Named the Dart, it was launched at the New York show in April 1959. The reception was less than ideal. Chrysler’s Dodge, for one thing, quickly threatened legal action over the use of the name, which they had the rights to, and the public wasn’t all that enthused over the car’s looks. After the show, Daimler came up with the more prosaic SP250 moniker, but it never adorned the car which only ever wore the Daimler badge. In reality the model has always been known affectionately as the Dart, after the press latched onto the name change. And they were actually quite effusive about the Dart’s performance. With just 1 008kg to lug around (thanks to the fibreglass), Turner’s prodigy could propel it to 60mph in a fraction under nine seconds and top out at a heady 123mph. This at a time when a Big Healey could only just do the top (100mph) and an MGA couldn’t get out of two figures.
The figures weren’t lost on the police either, with London’s Metropolitan unit placing an order for 26 Darts in 1961 in a bid to catch London’s ‘café racers’, who were infamous for attempting to complete a section of the city’s North Circular before their favourite jukebox track finished. These cars were specced with the optional automatic transmission as the mileage and nature of patrol journeys was deemed too taxing on a clutch unit. Interestingly, the Dart set the tone for fast patrol cars: the Met would later order a fleet of Sunbeam Tigers, which gave way to Rover 3500s by the end of the 1960s – all three fine choices for pursuing Ronnie Biggs and Bruce Reynolds-style bank robbers!
It was the Dart’s role as a patrol car that later helped improve the product after the Met complained about doors flying open in high-speed cornering – the chassis being notably wobbly at the best of times. That led to some stiffening with an under-dashboard hoop to give the scuttle more rigidity (known as B-spec cars). But that was after the wheel of fortune had turned. Barely a year after the Dart’s launch, the company was sold to Jaguar.