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Cobra Alternative: 1963 Daimler SP250

1963 Daimler SP250

If we were to describe a sports car that was built on a European designed chassis and powered by a small block V8, most would instantly think of the Shelby Cobra. While it might be the most iconic of these European specials, it wasn’t the only one or even the first. Two years before Carroll Shelby worked with AC to create the Cobra, the people at Daimler were already building a hemi V8 powered roadster. Their SP250 didn’t have the great looks of the Cobra or the straight line performance, but it was still a great car with lots of potential. So, if you’ve been looking for a Cobra alternative that isn’t a Sunbeam Tiger, have a look at this 1963 Daimler SP250 here on eBay. Admittedly, the SP250 isn’t the best looking car, but if your main concern is driving a unique V8-powered roadster than this Daimler might just be the car for you.

Daimler 250 V8

This Edward Turner designed V8 engine isn’t like the mighty 289 that powered later Cobras, but it’s free revving nature and great V8 sound makes it a pleasure to drive. The 2.5L hemispherical head motor puts out just 140 hp, but the lightweight fiberglass body helps to make it feel more powerful than it really is. We are sure there are more than a few of these that have had their original motors swapped out for more powerful American V8s, but we would be inclined to reinstall the original motor. This brings us to one of the more obvious issues with this car. The previous owner had dreamt of restoring the car, so they pulled the engine and transmission out in preparation to spray the engine bay. They never got around to painting the car though, so the motor was never reinstalled. The seller claims the motor was running when it was pulled and that it currently spins freely and has good compression. This engine was an impressive little motor that shouldn’t be too hard to get more power out of, that is if you can find performance parts and someone to tune it.

Daimler Dart Parts

The seller, like the previous owner, planned on restoring this Dart. After stripping the paint off, they made it as far as having it primed. While we wish they would have left the paint as it was, all the included replacement parts they have already managed to get together should help to offset the expense and headache of having it painted. We can imagine that finding parts for this car could be a challenge, but it sounds like there is a very dedicated and knowledgeable following that has already helped guide the seller to some of the hard to find bits. Hopefully the information, knowledge, and contacts the seller has already made are included in the sell, as they could come in handy when putting it all back together.

1963 Daimler Dart

I’m sure there are going to be a few of you upset with me for comparing this Daimler to a Cobra, but the basic formula of what made the Cobra an icon is present in this roadster. Sure it isn’t as attractive, as fast, or as valuable, but speed and looks aren’t the only ingredients in a fun-to-drive car. It’s about the feelings, the sounds, and even the quirks that make a roadster like this one so enjoyable to own. If we had a Cobra we would be so scared of wrecking it that we would rarely drive it, but if we had an SP250, we would drive it every chance we could! The fact that it’s welcome at most of the major rally events around the world would just sweeten the deal that much more and would require us to gain the fortitude and courage to make long journeys in it. There are other great Cobra alternatives out there, so I’m curious to hear whether you would buy this SP250 or one of them?


  1. Avatar photo Dolphin Member

    These do look a bit too much like a pouting catfish, but with a little jewel of a V8, low production, and unknown to most people on the planet, it’ll always be the centre of attention wherever it goes.

    The listing seems honest even if it is by a flipper, and with the clean and unrusty spare wheel well and trunk it looks like it’s the California car it’s claimed to be. Just hope the engine really is OK and doesn’t need a rebuild.

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  2. Avatar photo Robert J

    Count me among those who love these weird little bottom feeders. If I ever get one on the line I’ll tug like the dickens.

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    • Avatar photo DT

      If I ever had one of these on the line ,it would be catch and release

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  3. Avatar photo Tim H

    Looked at one of these a few years ago just could not get past the looks. I went with a 240Z with a ford 5.0 and T5. Much cheaper then a cobra or Tiger (for now).

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  4. Avatar photo René


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  5. Avatar photo Robert A

    Minor point, the ‘250’ refers to 2,5 litres not 250 cubic inches

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  6. Avatar photo Jim-Bob

    Yeah, I can’t get past the looks either. If I were looking for a small roadster of this era that is under appreciated, I’d get a Datsun 2000. If I wanted 140hp, I would swap in a KA24DE/ 5 speed combo (well… 143 or 155 hp depending on original application) with a nice set of side draft carbs and have a lot of fun. Add a set of Panasports (or Watanabes) and a few handling tweaks and have a fun little car that looks better than anything MG was making at the time, let alone Daimler.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am happy someone will preserve this SP250. It just won’t be me.

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  7. Avatar photo Peter

    Uh, @Dolphin – “with the clean and unrusty spare wheel well and trunk it “…have yet to see fiberglass rust! :-D

    Probably already fully priced at the current bid considering the time, effort, and $$$ involved to get it back together and on the road, but cool cars none the less.

