Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ranting Stan's Sunday Drive: Daimler SP250 Dart

Bit of an odd choice for the Sunday Drive this week - because I can't honestly say that the Daimler Dart was a car I saw a lot of when I was young. In fact, I can only remember two occasions when I ever saw a Dart in real life - and one of those was in a used car showroom.

Despite it's rarity, though, the Daimler Dart is the only car ever to make me laugh out loud the first time I saw one. Before I go on, I ought to say that there were many cars from my youth which, on my first sight, made me react in some way - a cor, wow, gasp, smile, jaw-drop or shrug - but only the Dart actually caused me to laugh like a hyena and point while I guffawed.

I was only about 10 at the time and was shopping with my mother in Maidenhead one morning when we rounded a corner and were confronted with an old English white Dart sitting by the kerb. The looks of the car made me instantly think of a duck (though I'm not sure why, now - if anything it looks like a fish) and caused me to roar with laughter and point at the car much to the chagrin of the driver - a handle bar moustached, Terry Thomas look-a-like.

He was most certainly a former army officer type. The sort you could imagine would be captain of the golf club and known by his former rank - the colonel or major or something. On seeing my reaction he gave a loud "hrrummph", twiddled his moustache, jammed his flat cap firmly onto his head and roared off.

Now I'm older I can appreciate his indignation because the Dart was actually a pretty decent car for the time. Introduced in 1959 with a lightweight glass fibre body, 2.5 litre engine, a 120 mph top speed and all round disc brakes it was a decent performer too. As far as I'm aware, it was also the only GRP bodied car that Daimler produced (though I stand to be corrected).

It was known as the SP250 in the US where the name Dart caused some legal issues and enjoyed decent sales success over there - considerably better than here judging by how few I've seen on British roads.

It may have looked a little peculiar, but it was actually quite a handsome car when viewed from some angles and quite definitely a distinctive and dramatic sight. A far cry from the generic identikit cars we have today. That's one of the problems of modern cars for me. Their computer design for mass market appeal and pre-launch focus group approval means that cars like the Dart are never ever going to be made anymore.

Is it any surprise that my reaction to most new car launches is just a shrug these days? I mean, there is no doubt that dynamically modern cars are fantastic in comparison to the cars launched in my day - even the Top Gear "reasonably priced car" so universally loathed by all who drive it would have been a revelation in terms of performance, quality and kit in 1970 - but there are all oh so dull.

It's a actually slightly ironic that in this day and age of "radical" politics and social liberalism we are so much more conservative in our choice of car.


lowering springs said...

pretty cool car... I like how you have presented the information in full detail. Keep up the great work and please stop by my Cold Air Intake site sometime. Keep it up..

bernard said...

Right Stan, it's phenomenal 2.5 V8 engine, made it the fastest English sports car of its day and the choice of the Highway Patrol along the newly-created M1.

Pol-e-tics said...

The Dart is smart. I liked the Triumph TR2 at that age and had a white 9-inch model with wind-up rear wheels.

To clear the political gloom here's some auto-porn you might like - though the text needs some work.