Daimler Motor Company – Post War
After the tremendous success, during World War Two, of the Daimler Scout Car and Armoured Car, the Company quickly returned to the production of cars. They still had War Office contracts to fulfil and also development of the Scout Car to continue (as it evolved from Scout Car to Ferret), but a return to normality was a pressing need.
In 1942 the Ministry of Supply ordered a large quantity of double-deck buses to replace those that had simply worn out or had been destroyed in air raids. They were manufactured at a Daimler factory in Wolverhampton and fitted with Duple bodies. Power came from either a Gardner or AEC diesel engine as Daimler’s own diesel engine had not been fully developed when war broke out and work on it ceased during the hostilities. Some buses that had been ordered for export before the war could not be sent overseas and were diverted for home use.
During the closing stages of the war the British Government requested Daimler, to supply a fleet of thirty cars for use by Ambassadors, High Commissioners and other Embassy officials. These cars were to be ready by the end of 1945 and made use of pre-war, mostly Straight-Eight, chassis stock. It was not until September 1945 that Daimler was able to announce a post-war programme of new models. The first into production being the pre-war Fifteen updated as the Eighteen – with a body by Mulliner and powered by the successful 2½ litre engine as used in the Scout Car. With costs met by the War Office, this engine had been developed into an economical and powerful unit. Also, the Lanchester Ten that had been ready for production when war was declared was announced. This had a 1,287 cc four-cylinder engine and a body built by Briggs of Dagenham.
Fifty Years and New Models
It was in 1946 that Daimler marked its fiftieth anniversary of car manufacture. A celebratory lunch was held at the Savoy in London on 12 February for invited guests and members of the press at which the past fifty years were recalled. Sir Bernard Docker, Chairman of the Company, presided over the proceedings. For that year two new models were released, the 4.1-litre, six-cylinder DE 27 and the 4.6-litre, straight-eight DE 36. The latter engine would prove to be Britain’s last production straight-eight engine. Both chassis were equipped with the first hypoid differential. Even though Britain was in the grip of austerity, these Daimlers were not small; they were up to pre-war standards. Coachwork was by Barker and Hooper (Hooper had bought Barker out of receivership in 1938 and were themselves bought by Daimler in 1940) who produced some very pleasing designs for the excellently proportioned chassis.
To get an impression of what these cars were like when they first appeared it is worth quoting part of the ‘Autocar’ report for March 1946: ‘Two of the largest-sized cars on the British market are now going into production in the Daimler factories. They are of quite new design and carry closed limousine coachwork easily able to accommodate eight large persons. They are particularly well suited to State carriage purposes, and are the finest vehicles yet produced by this old-established concern. It is rather interesting to record that although the seating capacity, three on the front and three on the back seat, and two on the folding chairs, is exceptionally large, the overall size of the Straight-Eight is less than that of the famous Daimler Double-Six. The reason is that the new engine is kept as reasonably short as possible, and also is situated further forward in the frame, to improve weight distribution and increase body space.
‘There are a great many interesting features about the limousine coachwork specially designed for these two large cars. Whilst they are intended mainly to be chauffeur driven, the driving compartments are, however, trimmed and equipped in a way which makes them as comfortable as any first-class saloon. The width of the front seat is remarkable, and by reason of the thin screen pillars driving visibility is exceptionally clear. Three screenwipers are fitted instead of two, as the area to be covered is so large. Interest centres chiefly on the rear compartment, entered by extremely wide doors which, as with the front ones, are carried down and outwards at the bottom edge so to conceal the running boards. In this way a modern exterior appearance is obtained, whilst at the same time the running boards are there to be used, and being covered by the doors when closed, are always kept clean. When the doors are opened at night, lights inside the body are automatically switched on. There is, of course, an over-riding control in this connection.
‘Deeply upholstered and trimmed in cloth, the rear seat is quite luxurious. It has ample room for three, but when two are seated an extra-wide centre arm rest adds to the comfort. There are also elbow rests. The width above the rests is 60 ½ in, and across the cushion is 49 in. Between the front and rear seats there is a fixed division. This is of some depth and is so able to contain a pair of unusually large and comfortable folding seats. These, when out of use, cannot be seen, but are easily pulled backwards into place. They are genuinely comfortable seats, very different from the occasional seats of years ago. The note of the trimming of the interior is that of severe good taste, cloth being used throughout, together with walnut polished wood cappings.’
