Daimler History

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Daimler History



 1933 - 1960 (Jaguar Takeover)
United Kingdom
The Daimler story came about because of the foresight of Frederick Richard Simms, a young mechanical engineer from Warwickshire in the United Kingdom. Simms had met Gottlieb Daimler at the Bremen Exhibition at the end of the 1880s, a meeting which resulted in Simms acquiring all Daimler engine patent rights for the United Kingdom and colonies (except Canada).

In 1891, Simms borrowed a petrol-engined launch from Daimler and gave demonstrations on the Thames at Putney. There was, thought Simms, scope for a more ambitious marketing venture, so in May 1893 he was responsible for the formation of the Daimler Motor Syndicate Limited, which fitted engines into launches in a railway arch under Putney Bridge railway station.

After the Daimler-engined Panhard and Peugeot cars had swept the board at the 1894 Paris-Rouen Trials, Simms decided that the time had come to establish a motor-car factory in Britain. In the summer of 1895, the first Daimler-engined car arrived in England, and the British Motor Syndicate was formed, having purchased the rights from Simms, to exploit the Daimler patents within the British Empire, and start manufacturing in Britain.

Harry Lawson

One of the syndicate's members was the infamous Harry Lawson, who had learned the art of company flotation from Terah Hooley, whose name had become a byword for the promotion of firms with vastly over-inflated share capitals. Lawson, the son of a Brighton clergyman, saw rich pickings in the new locomotion, and in January 1896 he floated the Daimler Motor Company: his eventual aim was to control the entire British motor industry,
to which end he set about securing every motor patent available, squandering vast sums on worthless projects like the Pennington engine.

Lawson's directors, after a Continental junket in which French and German car factories were studied, set about finding a suitable British factory. After fruitless inspections of conditions at Cheltenham and Birmingham, they heard of a disused cotton mill at Coventry, which was acquired in April 1896.

Production did not get under way until early in 1897, before which time the company's activities consisted of screwing Lawson's patent plate on to imported Panhards and Cannstatt-Daimlers. Neither was the Daimler Motor Company the sole occupant of the Motor Mills, which it shared with the Great Horseless Carriage Company (later the Motor Manufacturing Company) and some Pennington activity. Indeed, it was almost impossible to distinguish between Daimler and MMC products: the two companies were interdependent, Daimler making the chassis and machinery, and MMC the coachwork, with the make of the finished car a matter of company whim. As one former MMC employee recalled: 'The Motor Manufacturing Company was in the main mill building; Daimler was in a shed round the back'.

The First Car Run From John O'Groats to Land's End

Initially, production was centred on a 4hp twin; two early publicity stunts which brought the model to the public notice were an ascent of Malvern Beacon and the first motor-car run from John O'Groats to Land's End. At the tiller on the 929-mile journey was Henry Sturmey, editor of The Autocar, which was at that time the official mouthpiece of the Lawson empire. Running time was 93½ hours, and during the trip Sturmey handed out publicity cards to the wondering populace who were near at hand. Once the marque got under way, a bewildering variety of different models was turned out under the aegis of their works manager, J. S. Critchley. Over the next five years the models included 4½, 6, 7, 8,9 and 11 hp twin-cylinder models and 12, 14, 18, 22 and 24 hp fours.

1897 4hp Daimler, imported from Daimler's namesake in Germany
1897 4hp Daimler, imported from Daimler's namesake in Germany.

Great Horseless Carriage Company Wagonette
The Great Horseless Carriage Company, which shared premises with Daimler. Pictured here is the "Wagonette", which had a 6hp engine and top speed of 12mph.

1927 Daimler Double-Six 50 hp Limousine
1927 Daimler Double-Six 50 hp Limousine.

1931 Daimler Double-Six Sports
1931 Daimler Double-Six Sports.

1935 Daimer Light 151935 Daimer Light 15, which was fitted with a 2003cc engine.

1935 Daimer Light 15 Engine Bay
1935 Daimer Light 15 Engine Bay.

1935 Daimler Limousine
1935 Daimler Limousine.

1947 Daimler DE 36 Straight 8 Saloon 1947 Daimler DE 36 Straight 8 Saloon.

1956 Daimler DJ 253 Conquest
1956 Daimler DJ 253 Conquest.

1956 Daimler DJ 253 Conquest Dashboard
1956 Daimler DJ 253 Conquest Dashboard

Daimler SP250
Daimler SP250.

Daimler V8 Saloon
Daimler V8 Saloon.

Edmund Lewis' Three Model Range

Then, in mid 1902, Daimler ditched this complicated line-up in favour of a three-model range designed by Edmund Lewis. One of the first customers for the new 22 hp model was Edward VII, whose enthusiasm for the marque dated back to 1900, when he had bought a 6 hp Hooper- bodied phaeton, marking the start of a long period of Royal patronage for Daimler. Possibly because of its Royal connections-the list of customers read like an abridged Debrett-Daimler escaped the spectacular collapse of the Lawson empire in the early 1900s (although the company was reformed in 1904) and acquired that part of the Motor Mills that had been occupied by MMC.

