As the name implies, this was a relatively small (for Daimler) 15hp car, and was a direct response to growing demand for smaller, owner-driver cars.
Introduced in 1932, the Fifteen was a radical departure for Daimler from its traditional product range, which featured powerful engines in enormous chassis, clothed in elegant limousine bodies. The Fifteen was powered by an all-new 1805cc six-cylinder engine, with overhead poppet valves. Whereas most other manufacturers had used poppet-valves all along (as do our cars today) Daimler had, for some years, adopted the American Knight sleeve-valve system: terrifyingly complex, but virtually silent compared to the unsophisticated overhead valves of the day. The all-new Fifteen heralded the company's return to the old (but by now much-improved) overhead valve.
The car's success was immediate, and it was to continue in various forms for many years, with gradually enlarged engines up to 2½ litres. In fact, the Fifteen chassis, as modified in 1937, was the direct ancestor of the famous DB-18s, Regencys, One-O-Fours, Majestics and Majestic Majors right into the 1960s.
The Fifteen was available in standard saloon form and several variations direct from the Daimler works in Coventry but, like the larger Daimlers and Lanchesters, it could also be fitted with specialist bodywork by one of the many coachbuilding firms operating before the war.
DB-18 (1937-1939) - 2½ LITRE (1946-1951) - CONSORT (1949-1953)
The Daimler Fifteen was a huge success in the 1930s, and it inevitably developed into a mid-sized family saloon, with a 2½-litre 6-cylinder engine (with a 'badge-engineered' Lanchester counterpart, the 14hp Roadrider Deluxe).
The Daimler, first known as the 'New Fifteen' and later by its chassis designation DB-18, was offered in four- and six-light body styles ex-factory, as well as in chassis form for specialist coachwork. A number of limited-production models came to prominence for their performance, including the elegant 'Dolphin' four-seater tourer.
During World War Two the Daimler works at Coventry had swung over to wartime production, and had become a prime target for Luftwaffe bombers. After the war there was little hope of starting afresh with all-new models, so the Daimler Company took the course followed by most British manufacturers, of announcing a range of cars based upon prewar models. In Daimler's case, it was the successful DB-18.
Renamed the 2½ litre, but still a DB-18 under the skin, even retaining the 'DB-18' chassis identification code, the car featured many of the engine developments which had first appeared on the prewar sporting 'Dolphin', and had been further refined on the wartime 'Scout' patrol car. Bodywork was generally confined to a standard six-light saloon by Mulliners (which had been owned by Daimler since before the war), although independent coachbuilders still offered variations -- particularly dropheads (convertibles).
As it had been before the war, the mid-sized Daimler was a great success for car-starved Britons, and set the trend for the next few years: solid, well-engineered cars which didn't need to proclaim their worth -- those who mattered already knew. The DB-18 range and its successors became the staple transport of solicitors, bankers and company executives, and reflected their conservative tastes for understated quality.
Daimler also joined the rush for export sales, and by 1949 had an export-only version on the production line. This was the Consort: again a DB-18 under the skin, but with a much-modified body which featured faired-in headlamps, a curved radiator grille, and front door quarter-lights (the trade-off here was the omission of the sunroof and opening windscreen). The all-mechanical brakes were replaced by a hydro-mechanical system, and the long-lived worm-drive differential was replaced by a more modern hypoid bevel type.
For a while the 2½ litre and the Consort were produced side-by-side, but eventually the Consort became available on the home market, and the older model was phased out.
Since being taken over by Daimler in 1931, the once-distinctive Lanchester marque had become little more than a 'badge-enineered' cheaper Daimler.
This was in many way a tragic decline, as Lanchester was, from its beginning at the turn of the century, remarkable for its quality and innovative design. Lanchester had never believed in doing things just because that was the way others did them. The products of this philosophy was a range of cars that were brilliantly different, owning absolutely nothing to the horse-drawn carriage other than the shape of the wheels! In some ways this militated against the marque, as car-buyers in those days were just as cautions as they are today in accepting anything different from the norm -- even if it makes perfect sense.
