Daimler SP250 Prototype – Chassis 100002
XHP 438 – A Detailed History
XHP 438 is the third of the three SP250 prototypes built, but just to confuse things it is chassis number 2. To be precise it is 100002, the other two were 100000 which according to Brian Long’s book ‘Daimler V8 SP250’ was known as the ‘Red One’ and 100001 which was known as the ‘Black One’.
The Red One (fibreglass bodied) and the Black One (steel bodied) were built in 1958 and 100002 was built in early 1959. The SP250s were designed by Daimler to open up a new market sector in the US. Its 2.5 litre V8 engine was designed by Edward Turner (Chief Executive of the Automotive Division of BSA comprising BSA, Ariel, Triumph, Daimler and Carbodies) using motorbike engineering philosophy. Most of the testing had been completed on the Red and Black Ones and the body design refined towards the end of 1958, after the Red One had crashed and been restyled and rebuilt. Both these cars were subsequently dismantled. The body of 100002 (now the oldest remaining SP250) was moulded in lightweight fibreglass and although it was a prototype it was very close to the final design of the production cars – and was in fact later sold on as such.
In March 1959 it was registered as XHP 438 and used for publicity purposes and as a press car. Some of the early press pictures of this car, together with a white one, were taken on the Compton Verney Estate just outside Gaydon in Warwickshire. This was an old country estate, in Capability Brown landscaped grounds, which had been requisitioned by the army during the war. After the army left in 1945 the house remained unoccupied. In 1958 Compton Verney was acquired by Harry Ellard, a local property and night-club owner, who occasionally authorised film companies to shoot in the grounds. Although the house was deteriorating considerably, the grounds complete with giant cedar trees and Capability Brown designed bridge, made an excellent scenic backdrop for the Daimlers.
In early 1959 some of the road testing of XHP 438 was conducted by Jack Wickes, Edward Turner’s Chief Designer and Draughtsman at Triumph (motor cycles) from 1936 – 1974. He was part of the team that had designed the Daimler SP250 and the 2.5 and 4.5 litre V8 engines. He often took it home after work and his son, Anthony, recalls riding around Coventry in the car on a number of occasions.
XHP 438 featured in road tests conducted by Autocar and Motor magazines and on one memorable day a works driver took out a couple of Australians for a hair-raising drive around the works and surrounding roads. The car started life with the small ‘cats whiskers’ bumpers fitted either side of the radiator grille, but during 1959 these were replaced by full width bumpers – presumably after the car suffering from a few minor knocks. Contemporary road test pictures show both configurations. To add further confusion the number plate was switched from car to car so some of the period photographs display different cars.
After its life as a press car XHP 438 went back to the Daimler factory for some re-furbishment and its original engine was replaced. It was then sold through the motor trade in 1961, being bought by Donald Harley who kept it for about a year.
Following a brief article in ‘Classic Cars Magazine’ in 1989, saying the car was in Canada, Donald wrote a couple of letters to Gary Titosky (see later), which shed some interesting light on his use of the car.
Donald (Don) Harley – First Private Owner – Background
Donald Harley studied at the Epsom School of Art from the age of 14 years from January 1942 and passed the Board of Education Drawing certificate in 1944. From September 1944 to July 1945 he was employed at Grafton Arts, St. Brides Square, Fleet Street, London then he was called up for National Service in the Army at age 18 years. He still carried on with his art education whilst in the Army by attending Oxford and Salisbury Art Schools for evening classes in Life Drawing.
After completing National Service he returned to Epsom School of Art and passed the National Diploma in Design in painting during 1949. In 1950 he received a Surrey Art Award to study illustration for 1 year.
In October 1951 he obtained the position of assistant to Frank Hampson, the creator of comic strip hero ‘Dan Dare’ from the ‘Eagle’.
He worked with Frank Hampson for 8 years and carried on as assistant to Frank Bellamy. Eventually Donald Harley was in charge of ‘Dan Dare’ with Bruce Cornwell as his assistant up to the end of 1962.
