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Hemi Overload: Daimler SP250 Collection

I was among those who previously considered the Daimler SP250 to be among the ugliest sports cars ever built. Then, I heard one accelerate and it quickly shifted to my list of “Own Before I Die” vehicles. The Daimler compact V8 powerplant was a clever bit of engineering, so intriguing that even car guy extrordinaire Jay Leno restored one stem to stern. A seller on the West Coast happened upon a large stash of SP250s, racked up in a warehouse and now for sale as a single collection. Find the Daimlers here on craigslist and go here if the ad disappears.

Our friends at Jalopnik did an excellent write-up of these wonky sports cars being stacked up on shelves inside an old warehouse; the pictures make you believe that we are far from the last vintage barn find being discovered. Thankfully, the storage arrangement seemed to work as the drivers appear to be in nice condition – those are the first two cars you see here in their new digs at the seller’s workshop. As the Jalopnik story tells it, the previous owner owned a trucking repair business and apparently had a thing for this intriguing piece of British ingenuity.

The red car, the one parked behind the yellow one above, looks quite tidy. The seller has a total of five Daimlers that he’s asking $65,000 for, which also includes a treasure trove of spare parts and engines. The Daimlers used a “Hemi-head” design, so contrary to some misconceptions that these were like built like a Jensen Interceptor with a Chrysler motor, Daimler actually conceived their own design and the 2.5L V8 cranked out 140 b.h.p. and 155 lb. ft. of torque. Combined with the lightweight body, they were quite decent performers out of the box.

There are some clear projects in the collection, as this car makes up the third model followed by a roller and a body stored on wooden pallets. This seems like a good deal for the Daimler specialist to build two to three solid cars and then sell off the parts to enthusiasts in need. Fully restored examples are going for upwards of $60K, so if the yellow and red cars are solid drivers, there seems like a decent chance of achieving some profit and ending up with a good project car for your own enjoyment. Or do what I’d do and end up keeping everything you promised to sell!


  1. Beatnik Bedouin

    I remember when these were considered ‘orphans’ and were virtually giveaways; mind you, I’m talking a half century ago.

    I’ve worked on Daimler V8s, sometimes jokingly referred-to as ‘four-BSA twins siamesed together’. They’re actually a nice piece to work on and go reasonably well once tuned.

    The chassis of the SP250/Dart is nothing to write home about, but I’m sure Lady Docker didn’t care, as the model is more a boulevard cruiser/tourer than a sports car, imho.

  2. Classic Steel

    I saw this last week and liked the SP250 by Daimler (Pre Jaguar) along with the Chrysler engine that looks wicked even though the engine was not built but could be modified.

    I put this car on the bucket list to find and started looking for a builder with alerts on new listings.

    I did send a contact email to the owner who got them on the cheap from the late warehouse person to talk on these but never heard back.

    I see two good cars from them and a possible third with spare parts.

    This site is great for finding new cars to own in the future, I love muscle cars and find this one sweet.

    FYI: Jay Leno restored one and his is sweet.

    • Rube Goldberg Member

      I stand corrected, you CAN say something nice. Peace.

  3. Bob

    I only saw one up close, in Vancouver in 1963. It was owned by the guy that leased an Esso station about 1/2 block from where I was living.
    At the time, the car looked a little unusual but pretty in its own way. The guy that owned the car used to enter a lot of events with it, and had to put straps on the hood because I guess there was a problem securing the original latch.
    It was a real sweet sounding little engine, and I wouldn’t have minded owning one. There was no chance of that, however, because everything I earned was going to my education.
    I still wouldn’t mind having one.

  4. Dolphin Member

    A few thoughts on this lot of SP250s….

    – Interesting that someone would spend time, effort, & money getting a group of these together. I wonder whether he had at least one good running SP250 to drive and enjoy often.

    – They were never very popular…expensive to buy new, expensive to maintain & fix, so they only sold 2,650 of them. But a number of police departments used the SP250 for speed enforcement, including on the M1, Britain’s first fast limited access motorway.

    – They were semi-unique: the only hemi-head V8 British sportscar (that I can think of anyway). Maserati also had the 5000GT around the same time, but that was in a different class.

    – The SP250 had a ‘glas body, which was well chosen if you are going to make only a few thousand cars.

    – There is a Jaguar connection, but that came in 1960 when Jag bought Daimler. When the SP250 was being designed, and for the first year of production (1959), Daimler owned the firm.

    – These sell for about $50K in very good to excellent condition at auction, so at $65K for 5 cars + parts asking this may be an OK buy for someone, depending.

  5. Adam T45 Staff

    The engines in these are a sweet little engine. They were originally designed to be air cooled, but the decision was made quite late in the design and testing process to make them water cooled.