By the 1920s Lanchesters were much more conventional in style, and were every bit as magnificent as their rivals from Daimler, Rolls-Royce, Napier, Hispano-Suiza and the like. At one stage they were the most expensive cars in the world, and several Lanchesters joined the Daimlers in the Royal Mews, and in the garages of Indian Maharajahs.
The Depression, however, drastically shrank the market for luxury cars, and Lanchester found itself the target of a takeover by the BSA group (Daimler's parent company since 1910). The takeover gave Daimler much-needed technological know-how for the design of its own forthcoming Straight Eight engines, as well as a stable-mate marque to place between the BSA and Daimler ranges.
After the Second War, however, badge-engineering was cast aside, and Lanchester suddenly gained an identity all its own -- although a far cry from the luxury monsters of the twenties. In 1946 the LD-10 was announced: a quality small four-door saloon with a 10hp 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine. Despite its small size, however, it still included all the Daimler refinements such as fluid flywheel, preselector transmission, and quality fittings.
In 1949 the LD-10's body became the responsibility of Daimler's in-house coachbuilders, Baker & Co. The car now wore an aluminum four-light body, which continued in production until 1951. Two two-door dropheads were also made, of which one survives today in England.
This elegant drophead coupe was developed from the successful postwar 2½ litre (DB-18) range. Apart from its striking coachwork, it featured a modified engine (alloy head, twin SU carburettors) and a four-speed gearbox with overdrive.
But it was the bodywork that drew most attention. Handbuilt in alloy by Barkers (owned by Daimler), the Special Sports echoed the lines of a number of stylish sporting dropheads built on Daimler and other chassis before the war. In a departure from traditional Daimler reserve, most Special Sports featured distinctive two-tone paintwork, the division following the styling line that swept in a graceful arc from bonnet to tail; it was usual to put the darker shade on top, as the lighter-coloured wings gave a greater impression of width.
Another interesting feature was the provision of a sideways-facing rear seat; this seat and its footrest could be relocated to face in either direction.
Despite its name, the Special Sports was no great performer. Its engine was uprated from the standard DB-18 unit from 70 to 85 bhp, but as the body was also considerably heavier this was scant compensation. Like all Daimlers, it could cruise happily and silently at 70mph, but its acceleration to that rate could at best be described as leisurely. For those bemused, therefore, by the choice of name, it must be admitted that contemporary motoring writers, while enthusiastic about the car, were equally baffled by the nomenclature. Then again, this was an era when 'sports' was not necessarily synonymous with competition, and in this case it merely referred to the car's sporting character: suited not so much to hillclimbs and sprints as to picnic outings, complete with cloth cap, cravat and pipe.
Relatively few of these cars were built. Just 608 Special Sports chassis were produced, but some 108 of these received elegant Hooper four-door saloon bodies, which means that a mere 500 of these Barker-bodied dropheads went to the marketplace. Today they command high prices, particularly in Europe. A high proportion came to Australia (probably thanks in part to the boom years of the 50s), and a remarkably high number survive here, including the # 2 prototype of 1948, which now resides in NSW having been brought to Australia for the 1949 Melbourne Motor Show.
Strictly, the Empress is not a Daimler model, but a saloon body style built by the famous London coachbuilders, Hooper and Co. on a succession of Daimler chassis from 1949 to 1957. This long-established coachbuilding firm became part of the BSA-Daimler group in 1940.
Four series of Empress saloon were produced, although fewer than 170 cars were made over an eight-year period. Virtually all were four-door saloons, not particularly large by the standards of most coach-built cars, but rather intended to cary four people (only) in considerable style and luxury. All had 'razor-edge' styling and sweeping body lines, in which there were no rear mudguards, enclosed rear wheels and a convergence of the lines of front mudguard, waist moulding, roof and boot at the car's rear. All bodies were constructed of aluminium alloy on a traditional English Ash frame, and the interior appointments were quite lavish.