The ‘Eagle’ was famous for its technical ‘cutaway’ centre spread drawings of planes, boats, trains, cars etc and it is probably no surprise therefore that in the 6th January 1962 edition of the ‘Eagle’, a Daimler SP250 was the featured car. The article described the four SP250s that had recently been added to the Police Traffic Control Fleet.
In 1962 he left ‘Dan Dare’ and became a Freelance Artist illustrating children’s books specialising in historical subjects. He has worked for many publishers too numerous to mention.
Information provided by Claude Kearley (mentioned in Donald’s letter 4th August 1989)
Letters from Donald Harley to Gary Titosky in Canada
4th August 1989 Surrey, Great Britain
Dear Mr Titosky,
I was most surprised to read your letter and see the photograph of XHP 438 in the ‘Classic Cars Magazine’, it was shown to me by a friend, Mr Claude Kearley who has just completed the restoration of an SP250 and I think he is going to write to you.
I owned XHP 438 during the summer of 1961 and the Spring of 1962 and it was obtained for me from ‘Jack Brabham Motors’ of Hook near Kingston, Surrey and I was told that it was the Motor Show model. It was also the one which featured in the ’Autocar Road Test’ which included photographs. I have a copy.
The serial number of the car is the one following that of the one featured in the maintenance manual. It was a beautiful car when I had it, where has it been to in 27 years?
When I had it the wing mirrors were the same as in your photograph and it had curved bumpers (fenders) with over-riders on the front, a ‘V’ symbol on the grill, a white spotlight on the drivers side and an orange fog light on the other side just above the bumpers. There were also white wall tyres.
I am trying to find a black & white negative of the front view of the car, I have one of the rear and a colour transparency of it when it was dirty in the snow. I have a highly finished painting of the car in full colour. When I get a chance I will photograph it and send you a copy and any other pictures I can find.
I wish you success in the restoration. I know it’s hard work, it’s bad enough just touching up a car. I‘ve been working on mine today. I have a FIAT 128 3P hatchback, its over 12 years old, 114,000 miles on the clock and it still doesn’t use more than 2 pints of oil between oil changes. I’ve had four classic British sports cars and various British & German saloon cars but I find this FIAT 128 3P the most exciting car I’ve ever had.
August 31st 1989 Surrey, England
Dear Mr Titosky,
I hope that you received my last letter. I have enclosed the photographs of XHP 438 which I promised to send to you.
When I purchased it the car was less than two years old, star shaped cracks had already started to appear in the fibre glass and body paint, the bottom end of the gear lever became disconnected on two occasions when driving in town and a float in a carburettor became jammed on a few occasions causing petrol to flow over the engine.
11th September 1989 Surrey, U.K.
Dear Mr Titosky,
Thank you for the letter enclosing the photographs and the other information, unfortunately I have no knowledge of previous owners except that the car was obtained for me in 1961 by a friend in the motor trade and that he acquired it from Jack Brabham Motors. Later in 1962 I exchanged it with my friend for a Sunbeam Alpine so I have no knowledge of later owners, it is possible that the original log book may have been lost and a new one issued and that would explain why my name isn’t on it. This type of log book ceased to be used in the early 1970s, now we have a form with the name of the current owner only on it so that it is not possible to see the names of past owners.
I am not sure but I think the carpets were a dull beige, have a look at the “Autocar” road test which I have enclosed, the carpets appear to be a medium tone.
Another friend who has recently had an SP250 (red) restored decided to ignore the original colours and has had the interior done in black. I think he is going to have the hood re-covered in black also.
XHP 438 originally had a leather covered steering wheel, it shows in the Road Test pictures. I think the interior leather was a warm tan colour, as for damage there was none that I can recall but the fibre glass had developed star shaped cracks in a few places but you had to look for them and a previous owner had touched the car up in places as there were patches of colour which did not match up with the rest.
I found that the floor on the passenger side wobbled and my friend tells me that on later models this was strengthened. He also says that the car should not have front bumpers, but as you can see they were on the car when it was Road Tested.
