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The Angry Catfish: 1959 Daimler SP250

I’ve seen a few humorous references to the Daimler SP250 as looking like something akin to a catfish, and an adjective of aggression is usually thrown in there considering the car’s brawny Hemi powerplant. This example deviates slightly from that recipe and has some other quirks that make it a project car with some asterisks attached. The Hemi is gone, replaced with a Ford 260 V8, and there are some issues with the VIN. The seller speculates that it’s an early production model that may have raced at Elkhart Lake. Find it here on eBay with bids approaching $5,500 and the reserve unmet.

I used to ignore these cars when they came up for sale, but then Jay Leno’s Garage provided an overview and driving impressions video and I changed my tune. They make great noises when equipped with the factory-installed Hemi engine, and look far better going down the road than I expected. The nose section really is a love-it-or-leave-it affair, but I dig the slightly wonky proportions and sneering front end. The fact that this one has lost its original engine is a bummer, and I’d want to source a period-correct Hemi if it were mine.

The seller notes that while it has a VIN assigned to the chassis, it is not the original. It’s described as being an early model, one of just 250 right-hand-drive models built in 1959. The early model designation usually works in a vehicle’s favor, as enthusiasts of cars like the Datsun 240Z and Toyota Landcruiser will tell you. They typically have some details that are unique to the early production vehicles, or are built in smaller quantities. Whether the SP250 has any desirable attributes only found on the earliest cars is a determination our Daimler enthusiasts will have to make.

Pictures aren’t great, and since the seller notes it has been parked in a garage for 20 years, I’m guessing there isn’t a ton of motivation to move it outdoors for photos. The seller notes that other tell-tale signs of early models is a notch carved out beneath the door panels and because the doors flew open under hard cornering, a quirk (and actually, a PR nightmare) limited to the early production vehicles, as the door issue was fixed on later models. Without the original Hemi engine, I personally feel much of the Daimler’s luster is lost; does anyone feel the same way about this SP250?

Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Ugly car poorly shown. Seller needs to find someone who sells cars for a living.

    Like 1
  2. DRV

    Although missing the sweetest little V8 known, for the right price it will be fun!

    Like 3
  3. Blyndgesser

    Nothing brawny about a two and a half liter engine. A plain old Healey or TR6 is faster.

    • Fordfan

      Any Leno restored one. he said it’s the ugliest pretty car or the prettiest ugly car

  4. Mike

    Add whiskers to it and take it to a car show. Give people a chuckle.

    Like 3
    • Johnny

      I think it would look better with long eye lash,s. The women goes for that. I saw a VW bug one day with them and this good looking honey driving it. I told her I liked her eye lashs. She smiled and thank me. Of course I like her better. I like the car too. Its different too.

  5. junkman Member

    Speaking of show; show me the whole car in the photos PLEASE. 6000.00 or more for this ain’t happenin, these are cool and will take a SBC, but not for that money.

    Like 4
  6. luke arnott Member

    These were quick cars when new.Several UK police forces used them.The Hemi engine was why Jaguar bought Daimler.

    Like 1
  7. aboyandhisdog Tom Fitch Member

    Wasn’t the SP250 known for the doors flying open due to frame flex on hard cornering? I may have that wrong – I’m just remembering that from a buddy some 40 years ago. Pretty sure he said they would run straps inside door-to-door to keep them closed. Any knowledgeable Daimler guys here?

    Like 1
  8. BruceB

    Nothing personal, but to me the SP-250 is one of the ugliest cars I have ever seen. I guess beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

  9. ron

    Some times , the uglier a car is , the more one wants the distinction of owning and driving it……..catfish is right! I have hated these cars since I first became aware of their existence and the feeling in my stomach says …..find a toilet to throw up in quick! I think the remaining few should be grouped with the the ever fabulously ugly Citroen’s …..and crushed……immediately if not sooner!

