By on January 27, 2014

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Let’s say that you’ve had a large enough measure of material success that you have budgeted fifty thousand dollars for a car that befits your socio-economic status, something that makes you feel good while announcing to others that you’ve arrived at a certain social station. Perhaps the obvious choice would be a 5 Series BMW. The base 528i starts at $49,500, though that means you get a 2.0L turbocharged four cylinder engine. For fifty grand you can also get a 2014 Cadillac CTS with an option package or two, but that also comes with the now ubiquitous turbo two liter. Those are both nice cars and at that price point you have many other choices, but for the same $50K, you could have gotten something with considerably more panache, cachet and exclusivity than you can garner with a new Bimmer or Caddy.

Richard Kughn made a great deal of money working with real estate financier Al Taubman. He and his wife Linda amassed a collection of toys, model trains, motorcycles and automobiles that was so extensive that they established CarRail, their own private museum, housed in a former bowling alley in Detroit. Kughn’s love of model trains is so great that he even owned the Lionel company for about a decade. He also loves motion pictures, producing A League of Their Own, and trading cards, being a co-founder of Upper Deck. In 2001, after a half century of collecting about 250 cars, many of them show winners, Kughn came down with a still undiagnosed lung disorder that put him on oxygen and in a wheelchair. Many collectors consider themselves caretakers, just part of the object’s provenance, and when he got sick Kughn sold off most of his collection so that others could enjoy it. After he recovered he started buying cars again and at the time of this 2009 article in Forbes, the Kughns owned about 90 cars.
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Last summer, the Kughns decided to cull out about two dozen of their cars, selling them at RM’s auction held in conjunction with the Concours of America at St. John’s (formerly held at Meadow Brook). Many of the Kughns’ automobiles have been meticulously restored or outstanding original condition examples of some of the finest cars ever built, like classic Packards and Duesenbergs. As built by Jaguar, I’m sure that this 1985 Daimler limousine was spectacular, but it’s had some modifications that I think make it even better.

IMG_0546Every British monarch since the start of the 20th century has ridden in limousines made by Daimler in Coventry. Just to clarify, Daimler is a British company that licensed the name from a couple of German firms. After ownership by BSA for 50 years, the firm passed in 1960 to Jaguar’s ownership. Jaguar then used the brand name on limousines and high level trim versions of Jaguar sedans and also bespoke limousines. The last Daimler limousine made was the DS420, which stayed in production from 1968 to 1992. Based on the Jaguar Mk X chassis, with handbuilt bodywork by Jaguar’s Vanden Plas coachbuilding subsidiary, the car was originally powered by the great “XJ” 4.2 liter Jaguar double overhead cam inline six cylinder. It has disk brakes and independent suspension at all four corners. The passenger compartment in back has a bench seat but it’s really meant for two. There are also two fold up jump seats.

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That’s how this 1984 DS420 was delivered, reportedly one of two made for the use of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth while in North America, though that particular part of the vehicle’s provenance has never been proven. Whether or not it was actually made for her highness Liz, the house of Windsor apparently likes Daimlers. The DS420 was reportedly the Queen Mother’s favorite limo and a hearse version led Princess Diana’s funeral procession. This particular Daimler was built, as mentioned, for use on this side of the Atlantic so it has left hand drive.

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After the DS420 left its supposed royal service, a subsequent owner did what many less noble Jaguar owners have done. He replaced the Jaguar six with a small block Chevy V8, for better serviceability and supposedly greater reliability (the Jaguar 4.2 six is perhaps the most reliable part of that era Jaguar), as well as more power. A lot more power… the professionally installed 350 CI engine has been dyno tested at 570 horsepower and 540 lb-ft of torque. With that much power it was probably a good idea that they got rid of the less-than-robust AW automatic transmission the car likely came with. There may have been more Jaguar owners that have replaced their car’s AW with a GM unit than have swapped engines. The bow-tie powered Daimler now has a 700 series TurboHydramatic put together by Phoenix performance transmissions.

In addition to the modifications under the hood, the electronics and entertainment systems have been upgraded to modern equipment:

Finished in a handsome and very regal shade of dark blue, the DS420’s elegant, handmade body shell wraps around an interior that can only be described as sumptuous. The chauffeur’s seat is upholstered in grey leather, and matching broadcloth can be found in the rear compartment, which is fitted with two folding jump seats to hold additional passengers. The compartments are divided by an electric-powered glass partition, and a two-way intercom is provided to direct the driver, who can find the way home on a GPS navigational system. Passengers have access to a full bar, which contains a set of crystal decanters and is perfect for enjoying a beverage while watching one’s favorite entertainment on fold-down LCD screens.

