Wednesday October 18, 2017
When many people see Jonathan Smith’s ex-London Met Daimler SP250 ‘Dart’, they often wonder why such a car was ever deployed on traffic duties.
The cabin is certainly a good deal more cramped than that of the archetypal B-film patrol car, the Wolseley 6/99, and there is only a vestigial back seat to accommodate a recalcitrant would be Arthur Daley. But when the police commissioned 550 CLU on the 1st June 1961, their principal motive was one of providing a deterrent.
The background to the Met acquiring a fleet of Daimlers dates from the early days of the Ton-Up Boy era, when motorcyclists would insert 6d in the jukebox at the Ace Café and then attempt to race to Hanger Lane Junction and back before Gene Vincent had ceased singing.
The consequence accident rate was horrific, especially as crash helmet wearing would not be mandatory until 1973, and some parents would even call the police to desperately request that their son be taken off the road before he was severely injured or killed.
The Daimler was a response to this issue and 550 CLU is one of the 26 SP250s that were stationed at traffic garages throughout London:
The London Metropolitan Police was far from the only force to deploy sports cars during the 1960s. Lancashire famously used MGAs and MGBs: And if you exceeded the speed limit in Southend-on-Sea or Manchester you ran the risk of being gonged by a Triumph TR4.
Towards the end of the decade, Hampshire ran a trio of GT6s while in terms of high-performance two-door saloons Sussex favoured the Lotus Cortina and its Mk. II successor: And Liverpool had a large squad of Morris Mini Cooper S Mk. IIs.
Nor was the Met the sole constabulary to use the Daimler but the concept of using Darts in the capital was one that captured the imagination of the press and public alike; a dramatically tail-finned 2.5-litre V8 open car that was capable of 0-60 mph in under nine seconds was certainly different to any Wolseley or Humber squad car of that era.
A Daily Mirror article noted how the activities of ‘hooligan motor-cyclists who boast of doing "a ton"...in built up areas’ would now be quelled by '130 Mph Speed Cops'.
To enhance visibility, and the Daimler’s high profile, crews would patrol with hoods lowered in virtually all weathers and the driver would wear white armbands on the sleeve of his (and it would have been ‘his’ at that time) uniform.
The Met Darts were fitted with Borg-Warner Model 8 automatic transmission as urban police driving was exceptionally hard on manual boxes.
The last Metropolitan Police Dart entered service in 1964, the year that production ceased, and they continued to be seen on London’s streets well into the late 1960s.
The handsome Daimler that will be a star of the Pride of Ownership at the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show is a near priceless example of social history on four wheels.
550 CLU may appear low-key in comparison with modern police vehicles but the mere sight of the driver’s white armbands was often enough to strike fear into the hearts of all Teds, Ton-Up Boys, spivs and other ne’er do wells.
And that was before they heard the Winkworth bell.