.
The seating was similar to that of Green Goddess, with a three-passenger front bench and two rear armchairs with folding backs to extend luggage space. The seats were upholstered in lavender blue leather with dark blue piping.
Instead of wood veneers, the interior was finished with grey-blue lizard skins. These skins covered the steering wheels, the inside door panels, the cabinets on either side of the rear armchairs and the manicure set fitted into the left door.
The cabinets in the back contained a flask and glasses made of cut glass, a silver Thermos flask, sandwich boxes, cups, saucers, and linen, while recesses above the rear seat held an 8 mm cine camera and a pair of binoculars. A tray under the instrument panel held a mirror, a comb, a clothes brush, two silver-topped jars, and a powder compact.
The curved and raked windscreen and the electrically powered semi-elliptical rear quarter-lights were made from Triplex laminated heat-reflecting safety glass, and the electrically powered side windows were double glazed.
The roof was thermally insulated and had a transparent sun panel fixed toward the front, with a blind underneath the panel to block the light when desired.
According to a contemporary report in The Motor, Blue Clover was “the most elegant thing at Earls Court” that year.
Blue Clover has been fully restored and is now on display at the Samsung Transportation Museum in Yongin, South Korea. This is South Korea’s first car museum and was only opened in 1998.
1953, Silver Flash
The 1953 show car was based on a Daimler 3-litre chassis rather than the DE36 of the two previous cars and the Green Goddesses. The chassis number is 85001, that of a Lanchester Fourteen chassis but modified to take a Daimler engine. The Hooper body, number 9966, was a two-seater, two-door, fixed-head coupé with aluminium body panels, a Sundym glass roof panel and a smaller, restyled version of the fluted Daimler radiator grille.
The car was originally painted dark green but this clashed with the interior, which had black leather upholstery with red piping and a red crocodile leather dashboard and other red crocodile leather trim pieces. Two days before the Motor Show, Lady Docker ordered chief designer Osmond Rivers to repaint the body metallic silver.
When asked what she would name the car, Lady Docker named it “Silver Flash”, inspired by the Golden Flash name of the BSA motorcycle in production at that time.
The space behind the seats had two red crocodile leather suitcases strapped down with matching straps attached to the floor. A shallow vanity drawer under the dashboard contained silver accessories, vanity mirror, a powder compact, a cigarette case, a lighter and a clothes brush.
The car had a radio, a heating and ventilating unit, an internal shutter to block the glass roof panel, detachable rear wheel spats, a washer system for the one-piece curved windscreen, a demister and a speedometer marked to 120 mph. The headlights were faired into the front wings in the same manner as Blue Clover and the Gold Car.
Silver Flash was exported from England to the United States in 1966, the owner living in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1974 it was sold on then re-appeared in an auction catalogue in the mid-1980s, by which time it had been repainted tan over cream. The chassis and engine numbers were listed as 85001 and 76698. Its current whereabouts are unknown.
The 1954 show car was based on a prototype DK400 4½ litre chassis – number 92700.
The design was similar to The Golden Daimler but unlike the Gold Car’s black with gold stars, Stardust was royal blue with silver stars which Osmond Rivers would describe as, “sham caning in reverse”. The car followed the previous design cues of the ribbed Daimler radiator and the Hooper design deep curved screen, with three wipers and spats enclosing the rear wheels.
The interior featured blue crocodile skin, silver brocade upholstery and a nylon fur rug. A three compartment cabinet was let into the partition and was built of aluminium rather than wood to save weight with pale blue crocodile chosen for the capping and ‘veneer’. This central portion of the cabinet has double doors, opening to display cut-glass decanters against a mirror back – the mirror being of polished aluminium. It is flanked by two other cupboards the doors of which lift up to form a pair of tables.
Glasses, silver, Wedgwood cups and saucers, cutlery, plate and white linen are kept in boxes built into the capping. A silver sunburst clock forms a centre-piece, set into the crocodile-skin. Four matching crocodile leather suitcases were fitted into the large boot.
The Motor reported it as: “…the finest and most costly vehicle in the show, a ‘masterpiece’ in the old sense of that word, being a means of displaying all the artistry and techniques at its creator’s disposal.”
A Stardust was shipped for Prince Rainer and Grace Kelly’s wedding at Monaco before the feud started.
Stardust was found abandoned on a farm in Wales and restored to show condition in 1980. It was exhibited in the Blackhawk Museum in California, after which it was sold and shipped to Japan.
