Daimler Conquest Roadster DJ254 1953/55
My friend Mark Cuthbert-Brown, owned the Daimler Roadster ROE 581 for almost a decade, in 2005 the car won the DLOC ‘Jet Trophy’ at that year’s International Rally, the car was put into storage shortly after this event. I had often admired the Daimler, which was in lovely condition and on one occasion, asked Mark to let me have first refusal, should he ever wish to sell. In December 2009 Mark called me and after some gentlemanly negotiations, the Daimler was soon parked in my garage. The Daimler had been dry stored in a ‘Carcoon’ within a container on a farmyard and although not used for some years, appeared to be in exactly the condition I remembered. Although not running or mot’d I was reasonably certain that the car would be straightforward to re-commission.
The Daimler proved more troublesome than I anticipated, there were several petrol leaks, mostly caused by joints and gaskets drying out, and many of the ignition components, which were only around 5 years old, were defective, the brakes were also non-existant. The rotor arm and plug caps were manufactured in bright shiny black plastic and I suspect, were cheaply made counterfeit items (although I do know that Mark paid top money for them). Once these items were replaced and a heavy duty battery fitted, the car eventually sprang into life. Adjustments to the brakes, a couple of new light bulbs, a good grease gun service and the car was soon back on the road, although the car’s enforced inactivity threw up many minor faults, which have been ‘bit by bit’ tackled and overcome.
ROE 581 is unique amongst the 50 or so Roadsters built, as it is fitted with a fully automatic gearbox. All other known examples have the Wilson self changing gearbox and fluid flywheel (although one New Drop Head Coupe, the similar car with a third transverse seat, was also similarly equipped). For many years it was thought that ROE 581 had been returned to the factory for an ‘up grade’ to the latest automatic, recently however, evidence has come to light to suggest that the car was supplied new with the fully automatic transmission. These early Borg Warner automatic gearboxes are robust and smooth, two pedal driving suits the car well and is a pleasant change from the usual pre-selector.
The Conquest chassis has the advantage of torsion bar front suspension and a two and a half litre ‘short stroke’ engine. Like the Century saloon, the Roadster has an alloy cylinder head and twin SU HD carburettors. Roadholding and performance are far better than the earlier DB18s and the steering, even with radial ply tyres fitted, is lighter and has very good feedback.
The Roadster has an all steel body and is in excellent condition (like Jaguar’s XK120, early models were constructed in aluminium). The interior is less luxurious than Daimler’s previous models but is well equipped with a full array of instruments. Performance figures when new, demonstrated the car to be a genuine 100mph sports car, today the car will cruise happily at the maximum legal limit and leave quite a bit to spare for comfortable overtaking.
It is tempting to compare the model to the Special Sports, which is its logical predecessor, the differences are remarkable, performance is better all round, as is the roadholding, however the Special Sports is far more comfortable and has the huge advantage of wind up windows and an easy to erect, fully lined hood. The Roadster is a strict 2 seater and has typical 50’s sports car side screens, with a rather awkward to raise hood, the handbook actually advises that it is raised and lowered by two people, although with practice, it can be managed by one! The Roadsters’ replacement, the New Drop Head Coupe, returned to the 3 seat configuration and was fitted with an easy to fold hood and winding windows, as seen on the earlier Special Sports. The downside to this (to my eye), is the loss of line, the long low swooping boot is shortened and the doors are much taller on the New Drop Head Coupe.
The Roadster is a lovely car, it is quick, comfortable and an absolute headturner, it was launched in an effort to win some sales from the market opened up by Jaguar’s hugely successful XK120, it was an act that proved too hard to follow and this model was not a commercial success. Less than 60 Roadsters were constructed, along with about the same number of the later New DHCs, exclusivity is almost guaranteed when attending motoring events.
I am not usually keen on white cars, but the colour suits the Daimler. The paintwork on this Daimler, is an off white, almost ivory shade which some cameras seem unable to capture, it is far from the rather stark white that it might appear to be in some of the images shown here.
If you are considering the purchase of one of these fine motor cars, do not be put off by the low production number, it was expensive when new and was built to the same high standard as all Daimler cars of this era. Spares are more readily available than might at first be apparent, as the chassis and running gear is identical to the Conquest Century saloon, almost all parts being interchangeable.
Although I have only owned the DJ254 for around eighteen months, it is frequently used, it is so readily ‘driveable’, that I tend to use it as a second car, it is used for runs to the supermarket and the local takeaway, I have also driven it from Bristol to Coventry to attend a DLOC board meeting, something I have not done before in an old Daimler, the return journey made with the roof down, in the dark, on a freezing cold, cloudless night was fantastic.