From the above, one can see how impressed the reviewer was with the overall appearance and finish of the car. He went on to write about some of the features that were standard. ‘…full use is made of electrical controls. Push-button switches operate motors which open and close windows in the front and rear doors and the glass of the central division. The driver, too, has an electrical control for the rear blind. Arrangements are made for the installation of car heating for both front and rear compartments. Also a radio set or sets can be fitted.
‘It has to be observed that the familiar design of the Daimler radiator has not been abandoned. It has been redesigned and modernised with a curved front effect and, so far from being spoiled, is improved in the matter of aesthetic good looks. The front of the car is decidedly imposing with the large Lucas P100 head lamps, pass lights and the deep bumper. Between the two sizes of car there is an outward difference. Not only is the eight-cylinder model slightly longer in the wheelbase and in the bonnet, but also the spare wheel is mounted just behind the near-side front wing. About half the wheel is inlet into the wing and the upper half is closed in with a neat helmet cover.
‘The engines are particularly neat and compact in design. They have the latest type of Daimler valve gear with slightly inclined overhead valves and specially shaped combustion chambers which give good power output with freedom from detonation. The valves are operated by rockers and tubular push rods from a crank-driven camshaft situated in the crank-case. In each case the crankshaft is fully counterweighted and carefully balanced. Steel connecting rods are used and steel-backed white metal lined flanged bearings are employed on both the journals and the crank pins. The gudgeon pins are clamped into the small-ends of the connecting rods. The pistons are of die-cast heat-treated aluminium alloy and are T-slotted whilst the skirts are cam turned to give relief on the non-thrust faces.’
The report goes on to fully describe the engine components and the many features of the Daimler engine. After nearly six years of war, one can sense the delight of the writer in being able to expound on the merits of the new engine. It is also worth quoting the writer on the chassis. ‘One of the outstanding features of the car is the frame. It is of a rigid design in which deep channel-section side members are converted to welded box sections by the extremities of a massive central cruciform member. This cruciform runs from midway up the power unit backwards to the anchorage of the front end of the rear springs. Short cross-members tie the centre of it to the side members in four places. As the centre line of the transmission is low by reason of the hypoid bevel level axle, the propeller-shaft passes through the centre of the cruciform. There are also several tubular cross-members. At the extreme front of the frame is a massive U-shaped box-section front cross-member which gives the necessary rigid attachment for the independent front suspension.’
A member of ‘The Autocar’ technical staff drove the Daimler and ‘returned from the experience with some measure of surprise’. He found it light and easy to handle even though it was ‘such a large car’. The writer added that ‘it is particularly deceptive about speed, from the driving seat you may think you are idling along at 20 mph and are surprised to find that it is 40 mph. The great degree of comfort at low speed is maintained at high speeds, and to cruise at 70 mph seems nothing when one is sitting in the back.’
Both models had a track of 5 ft at the front and 5 ft 3 in at the rear; the DE36 had a wheelbase of 12 ft 3 in and the DE27’s wheelbase was 11 ft 6 in. The overall length of the two chassis was 18 ft 6 in and 17 ft 9 in respectively. These were large cars and Daimler’s in-house coachbuilder, Hooper designed and built the two standard bodies, one a four-light and the other a six-light limousine. Other coachbuilders would also build on these chassis as ordered by the customer. Daimler actively encouraged specially tailored coachwork for their cars, as every chassis sold returned a good profit. Even though Britain was virtually bankrupt after the war there was still money to be spent. Many had amassed fortunes through ‘war work’ and this new money was just as good as old money. Even though the supply of raw materials was uncertain, Daimler remained confident that they could meet the demand for their cars. It is worth noting that in July 1946 the price quoted by Daimler was as follows: the 2½ litre saloon with standard body was £1,340-1s-8d (£1,340.8p) and the 27 hp chassis was quoted at £1,400 and that of the 36 hp at £1,700.