    These are most definitely a boulevarde cruiser, and not an out-and-out sports car. The chassis suffers from some quite substantial rigidity issues. I have actually seen one of these being driven in a targa road rally (on street tyres, not racing tyres) and there was so much flex in the chassis that the doors kept popping open during cornering! I’ve also seen another one where the chassis flex was great enough that the body cracked under the strain.

    Having said all that, these are like any car. If they are driven within their design limits, they are absolutely fine. I do think that with the top up they are kinda ugly, but with the top down they look okay. Buy one and cruise sedately with the top down on a lovely Spring day. What could possibly be better?

  6. z1rider

    Engine was designed by Edward Turner, better known as the designer of the Triumph Speed Twin, which would power Triumph motorcycles in ever increasing displacements (up to 750cc by the mid 70’s) for decades.

    • Concinnity

      There was a 4.5 litre version of this little V8 fitted to the last big Daimlers,the Majestic Major and it’s DR450 limo version, which were, even by American standards, quite large cars.They were largely handbuilt and quite expensive and rare, only about 2000 made The engines have the same bore centres and are thus interchangeable. The fitment of the larger engine to the SP250 to make an SP450 was not pursued because of it’s threat to the XKE/E-Type Jaguar, which is a shame. William Lyons likewise managed to kill off the V8 mid-engine Rover P9 for the same reason, as well as it’s Rover P8 sister sedan

  7. bdabs

    These have some wonky unnecessary/unattractive design details- the little lites on top of the front fenders, the ‘V’ in the grill, the ugly hubcaps… but I always thought these were cool cars, and I like the way they look. Sure, the front end looks like a bottom-feeder, but I like the straight line from the cockpit back with the fins, the taillights, etc. The 2nd version had much improved chassis rigidity, and they looked much better with the wire wheels. I’ve seen a couple that were vintage race prepped at Lime Rock and they were fast. One time I came arrived, and heard the sound of what I thought was a Corvette going up the back straight; the next lap, I saw it was a Daimler- cool!

  8. Pete

    This on the face of it doesn’t seem like a bad deal. I agree get 3 going and sell off the rest. You could double your money maybe.

  9. Rube Goldberg Member

    Ugly is such a harsh word. I think the Sabra, with similar styling is a bit out there too, but for the time, it was a fast car. With a top speed of 123 mph and a 0-60 time in around 8 seconds, few cars of the late 50’s could do that. I read, they were used by the police in England, because it was one of the fastest cars of the time. Quite a stash.

    • Adam T45 Staff

      Ok Rube, I take your point on the word ugly. Unfortunately I can’t edit my post. However, I will us the phrase “visually challenging” in the future.

      Something I also should’ve said was about one of the cars that I discussed in my earlier post: The owner had removed the front grille for reasons best known to himself. That one action changed the whole look of the car for the better. I’m an advocate for trying to keep them original, but I liked the more aggressive look that this gave the car.

  10. cotobob

    I spent a lot of time in England back in 1961 and the police were using these as they were quick for that period of time.

  11. scuderia

    looks like a bargain of this is any indication…

  12. angliagt angliagt Member

    There was a teacher who had one of these that
    he drove to Eureka High School (CA) in the early/mid ’70’s.It was a dark Metallic Green color.

    From what I read years ago,these were designed
    to be built as cheaply as possible – hence the weird design.

  13. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskey Member

    Daimler also built a larger version of this engine, a 4.5 liter used in the huge Daimler sedans and limousines. A friend in England put one of the 4.5 engines in a SP250 roadster, and if he popped the clutch in 1st gear, the rear wheels would simply start jumping up and down as they smoked. Because the 2.5 and the 4.5 were the same engines externally, it was a bolt-in exchange.

  14. stillrunners LAWRENCE Member

    One was on my list maybe because of that little Hemi…passed one up years ago at the old Pate Swap meet….have since moved on….but still tinker with those little Red Ram’s…….

  15. Wayne

    My Buddy has 2 that he/we are restoring. Triumph TR3/4 frames (which are easily beefed up) with stretched wheel bases. The engine has such a high positioned camshaft that the push rods are almost horizontal. But the strangest part of the engine is the piston ring style rear main seal. The easiest/fastest way to make more horsepower is to remove the cooling fan. Called the second flywheel by those SP250 veterans. It is really heavy!!!! If I heard right they were SCCA National F stock production champions for years 1961 through 1965. Anybody out there that can verify that?

  16. Guido36

    To clear up any misconceptions regarding the two engines, there are no interchangeable parts between the 2.5 and the 4.5. The 4.5 is physically larger in every respect. I have owned and had both types of engine side by side.

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