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Classic Car

Vintage sports car 'spoke to me' Add to ...

'A lot of cars appeal to me. If I could, I'd have a kazillion of them," says Glenda Meyer. But it was a rare and controversially styled 1962 Daimler SP 250 she chose when she and her husband went looking for another British car to share garage space with the family MGA a few years ago.

"Many people don't like its lines, but it spoke to me. There was just something about it," says the Kingston, Ont., gift shop owner, who shares with husband Wes, a former streetcar designer, an enthusiasm for British machinery. They're actively involved in the area's all-Brit Boot 'n Bonnet Car Club; Wes was its president for a dozen years.

The unusual 1950s sports car Glenda fell for was aimed primarily at the North American market, which was still absorbing MGs, Triumphs and the like in their profitable thousands, but its lack of success - it had a brilliant little V-8 engine, but styling that was an acquired taste and foibles such as having the doors fly open while cornering - has made it a rarity. And few outside the ranks of keen fans of the automobiles of Albion will recognize its maker, the very British Daimler Motor Co.

Daimler first appeared in Britain affixed to a licensing agreement with the German company of that name in 1890s but the Daimler Motor Co. soon became a separate entity that was then taken over by car and motorcycle maker BSA in 1910.

Quite a bit happened over the next half century including Daimler cars finding favour with royalty and adding buses and armoured cars to its repertoire, but fumbling by management in the early 1950s brought about a major reshuffle and re-think. That ended up with Edward Turner from BSA turning up at the Coventry factory to engineer a new range of vehicles that would include something new for the company, a sports car.

Turner is likely best known among old bike fans, who will recall him as the designer of the Arial Square Four engine in 1928 and, a decade later, the Triumph Speed Twin. At Daimler, he put pencil to drafting paper and came up with a very clever 2.5-litre V-8 with aluminum, semi-hemi, overhead valve heads fed by a pair of SU carburetors. It produced a spirited 140 hp at 5,800 rpm and 155 lb-ft of torque, which got to the back wheels through a four-speed gearbox (an automatic was also available).

While this was going on, the chassis guys were busy borrowing broadly from Triumph's TR3 to create a frame with independent front and live axle rear suspension, fitted with four Girling disc brakes.

The design studio, meanwhile, was apparently drawing inspiration from a variety of 1950s styling themes, which was translated into a fibreglass body with a wide and low chrome-grilled snout, protruding headlamps and tailfins.

Inside the roomy cockpit was a pair of leather buckets, a classic array of instruments and the luxury of wind-up windows. Options included wire wheels, a heater, adjustable steering column, seatbelts, fog lights and a hardtop.

The SP 250 made its debut at the New York Auto Show in 1959, originally called the Daimler Dart. But Chrysler, soon to launch a Dart of its own, took such huffy exception the name was promptly changed. It was priced at $3,845 (U.S.), just a few bucks less than the price of V-8-engined, fibreglass-bodied car, Chevy's Corvette.

The SP 250 couldn't match the Corvette's performance but was quick enough, getting to 60 mph (96k km/h) in about nine seconds and topping out at 122 mph (196 km/h), which was faster than an Austin-Healey 3000).

But the chassis proved flimsy and the body so flexy the doors really did sometimes pop open during hard cornering. This was improved on later versions, but Turner's neat engine couldn't power the SP250 to success by itself. And with Jaguar's takeover of Daimler in 1960, just prior to the intro of its new E-Type, the end was imminent. It came in 1964 after just 2,645 had been built.

Turner's engine outlived the car, serving as the power plant for the Daimler 2.5-V-8 saloon (basically a re-engined Jaguar Mk II). The Daimler name and fluted grille was used by Jaguar on special models for many years and is currently owned by India's Tata after its purchase of Jaguar Land Rover in 2008.

The Meyers' car spent its early life in France with a Lady Jane Heaton behind the wheel and was then purchased by a Calgary dentist, later winding up in Orillia where it was purchased by the Meyers in the late 1990s. It was driven home, but then stripped completely and treated to a full restoration, with Wes doing most of the work himself with help from current Boot 'n Bonnet president Dave Stock, and finished in 2001.

Since then, it has been a regular at club events, more often than not with Wes at the wheel, which suits them both just fine. "I chose it but I'm not really comfortable driving it," says Glenda. "And I really consider it our car rather than my car anyway."

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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