Kaiserpreis and the Herkomer Trophy

Around this time the distinctive finning on the radiator made its appearance. Those early Daimlers were noted for their high (by the standards of the day) performance, and the works entered cars in hill-climbs and competitions such as the Kaiserpreis and the Herkomer Trophy - without conspicuous success; A team of three cars ran in the 1907 Targa Florio, entered by the Societa Anonima Officine de Luca Daimler, which built Daimlers under licence in Naples from 1906-1908; despite such star names as Victor Hemery (ex-Darracq) and Hubert Le Blon (ex-Serpollet) alongside works tester George Ison, the team could achieve no better than 13th, 20th and 26th places.

Four-cylinder and six-cylinder models of 3.3 litres to 10.4 litres were produced during this period, but in 1908 the company began to switch emphasis from performance to refinement. The reason was the acquisition of the manufacturing rights to the Knight sleeve-valve engine, designed by Charles Yale Knight of Wisconsin. Development of the new power unit was carried out under the supervision of Dr Frederick Lanchester. At first, both sleeve-valve and poppet-valve engines were built; then the sleeve-valve became standard power for Daimlers, creating the prestige image of the marque -tall, stately cars with a dated appearance, going about their business in silence and a faint haze of oil smoke.

Birmingham Small Arms Company Merger

In 1910 came a merger with the Birmingham Small Arms Company, which resulted in some rationalisation of the Daimler and BSA car ranges; an early benefit of the amalgamation was the development of all-metal construction for some of the group's car bodies. Munitions, military vehicles and aeroplanes formed the mainstay of the Daimler company's war work in the 1914-18 period; one interesting spin-off was the use of 105 hp Daimler engines in the first tanks.

Marconiphone Usw Daimlers In Wireless Reception Experiments

Post-war car production was centred on three models, launched at the November 1919 Olympia Motor Show: these consisted of two 30 hp types and a 'special' 45 hp model. All had engine lubrication inter-connected with the throttle, the oil troughs supplying the big-end bearings were raised by the throttle, so that the faster the unit ran, the more lubrication there was.

The marque's silence earned it a place in broadcasting history in 1922, when the Marconiphone Company used Daimler cars for experiments in wireless reception, although the concept of a receiver that could be used to pick up radio programmes while the car was in motion did not catch on for another decade.

Behind the somewhat dated facade of the finned radiator, Daimler hid some advanced engineering developments: four-wheel-brakes became standard in 1924, as did thinner, lighter, steel sleeve valves for the engine, which resulted in greater power outputs. However, such progress was seemingly wasted on George V, who that year replaced his fleet of 1910 Daimlers with four brand-new 57 hp models which looked almost as dated as their predecessors.

In fact, the 57 hp engines only lasted a couple of years, for in 1926 they were replaced with the company's sensational-and complex-new Double-Six power unit, a 7136cc sleeve-valve V12, designed by the company's Chief Engineer (and later Managing Director), Laurence Pomeroy.

In 1931, the King acquired a new fleet of Double-Six 50 hp cars, which were mainly notable for the poor proportions of their coachwork. That Daimlers did not have to be fitted with ugly bodies was proved by the activities of various enthusiasts in the early 1930s. Reid Railton collaborated in the production of two lowered-chassis Double-Sixes by Thomson and Taylor of Brooklands for two discerning customers, Captain Wilson and Mr Hutchinson; the first was an open sports four-seater, the second a Weymann coupe.

The 1929 Magic Carpet

Joseph Mackle, a partner in the London agents for the marque, Stratton-Instone Ltd, won many coachwork competitions with his specially-bodied Daimlers, like the 1929 Magic Carpet, with aerofoil- section running boards, or the Light Straight-Eight of the 1930s, which had raked wings and outside exhaust pipes a la Metcedes.

In 1930, Pomeroy was responsible for the fluid- flywheel transmission, which used the Fottinger coupling (originally used for driving the propellors of warships) in conjunction with a conventional cone clutch and crash gearbox to simplify gear changing.

The Wilson Preselector Gearbox

Then, Percy Martin, the company chairman, suggested the combination of the fluid flywheel with the Wilson preselector gearbox. This transmission, which became standard on all Daimler, BSA and Lanchester (acquired in 1931) cars, eliminated the clutch, and gave an ease of control which was unrivalled until the introduction of automatics. As the fluid flywheel came in, though, the Knight engine was on its way out. Technological developments had eliminated the sleeve-valve unit's former superiority in terms of silence, and its extra complication was no longer economically justifiable.

The 3.4-litre Light Straight-Eight

It had a worthy successor in the shape of Pomeroy's second great engine design for the company, the 4.6-litre ohv straight-eight of 1935, based on the 1934 sleeve-valve unit. The 3.4-litre 'Light Straight-Eight' of 1936 was a sign of the changing social climate, for it was 'designed especially for the owner-driver'.