  10. John S.

    Those head lights look a lot like a ’50 Studebaker…

  11. Willowen Member

    Had the use of one for about six months in 1965-66 (owner suddenly had a family and swapped (sans title etc.) the “Dangler” for my Hillman Husky). Actually a great distance car, but while it was a good handler on the loose surfaces common in Alaska – where we were – the limber chassis made it hard to manage at speed on dry pavement. As for the engine, it was so understressed in stock tune that simply swapping in Iskenderian’s camshaft raised the HP from 140 to 165. I never felt the need; 70 was its favorite cruising speed, and once there I could back off the throttle and just surf on the torque curve, while getting around 30 mpg.

    Like 2
  12. Bob

    Saw one of these when it was brand new at a dealership in Palm Springs.

    Fast forward and a friend used to have a Beachcraft Bonanza with one under each wing.

    Like 1
  13. Skippy

    Back in 1978, I had just bought my first Alfa spider. I went over to visit my dad and he had one of these SP-250s sitting in a bay of his garage. He had several other cars, so I honestly had no idea why he had this. Then he showed me the engine. OK, a V8 small block…kind of shelby Cobra style. He startd it and it sounded pretty impressive. Then we swapped cars and I drove it. At the time, I remember thinking it drove like a Triumph. Low, clunky, hard, but probably faster than the TR6s I had driven. No comparison, handling-wise to the later MGBs and MGC I had also driven. I remember noticing how many Triumph, BMC and Lucas parts were on the car. Compared to my Alfa, it was incredibly crude and the heavy fiberglass body made it feel and sound different, too. The little V8 did put out a little more horspower (140-ish new) than the DOHC 2 liter in my Alfa (110) but I think the car was heavier. My dad came back from the drive with a slightly different perspective, I guess. At the time, the Alfa was practically new and the Daimler was, according to him, a rare classic. But the next time I visited my dad, the SP-250 was gone, replaced with what I thought was an early 60’s Jaguar MkII. It was actually a Daimler V8-250. Jaguar purchased Daimler in 1960 or so and was putting the same V8 motor into a rebadged Mk II. Unlike the SP250 The V8-250 was a very pretty car…because it was a Jaguar. I’ve owned several Triumphs since then and all of them, even the ultra clunky TR3A, drove better than that Daimler.

    Like 1
  14. chrlsful

    best prt wuz the engine, that’s gone

  15. Willowen Member

    Ugly, I agree. And I never had doors fly open, but the body flexed enough running over a road ripple one cold night that the ungodly expensive curved glass back window in the hardtop popped right out and broke to a billion tiny bits.

    The design WAS abysmal: the guys at Daimler decided to copy the frame of a near-sized car, the steel-bodied TR4, and then mount a heavy, floppy fiberglass body to it. To this masterpiece they added 15″ steel 60-spoke wire wheels and a massive rear axle, then tried to tie that all down with almost-inflexible leaf springs. Can you say “Unsprung Weight”, Bubby?

    On sand or gravel it handled beautifully. That big square trunk between the fins one night swallowed a small charcoal grill and two guitars in hard cases. In sub-zero weather, I had to keep the choke in for the first few turns to make sure the oil wasn’t frozen solid, and then with the choke out it would fire and run immediately. And those un-servo’d 4-wheel disk brakes would stop on glare ice like most cars on wet pavement. That, and the wonderful revvability of Edward Turner’s V8 – his first-ever water-cooled engine, after all those BSA twins – were enough to make me almost wish I could find another and afford to fix what needs fixing.

    Yes, you’re right, chrisful. That engine is over half the car’s soul, or worth, or whatever you call it.

  16. Bob

    I remember reading in “Unfair Advantage” that Mark Donohue, early in his career, raced one.

  17. V8roller

    The alloy hemi nowadays typically has corrosion issues, and the main bearings have proven fragile.
    So for me the 260 is not a fundamental problem, it seems to have been a good engine, but it would be nice to see some pics of the installation.