The first series was a four-light saloon, introduced in 1949 and built on the DB18 Special Sports chassis with a twin-carburettor, alloy head 2.5-litre motor and the underslung worm-drive differential. Later Empresses were six-light saloons. The second series was built from 1952 to 1954 on the DF302 chassis with 3-litre motor (Empress ll). The Empress lll was produced from 1955 on the DF 308 chassis in 3.5-litre form, culminating in the last of the line, using the 130 bhp engine from the 'Sportsman' model. The last Empress was delivered in 1957.
To the best of our knowledge, three Empresses exist in Australia, a 2.5-litre car in Victoria, a 3.5-litre car in Western Australia and one of the rarest of all Empresses, a two-door Empress ll in Victoria, built on the DF 302 chassis in 1953 and factory fitted in 1955 with a 3.5-litre engine.
Often unfairly overlooked as a 'scaled-down Daimler Conquest', the Lanchester Fourteen (known as the Leda in its export form) was a highly significant car for the BSA combine in the early fifties.
The Lanchester marque had already led the way in postwar production for the company, being the first all-new model to come out of the works after the devastation of the Coventry blitz. The Leda not only followed this trend of original design, but served as a test-bed for the highly successful Daimlers that were to follow. Far from being a scaled-down Conquest, the Leda was first off the drawing board by several years, and was in effect a Conquest prototype.
The engine was all-new, being a two-litre four-cylinder unit; it would later be extended to six cylinders for the larger Daimler Regency range. Similarly, the body was all-new, having the rounded lines that were characteristic of so many British cars into the mid-fifties. The early versions (Fourteens) were built from 1950 on traditional lines, with panelling over a wooden frame. The export version (Leda), which followed two years later, was a trend-setter in its field, with its all-steel construction -- the first Daimler product so constructed. In both cases the bodywork was almost identical to the Daimler Conquests that came along in 1953, only the wings and bonnet differing greatly because of the Lanchester's smaller engine; some say the Lanchester grille actually suits the styling better.
The Leda was the fast large-volume product from Lanchester. A 1.5-litre engine was developed for an all-new model in 1954, with an automatic gearbox designed by Australian H. F. Hobbs, but this car (the Sprite) never saw production; an attempt to develop a Mk II version was equally unsuccessful. By 1957 the Lanchester name was all but dead.
By the early 1950s Daimler was looking to production of a truly 'modern' car. The first result of the postwar design activity was a four-cylinder 14hp Lanchester, known on export markets as the 'Leda'. The rounded body style was typical fifties, and inevitably served as the basis for things to come.
The Leda's engine was enlarged to six cylinders, and went on to power a series of mid-sized Daimlers starting with the Regency. The body, however, was slightly enlarged, adapted to an all-new engine and chassis, and became the 2.5-litre six-cylinder 75bhp Daimler Conquest range. This was the first Daimler to use all-steel construction.
The Conquest range can be a little bewildering to the uninitiated, as Daimler developed it in several directions at once. Its engine was uprated to give 100bhp, and logically renamed the Conquest Century, although the basic Conquest remained in production as well. Along the way a series of drophead coupes and roadsters was also developed, as well as a Mk II version of the saloons. Among other modifications, a portent of things to come arrived in 1956, when Daimler decided to offer the Conquest and Century with automatic transmission as an option alongside the traditional preselector system.
The Conquest Century may have looked staid, but its performance made it attractive to competition drivers everywhere, especially in Britain, Australia and the USA.
By the way, a test for history buffs: note the connection between the Conquest's name and the initial pre-tax price-tag: £1066. (1066 was the year of the Norman Conquest of Britain - who says the Brits don't have a sense of humour?)
As Daimler developed its range of mid-sized saloons (Conquest and Conquest Century) into the fifties, the previous line of mid-sized cars was growing into a collection of quite large machines.
The chassis of the Consort was developed in 1954 into the Regency Mk II (the 3-litre Regency, retrospectively known as the 'Mk I', was virtually stillborn in 1950, although its chassis carried a number of attractive specialist bodies).
The Regency Mk II was offered with a choice of 3.5- and 4.5-litre six-cylinder engines, and again variations on the themes were also available. Apart from limited-production bodies such as the Hooper 'Empress', there was also the Regency Sportsman, with a four-light body and swoopy rear-end treatment giving it a most distinctive air.
