Daimler – The Forgotten Luxury Car
Mention the name Daimler to most luxury car buyers and chances are they will think of Daimler-Benz, manufacturer of Mercedes automobiles and formerly in bed with Chrysler.
Another unrelated Daimler exists in England, however, and some (though few) cars are still sold under that badge, but its existence is so obscure that most people are unaware of it.
This was not so once, for in its heyday Daimler of Coventry, founded in 1896, was one of Britain’s most noted manufacturers, supplying vehicles to royalty and the rich and famous around the world.
Trace the company’s lineage back far enough and its roots are shared with the German Daimler, although the separation took place long before Britain and Germany fought on opposite sides in the Great War which began in 1914. Interestingly there was also a third Daimler marque, Austro-Daimler, which lasted until 1934 before expiring in the face of recession in troubled Austria.
The British Daimler was part of the BSA group for many years and after 1930 took over the now-forgotten middle class Lanchester brand. At the end of the 1950s a series of miscalculations came home to roost for Daimler, epitomised by the SP250 roadster – sometimes known as the Dart. This odd-looking little car was a complete sales failure and its very existence must have bewildered the company’s salesmen at the time.
In 1960 Daimler was snapped up by Jaguar, a company then very much on the rise, with an image as dynamic as Daimler’s was old fashioned. Since then it has been a sub-marque of Jaguar, in much the same way Bentley used to be for Rolls-Royce, before the Bentley name became desirable and was sold off to become Volkswagen’s flagship brand.
Under private and state ownership alike, Daimler has remained deep in the shadow of its more sporting sister. Sales have ebbed and flowed, but no-one has really made a good case for what Daimler actually stands for.
The company is still best known for its staid saloons, particularly the stately DS420 Limousine, in production from 1968 right through until 1992. Although very clearly Jaguar-based this had the company’s last unique body and provided a visual link back to a much earlier era. These commanding cars are still a relatively common sight in the UK today ferrying brides to church, high court justices to their chambers, or – as hearse conversions – citizens to their final resting place.
In the 1960s, Daimler’s great little 2.5-litre V8 engine kept the marque’s individuality alive in plush versions of Jaguar’s small Mark 2. By the 1970’s and 1980’s, however, such engineering independence was dead.
Daimler offered models like the Sovereign and Double-Six, which were merely Jaguars for richer and generally older people. Aside from a slightly different fluted radiator grille and some tasteful extra bells and whistles, there was never really any Daimler identity, even after Jaguar escaped the clutches of British Leyland and rediscovered – for a while, at least – its flair for marketing and real export success in the USA.
In the 21st century Daimler has an ephemeral existence, sometimes visible, sometimes vanished. The current Daimler model is the Super Eight, a version of the long wheelbase XJ, although if you visit Jaguar’s UK website you won’t find it mentioned anywhere. Nor does it appear in Jaguar’s sales brochures, and it is unclear whether the model benefited from the XJ’s 2007 facelift or, indeed, is still in production.
It does, however, have its own reassuringly expensive looking leather-bound brochure if you can locate one in a showroom.
In the unlikely event of seeing one on the road its distinguishing features are so few that you are not going to be able to identify that it isn’t a Jaguar unless you get up very close. Which begs the question why does it still exist at all?
Jaguar’s current woes, exacerbated by the crippling value of the pound against the dollar, confused brand image and overly retro styling and interiors, means the future of the Daimler marque is even more of a sideshow than normal just now
If Ford successfully unloads Jaguar and the eventual buyer manages to turn Jaguar round, however, a Daimler revival remains an intriguing possibility if the new owners wanted to move upmarket and seriously challenge the likes of Bentley.
There are problems, of course, not least the lack of brand awareness in most markets, the confusion with Mercedes, and that funeral link. But Britain’s oldest marque is nothing if not a survivor and could yet have a surprise in store.
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