1947 Royal Tour
An important order from the South African government was for a fleet of five 36 hp Hooper-bodied Straight-Eights, two limousines, two landaulettes and an open tourer. These were for use by the Royal Family during their 1947 tour of South Africa. The first of the chassis was laid down in 1945 for shipping to South Africa in 1946 where the tour would commence early in 1947. There were also seven official 2½ litre saloons ordered to accompany the tour. Despite temperatures of over 100ºF the twelve cars covered over 80,000 miles (128,745 kms) and suffered no mechanical breakdowns.
Daimler gained enormous publicity from the tour. At that time the only news available was by newspaper, radio and cinema. Most people went to the local cinema at least once a week and were treated to a British Movietone or Pathé newsreel. The Royal Tour was the most important event and the Daimlers were seen to great advantage. Several magazines and supplements published full reports of the tour with copious illustrations; many photographs showed the Royal motorcade of Daimlers. To capitalise on the tour, Daimler published a fully illustrated brochure that is now rather scarce and much sought-after by collectors.
Towards the 1950s
In June 1947 Daimler, and others, suffered a blow from the Labour government of the day. Hugh Dalton, Chancellor of the Exchequer, replaced road tax based on engine size with flat rate of £10 for new cars. He also imposed double purchase tax – 66.6 per cent – on cars costing over £1,000. Many manufacturers lowered their prices to a penny or two shy of the £1,000 mark to counter this! Petrol rationing was still in force and this did not help sales of large cars.
However, the Company survived and at the 1948 Motor Show in London it unveiled a stylish 2½ litre Special Sports Drophead Coupé and also the remarkable Hooper-bodied Straight-Eight roadster. This massive car seated three abreast comfortably in the front and two folding seats in the rear compartment. It was priced at £7,000 and was the most expensive car at the Show. Painted in a shade of turquoise-green it was soon dubbed ‘the Green Goddess’ a name that has endured to the present. The Special Sports was built at the Radford plant under the name of Barker and was awarded a silver medal at the Show. Both cars were a serious departure for Daimler, especially the smaller Coupé.
One of the seven ‘Green Goddess’ cars, originally sold to ‘America’s Favorite Tenor’, James Melton, is owned by the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust and is on display at Gaydon.
Meanwhile, Sir Bernard Docker had married Norah Collins, the widow of the chairman of Fortnum and Mason Sir William Collins. She had inherited the wealth of her first two husbands and when she married Sir Bernard she decided that Daimler had to be marketed in a different manner to appeal to a new generation of buyers. She wanted to make Daimler a household name and had set ideas about how to accomplish that goal.
It is said that Lady Docker personally designed some of the cars that bore her name. However, it is probably more correct to say that she contributed ideas to the design staff that carried out her wishes. That said, the excesses that were perpetrated by Daimler were hers and hers alone. The gold-plated brightwork and the lizard or zebra skin upholstery that were in evidence on some of the ‘Docker Daimlers’ were the signs of someone with dubious taste. However, in the dull 1950s these Docker cars were the highlight at any appearance and that was what mattered. People read about Daimler and saw photographs of the Dockers and their Daimlers. In many ways they were no different from many football and film personalities of today.
These ‘Docker’ cars came out at the rate of one per year for the Motor Show and captured all the publicity. Newspapers seemed unable to get enough of them. Unfortunately, these cars stole the limelight from what was really on offer from Daimler, such as the new three-litre DF 302 Regency saloon and Convertible Coupé. The basic price of the Regency saloon was £1,500 and the Convertible Coupé was £1,710. Coachbuilder Hooper offered a stylish six-light Empress II saloon built on the DF 302 chassis. Certainly, the Empress II caught the eye of the press and those who attended the Motor Show. It had all the hallmarks of Hooper and is still much-admired by Daimler collectors and aficionados. However, the increased purchase tax was not helping sales of Daimlers, and early in 1953 production of the 3-litre was suspended to ‘enable the planned production to be maintained and to protect the employment of the 4,000 workers involved in car production.’
Design Departure – New Small Car – Conquest
To mark the Coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II – heralded as ‘The New Elizabethan Age’ by the press – Daimler announced a new small car. The Conquest was a departure for the Company. It was unveiled in May 1953 and was a slightly modified Lanchester Leda body with the Daimler grille. However, under the bonnet was a new 2½ litre six-cylinder engine to power the compact saloon. It is said that the car was given the name ‘Conquest’, as its basic pre-tax price was £1,066 – £1,511-5s-10d with purchase tax (£1,511.29p).