The model was later upgraded to give improved performance, and its 104mph top speed inspired its new name: the One-O-Four.
Again, there were the regular variants, plus a model that today would have the liberationists picketing the factory: the Lady's Model. This was a basic One-O-Four, but its interior was lavishly equipped with such niceties as power windows, a built-in vanity case complete with make-up, slide-away notepad with gold pen, travelling rug, umbrella, fitted suitcases, fully equipped picnic hamper, torch, sunglasses -- and much more.
In 1956 Daimler offered the option of automatic transmission on its One-O-Four range, foreshadowing the death within two years of the famous Daimler fluid flywheel and preselector drive system.
The larger Daimler owner-driver saloons just kept on getting bigger.
The One-O-Four developed into the 3.8-litre Majestic, with automatic transmission as standard, far greater performance and (a first for British production cars) four-wheel disc brakes to haul it to a standstill quickly and safely. The car quickly won acceptance as a luxurious businessman's express.
Then, in 1959, the Edward Turner-designed 4.5-litre V8 (developed from the SP-250 sports car's 2.5-litre unit) was dropped into a redesigned Majestic body, and the magnificent Majestic Major was born. This car, despite its traditional looks, shattered all preconceived ideas about Daimlers. Despite a huge weight disadvantage (nearly 2 tons fully laden) It could cover a quarter-mile in 17 seconds, top 100mph (180kmh) in under 29 seconds, and could easily top 120mph flat-out -- and the larger limousine version wasn't much slower! Contemporary reports noted that the Majestic Major could easily out-handle and outrun many sports cars of the day, and do it with consummate serenity and style.
For those who doubt the potency of this car, an anecdote from the period should dispel any uncertainty. When Jaguar took over the Daimler company in 1960, one of the first things they did was look closely at the two V8 engines on its production lines. The smaller engine was an obvious choice for the Mk2 Jag's body, but would the big 4.5-litre Major engine do well in the vast, upmarket MkX hull? Engineers dropped a motor into a MkX to see if it could handle the task -- and it promptly blew the doors off everything in the factory. The white-faced Jaguar execs quietly dropped the idea; the notion of marketing a Daimler that could humiliate a Jaguar simply wasn't on!
In 1959 the idea of Daimler producing a sports car was unthinkable.
But Daimler was in financial trouble, and desperately needed a big win in the lucrative American market. The solution, it seemed, was to produce a sports car to rival Jaguar's all-conquering XK range.
Edward Turner was called in to design a light 2.5-litre V8 engine for the job, in double-quick time, and he solved the problem by (in essence) drawing together four his succesful Triumph V-twin motorcycle engines back-to-back. From this simple expediency,however, came one of the finest V8 engines ever designed -- an absolute gem of a machine which today is greeted by motoring writers with the same superlatives that were heaped on it when it first appeared.
The chassis and body, unfortunately, were not so happily conceived. Rushed into production for the 1959 New York Motor Show, the Daimler sport car's chassis was badly-underdveloped, and the fibreglass body's styling was, to say the least, controversial. The early cars flexed badly, doors tended to fly open, finish was less than perfect, and the unsuspecting public ended up doing most of Daimler's development work for them.
All of these problems were eventually rectified, and today most of the car's quirks are put down to 'character', but at the time of its launch, with little price differentiation from its Jaguar rivals, and with the sensational E-Type just around the corner, the SP-250 was destined to struggle in the markerplace.
Nevertheless, its saving grace was its engine, which propelled it to great success in competitions around the world (Pete Geoghegan won outright,by two laps,at Mount Panorama in 1962), and the engine was even adapted to some successful hillclimb cars, a Cooper-bodied open-wheel racing car, a dragster, and a few remarkable hot rods.
But when Jaguar took over Daimler in 1960, they had no place for a rival to the E-Type, and although the car stayed in production for the time being, by 1964 it was gone. Today, by constrast, it is the most sought-after postwar Daimler, with buyers paying high prices for relatively 'ordinary' examples and top dollar for fully restored cars. Its quirky styling only enhances its appeal as an icon of the sixties.