The body has also been discretely modified. Since it was built to carry passengers, as originally constructed this DS420 had no trunk (apparently the royals always had a spare car in their entourage dedicated to carrying their luggage), so the same previous owner who did the engine swap also had a trunk fabricated into the Daimler’s bustle back, making the car suitable for distance traveling. According to the auctioneers, over $65,000 was spent on the modifications. Frankly, the descriptions don’t do the car justice. The passenger compartment is finished to a level one would expect in a car that cost a quarter of a million dollars or more.

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That would make the purchase price of $50,600 a bit of a bargain even without the provenance of someone described by Forbes as the King of Classic Cars, along with the possible use by the actual queen of England. Now I’m quite sure there are those among you that will note that a 2014 BMW or Cadillac would be much more reliable than what is essentially a 1980s vintage Jaguar, and having owned a Series III XJ I’d be inclined to agree with you. However, the Kughn’s provenance would lead me to believe that this DS420 limo is likely in superb and reliable mechanical condition. At the hammered price I can’t imagine being able to buy another vehicle that combines this amount of exclusive style and luxury with muscle car levels of performance. A 528i wouldn’t make nearly the same statement when pulling up to the red carpet.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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52 Comments on “For Just $50K, A 570 HP Limo Fit for Royalty...”


  • avatar

    You don’t need much horsepower in this case. You just need lots of early torque to hall this garbage. An EV would work equally well.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    I had to stop reading after the first sentence so I could go fetch my tweed jacket.

    Talk about a car that nobody would know what it was! Especially since it seems to have been de-badged at the back.

    Also, they did make Daimlers all the way til the last model XJ:

    http://myexoticcarphotos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/daimlerback.jpg

  • avatar
    Garak

    What, no armor plates or 5 cm thick windows?

  • avatar
    Tstag

    How long before JLR relaunch Daimler to take on BMWs Rolls Royce?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice article. Good to see a real car now and again.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    Those tail light lenses sure look to be from the same parts bin as an MGB.

  • avatar
    brianyates

    I would think that the Daimler would lose alot of its authenticity to a die hard Daimler collector because the original engine has been replaced by a Chevrolet engine, That 4.2 litre six wasn’t too bad.

  • avatar
    Waterview

    Absolutely beautiful. Ronnie – thank you so much for sharing this car and its history. Part of the reason I enjoy TTAC so much.

    On question: is the correct pronunciation “Dime-ler” or “Dame-ler”?

  • avatar
    jmo

    Fun car to cruise around on the weekends. But, as a daily driver, it’s a total death trap.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Home, Jeeves!

    By the way, James Bond rode in one of these in “Casino Royale” (the Daniel Craig iteration).

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    A lovely car completely ruined by an engine swap.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Some might say improved.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I cannot fathom how a Chevy V8 is an improvement over one of the finest inline sixes ever produced by the hand of man. Especially in the state of tune it would need to be in to produce the stated power output, it will sound like a cheap muscle car and have nothing like the refinement of the original six.

        The love of V8s is lost on me, they always sound like crap. Six in a row or a V12, please.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          For some reason the XK6 is the most swapped out engine in history and its most common replacement is an SBC. People that have owned them know why the Chevy is better.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            Mostly because any JimBob can get a carb’d Chevy v8 to more or less run, while it takes someone with an actual clue to work on an engine that won multiple LeMans victories. Cheap and common does not equal better.

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    The AW (Aisan-Warner) automatic never saw use in these, but the BW (Borg-Warner) automatics did. BW’s were built in Muncie Indiana and saw use in Fords (along with Ford built BW co-developed “Fordomatics” from 1951 on to about 1974), Studebakers, early Jeep Wagoneers, mid 1960′s International trucks, Checkers AMC’s (until 1973), and many European and even early Japanese cars. Hence, Aisan collaborated with Warner starting some time in the 1970′s, but initially only for Japanese cars. Borg-Warner built an automatic transmission factory in the UK I believe in the late 1950′s or early 1960′s, as well.

    In fact, the World Cars 1984 book I happen to have states that by 1984, the year this car was built, the GM Turbohydramatic 400 automatic was bolted behind the big Jaguar six.