Daimler was appealing to a new customer, as The Motor magazine pointed out, ‘This new Conquest model is designed for the business, professional or family user who requires a car of medium size, very lively performance and more-than-ordinary refinement, but who, nevertheless, cannot afford to ignore the cost factor entirely. Notable design points include a new six-cylinder engine of the short-stroke type, a robust chassis with independent front suspension by means of laminated torsion bars, a pressed steel body furnished to typical Daimler standards and the well-known Daimler transmission incorporating a fluid flywheel and pre-selector gearbox.’
The writer was not wrong when he stated that the Conquest was up to Daimler standards. Although it made use of the familiar pressed steel Leda body, suitably modified, quality was not skimped on in any way. It was supplied with deep carpets, all-leather upholstery and walnut wood was used for the fascia and door cappings. Most noticeable was the modern treatment of the front end of the car, a major departure for Daimler, but it did not detract from the majesty of the name.
Nearly seventy years later, the Conquest may look quaint and rather upright, but in 1953 it was as modern as anything else on the road. At that year’s Motor Show, apart from the Docker special, Daimler showed the prototype DJ254 Conquest Roadster, which used a modified Conquest chassis.
It was a further departure for the Company and used the 2½ litre engine from the saloon, but with an aluminium cylinder head and twin SU carburettors. This 100 bhp engine would also be fitted to the new Conquest Century saloon for 1954. To save on weight, aluminium was used extensively for the framework and body panels. The wings were also made from the same metal and wood gave way to a leather-covered fascia panel with chrome surround dials. Colours offered at the Motor Show were Red with Cream upholstery, Ivory with Red upholstery, Silver with Blue upholstery and Powder Blue with Red upholstery. Naturally, the seats were leather and deep carpets were fitted as standard.
The Roadster was as sensational as the Docker Daimler’s were, but for different reasons. No one expected a lively two-seat sports car from Daimler. The engine had already proved itself in the saloon and with the increase in power great things were expected, as ‘The Motor ‘ commented ‘A model in the 100 mph class from the old-established house of Daimler is one of the opening-day sensations of the Motor Show and this striking new model takes its place on the Company’s stand. Visitors will find it interesting to note how the traditional Daimler radiator, which is almost as old as the industry, has been cleverly modified to blend perfectly with the low-build, sleek and very modern lines of this extremely rapid two-seater.’ The prototype had been designed and built by a Daimler team for the Motor Show in a mere six weeks. Had visitors not shown enough interest in the Roadster at Earls Court it is unlikely that Daimler would have put it into production. Given the publicity it generated in the UK and abroad, the car was developed for production during 1954. In the event the production run was small and it remains one of the most unusual designs to come from the Company. There are several design cues from the existing range and also pointers to the future SP 250. The Daimler Conquest Roadster was priced at £1,672-15s-10d (£1,672.78p) with tax.
Using the engine from the Conquest Roadster, Daimler released the Conquest Century in 1954. This used the same body as the Conquest and was finished to the same high standards. It offered better acceleration and top speed. One reviewer of the car stated, ‘In spite of the in engine performance, the power unit has not suffered as regards smoothness and flexibility, and both these qualities are of very high order. Compared with the Conquest, the Century has a slight reduction in the amount of understeer, whilst the fuel consumption is a little heavier if the car is driven fast.’
The lively performance of the Century did not escape the competition scene, and several examples were used in races and rallies. Two works prepared cars (OHP 831 and OHP 828), driven by Reg Parnell and George Abecassis, came first and second in their class at the 1954 International Touring Car race at Silverstone. Production of the two saloons was at capacity at Daimler’s Radford plant and order books were full.
There is no doubt that the smaller Daimler was a success, and joining the line-up was a smart Conquest Century drophead coupé. This model was fitted with a power-assisted hood but only to a half-way point over the front occupants, to be folded fully it had to be manually assisted. The sales catalogue of the time states, ‘The freedom of an open car or, at the touch of a button and without leaving your seat, the weather-proof comfort of a saloon. The power-operated hood of the ‘Conquest’ drop-head Coupé will, without effort on your part, provide you with the exhilaration of fast, open air travel, the dignity of the ‘de Ville’ town carriage, or the snug warmth of a fully-closed car. Modern, yet sturdy lines – a roomy four-seater interior with ample room for an extra passenger when required – and a spacious luggage boot for all you need in town or country’. Just 234 examples of the drophead coupé were manufactured and it remains one of the rarest of Daimlers. To keep the Conquest / Century line appealing, Borg Warner automatic transmission was later offered in place of the familiar pre-selector gearbox.
