“Wanda” got her name thanks to co-owner Bill Holland describing his newly-acquired Daimler SP250 to his cousin, a sports car enthusiast who was unfamiliar with the car, saying “It looks like a cross between a Triumph TR-3 and a Sunbeam Tiger with a grille that resembles the mouth of a fish.” Cousin Jim recalled the Jamie Lee Curtis/John Cleese movie, “A Fish Called Wanda” and the moniker stuck.
The Daimler SP250 was originally called the “Dart,” but at the car’s 1959 debut at the New York Auto Show it became known that Chrysler had already trademarked the name in the U.S. and “SP250” it became. Only 2,648 of them were produced in Coventry, England between 1959 and 1964 —with about half coming to the U.S. (the market for which it was developed). Its most unique feature is a tiny 2.5L Hemi V-8 engine designed by Edward Turner, best known for his work on Triumph and Ariel Square 4 motorcycle engines. The body is fiberglass, the frame a “ladder” design with leaf springs in the back and A-arms up front, and the transmission is a 4-speed. Jaguar purchased Daimler in 1960 and further development of the SP250 was shelved due to Jaguar’s pending XKE launch.
Wanda was originally raced on the East Coast, and sat from 2006 to 2013 —when she was purchased by Holland and Steve Sanett and brought to California. A year-long frame-off restoration/rejuvenation ensued at Penta Motorsports (Canoga Park, CA), including repainting the car its original factory color, “Mountain Blue.”
Co-owner Steve Sanett has been enamored of the Daimler SP250 since he was in high school; it was his first car. That first Daimler has undergone a tremendous transformation over the years, and is undoubtedly the most elaborate and modified SP250 on the planet. Check it out at: http://www.britishv8.org/Other/SteveSanett.htm
He also has a beautifully restored stock Daimler. Sanett is also a long-time competitor in vintage racing and has a very fast Porsche RSR and an immaculate 1956 Lotus 11. He thought it would be cool to also race a Daimler, and when one came up on eBay he asked Holland, a long-time hot rodder who had a desire to race sports cars, if he’d like to partner up on the car and share the driving.
While the original concept was to get a race-proven car and hit the ground running, close inspection of the car showed that much work was necessary. All the safety equipment was outdated or not up to current specs, you could wiggle the steering wheel over an inch, and it was painfully obvious that extensive work would be required. Accordingly, “Wanda” underwent a complete frame-off restoration and rejuvenation.
The fiberglass body was lifted off the chassis and refinished in its original color, “mountain blue.” The engine and transmission were set aside and the chassis stripped to the bare bone. After sandblasting it was refitted with a 7-point removable roll bar (replacing the former 3-point design) and the rear suspension updated with two link bars and a Panhard bar, along with double adjustable tube-type shocks replacing the original lever-style units per SVRA rules. An anti-sway bar was also added. The stock leaf springs were linked to a “slider” rear mount. The stock suspension was retained up front, with a torsion bar added for stability.
Wanda came with rack & pinion steering out of a Triumph Spitfire and everything north was replaced with hefty 3/4 ” shaft, U-joints and support bearings.
All of the safety modifications were covered in a 7-page article published in the November, 2014 issue of Classic Motorsports magazine. It’s reprinted in its entirety elsewhere on this site.
The frame and roll bar were powder coated in a black “wrinkle” finish and all components were reattached using ARP stainless steel hardware.
Much of the work was done by the owners and the crew at Penta Motorsports.
Additional fabrication work was performed by Jim Hendrix at John James Racing (Chandler, AZ) and Custom Built Machines (John Schiess) of Chatsworth, CA.
Daimler was a British specialty car manufacturer. They built their first car in 1896. Historically, Daimler was probably best known as the preferred supplier of limousines to the British royal family.
The company’s name has caused much confusion over the years. In Daimler’s early days, they built their own engines using patents licensed from the more famous German company of the same name. However, in terms of actual ownership and management, the two companies were entirely seperate.
Toward the end of a long series of distinctive up-market cars, Daimler introduced a fast new roadster called the “Dart” at the 1959 New York Motor Show. The Daimler Dart was met with interest, but the model name had to be abandoned because Dodge had already trademarked it for their hugely successful economical compact. Daimler re-named their Dart model “SP250” for the U.S. market. (They continued using the name “Dart” in other markets.)
The SP250’s fiberglass body was mounted on a tubular steel, ladder chassis. In 1960 Daimler was acquired by Jaguar. Jaguar frankly felt that the original Daimler SP250 chassis was crude and dangerous, so they immediately redesigned it. They even went so far as to have all unsold, exported SP250’s shipped back to England to be torn down and rebuilt. The improved SP250 was designated “B Series”.
All Daimler SP250’s were built with 2.5L V8 engines which produced about 140 BHP and featured aluminum cylinder heads, hemispherical combustion chambers, two valves per cylinder, and a single camshaft. By many accounts this was an excellent engine, but it had no hope of being popular in the power-hungry U.S. markets due to its small displacement, high cost, very limited service and parts support, etc. Performance enthusiasts had to modify the engine to get the most out of it: from stock it had a compression ratio of only 8.2:1. At about 419 pounds, the Daimler V8 weighed over 100 pounds more than a 3.5L Buick/Rover V8.
When production of the SP250 sports car was cancelled at the end of 1964, only 2654 had been sold. Although the cars are rare, it’s not uncommon to find SP250 engine conversions, or to find potential project cars offered for sale without engine.
The Daimler 2.5L engine was somewhat more successful than the SP250 car. It was used in a Daimler-badged variant of the Jaguar “Mk II” saloon through 1969. Total production of the engine surpassed 20,000 units. Reportedly, after Jaguar merged with BMC the Daimler V8 was considered for use in other sports cars, including an MGB variant.
Steve Sanett imagined what an SP250 might be like with comfortably more than 250 percent more engine displacement, power, and torque.