I also met a car dealer in 1962 who told me that he and other dealers were allowed to test it for themselves and that he had taken it up to 130 mph. (I think that he may have exaggerated).
The Road Test mentions that it was heavy on oil. I can’t remember having this problem but I did manage to get 35 mpg out of it. I was also told when I bought it that the engine had been overhauled.
It was a very smooth car and shot up to high speeds with no noise or effort, but the steering was heavy.
I hope that this information is a help.
1962 Onwards – to Holland and on to Canada
Donald Harley kept XHP 438 for the rest of 1961 and clearly liked sports cars with prominent rear wings as he exchanged it for a Sunbeam Alpine in March 1962. From then to 1977, XHP 438 had four further owners and moved around England quite a bit living in: Dulwich, South London; Yealmpton in Devon; Gloucester; Purley in Surrey before moving up to the Midlands to Market Harborough and then Braunstone in Leicestershire.
In January 1978 XHP 438 was bought by a Dutch composer / musician Mr R A Van Pelt who drove the car across to Holland where it was given a new Dutch registration number of 60 TS 15. In June 1978 Mr Van Pelt emigrated to Canada and XHP 438 was exported to Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada via Portland, Oregan, arriving in August on board M S Rigoletto. Mr Van pelt didn’t make much use of the car in Canada and it was stored for almost ten years.
In 1987 it was sent off to auction billed as the London Show Car (although it is now known this is not true). Two Canadian brothers, Gary and Doug Titosky, realised how important it was, bought it and took it home to Fort Saskatchewan just outside of Edmonton, Alberta.
Gary and Doug started on what was to become a very long term restoration project. One of their early tasks was to strip off the old paint and cracked gel-coat and give the car a new coat of paint.
They also overhauled the engine which despite its 51,000 miles was a credit to Edward Turner’s design and needed very little work.
Initially Gary and Doug struggled to find information about SP250s in general, and parts in particular, but the advent of the internet made life much easier. Inevitably having children, buying houses and having careers meant that their plans to finish the restoration, took much longer than they ever expected.
The years passed slowly and then one day early in 2019 while doing more research, Gary came across an item on the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust website saying that 2019 was 60 years since the launch of the SP250. An email from him requesting more information landed in the inbox of Tony Merrygold, the Vehicle Collection Manager at the Trust.
After a lengthy trans-Atlantic discussion and an inspection visit from Tony to Canada, the Trust agreed to buy XHP and return it to England to become a permanent addition to the Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust Collection. On 9th May 2019 Doug drove the car onto a trailer and the family waved it off as it headed for Vancouver again to start a sea voyage to London. It arrived at the Collections Centre at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon on Monday 8th July.
Once at Gaydon the Trust gave the car a thorough check over and SP250 Club historian Laurence Jones came up to give the benefit of his encyclopeadic knowledge of SP250s. Laurence has helped with research into the car’s history, and some its owners and has sourced some rare, early parts which were missing.
In September the car was taken back to Compton Verney, now an Art Gallery, to recreate some of the 1959 press photos.
The Trust will be exhibiting XHP 438 on the SP250 Owners Club stand at the Classic Motor Show at the NEC from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th November 2019 and Doug and Gary Titosky and their families are coming over from Canada.
The November issue of the Daimler and Lanchester Owners Club magazine ‘Driving Member‘ features the car on the front cover and includes a 3 page article covering the history of the car and its return to England for a well earned ‘retirement’ in this, its 60th year.
Following the show at the NEC the car will return to the workshops at Gaydon where the restoration work, started by Doug and Gary Titosky in Canada, will be completed.
PostScript – V8 Engine
Although the car was not a success, with only 2,654 being produced, over 20,000 of the 2.5 litre V8 engines were produced, over 17,000 of which powered the Daimler V8 version of Jaguar’s Mark II saloon. A further 2,000 of the 4.5 litre versions of the engine were built which powered the Daimler Majestic Major saloons and limousines.
Author: Tony Merrygold
© Text and Images – Jaguar Daimler Heritage Trust