Daimler SP250 — Nice one in so many ways

Car: Daimler SP250

Drive: Nice to Sainte-Agnes and return, France (130km)


When it first broke cover as the Dart at the 1959 New York Motor Show, the Daimler SP250 was voted (unofficially) the ugliest car at the show.

But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so they say, and to my mind the SP250 is an impressive expression of modernism.

Just look at the bold, avant-garde styling, lustrous Gunpowder Grey paintwork and gleaming, chromed wire wheels. Automotive art.

The SP250 qualifies as the last unique model from Britain’s oldest car maker and the marque’s only true sports car.

Moreover, only 2654 examples were made from 1959-64, making it a true limited edition. 

It just so happens that I’ve got in my possession an immaculate example for a day.

My drive – the coastal city of Nice to the village of Sainte-Agnes high in the mountains of the Cote D’Azur, lunch and return.

First, a bit about the fabulous roads, collectively called Les Corniche.

Highest is the Grande Corniche which rises to more than 450m (on average 150m) above sea level.

Built by Napoléon I, the D2564 traces the route of the Roman-era Via Julia Augusta from Nice to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin.

One level down is the Moyenne Corniche (M6007). Constructed between 1910 and 1928, this pathway to pleasure was hewn out of rock to link Nice, Col de Villefranche, Èze and Beausoleil.

The dollar shot is an ancient, arched stone Devil’s Bridge leading into the must-see hill-top village of Eze, a monumental legacy of the might of Rome that conquered these parts in 200BC. 

The Basse Corniche (M6098), which had its origins in the 1860s, ribbons along the winding coastline, passing by elegant 19th century villas and joining the postcard-perfect Villefranche-sur-Mer, St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Èze-sur-Mer and Cap d’Ail.

Early impressions of the Daimler are highly promising.

First, the broad and ever-present torque of the 2.5-litre V8 engine, which sees the SP250 pull eagerly out of 2nd and 3rd gear corners.

Second, the bucket sports seats boast an agreeable blend of comfort and support, though the absence of seat belts of any kind takes some getting used to.

Yes, it’s that authentic in period presentation!

1962 Daimler SP250
1962 Daimler SP250


The ride quality is supple; grip and braking impressive for age, and the handling proficient — but clearly this is not a car given to being chucked about.

Not with the steering as heavy as it is, even compared with other classics that have similar unassisted systems.

Lucky the Mota-Lita steering wheel is suitably large in diameter to assist with leverage.  

We turn sharp-right onto the D37 towards La Turbie, cross through the village, bear left onto the D53 and delight in the sweeping bends in the direction of Peille.

Less than 10km on, a road hairpins off to the right; the D22, that climbs over the Col Madone to Sainte-Agnes before descending to Menton and Cap Martin.

It is tight and restrictive in places, takes in two or three tunnels and offers superlative views the whole way to Sainte-Agnes. 

A roadside sign denoting ‘One of France’s prettiest villages’ welcomes us to Sainte-Agnes, at 780m the highest coastal village in Europe.

As such, the views are five-star: of Menton, far below, across to the snow-capped peaks of the Mercantour National Park; over the French Riviera, from the Italian border to Roquebrune-Cap Martin.

Looking south, in good weather it’s even possible to spot the island of Corsica seemingly anchored out in the Mediterranean.

We have not arrived here by accident. The friendly folk at Rent a Classic Car Nice gave us the heads-up on the cracking drive and introduction to Le St Yves, a delightful restaurant serving a menu to match the stunning views.

“Georges (owner) and Thierry (waiter) will look after you,” we were assured. And so it proves, over a long lunch. 

The various courses of excellence – fois gras, charcuterie salt pie, trout with almonds, wild boar stew and frites, cheese platter, crème brulee and lemon meringue tarte – are served efficiently and with a generous splash of Gallic humour and genuine bonhomie.

The excellent cherry rose, dispensed on arrival, and 2015 La Seigneurie Du Medoc (superb Bordeaux red; just a glass, mind) to complement the main course, matched the to-die-for vistas from the deck.

A later stroll around the village to compensate for our uncharacteristic gluttony took us through medieval gardens and chateau ruins and unlocked even more epic vistas, then back to the restaurant carpark where we bumped into a group of older folk carefully inspecting the Daimler.

Between their basic English and my atrocious schoolboy French, we chatted sans clarity but animatedly.

One gent pulled out his wallet and proudly showed me a photo of his red MG Midget.

“I used to have one!” I exclaimed, which he most definitely understood and, for a moment, no further words seemed necessary.

The group stayed around to hear the Daimler’s little V8 fire up, and warmly waved us out of sight, no doubt tracking our course down the mountainside by the characteristic, throaty burble on over-run.   

It’s been said that the SP250 is best experienced embracing a gently-curving road, as you enjoy the wind in your hair, and view over the deeply-sculpted bonnet.

I’ll second that. Given its modest total of cubic centimetres (for a bent-8), the Daimler delights with its ever-ready response and flexible torque delivery.

There’s nothing exotic by way of suspension (period-typical control arms, front coil springs, live axle and rear leaf springs), but handling is a delight for a sports car pushing towards its seventh decade.

The unservo-ed, four-wheel solid disc brakes proved progressive and effective, and I’d imagine a match for pretty much any other roadster of its day. 

To encapsulate, the Daimler SP250 possesses an engaging drive to complement its dare-to-be-different design and timeless style.

Would I have one? In a heartbeat.

Would I love to drive those fabulous roads again? Absolutely.


Daimler SP250

Basic price: $US 4259 (new)

Engine: 2.5-litre OHV V8

Power: 105kW @ 5800 rpm

Torque: 214Nm @ 3600 rpm

Transmission: 4-spd manual

Weight: 940kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 8.8 secs


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