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This article, originally appeared in Practical Classics in January 2009 and has been reproduced below with kind permission of Practical Classics Magazine.
It’s long been the Cinderella of classic sports cars, but the Daimler SP250 (aka ‘Dart’) is at last beginning to get the recognition it always deserved.
There’s no shortage of fast British roadsters but the problem for many buyers is that the tastiest cars are usually out of reach financially. But there are exceptions, and the Daimler SP250 is one of the most frequently overlooked. Perhaps it’s because of those awkward lines, or maybe it’s the rarity. Only 2645 were built during the five-year production run, so there aren’t many to go round.
There are plenty more reasons why you should want one though – not least the amount of performance on offer combined with the relatively low asking prices. There’s also no body rot to worry about – the glassfibre shell is tougher than most and rarely needs any significant TLC. Unless the car has been really neglected it’s unlikely that you’ll need to spend much on keeping an SP250 going – they’re strong and parts availability is superb.
The SP250 made its debut in April 1959 at the New York auto show, where it was unveiled as the Dart. But Dodge had already registered the name forcing Daimler to come up with the rather bland SP250 moniker instead. After some minor bits of re-engineering the car was launched at the October 1959 Earls Court motor show, where it was announced that 7500 would be sold in the first three years.
Production was predicted at the rate of 3000 a year, the bulk of cars going to the US - although fewer than 3000 cars were made in the end. This is possibly more to do with Jaguar’s buy out of Daimler in 1960 and the Dart competeing in the same market as the E-Type, rather than being a true reflection on the quality of the car itself. With 1200 of the 2645 production run being left-hand drive, UK spec models now make for a less predictable and thoroughly desirable classic roadster.
With its glassfibre bodyshell, visible corrosion isn’t something that afflicts the SP250 – although under the skin there are all sorts of potential issues. Bodyshell rot isn’t something to worry about, but glassfibre was in its infancy when the SP250 was being produced and a key affliction is crazing of the gel coat. That said, the SP250’s skin is so thick that serious cracking is unlikely.
If major fissures are evident it’s likely the car has been crunched at some point, so check that the inner wings aren’t rippled. The plastic around the door handles as well as the boot hinges can craze badly but grinding back and re-gelling will effect a permanent repair if done properly.
Bonnets can get damaged and have been known to fly open when on the move; the securing latch can wear as well as the radiator supports corroding. They’re made of steel coated in glassfibre and are structural; if they rot, the nose can flex, leading to the bonnet opening on the move. A caring owner will have fitted a safety latch; they’re just £20 or so from the owners’ clubs. The chassis may be simple but it’s also made of steel and unlikely to be completely corrosion-free. Examine every bit of the chassis; putting it up on ramps is the only way to do this.
The tubular cross-member at the front is usually rusty – this houses the mountings for the body as well as the steering box. New crossmembers are available and they’re easy enough to replace, with four hours usually seeing the job through. Nearby are the front suspension turrets, which also rot out when water gets in through the steering column apertures; it gets trapped then eats its way out.
Whichever turret houses the steering column is less likely to have corroded because the column helps prevent water getting in. Plating is usually acceptable, but if the corrosion has really taken a hold (which is rare), it will be necessary to replace the entire turret. But even that’s not a problem once you’ve removed the bodyshell to gain access to it.
Rust will weaken the turrets, but if the metal is untouched by corrosion there’s a chance the welds will have cracked around the mounting brackets for the lower wishbones. Any cracks are easy to spot on a clean chassis, but if it’s caked in grime or oil you could miss them – which could prove costly. That’s because fixing them properly means stripping the chassis, which involves removing the engine. While in theory it’s possible to leave the powerplant in place to do the work, the reality is that access is restricted and the problem may not be fully eliminated.
Post-1961 cars have a stronger chassis, extra bracing for the B-posts and stiffening beams underneath the door apertures. It’s all susceptible to rot and although all the necessary parts are available new, they can be fiddly to replace. If the whole lot needs renewing you’ll have to remove more than 50 sets of nuts and bolts first – and if they’re all seized up that’s not a quick job.
There’s a substantial crossmember immediately behind the back axle. This can rust, although it’s less likely to corrode than the two supplementary strengthening beams behind. At least it’s easy to repair these areas – unlike those around the hangers for the rear springs. These corrode and accessibility is an issue unless the bodyshell is lifted. Things are made even trickier by imprecise alignment.
Until recently it was possible to buy a brand new chassis made on the original jigs. Consequently, any car you look at may not be on its original chassis – but as long as the work has been done properly, you could have a frame that’s better rustproofed than anything that ever came out of the factory.