When Jaguar took over the Daimler Company in 1960, it was primarily because the former desperately needed additional production facilities for its own products. It would have been foolish, however, to overlook the bonuses it had been handed with the deal.
For a start, there was the Daimler name itself. Jaguar held a stranglehold on its own corner of the market, but its products had a hard time selling into more traditional markets, where Jaguar was seen as something of a 'Flash Harry' car. The addition of the Daimler marque to its stable could give the company a valuable entree to an upper-class clientele.
Then there were the existing Daimler products. Few of the Daimler cars (the SP-250 sports car, and the Majestic and Majestic Major range of saloons and limousines) held any appeal to Jaguar per se, but the Edward Turner-designed V8s were well worth a second look. As it turned out, the larger 4.5-litre engine was dismissed as a likely Jaguar powerplant (see Majestic Major history), but the jewel-like 2.5-litre V8 was ideal for the curvaceous and sporty Mk2 Jaguar body.
The resultant Daimler 2½-litre V8, released in late 1962, was not quite as quick as the 3.4- and 3.8-litre Jaguars, but it more than made up for this in its turbine-like smoothness and torque. It enabled Jaguar to offer buyers a quieter, smoother car, coupled with additional improvements in the cabin which made the Daimler an altogether more refined machine (only automatic transmissions were available until a very few cars were equipped as manuals after 1966), and placed it firmly at the top of the Jaguar-Daimler range. The model was upgraded along with the Jaguar range in 1967, and renamed the V8-250, continuing in production until 1969.
Enthusiasts argue about what car may be considered the last of the 'true' Daimlers, but the V8 saloons are generally accorded this tribute; the body styling may have been all-Jaguar, but the engine was still uniquely Daimler. After this model, nothing but the trim and nameplates could differentiate the Daimler and Jaguar versions.
The takeover of Daimler and its eventual 'badge engineering' by Jaguar was an ironic twist of fate, echoing as it did the fate of the respected Lanchester name when taken over by Daimler in 1931. There were important differences, however.
Jaguar did not place the Daimler into the market as a downmarket Jaguar, and did not allow the name to die when it was no longer expedient; to the contrary, it elevated the marque to the top of the range, and there it stayed into the 21st century.
In addition, Jaguar developed a unique Daimler DS-420 Limousine (based on the Jaguar 420G floorpan and engine) and kept this elegant and imposing machine in production from 1968 until the early 1990s. The Limousine carried stylish coachwork by Vanden Plas, which echoed the sweeping lines of the Hooper Daimler Empress of nearly two decades earlier. The late Queen Mother was a particular fan of the DS-420, and owned the first and last examples made.
However it must be said that, except for the DS-420 limousine, Daimler products were, from 1969, simply badge-engineered Jaguars. The first 420 Sovereign (produced alongside the V8 Daimlers from 1966) was followed in 1969 by the first of the elegant XJ-series cars, whose basic styling carried both marques through to the early 2000s.
For the brief period in the 1980s the company decided to rename its top-line export models Jaguar Sovereigns, primarily because of the low recognition factor of Daimler in the important US market. Fortunately, wiser heads eventually prevailed, and it again became possible to buy a Daimler Sovereign in Australia.
Along the way, another famous Daimler name was resurrected: the Daimler version of the Jaguar V12, introduced in 1971, was immediately dubbed the 'Double Six', echoing the name of Daimler's famous sleeve-valve V12 of the 1930s.
Daimler and Jaguar were absorbed into the Ford empire in 1989 and then sold to the Indian-based Tata in 2008. The Daimler name survived, but there was little apart from badging and trim to distinguish the marque from its XJ40 feline stablemates. Nothing ever came of hopes for a small Daimler V8 version of the 1990s S-Series Jaguar and the attractive Corsica convertible variant of the X300 never made it past prototype stage.
The luxurious Super Eight, a stretched version of the Jaguar X308, was produced in strictly limited numbers until 2009. History may record it as the last car to wear the Daimler badge. However, there are rumours that Tata may develop an ultra-premuim new Daimler model to again compete with Rolls-Royce and Bentley. We'll have to wait and see ...