    Yes, the Mk1 chassis was flimsy.
    And it probably was a bit of a non-handler, but it was a cruiser not a bruiser.

    I’ve always liked the styling. If I weren’t too old to consider the work this car needs – and the VIN could be a legal problem in the UK nowadays – I’d be buying it.

  18. John Sutton

    The 2.5 litre engine and the 4.5 litre engine were made on the same production line and so it is quite possible to fit the larger engine which gives about 800 US horsepower. Very impressive car. I owned a 4.5 litre Daimler myself.

  19. luke arnott Member

    The big V8 was a powerful unit.Someone I knew had one and for a big car it was quick!

    • John Sutton

      Luke,
      I recall driving my Daimler Majestic Major down the M1 motorway in the UK one evening in the 1960’s and passing a 7 litre Oldsmobile Toronado. I was somewhat surprised as the Oldsmobile was quoted as giving 400 HP. As I was working for Vauxhall Motors I contacted MIRA and they told me they had an Oldsmobile engine on test at the time. Apparently it gave about 98 HP. They told me to call back in a week and they said they had removed all the accessories and managed 110 HP. I called back a week later and they said they had also had a Daimler engine on test which was quoted as 220 HP, but it actually gave 240 HP.

      • luke arnott Member

        John
        I have a 1966 Toronado with the 425!BHP is quoted in the shop manual as 385.Supposed to be good for 135 mph but will pass on that with drum brakes1

        Like 1
  20. V8roller

    Do recall that there is at least one Dart with the 4.5. It ups the HP from 140 to 220, but it’s longer, wider and taller, and 70lb heavier.
    However, it does double the torque.
    The Ford that’s there is 40lb heaver than stock and has plenty enough torque that I’d already be worrying about the gearbox and the back axle. And the flimsy chassis.
    So, really, enough is enough.
    Sometimes one just has to enjoy what’s there.

  21. John Sutton

    V8roller
    Yes I do recall the the gearbox problem because my Daimler Majestic Major had a problem with the input shaft shearing off. I discovered that the shaft had to be polished as a means of avoiding this problem. the 4.5 litre engine gave massive torque and the mechanic showed me that if you put the car onto full throttle with the brakes on it would shear the drive in the torque converter and the car would remain static with the brakes off!! But the SP 250 is a very much lighter car and this should not normally present a problem. I am not too sure about the dimensions to which you refer.

  22. combeske

    I had a chance to work on one of these in the mid 80s. It had been sitting for years and the owner wanted to get it running to sell. I got it going and it was a hoot to drive. After I delivered the car to him, he called the next day and said it wouldn’t move. It dropped the counter shaft in the transmission and locked it up tight. Me thinks he was playing hole shot yahoo and broke it’s weak link.

  23. Peter

    British and not ugly in the least!

    The late Godfrey Paape of Dunedin had one of these V8s’ and a good for 120 MPH.[The Dunedin Paapes of the hotel industry].

    Like 1
  24. Willowen Member

    The one I had the use of in ’65 was pretty homely, I thought, but damn quick and a great cruiser. When I was told to put it up for sale, one of the responses was from a guy whose view of the thing was basically “Gorgeous but gutless”!.

    Thanks to the grossly heavy unsprung weight and Flexy-Flyer chassis, it was not a great handler on dry pavement, but on loose surfaces (not uncommon in Alaska, where I was) it was a dream to drive. And the 4-wheel non-servo disk brakes were incredible on any surface. I would love to get hold of one if I had the buck$$$ to do it, and firm up the chassis and put light alloy wheels on it, just to balance it better. Ugly face or not, Turner’s engine (his first water-cooled one!) is a bit fragile in the bottom end, but sweet as they get … and it would start on the first crank in sub-zero weather, if I didn’t keep the choke on until I knew the oil was actually fluid instead of frozen solid!

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