The Mark 2’s better bred cousin.
The British Daimler Motor Company (as opposed to the better-known German one) was one of the most venerable names in automobile history, tracing its roots back to 1896, and with a long-standing Royal warrant, amongst Britain’s most prestigious. Part of the Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) Group, a combine which incorporated military hardware, cars, commercials and motorcyles, by the mid 1950s the carmaking side of the business was starting to struggle against rising costs and stronger competition.
In 1956, Chairman, Sir Bernard Docker was forced to cede control over the BSA Group owing to a financial crisis at Daimler, one which was exacerbated in no small measure by his wife, Lady Docker’s rather extravagant spending habits. Succeeded by Jack Sangster; upon taking control of the business, the new BSA chief appointed former Ariel and Triumph motorcycle engineer, Edward Turner to head the vehicle division, giving him overall responsibility for Daimler (cars and commercials), Ariel, BSA, and Triumph (motorcycles) and Carbodies (taxis).
With the existing range of Daimlers fading in the marketplace and humbled by rivals such as the upstart Jaguar marque, Turner investigated a new range of cars to be powered by new compact 90 degree aluminium V8 engines of 2.5 and 4.5 litre capacity. Primarily intended for a new saloon, Daimler’s straitened financial position and a number of false starts meant the project never quite got off the ground.
Judging from the few images available, the putative saloon was no great loss, but the V8 engine was a gem. Allegedly, Turner had been driving a Cadillac at the time and admired its power unit, and it’s believed that he based the bottom end of the V8 upon the GM design, while adopting his motorcycle experience for the cylinder head, employing hemispherical combustion chambers, pushrod operated valves and a single central camshaft for compact dimensions and lightness.
While the V8 was very much Turner’s brainchild, the bulk of the design work and modifications were carried out by Turner’s deputy, Jack Wickes. Indeed, it’s believed that the V8’s excellence is as much down to Wickes’ contributions as it was to Turner. The engine debuted in 1959’s (‘Major’) version of the previous year’s Majestic saloon and in 2.5 litre form, the SP250 ‘Dart’ roadster, the latter a classic case of a fine engine in search of a decent chassis. By then, Daimler’s losses had forced Sangster to place the business up for sale. Following a brief courtship, it was acquired by Jaguar.
Having tried and failed to make something saleable from the SP250, Jaguar engineers, who were highly impressed with both Daimler V8 engines, soon turned their attention to the smaller of the two, one finding its way into an unsuspecting development ‘Mark 1′ around 1960/61. The results were startling, the V8 powered car proving considerably quicker than Jaguar’s own XK unit. Hardly surprising, being a more modern, lighter and more responsive engine than Browns Lane’s essentially pre-war design.
With a bore and stroke of 76 x 70mm, the 2547 cc unit developed 140 bhp at a free-spinning 5800 rpm. Turner’s motorcycle experience showed in that valve bounce was said not to have occurred until after 7000 rpm. With only minor changes to allow for the installation into the Mark 2 bodyshell, and being mated to a Borg Warner Type 35 automatic transmission, the decision was made to introduce it as a production model in the Autumn of 1962 as the Daimler 2.5 V8.
Technically, little else was altered. Owing to there being slightly less weight over the front wheels, the spring rates were changed and softer dampers fitted. Steering effort too was reduced, however, power assistance was still preferable. Externally, differences were confined to the fitment of a fluted Daimler grille, while aft, badging apart, the number plate lamp holder received a similar treatment. Inside, it was largely business as usual, although the Daimler received a slightly elevated standard of trim.
A usefully and notably quicker car than the 2.4 Mark 2, the Daimler V8 quickly gained a niche amongst those for whom the leaping cat was perhaps a little infra dignitatem. This positioning of the Daimler as sedate luxury carriage, somewhat belied its performance potential, but this could be said to have suited Jaguar’s purposes.
Developments included a fully engineered marine version, which was completed but not proceeded with and the investigation of fitting the 4.5 litre unit into a Mark 2 body, which would have made for something of a hot rod – in a straight line at least. However, it was never a serious project. In 1967, along with the rest of the Utah range, the Daimler received a mild facelift, along with a new name – V8 250.
Changes were minimal, mostly reflecting those of the equivalent Jaguar model, but the car could now be specified with Jaguar’s manual gearbox. Marles Varamatic power steering was also now available, replacing the older lower geared system. Like most of its Jaguar siblings the V8 250 was phased out in Autumn 1968 to make way for the XJ6.
The Turner V8 took on a whole new life beyond the grave, being widely used in motorsport and drag racing (where it developed prodigious power outputs), suggesting that both engines had the capability to be developed further. That Jaguar failed to do so, especially as regards the smaller capacity unit remains both a mystery and what can be seen in retrospect as a huge missed opportunity.
The Daimler 2.5 V8 meanwhile was largely dismissed as little more than an ennobled Jaguar, but it was more than that, proving a refined, capable and satisfying saloon with a subtly different character to that of its Browns Lane stablemate. And that character was wholly defined by Turner and Wickes’ superb engine. Nobility will out.
Data source: Daimler and Lanchester Owners Club