The car was auctioned by Bonhams at the Goodwood Revival in September 2014, selling for over £110,000.
1955, Golden Zebra
The final Docker Daimler, the 1955 Golden Zebra was also based on a DK400 chassis. This ivory white fixed-head coupé featured hooded lights, spatted rear wheels and gold plated brightwork with seats and door panels upholstered in zebra skin, “because mink is too hot to sit on” according to Lady Docker.
All brightwork inside and out was in gold plate and the radiator mascot was a gold-plated miniature zebra sculpture. Lady Docker’s initials were inscribed on the door.
The headlights and indicators were set into the front wings and the curve of the wing formed a hood over the top of each headlight. As with the previous cars the windscreen was made from heat reflecting glass, all windows were electrically operated with additional controls for the driver. The roof had a transparent panel with an internal shutter.
The interior was trimmed in ivory-coloured leather, while genuine ivory set in gold framework was used on the dashboard and on all interior cappings and finishers.
There were two cabinets in the rear, one containing cocktail equipment, including cut glass decanters, glasses and thermos jugs, while the other held picnic equipment, including Perspex sandwich boxes, cups, saucers and linen. A folding table was fitted in the centre of the front seat, a manicure set in the passenger door recess, and an ivory-handled nylon umbrella in the lower part of the passenger door. A sliding tray under the passenger side of the dashboard held a folding mirror, a clothes brush, a comb, a powder compact, a cigarette case and a cream jar.
To unveil the car at the show, Lady Docker wore a £5,000 mink and gold outfit (£200,000 in today’s money), which she claimed back as a legitimate business expense, contributing to the decision to oust Sir Bernard from the BSA board and Lady Docker from the board of Hooper. Following this, the Daimler show cars were stripped of their expensive trimmings and sold. In 1966 ‘Golden Zebra’, which cost £12,000 to build (many times the value of the average semi-detached house at the time) was offered for sale by Daimler distributors Henlys of Chester with 25,000 miles on the clock for only £1,400.
After several owners, ‘Golden Zebra’ ended up in California. Daimler collector John Wentworth bought it in 1988, returned it to the UK and after a delay of ten years had it thoroughly and painstakingly restored. The problem of acquiring suitable zebra skins was solved by sourcing the correct Kenyan zebra hides from a tannery in South Africa. The steering wheel was refinished, the instruments reconditioned and parts re-plated in gold. John’s widow Seija continued the rebuild using a combination of flamed sycamore and ivory wood instead of genuine ivory.
The restored car was sold by Bonhams in December 2006 for £177,500.
The ‘Golden Zebra’ is now on display at the Louwman Museum in the Hague in the Netherlands.
Looking back it is easy to be hyper-critical of Lady Docker, these cars and her excesses. The early post war period was still relatively dull and drab, most people had little money to spare, many goods were rationed. There was only one TV channel, the BBC, commercial TV did not start until 1955. TV and the Pathe newsreels shown at the cinema films were all black and white as were the national newspapers although the weekly magazines were all in colour. Celebrity culture hadn’t reached the instant gratification heights it has in the 21st century with instantaneous Social Media. People liked a bit of good news, a bit of gossip and maybe even a little excess that they could aspire to.
Lady Docker definitely met her objective of getting the cars, and the Dockers, talked about. As Oscar Wilde famously said “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”
The Motor, summed up her contribution in an article in March 1980, “Lady Docker, who was made a director of Hooper’s, certainly achieved her aim of getting Daimler talked about…. People are apt to mock at the Docker Shockers. But for all their sometimes rather vulgar sensationalism they did enable British designers to try their hand at non-body shapes and to incorporate forward looking new features which today are to be found in many production cars as standard equipment. What the British motor industry could do with today is a new Lady Docker to galvanise her motor industry husband into giving British designers once again the opportunity to build show cars in which they can try out new ideas – and gain valuable publicity for their company. For without any doubt, the Docker Daimlers were the most effective publicity Daimler ever had.”
Authors: Shihanki Elpitiya and Tony Merrygold
© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust (unless stated)
Sources and Further Reading:
- Montague, Lord & Burgess-Wise, David, Daimler Century (Patrick Stephens Ltd – Haynes Publishing, 1995)
- Smith, Brian E , Daimler Days – Volumes 1 & 2 (Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust, 1996)
- Davenport-Hines, R. P. T., Dudley Docker: The Life and Times of a Trade Warrior (Cambridge University Press, 1985)