THE STORY OF TWO VEE EIGHTS
CHAPTER 1 (Gresham Busby)
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The 2½ Litre V8/V8 250 must have something about it which is irresistible, certainly it has in my own case. I am normally a very cautious buyer, cars get sold left right and center while I am still trying to weigh up the pros and cons of ownership, so I miss out. But when it comes to Daimler V8s – the first one I bought in ten minutes and the second, some years later, in twenty. To be fair, I had looked round for some considerable time for one with no trace of rust, when I went for the first one, an F registration.
Incidentally, it was the first oil crisis which drove me into the arms of Daimler. I had run a variety of venerable Rovers but, when the price of petrol shot up, I thought that running a 2½ Litre Daimler as against a Rover 3500 would cost only about 2/3rds as much. I had, of course, completely overlooked the fact that the Daimler was a much heavier car. In fact, the Daimler did prove very marginally cheaper, but mainly due to the fact it was driven more sedately.
However, as we all know, it is only necessary to produce convincing reasons to ourselves and our family as to why it is absolutely imperative that we should change cars and that life would be absolutely intolerable without doing so. After which the glow of ownership throws rational reason out of the window.
It was a Saturday morning. There it was in a vast garage, a well-polished V8 250 in a gleaming willow green, with another potential owner already circling it fingering his wallet. So I bought it on the spot, subject to a satisfactory test drive (I had never driven one before) which was completed ten mins. After which the salesman, who was a master of his craft, confessed that the other potential owner was a man of straw with only dreams in his wallet. The cost incidentally was £800, the car the proverbial immaculate.
When I got it home and really looked at it in detail, discovering that the tool kit was still done up in the original cellophane packing, I just had to telephone the previous owner to congratulate him on the way he had cared for it. The poor old chap was absolutely choked with remorse at having parted with the car. He had swapped it for a Rover 2000! He was on the phone long enough however to say that it had never been out in the wet, and mainly used for shopping.
I kept that one for 5 years and when I sold it, it had still done only 55,000 miles. Unbelievably I had never heard of the DLOC at that time. Had I known of the club, it is a pound to a penny that I would have been encouraged to keep it on the road. But by 1979 spares from normal sources were proving quite hard to get and there was the frustration of having the car off the road at times for this reason. That, and a breakdown from the rupture of the dreaded ‘T’ piece under one of the carburettors put paid to SPH 731F (where is she now?) [ed: unfortunately scrapped in July 1983]. The Police showed up at the scene and so did the RAC. Both showed great interest in the car but could do nothing to help. Just as it was beginning to get dark a couple of youngsters allowed up in a Mini and suggested the hot water system should be re-routed which they completed in 30 minutes and then offered to buy the car. A short haggle by the roadside produced a settlement figure of £1,350. Weeks of remorse followed.....
Two old Rovers and a very old Daimler Sovereign later, I was looking for a more respectable Sovereign. Got it all lined up, several years old, very little mileage, reasonable price. Then another Saturday morning and I turned up at the showroom but the other chap didn't, so no sale.
That afternoon, driving along in Sussex, there was 2½ litre V8 5604KV on a garage forecourt (Harwoods of Pulborough). As I said earlier - bought in 20 minutes. The previous owner whom I tried to contact was so cut up at losing a "valued family friend” that he could not bring himself to answer my letter of enquiry for its historical details. But that's another story.
CHAPTER 2 (Gresham Busby)
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The second V8, found quite by chance on the forecourt of Harwoods in Pulborough, Sussex, was doubly interesting for several reasons. In the intervening years since owning the first but later model, two things had happened. The status of the car had completely changed.
Firstly, whereas previously it had hardly attracted a second glance with the owner being regarded as either of low income or eccentric in driving around in such an old fashioned car, it had suddenly become a classic and highly desirable. I have made more friends and met more people by merely turning up in it anywhere than with any other car. Partly this was due to it being red and the Inspector Morse TV series starting in 1987 – is it usually referred to as a “Jaguar” by onlookers who have to be corrected.
Secondly the spares situation had entirely transformed. Quite apart from the assurance of having Gamlingay Stores now on tap as a member of the DLOC, I discovered that many spares were available through Unipart. Apparently they had always been available but were usually tucked away at the back of stores depots and no-one could be bothered to search them out. Computerisation during the management buyout from British Leyland Rover had led to a gigantic turn out it seems. Although part numbers had changed two or three times, staff at the Unipart stores were very helpful, regarding it as a great challenge to trace them through the various changes until they turned up with the item itself. Re-manufacturing had also started in a fairly substantial way, in no small part due to the increasing popularity of the Jaguar Mk2.
Another amusing aspect of old or classic car ownership is, of course, the way “keeping up with the Jones’” is reversed. One can proudly admit that one’s latest acquisition is 5 or 10 years old older than the last. So while my previous V8 250 had been fitted with power steering and had had black safety padding over the top of the dash, the “new” one had no power steering (less to go wrong) and walnut veneer everywhere. Just like a respectable antique.
CHAPTER 3 (Chris Busby)
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My late Father wrote the above many years ago, probably around 1990. Since then a lot has happened to the car. The Daimler was the main family car to start with, he traded in a bright yellow Rover SD1 V8 which was giving up the struggle against rust. In 1989 he purchased with a blue Montego Vanden Plas as the main family car, keeping the Daimler for rallies and irregular outings. The Montego only lasted 9 months before moving on to myself. Next up was a red Rover 820e that never worked properly and would not go up Reigate Hill! That started 13 years of BMW ownership along with the associated horrendous repair bills. In 1991 a BMW 316 (E30), in 1993 BMW 520i (E34) and in 1996 BMW 730i (E32). The last one needed so much work, including a replacement steering rack, that Dad finally gave up on BMW and got a Ford Mondeo Duratec in 2004. His final car was a Ford Focus Zetec in 2008 which lasted until he was no longer able to drive in 2013. By that time he had signed over the Daimler to myself. Despite suffering from severe dementia at the end he always switched back on fully whenever the car was mentioned and took a great interest in what I was doing to it. I hope he is looking down now and still approving of all the work.
My Father had a lot of work done on the car, always trying to fix oil and water leaks (a battle doomed to failure) and a respray in May 1998 by Jim Phipps in Godstone. I have all the bills going back as far as 1976 whilst the car was still being serviced by Harwoods. This included a rebuild of sills, valances and a new wing in 1979 (total cost £398.88), repair of rear collision damage in the same year (£782.55) and plenty of general servicing.
Work immediately after he purchased it proves it was not quite as trouble free as he thought. 4 new jacking points were welded in, a new sump and new battery. A new exhaust was fitted in 1986 along with a new windscreen due to a stone crack, the opportunity was taken to change it to a laminated screen, leaks, leaks and more leaks (a running theme of the bills). The wheel arches were patched in 1994 and the wheel spats replaced. All the brake cylinders were replaced in 1996. As mentioned, it was resprayed in 1998 at a cost of £1,930. For some reason we never fathomed (bad matching to faded paint maybe) the colour was not a match for the original being a brighter/lighter red rather than the original maroon, but it was an official Daimler/Jaguar red and is seen on many cars. More welding took place in 2004 but by this time Dad was driving it less and less due to the fuel consumption.
During all this time one unseen failing was occurring. Dad was topping up the radiator with water, slowly diluting the required antifreeze mix and allowing rust into the cylinder heads. On the 3rd November 2013 myself and 2 friends piled into the car to follow the London to Brighton run from Reigate south. We only made it as far as Crawley when the car gave up the ghost with oil and water all over the road. The driver’s side cylinder head had given up the ghost with holes between the exhaust valves, waterways and inlet valves. It was going nowhere. We were rescued back to Reigate and pushed the car into the garage very despondent. Early in the new year a booking was made with Russ and Andrew Carpenter to rebuild the engine and this they did by July at a cost of £6,754.85! The result is amazing and the car now runs beautifully.
Soon afterwards I started collecting together all the rubber seals needed as the originals had all gone hard, rotted or replaced with brown draught excluder. However, in October 2016 warning bells were ringing as the door bottoms were starting to rot, the bonnet and scuttle were in poor condition from the engine overheating/exploding and there was an advisory on the MOT about rust on the door sills (only the tip of the iceberg). Quotes were obtained very slowly to do the work, most places not being in the slightest bit interested in dealing with such an old vehicle. Eventually I entrusted the work to West Hoathly Garage who have been repairing and rebuilding classic cars since 1926. Their garage is full of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Packard, Aston Martin, Jensen, Auburn and other amazing cars. The quote was a little above the others and the final bill even higher due to a multitude of extra problems found and fabrication required. However, 466 man hours, £800 of parts and £1,500 of paint and polish later the result is a car that looks like new with a mirror finish. It has new door bottoms and skins, new sills, assorted under wing panels and new side light binnacles. Everything has been primed, undercoated, painted, varnished and polished and all the internals waxed and soundproofed. It should last at least another 30 years.
The latest work was to have the electrics switched to negative earth (many cars of the 1960s were manufactured with positive earth). As part of this the dynamo was replaced with a Dynamator. This looks identical to a Lucas C40L dynamo but has a low current alternator in the front and the associated electronics in the back. A dummy RB340 voltage regulator is fitted which only contains a 45A/50A fuse and, as the output is low, no rewiring is required. Some items need the wiring reversed, the ammeter, windscreen washer and sometimes the fuel pump. Most important is to reverse the wiring on the coil. Failure to do so will reduce the spark efficiency by up to 75% as it tries to flow from the earth terminal to the plug tip – not how spark plugs were designed to work. The opportunity was also taken to fit a working car radio, a “brand new” (1973 but never unboxed) Sanyo AM/FM radio cassette player with 6 inch speakers installed in the footwell cut-outs that are already there. Interestingly the aerial is not a pull up one, nor is it electric. There is a small winder handle under the dashboard that manually winds the aerial up and down from in the car! I have never seen this on any other vehicle. With all the work the car will now happily sit at idle at the lights with the headlights AND the wipers running without the ammeter being firmly fixed to the discharge end stop. Oh, and the lighter socket now works with modern technology! A recent round trip to the Goodwood Breakfast Club Classic Car Sunday (around 110 miles) gave a very reasonable 22.7mpg.
Next up will be the interior, but that can wait for now.