The large car range of the mid 1930s was completed by three sizes of straight-six, although a few ohv Double- Six cars were built for prestige purposes. Towards the end of the decade, coil-spring independent front suspension was introduced on Daimler and Lanchester cars, which become virtually badge-engineered twins.

In 1937, Daimler moved out of the Coventry works centred on the old Motor Mills, concentrating production on their Radford Works, acquired in 1908, and progressively enlarged over the years. The Motor Mills survived the move by only a few years; they became an Air Ministry store and were completely gutted during the blitz of Coventry. Four-wheel-drive scout cars and armoured cars, aero-engines and smaller munitions were the company's main war production.

When peace came, the Daimler car range was based on four pre-war models: the DE 27 had a 4.1-litre, six-cylinder engine, the DB 18 was a 2.5-litre six, the Straight Eight was enlarged to 5.5 litres and the once-proud name of Lanchester was carried on with a 1.3-litre, 10 hp, model.

The DB 18 was the basis of two special versions from Daimler's coachbuilding subsidiaries, Barker (whose Special Sports Coupe was current from March 1949 to July 1952) and Hooper (who made the 'razor-edge' Empress Mark 1 Saloon, succeeded in 1952 by the Mark 2, with aluminium cylinder head, preselector gearbox and overdrive).

A 3-litre, six-cylinder engine was announced in late 1951 and a four-cylinder variant was used in a new Lanchester 14, which became the basis for the Daimler Conquest of 1953. For a time, Daimler concentrated production on medium-sized cars, phasing out the DE 27 in July 1951 and the Straight-Eight in November 1953; but the 3-litre Regency proved to be underpowered and was upgraded to 3.5 litres as the Regency Mk 2. A performance version of the Conquest appeared in 1954, fitted with an aluminium cylinder head and twin carburettors to boost power output from 75 to 100 bhp.

Jaguar Buys Daimler

This Conquest Century survived until January 1958, by which time Borg-Warner automatic transmission was offered as an alternative to the preselector gear. This was the choice, too, on the 3.5-litre 104; but when this model was replaced by the 3.8-litre Majestic in 1958, only the Borg-Warner was available. Lanchester had been killed off in 1956, and in 1960 Daimler was bought by the then buoyant Jaguar Car Company, which was urgently seeking room to expand.

Apart from the more specialised versions such as the 1960 4.5-litre, V8 Majestic Major and its stretched Limousine variant, and the glassfibre-bodied SP 250 sports car, designed by Edward Turner (Ogle design studies to improve the looks of this car became, somehow, the Reliant Scimitar), most Daimlers were based on the contemporary Jaguar models from that time on.

Power, however, was provided by the pre-merger 2.5-litre and 4.5-litre V8 engines. Externally, only vestigial fluting on the dummy radiator shell distinguished the later Daimlers from their raffish younger sisters, the range being centred on the Sovereign. The Sovereign of 1973 had the Jaguar V12 power unit and predictably, the Double-Six name was revived for this model and' the two-door Coupe which followed.

Jaguar Merges with BMC

The last car to have a Daimler engine was a V8 250 which was essentially, apart from a fluted grille, badges and drivetrain, a more luxurious Jaguar Mark II. Jaguar would in-turn merge with the British Motor Corporation, the masters of badge-engineering marques in 1966 to form British Motor Holdings (BMH).

Not surprisingly, except for the Daimler DS420 Limousine introduced in 1968 and withdrawn from production in 1992, subsequent vehicles were badge-engineered Jaguars, but given a more luxurious and upmarket finish. For example the Daimler Double-Six was a Jaguar XJ-12 with the Daimler badge and fluted grille and boot handle being the only outward differences from the Jaguar, with more luxurious interior fittings and extra standard equipment marking it out on the inside.

BMC merged with the Leyland Motor Corporation to give the British Leyland Motor Corporation in 1968. Production of Daimler buses in Coventry ceased in 1973 when production of its last bus product (the Daimler Fleetline) was transferred to Leyland plant in Farington.

The Daimler marque stayed within BLMC and its subsequent forms until 1982, at which point Jaguar (and Daimler) was demerged from British Leyland as an independent manufacturer. Significant Daimler models for that period include:

  • 1959-1968 Daimler Majestic Major
  • 1959-1964 Daimler SP250 (B and C spec.)
  • 1961-1967 Daimler DR450 Hemi V8 Limousine
  • 1962-1969 Daimler 250 V8
  • 1966-1969 Daimler Sovereign (badge-engineered Jaguar 420)
  • 1968-1992 Daimler DS420 Limousine, successor to the DR450
  • 1969-1983 Daimler Sovereign (badge-engineered Jaguar XJ6)

Also see: Daimler Car Reviews

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