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    • Avatar photo Dolphin Member

      I am well aware these have a ‘glas body. It’s one of a list of things that set them apart both then and now. But they do not have a ‘glas chassis. The spare wheel well might be ‘glas, but it looks like pressed steel—-maybe an owner can say for sure. The steel fittings and plywood cover look like they’ve been clean and dry since about 1963.

      OK, now look at the engine bay, which definitely makes my point: dirty but about as unrusty as you will see in a neglected 50+ year old car. Your opinion might differ, but I’ll accept the claim that this has b een a dry So-Cal / mid-Cal car. The last 4+ decade-old car I bought out of Los Angeles looked about like this one in the trunk and engine bay.

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  8. Avatar photo Don Andreina

    Just plain ugly. But a nice little V8 that was even nicer in 4.5 litre form. There was a one-off rebody prototype done by Daimler for the next gen that got cancelled when William Lyons decided it would cannibalise the about-to-be-released E-type. It was a really clean design, nothing like this catfish and would make for a nicer option if you could get moulds of the body.


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    • Avatar photo Don Andreina

      (D’oh, it’s the burgundy ragtop when you scroll down, not the pre-Reliant coupe)

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      • Avatar photo paul

        Oh I like that very much, but would have liked the grille canted the other way, the rest is very nice, too bad it didn’t get it’s day in the sun.

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  9. Avatar photo paul

    I am a big fan of odd so for me the Darts were interesting.

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  10. Avatar photo rancho bella

    Barns Finds has a new fish finder…………….
    These have always made my eye unable to focus as nothing flows. As though the designer thought….”I’ll draw a car and add that….and a little of something else” That was in the first two feet……………..
    They look better in person

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  11. Avatar photo Shilo


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  12. Avatar photo Pete W.

    Not the prettiest face in the crowd but depending on color, can be made somewhat presentable. BaT featured a rather nice, racer version, about a year ago, in dark metallic blue/grey, that wasn’t half bad looking.

    They were built on a ladder frame with a solid rear axle, (essentially TR-3) which, combined with the glass body, made for a rather willowy structure in their early versions. The doors had a tendency to swing open on sharp, bumpy turns. Not good.

    Supposedly, the later Series 2 had a reinforced chassis which addressed that issue.

    The updated, second generation prototype, shown in the link, was a very pretty car, almost Italian in design. It was killed off by Jaguar as being too close in price and specification to the E-Type, and the prototype sold off to a private citizen.

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  13. Avatar photo DT

    I think this car was in an accident,It looks like a TR-3 ,hit a ’56 t bird,and landed on a Studebaker Hawk GT

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  14. Avatar photo John

    Sorry, this has to be one of the ugliest cars ever made, and I like quirky cars. I could never own one. Typical British styling that occurred during this period. Which is to say awful. They would have been better off having any of the Italian design houses do the styling work for them.

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  15. Avatar photo jim s

    it is at $7700 with no reserve so the car will have a new owner soon, but it will not be me. still a nice find.

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  16. Avatar photo Dirty Dingus McGee

    “Break out the Whitworth tools Vern, we gots us a pro-ject”

    I think the designer must have had a fascination with the 1958 Packards, the infamous Packardbakers.


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  17. Avatar photo RickyM

    I love these cars – weird styling admittedly but a great sound from the engine. Quick for English cars of the period. In fact they were used by Police forces over here on the newly opened Motorway network. Page down on the below link :

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  18. Avatar photo julian

    Some personal experience:
    Chassis is a copy of the tr3
    Engine is quite heavy which does not help it to go round corners.
    In the Uk the Police bought some because they thought that they would be good for chasing speeders.
    Two policemen were killed in Middlesex when their sp250 went straight on at a corner.
    Best solution is to junk the engine and install the small block Buick which Rover and Landrover used and is much lighter.
    The fibreglass body is not fireproof.
    I saw An Sp250 shunted at the traffic lights in Finchley road in about 1969
    When I came back half an hour later there was just a smouldering chassis.
    With the right engine it makes a nice cruiser and the weather equipment is pretty good.
    There is also a hard top if you can find one.
    Much rarer than a TR

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  19. Avatar photo Jimmy

    Definately DO NOT replace the engine; do that and you have nothing more than a bodyshell.
    Would you replace the engine in an E Type with a Rover V8? Think not!
    Not the ideal colour for an SP250, begs to have two light blue stripes applied though, plus Im sure some simple mods would help to improve handling and prize a bit more power from that superb engine.