New Line – Regency
Daimler had discontinued the straight-eight model in 1953 and this left a gap at the top end of their range. A quick-fix was to re-vamp the three-litre Regency in various guises. Not all of which were successful or attractive. There appeared to be a conflict of opinion on what the car should look like. Designs exist showing a mix of traditional styling with the more modern look of the Conquest. Finally, in the autumn of 1954 the Regency Mark II was announced and pictures released to the press. It was offered in five versions: 3½ or 4½ litre saloons or the high performance Sportsman models with the same engines and the 4½ litre Regina limousine. The straight-six-cylinder engines were fitted with twin SU carburettors and developed 107 and 127 hp respectively.
For the Sportsman variant, an aluminium-alloy cylinder head was fitted to the engine which developed 140 bhp. Daimler publicity proclaimed the Regency II to be ‘Power with Prestige’ and further stated, ‘The magnificent new Regency Mark II is a new big Daimler, a superb car combining rare performance with a high degree of luxury and comfort. Like every Daimler the new Regency handles with consummate ease, every detail of engine, body and chassis combining with fluid transmission to provide a quality of motoring that is absolutely incomparable.’
Prices for the Regency II ranged from £2,324 to £3,103, with the Regina listed at £6,213. Prices include tax and have been rounded to the nearest pound.
Only one Regina limousine was built with Hooper coachwork and displayed at the Motor Show. It was sold to the funeral trade and was later lost in a fire. The design was awkward and did not do any justice to the pleasing lines of the Regency.
For 1955 the Company unveiled a more powerful version of the Regency II as the One-O-Four. This model differed externally only in detail, but under the bonnet was an uprated 3½ litre engine producing 137 bhp. The car got its name from the 104 mph clocked by the prototype during trials. A ‘Ladies’ model was also offered with a redesigned fascia panel that ‘incorporated a sliding drawer (containing torch, cigarette packet holder, note pad, rolled gold pencil, sunglasses); automatic map, radio and speaker built into panel; collapsible umbrella adjacent front passenger’s seat; burr walnut surrounds to windows and screen; power-operated door windows; complete make-up box in centre armrest; sheepskin floor rug and travelling rug in rear compartment; four suitcases, picnic case, ice box and shooting stick in rear boot; rim embellishers on the road wheels.’
There is certainly the hand of Lady Docker behind this model, which was short-lived, the ‘Ladies items’ were later offered as ‘optional extras’ in the catalogue. One reviewer of the Ladies Model commented, ‘… (It includes) a large number of luxury features of a type formally found only in bodies produced by specialist coachbuilders. The aim, moreover, has been to concentrate on items which will appeal to feminine tastes without, however, any form of ostentation which might appear inappropriate to masculine occasions.’ The Ladies Model was offered with the 3½ litre engine at £2,983 with tax.
End of the Docker Era
The One-O-Four used a modified Regency II chassis with a new I-beam cruciform member and improved body mounting at the front to provide a much stiffer structure. Internally, the car was fitted with all the expected Daimler luxury trim. While the factory fortunes had taken a turn for the better and continued to manufacture chassis and complete cars, the Daimler Company was not in good health and neither was the top management. Problems at board level and accusations between members of the board and the Dockers had come to a head.
While the Dockers were in Monaco the board set out their plans and Sir Bernard was asked to attend a meeting of directors at Claridge House on 30 May 1956. Docker was voted out of office by six directors against three and a new management team took over the ailing Company. Jack Sangster of Triumph Motorcycles (a BSA company since 1952) took over as Chairman and Managing Director of Daimler.
