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The Other Daimler

September 15, 2005, by Bill Cawthon

Right now, the International Auto Show is in full swing in Frankfurt, Germany. This year, the focus is on cars and there are lots of new ones on display. Production cars, like the new Audi Q7 SUV and the designed-for-Europe Cadillac BLS, are making their debut and a number of show cars, such as the Iosis and Antara offer glimpses of the styling direction of future new vehicles from Ford of Germany and GM's Opel subsidiary.

The new Daimler Super Eight is the latest car to bear the Daimler name. Image courtesy of and copyright 2005 by Ford Motor Company

Among the new cars making their debut is the Daimler Super Eight, an upscale limousine version of the long-wheelbase Jaguar XJ sedan. It's the first new Daimler car built since 2002 and the latest to wear the badge of Great Britain's oldest automotive marque.

The Daimler Motor Company of the United Kingdom and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (which means the same thing in German) both take their name from Gottlieb Daimler, one of the founders of what is today DaimlerChrysler, and both started with the same engine, but other than that, the two companies have no connection. They are not even pronounced the same way. The UK brand is pronounced DAME-ler while the German is pronounced DIME-ler.

After patenting the engine he had developed with Wilhelm Maybach, Gottlieb Daimler began licensing the new technology to companies outside of Germany. The licensee got not only the engine, but the rights to use the Daimler name in their licensed territory. William Steinway, best known for pianos, was the American licensee and Panhard was the licensee for France. Incidentally, the Panhard license is why DaimlerChrysler's German cars are called Mercedes (more on that here).

Daimler's English licensee was Frederick Simms. Simms was born into an English family living in Hamburg, Germany, in 1863. He grew up to be an engineer and an inventor with a keen eye for new ideas. He met Gottlieb Daimler at a German exhibition in 1890 and was impressed by the new Daimler engine. In 1891, he acquired the license and began importing Daimler engines.

At the time, highly restrictive British laws made operating an automobile almost impossible, so Simms rented space in the arch under the Putney Bridge railway station and began installing the engines in boats.

Simms' new enterprise was successful and in 1893, he founded the Daimler Motor Syndicate to begin production of the Daimler engines in England. Within two years, he announced plans to form Daimler Motor Company Limited with the intention to begin building automobiles (incidentally, Simms is often credited with the first use of the terms "motor car" and "petrol") and formed the Motor Car Club.

1895 was also the year Simms met Harry Lawson, a smooth-talking financier and entrepreneur. Lawson had formed a group of his own, the British Motor Syndicate, and was using his investors' money to buy up all the automobile-related patents he could find with the idea of controlling the entire industry.

Lawson paid Simms 35,000 pounds sterling for his Daimler rights and moved the operation to Coventry in 1896. With the passage of the Locomotives on Highways Act, the most onerous restrictions on automobiles, including the requirement every car on a public road be preceded by a man with a red flag, had been removed and the skilled workforce in the Coventry area was attracting a number of would-be automakers.

Frederick Simms and Harry Lawson

The first Daimler appeared in 1897. It has been called Great Britain's first car, but there is some disagreement with that as a rival company, the Great Horseless Carriage Company, claimed it produced a finished automobile based on the French Bollee almost a year before the first Daimler rolled out of Fowler's factory.

In spite of its beginnings, the first Daimlers were not based on the German Daimler car. They consisted of a British body on a Panhard & Levassor chassis with a Daimler engine built to Panhard specifications.

The Daimler was a hit and the company sold 89 cars in its first year of full production. It got a major boost in 1898 when the Prince of Wales, who later ascended the English throne as King Edward VII, drove one into the yard of Parliament. Daimler cars became the official state transportation of royalty, a distinction the brand held until 1950, when it was replaced by Rolls-Royce.

Over the course of the next decade, Daimler cars became well-known for their quality and performance in various automotive competitions, including a win at the first race at Brooklands.

Daimler's good fortune attracted the attention of the Birmingham Small Arms company. BSA had been trying without success to build a car of its own and Daimler's collection of patents and licenses gave it technology that was well ahead of most of its competitors. In 1910 Daimler became part of the larger BSA enterprise.

Unlike other manufacturers, who were moving toward mass production, Daimlers were still constructed with custom-built bodies on Daimler chassis. Combined with its engineering advantages and royal warrant, Daimler was easily the most prestigious car built in the United Kingdom.