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  20. Avatar photo Dave Wright

    I owned and drove one of these in ancient times, it had no relation to a Cobra or a Tiger. It had puny power, a good TR6 would take it any way it wanted……build quality was poor, no parts available even in the early 70’s, Lucas electrics that were particularly terrible even by Lucas standards.

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  21. Avatar photo julian

    Refer to Dave Wright’s comments
    The engine was not superb, it is puny and heavy which is why the Daimler version of the Mk2 Jag is not popular.
    Would never swap the E-type engine for anything else of any size because you’d lose that wonderful exhaust note. Anyway the E-Type is far more valuable.
    Swap the engines and keep the Daimler V8 in a corner for when you decide to sell it.

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    • Avatar photo Don Andreina

      William Lyons stuck the 4.5 version of the V8 into a Mark 10 and it embarrassed his XK-powered version. I’m not across the differences in ancilliary items but I’m sure the units’ dimensions would be similar. It would be really interesting for someone to try it with a Dart/SP250. Q-car possibilities.

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  22. Avatar photo Jimmy

    140bhp, average or better for a 2.5l engine of that era, enough to produce 125mph performance. Not a Cobra or Tiger but no slouch neither. Engine in MGC was ‘heavy’ too, so what? If we followed your logic we would replace the engines in our elderly cars with modern Japanese ones.

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  23. Avatar photo Dave Wright

    I owned and drove one……… Those numbers are absolutely fiction. My Volvo 142S would run rings around it. And by the way……who said fiberglass is light? When normal street cars…….it is not. Race cars have paper thin panels that do not hold up in everyday use. One item of standard issue in every race car crew is duct tape.

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  24. Avatar photo MikeW

    Ugly, slow and extremely rare (expensive) They are different and I’ve only seen one in my 65 years. I would recommend going with a Sunbeam Alpine and doing a v8 conversion. You’ll end up with a all metal car with the power of Ford muscle.

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  25. Avatar photo MikeW

    Plus you’ll save a ton of money.

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  26. Avatar photo julian

    The British motor industry made the same mistake with the MGC that they made with the Triumph stag and the daimler dart/250. They built heavy underpowered engines when the simpler solution was at hand. They didn’t put a decent engine in the MGB until Ken Costello started doing a V8 Rover (Buick) conversion ( a V8 engine as light as a 4 cylinder Dolomite) . They stuck two Triumph Dolomite engines together to make a V8 which was extremely troublesome in the Stag until years after production stopped and specialists found some solutions; and the gutless engine in the SP 250.
    But its not just BL. Alfa Romeo made the pretty little GTV in 2 litre 4 cylinder form which handles well and then they made the heavy V6 option which sounds great, goes well except round corners! Strangely the V6 car is now collectable while the 2 litre is available here for peanuts. Their cousins at Fiat put a turbo on the coupe for very little weight gain and made a mini rocket ship. But then you’ve got the torque steer!
    Apologies to all for rambling on.

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  27. Avatar photo That Guy

    @Don Andreina, thanks for that link. Wow, that SP252 is a lovely car! I’d never heard of it before. I can see why Jaguar felt it would cannibalize E-type sales; it has very Aston Martin-ish brawny good looks. The SP250 was always a really good car in desperate need of a competent stylist; if it had looked like this to begin with, the automotive landscape might be very different today.

    Is that Mr. Edd China in the background of the first photo?

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  28. Avatar photo scottski

    …if they weren’t so godawful UGLY….

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  29. Avatar photo Jimmy

    I think youre confused Michael. If you want an SP250, you buy an SP250, not a botched Alpine. Have you driven an Alpine? I was working and driving one last week, the suspension struggles with the 1592/1725 Rootes engine, chucking a V8 in it is not gonna help.
    As for a Volvo 142s, fairly swift, until you get to any kind of corner. However you view the SP250, it’s appeal is in it’s individuality, much like any old car. Some mods to the manifolds, ig system, and you might wring a bit more power but why bother?

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    • Avatar photo MikeW

      so a replica Tiger is a botched Alpine or are real Tigers included?

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  30. Avatar photo Julian

    The Alpine with a V8 engine became the sunbeam Tiger – and was a successful sales & competition car.
    I thinks it’s all been said. If you want an underpowered, bad handling, ugly sports tourer buy an SP250.
    If not, buy a proper car.
    SP250s are fetching about the same money in the Uk as an MGA. Sunbeam Tigers are fetching 2 to 3 times that.

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  31. Avatar photo Cameron Bater UK

    Personally if I would go Daimler I’d go the Jag MK2 V8 variant

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  32. Avatar photo Julian

    If I were going Daimler I’d look for a Majestic Major.
    A big V* with lots of punch (by European 60s standards)
    Speed for the whole family – but not very sporty

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