The Dockers fought back with letters and telegrams to the shareholders pleading their case for unfair dismissal, but it was of no avail when all the true facts of their excesses came out. The Dockers did, however, force an extraordinary meeting which was attended by 1,300 shareholders, but they were outvoted when the Prudential Assurance Company, one of the larger shareholders, backed the board. The Dockers had spent some £20,000 on their campaign and had to admit defeat. They remained defiant and to show their contempt for BSA-Daimler, they purchased two Rolls-Royce Silver Clouds for their personal use.
Daimler had struggled during the Docker days and the standard range of Daimler models continued with few changes to style. Automatic transmission was an option and this saw the pre-selector and fluid flywheel systems draw to a close. Jack Sangster appointed Edward Turner, from Triumph, as head of the Automotive Division, which included Daimler, and also announced a new model for 1958, the Majestic. This was powered by a 3.8-litre engine with four-wheel disc brakes and automatic transmission as standard. Also, news came out that a new 2½ litre V8 engine was being designed by Turner and Cyril Simpson and would soon be a reality. As would be a new saloon and a new sports car.
The former was going to be a bought-in body (Vauxhall) reworked by Daimler and powered with the new engine; the sports car would be a striking new design to be made using glass-reinforced-plastic (GRP or fibre-glass), a complete surprise from the venerable Daimler group.
In the event the saloon never progressed beyond a mock-up and the sports car – SP250 – made its debut at the 1959 New York Motor Show as the Daimler Dart. Following protests from Chrysler who had registered the Dodge Dart name in the US for a forthcoming model – the name was changed to the project name SP250. Daimler expected that the SP250 would appeal to the American market and went on sale in November with just four dealers to cover the entire country. Only 110 cars were built in 1959 and 77 were exported to the USA.
In Britain the SP250 was shown at the London Motor Show alongside the Majestic Major saloon which was powered by a 4.5-litre version of the Turner V8.
No examples of the new Majestic Major left the factory and sales of the six-cylinder Majestic were very small; the SP250 was also proving a poor seller with quality problems of its own. Daimler simply could not continue in this manner.
Jaguar Steps In
Jaguar had bought the Browns Lane factory from Daimler via the Ministry of Supply and had steadily built up their car business with new models. By 1960 they had full order books and needed space to expand, something they could not do on the existing site. The Government of the day refused permission to expand at Browns Lane as they were trying to encourage motor manufacturers to open plants in less developed areas of the country. Ford opened a plant in Halewood, Liverpool and Rootes a factory at Linwood in Scotland to build the Hillman Imp.
Sir William Lyons, Managing Director of Jaguar, was resolute that he would stay in Coventry and approached Jack Sangster to discuss the possibility of buying the Radford factory from Daimler to gain the space they required. The BSA board declined and instead suggested Lyons buy the whole Daimler Company. In a private deal, one that was kept from both boards of directors, Jaguar Cars bought Daimler and its assets on 18 June 1960 for £3.25 million.
Immediately, the SP250 was assessed by Jaguar engineers and reworked into a better model (known as ‘B spec’); the Majestic Major was put into production and Sir William designed a Limousine version (DR 450), something that Daimler had been lacking since the demise of the DK400. Added to this, the Jaguar Mark II saloon was given the Turner V8 and appeared in 1962 as the Daimler V8, it became Daimler’s most popular model with over 17,600 being built. It was, however, the last model to have a Daimler engine; from now on all Daimlers would be Jaguar designs powered with Jaguar engines and the Radford site had become the main engine plant for the enlarged Jaguar Group.
The famous Double-Six name was revived for Daimlers powered with the Jaguar V12 engine and the supercharged V8 powered Daimler was given the name Super Eight. Daimler continued as a marque until 2009 when the last car, albeit a badged Jaguar XJ, came off the line at Castle Bromwich.
Daimler was consigned to the history books but the name is still jointly-owned by Daimler-Benz (Mercedes-Benz) and Jaguar Land Rover in a deal put together by Ford, just before they sold Jaguar and Land Rover to the Tata Automotive Group.
What cannot be denied is the fact that Daimler (and Lanchester) produced some exceptional vehicles from the earliest days of motoring right up to its demise as a Jaguar product. In between there were some rare and exotic models that reflected the times and some failures, the SP250 comes to mind, but it is a marque that was, in engineering terms, years ahead of the competition and one that should be remembered as long as there are motorcars.
Author: François Prins and Tony Merrygold
© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust