Monday September 30, 2019
There are three types of vehicle that you might reasonably expect to encounter in a British film of the 1950s – a police Wolseley 6/80, an RT double-decker bus and a Daimler DC27 ambulance.
From Night of the Demon and Town on Trial to Horrors of the Black Museum the mighty vehicle would always arrive in the nick of time.
It did not matter whether the picture was a science-fiction epic, a crime drama or the sort of B-feature where the actors had only a theoretical grasp of their lines – the audience could always depend on the Daimler’s performance.
Above all, the DC27 should be remembered as the first purpose-built ambulance of the post-war era, for it was specially designed to meet the needs of London County Council’s ambulance service.
The floor was low, for the ease of the crews, and a set of steps automatically unfolded as soon as the rear door was opened.
The equipment included two heating systems, one for the main compartment and another for the driver, and a fresh air ventilation system. The offside window was hinged, to allow an escape route in case of damage to the back door, and the batteries could be plugged into the main.
The handsome coachwork was mounted in an ash frame and early DC27s (identifiable by their single chrome stipes) were made by Barker.
Later models were courtesy of Hooper, and sported twin coachlines. At 6ft 6ins wide, the Daimler looked quite formidable, and a wheelbase of 12ft 6ins meant for spacious accommodation for the patient and stretcher-bearers, even if the front cabin was slightly cramped. One unusual feature was the concrete floor, which was to ensure stability.
Unfortunately, the rod-operated brake often meant for a literally unstoppable ambulance, and so the later versions were fitted with a hydraulic set-up. Another drawback was the fuel consumption of 8 ½ miles per gallon.
Power was from the famous 4,095cc engine combined with a Wilson four-speed pre-selector with Daimler’s fluid flywheel; the transmission was offset in order to create a flat floor.
Emergency warning equipment included an “Accident” sign above the windshield and, of course, the Winkworth bell.
The top speed was 60 mph, which was more than enough for a London ambulance of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
At that time, the crews’ role was conveying patients to hospital as rapidly and safely as possible, rather than carry out on-the-spot treatment.
When the Daimler entered service in 1948, it was highly regarded by ambulance crews for their ride quality and their smooth transmission.
A doctor praised in The Municipal Journal how the ‘dominant impressions’ were of ‘space and light.
Large blue-glazed windows, giving a blue interior illumination, enable the patient to see without himself being seen’.
In 1950 Commercial Motor was impressed by the ‘smooth acceleration from rest, and progressive gear changes without need for finesse in driving’ and how ‘it would be difficult to better the springing’.
LCC would order over 200 DC27, and they were also seen across the country, from the Isle of Wight to Salford.
Production ceased in 1953, after 500 chassis, but the Daimler remained in service for many years afterwards; the LCC demobbed its last example as late as 1964.
And here is a Pathe newsreel that illustrates just why it was such an important vehicle; one responsible for saving countless lives.