King Edward VII at the wheel of a 1901 Daimler. Image courtesy of the Royal Archives HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Production was diverted to trucks and aircraft engines during the First World War. After the war, Daimler immediately returned to building premium cars including additional vehicles for the royal family. By 1919, the Crown had bought 30 Daimlers for the royal family, more than one a year since the brand was established.

True to its origins, Daimler remained focused on engineering development. In 1926, the company introduced the Laurence Pomeroy-designed Double-Six, Britain's first production V12 engine. Four years later, the company began building its fluid flywheel transmission, which offered smoother shifting than conventional manual transmissions.

In 1931, BSA acquired the Lanchester car company for Daimler. Lanchester was another company well-known for its engineering and the purchase gave Daimler a small car line that became very important during the years of the Great Depression.

During World War II, Daimler once again turned its resources to supplying the military, building thousands of four-wheel-drive scout cars and more than fifty thousand Bristol aircraft engines.

Well suited to the royalty for which it was designed, the Daimler DE36 limousine was the world's largest production car when it was introduced in the years following World War II. Peter Ruifrok of the Netherlands has restored this limousine dating from the mid-1950s and was kind enough to allow me to use this photo for this article. Image copyright 2003 by Peter Ruifrok.

As happened after the First World War, Daimler quickly returned to building premium cars following the Allied victory in Europe. This time the company was working on the massive DE36 with its straight eight engine. At the time, the DE36 was the world's largest regular production car.

Throughout much of the early 1950s, Daimler produced a series of extravagant show cars commissioned by Sir Bernard Docker, Daimler's chairman. They attracted a lot of attention from the public but also attracted some careful scrutiny by BSA's board of directors who ousted Docker and his wife from the board amid much publicity.

After the Docker scandal, BSA decided it had had enough of the premium car business. When Sir William Lyons of Jaguar made an offer for Daimler in 1960, the directors were only too happy to sell.

Jaguar continued to develop some Daimler projects, including the SP250 sports car, but it wasn't long before the Jaguar influence began to be seen.

The first true Jaguar Daimler was the DS420 limousine, built on a stretched Jaguar 420 platform. With various updates and styling refreshes, the DS420 remained in production from 1968 to 1992 and was a favored limousine for the royal family and high-ranking government officials.

After this time, Daimlers were generally badge-engineered premium versions of various Jaguars with little more than the fluted grille, a Daimler trademark since 1907, to distinguish it from other Jags.

When Ford acquired Jaguar in 1989 and 1990, it also gained the Daimler name. Various Daimlers remained in production until 2002, when a special DS420 limousine was produced for Queen Elizabeth. In 1996, a special car, the Daimler Century, was produced to celebrate the brand's centennial.

Now, after a three-year break, England's oldest surviving marque is back. The new, limited-production Daimler Super Eight won't be coming to the U.S., but it will be sold outside the UK. Daimlers are popular in Switzerland and several European Union countries and are favored by the high and mighty in Thailand, Malaysia and Japan.

So what happened to the founders of Daimler? Frederick Simms formed the Automobile Club of Great Britain and Ireland, which became the Royal Automobile Club, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers & Traders, which is still the most influential automotive industry association in Great Britain. He also established a new business, Simms Motor Units, which he ran until retiring in 1935. He died in 1944 at the age of 80.

Harry Lawson did not fare as well. Eventually his slick dealing caught up with him and he served a term of hard labor in a British prison. He was almost a pauper when he died in 1925.

In an odd quirk of fate, the cars carrying Princess Diana on her last ride in life and in death were both Daimlers. She died in a 1994 Daimler-Benz Mercedes S280 and the hearse used in her funeral was a 1985 Daimler DS420. Make of that what you will, but I should tell you Daimler hearses were been nearly as common as Daimler limousines among British professional car buyers. The limos, in various forms, are also popular as wedding cars.

In the October first column, I want to tell you about some of the new models that were displayed at IAA. There were some very interesting introductions.

A special thanks to Peter Ruifrok for permission to use the photo of his Daimler DE36. Beginning in 2002, Peter has been restoring the car. It's now drivable and living in the Netherlands. Beautiful car, Peter. If you're interested in learning more about these incredible cars, I would suggest a visit to Peter's website.

See you next time!

- Bill Cawthon

Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is senior editor of Route 1-87, the magazine of the 1/87 Vehicle Club, and a columnist and product reviewer for Model Railroad News. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.

In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant for MARK III Systems, a successful information technology company. He also writes for just-auto.com, an international auto industry publication, reporting on the U.S. light vehicle industry.

He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.

Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.

 

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published by Cadabra Corp. This page was lasted updated: October 12, 2005