Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Historical anomaly

Speculation again over Jaguar reviving Daimler. Cars UK says the Chinese prefer something three-boxier than the XJ. Mandarins apparently like to sit in the back and the XJ rear is too cosy. Makes sense. Jaguar acquired Daimler in 1951 on being forbidden to extend its old factory at Foleshill, leased Browns Lane a wartime shadow factory still making Ferret armoured cars, so the move occupied most of 1951. This is me on the turret of 8 (Alma) Field Battery Royal Artillery's Ferret some time ago.

Daimler was an historical anomaly. Set up in England in 1893 by FR Simms to develop designs by Gottlieb Daimler, its Coventry Radford factory made Panhards based on Daimler’s patents, so British and German Daimler companies had little in common except Gottlieb Daimler as a director until 1898. After the Prince of Wales bought one in 1900, British-made Daimlers remained the choice of royals for the best part of half a century, despite the smokiness of Knight sleeve-valve engines. The Knight licence and overreaching itself financially were Daimler’s downfall and in 1910 it had to be rescued by Birmingham Small Arms (BSA), among whose directors was F Dudley Docker. One of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s sponsors (an upturned lifeboat named after him housed the expedition’s survivors), Docker’s interests ranged from firearms and motorcycles to railway rolling stock.

Daimlers of the 1930s were staid and not very fast but easy to drive, thanks to Wilson pre-selector gearboxes. Post-1945 the Conquest Century gave a good account of itself in saloon car races, a tribute to chassis engineering rather than power. The royal connection foundered following BSA chairman Dudley’s son Sir Bernard’s behaviour, and the gaudiness of Lady Docker’s limousines (Golden Zabra below) at Earls Court Motor Shows of the 1950s. The last straw was plastic-bodied SP250 sports cars of the 1960s, with a V8 designed by Edward Turner of Triumph motorcycles. He nearly developed an association with William Lyons in 1942, but the cars were not very good and renounced after the Jaguar takeover. Only the V8 engine survived.

Daimler independent production ended in 1968, lingering as Daimler versions of Jaguar saloons until the 1990s. Only the splendid DS420 limousine, based on a stretched Mark X remained, styled like the Docker Daimlers and a 1950s Empress Hooper. (Saloon below)

Browns Lane was given over to making Jaguars, the Radford factory survived until the 1990s but now both are gone and Jaguar is at another ex-wartime shadow factory, Castle Bromwich. Set up alongside an aerodrome by Morris Motors’ Nuffield Group in 1936 it made Spitfires and Lancasters. Control was quickly passed to Vickers-Armstrong and after the war it was taken over by Fisher and Ludlow, bombed-out of its own factory in Coventry. As Pressed Steel Fisher it became part of British Leyland, making bodies for Jaguar, which took it over completely in 1977. The aluminium XK is made there and it wouldn’t take much to make it a bit more upright, with a crinkly grille and a woody interior to match anything coming out of Stuttgart. The Chinese like their Deutsches Daimlers, so there is every reason to suppose they would take with equal enthusiasm to latter-day Dockery Daimlers.

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