The Roadster was displayed at the Bristol Classic Car Show at Shepton Mallet, in May 2010, where it received a huge level of interest, it was filmed and photographed by many visitors and won a ‘Highly Commended’ rosette.
After many trial runs of both long and short duration, to prove the car’s reliability, I was beginning to feel confident that the Roadster was up to the demands of an extended tour. The weekend of the 2010 DLOC International Rally coincided with the Le Mans 24 hour weekend, the channel tunnel crossing was the busiest I have ever experienced, we enjoyed an impromptu car show as hundreds of British classics made their way south for the motorsport.
Once in France, some sight seeing and gentle familiarization with driving on the right hand side of the road followed, before we eventually reached our intended destination for the evening, the Hotel Ariane at Ypres. Rarely does the advertised promise of excellent hospitality and pleasant accommodation match the reality, but in this hotel it truly did, our stay here was perfect. The food was excellent, the rooms spotless and comfortable and the staff more than helpful and friendly. It is very rare that these benefits can be added to a location that could not have been improved upon, a quiet side street, with safe parking, a very short walk to the town square and the Menin Gate.
Each day at the appointed time before sunset, volunteers from the town’s fire brigade sound the last post, as a mark of respect to the many thousands of soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in this vicinity, during the first World War and whose final resting place was ‘Known only to God’. The ceremony on the day we attended, was added to by two visiting choirs, one from the USA and another from Fleet in Hampshire, a small contingent of old soldiers and numerous individuals placing personal memorial wreaths. More than one tear was shed during this very moving ceremony.
If you have not been to Ypres and seen this spectacle, I would heartily advise that you add it to the list of the things you plan to do. The numbers of young men, many of them volunteers, who died to give us the freedom we enjoy today is unimaginable, the list of names set in stone at this memorial alone, gives some idea of the scale of loss during the 20th Century’s greatest tragedy. Ypres is only an hour and a quarter from Calais, the town is stunningly beautiful and was completely rebuilt in the medieval style of the original, after being almost completely destroyed during WW1. A fascinating museum, a cobbled square and a huge market on the Saturday morning, all added to the magic of what became one of the best days of our holiday.
The following morning we set off on motorway roads for Arnhem for more sightseeing, I felt myself relaxing, as the car settled into a lovely smooth cruising speed, with all dials and instruments reading normal. This state of affairs went on for hour after hour, stoppages only being made for our own comfort, checks to the oil and water levels seemed unnecessary, as none was used. I found that the Conquest will happily cruise at 70 mph, but my own preference was closer to 60 mph, at this speed, the car feels smooth and unstressed and the driver can enjoy the scenery, as well as the driving experience. At one time however, by now well into the journey, I decided to push the Daimler a little harder and kept it at a steady 80 mph for a while. The car was quite happy and would have no doubt sustained this speed for the entire journey, but my own desire for the more relaxed drive, that can only be enjoyed at your own favoured pace, saw the speeed fall back to around 65mph.
The venue chosen for the DLOC rally, Het-Loo was superb, the cars were parked on the tree lined avenue which led up to the Royal Palace, a fantastic array of Daimlers and Lanchesters were already in position. Prize giving came around all too soon and I was thrilled to receive the ‘Jet Trophy’ prize for the DB18/Conquest range. The repairs and improvements made to the Roadster had certainly paid off and just to round it off, I also won furthest distance from the UK. Two certificates to add to the growing history file relating to this lovely motor car.
I took the decision to drive from Arnhem to Bristol in one hop. I left my travelling companions and sped off towards home at the maximum legal limit, stopping every two hours for a rest. We arrived in Bristol just before midnight, the Daimler had used no water and only around a pint of oil, we had covered over 1,100 miles in total with 480 in one day, in all sorts of road and weather conditions. The Roadster had performed faultlessly, its touring ability and comfort level cannot be criticised, a modern car would have been no more comfortable, nor much quicker, unless the legal limits were ignored. All of the journey whilst on the continent and the return journey on the English side, was completed with the roof down. The spectacle of a crystal clear night sky, full of stars, viewed from the drivers seat of a speeding open car, is one that everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime.
After the DLOC Rally the Roadster was entered into Baur Medias Classic Car of The Year contest, out of thousand of entrants, it was shortlisted into the final 10 cars for the 1950s section.
As the restoration of another exciting Daimler approaches its conclusion, I made the difficult decision to sell this beautiful motor car at auction. Brightwell’s near Hereford handled the sale and the Daimler was successfully bid up to the reserve price.
I would love to own a Roadster with a pre-selector gearbox, if you have one for sale, or if you would like to know more about the Daimler Roadster please contact me by submitting the form below,