Thursday June 8, 2017
I sometimes think that brochures for present-day cars have lost a certain sense of style. Take, for example below, the copy for the Daimler Majestic Major:
“Gracious motoring in a modern manner...Outstanding in any company with its impeccable appearance and perfect manners, the Majestic Major combines dignity with high performance to an extent which offers now delights to the connoisseur.”
Such dignified prose is accompanied by illustrations of a couple who are clearly en route to Goodwood.
The styling of the Majestic Major may have dated back to the 1950 Lanchester 14 but with a top speed of over 120 mph, it was ideally suited for the motorway age. In the words of Motor Sport magazine:
“How anyone who can spare the purchase price of £2 ½ thousand can resist this fine car I find it difficult to comprehend. For it must surely be agreed that the aforesaid qualities in combination add up to all that is desirable in a motor car of any type.”
When the Majestic Major (MM) was first displayed at the 1959 Earls Court Motor Show the Daimler name was within months of being sold to Jaguar. The closest rival from Browns Lane was the Mk. IX but that had a somewhat more raffish appeal, while the MM looked formal and even imposing. The massive chassis was clad in an upright body with enough space for six ladies and/or gentlemen to comfortably wear formal headgear; a true Daimler enthusiast would dismiss the vagaries of fashion as the province of teddy boys and pop singers. The dashboard even featured such delightful vintage touches as a hand throttle.
When the Jaguar Mk. IX was succeeded by the wonderfully louche Mk. X in late 1961, the contrast between the two cars was immense. One seemed to reflect a nation of office blocks and sharp-suited business types while the MM looked at home conveying High Commissioners and Governor Generals to meetings at Downing Street. However, the Daimler’s road manners were impeccable and the “V” badge on the front grille was a subtle clue to its capabilities. Under the bonnet was the Edward Turner-designed 220 bhp 4.5 litre V8, one of the great British post-war engines.
Sir William Lyons considered fitting this plant to the Mk. X and the result was a prototype that was seen speeding around MIRA at 135 mph – more 10 mph faster than the big Jaguar. Another idea was to increase the capacity to five litres and the idea of a Daimler-badged 5,000cc V8 powered Mk. X, nearly ten years before the XJ12, still seems one of the great lost opportunities of British motoring.
Alas, this plan never reached fruition, and the MM continued to be largely unaltered until the end of production in the spring of 1968. In 1961, it was joined by the splendid seven-eight seater long wheelbase DR450, as featured in the opening of The Italian Job, and three years later power steering was standardised. A 42-foot turning circle meant that any chauffeur had to be super-fit for piloting the Daimler through London traffic but then the Major was really aimed at the proud and keen owner-driver.
The Major and the DR450 were succeeded by the Daimler DS420, which was based on the Mk. X floorpan and combined an XK series engine with Vanden Plas coachwork. In my own, very humble, view it is wrong to argue that the MM was the last ‘real Daimler’, as the Jaguar-derived models from the 2.5 Litre V8 saloons onwards are very much in the great tradition of the marque. Instead, the MM should be regarded as a masterpiece of understatement, a car worthy of competing with the Bentley Flying Spur – and one of the finest ever vehicles to bear the fluted radiator grille. Or, as the brochure puts it ‘pride of ownership takes on a new meaning when one owns a Majestic Major’.