This petite Daimler roadster was built to bring London’s rowdy café racers to justice
We can see that confused look on your face, and we sympathize: The 1961 Daimler SP250 isn’t exactly the most beautiful British sports car ever built. This one, however, is even more peculiar than it looks. The petite roadster, originally known as the Dart, is one of 26 used by the London Metropolitan Police Department from 1961–64 as a high-speed pursuit vehicle. Seriously.
The SP250, headed to Silverstone Auctions’ November 13 sale, packs a 140-hp, 2.5-liter V-8 engine that can propel the car from 0–60 mph in 10 seconds on the way to a top speed of 125 mph.
“The SP250 Dart is a strange one,” says John Mayhead, editor of the Hagerty Price Guide UK. “It not only has that V-8 engine, it has a very distinctive look.”
Indeed. While the roadster has both British and American styling influences, it was developed specifically to appeal to the American market—notice the 1950s-style rear fins and abundance of chrome. At the time Daimler was better known for its limousines, so the SP250 was a bit of a reach. Except for law enforcement.
Among the model’s features: a fiberglass body atop a separate, ladder-type chassis; four-wheel disc brakes; and either a three-speed manual or optional automatic gearbox. All SP250 police cars were fitted with a handle on the dashboard which, when pulled, locked the transmission in second gear, allowing the car to accelerate from 0–85 mph without shifting.
Why was that lever necessary? In the early 1960s, London was being overrun with young “café racers,” and the Metropolitan Police needed a chase vehicle nimble enough to catch the rowdy motorcyclists. It worked. In fact, the SP250 was so successful that other British police departments followed suit, as did some in Australia and New Zealand.
This ’61 SP250 was registered with the Metropolitan Police on June 1, 1961 as Fleet no. 240T and tagged 550 CLU. After being driven 97,325 miles, the car was sold into private ownership on August 30, 1967. Among its four caretakers was Claude Kearley, president of the Daimler SP250 Owners Club from 2007–09, who had a full restoration performed to concours standards. The car went on to win numerous show awards.
Generally speaking, Mayhead says SP250s are awash in “horror stories about chassis corrosion and cracking bodies,” and values “have been steadily dropping over the last few years as the generation that remembers them is slipping away.”
With that said, the police versions of the Daimler SP250 roadster are the most popular. The highest ever paid for one was £82,140 (about $125K today) at the 2015 Goodwood Revival auction, but Mayhead says star power likely had something to do with it. “That car was part of a collection owned by Chris Evans—the U.K. radio star, not Captain America—so it had celebrity provenance.”
Silverstone Auctions is hoping the outstanding example crossing the block in November will leave jaws agape once again—not just for its odd styling and surprising career, but for its hammer price.