    Interestingly enough, over time, the THM 400 replaced the Borg-Warner in Jeeps and Checkers while the Chrysler 727 replaced the Borg-Warner in Internationals and AMCs. As the supply contracts ended, Borg-Warner was not picked up again.

    I think the last old Fordomatic type BW automatic was built in the mid 1970′s in Indiana, but continued to be built in the UK for at least a couple of decades after that, along with thoroughly modern (but small low-capacity) Type 45 and 55 automatics which I believe Volvo used, among others.

    The TurboHydramatic was much more robust and required much less service than the old Borg-Warners.

    Having said that the Jaguar (and Daimler) version of the THM 400 had a special bellhousing, so it won’t bolt up to a Chevy small block. The transmission (whatever this car has now) is not original.

    These are gorgeous cars with real “presence” and I’ve lived in the UK twice, having seen them wafting along carrying people of “importance”.

  • avatar
    Pastor Glenn

    BTW speaking of “Hemis” the predecessor to this car, the last car designed by Daimler (BSA, prior to Jag’s purchase of Daimler in 1960 or so) was the Majestic Major. BSA’s head engineer and chief executive had been a motorcycle engine designer and apparently took a personal interest in the development of this car in the late 1950′s, designing the massive (for the U.K.) 4.5 litre V8 with hemispherical combustion chambers. This engine had to be rated at 220 “brake” horsepower, apparently because Daimler’s engineering department didn’t have a dynomometer which could register any higher, or so I heard / read once!

    The Majestic Major coachwork was designed by the same guy who did the Austin taxicab, and so from the rear looks like a cab which had not only been on steroids but ate way too much as well…. quite “unfortunate” as the Brits might say.

    The Majestic Major had an (early) Borg-Warner automatic. I think production ended in the late 1960′s, when this car replaced it.

    A tiny “Hemi” Daimler V8 of 2.5 litres (155.5 cubic inches) was also built, also designed by Turner, and was one sweeeeeet V8, initially installed in Daimler’s abortive “Dart” sports roadsters (presumably styled by the British great uncle of whomever was responsible for the later Pontiac Aztek….) and later installed in Jag light 4 door bodies with fluted grille work, sold as the Daimler 2.5 V-8 Saloon, in the mid-late 1960′s. I’ve ridden in one and watched the tach swing to 5500 plus before the B-W autobox shifted…. sweet memories of the late 1970′s….

    • 0 avatar
      jhefner

      I learn so much from a Ronnie article and the B&B comments….

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      The gentleman you’re talking about is Edward Turner. Among his plaudits are the Ariel Square Four, the Triumph vertical twin (known to most Americans as the 650 Bonneville) and a number of other designs. It’s generally felt that the Daimler V-8 was probably his last good design. Unfortunately, he still hung around for another fifteen years, none of which were particularly good for his reputation. Those latter years were marked by such gems as the BSA Beagle, Ariel Pixie, and the Triumph/BSA DOHC 350 – and the resultant collapse of the British motorcycle industry.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Not a bad way to spend $50K and it is a pretty awesome car but I’d rather get this:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Cadillac-Fleetwood-75-Limousine-4-Door-1968-cadillac-fleetwood-75-limousine-4-door-7-7-l-/121263712087?forcerrptr=true&hash=item1c3be16757&item=121263712087&pt=US_Cars_Trucks#ht_1304wt_1106

    and keep maybe $40-45K in change. I think it would be easier to service the Cadillac, too.

  • avatar
    Toy Maker

    Great car and great article.

    First thing that stuck out was the amount of speaker grills present.

    Surely they could’ve painted the speaker grills to match the interior?

  • avatar
    honda_lawn_art

    What a fascinating car! It looks like a world class car that got it’s audio system from AutoZone. I find the claims that it was built for the Queen to ride around while in the ‘States a bit dubious. She visited the West Coast in 1983 and came to Washington and Houston among other places in 1991, the Daimler is a 1984.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      Ronnie doesn’t specify if 1984 is model year or not, but I assume it is and I find it entirely possible a MY84 car was built in CY 1983.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      “What a fascinating car! It looks like a world class car that got it’s audio system from AutoZone.”

      I was thinking the same thing. With the myriad of classic and period looking reproduction modern audio equipment out there, you would think the builder could have found some money in their budget to install something at least half way fitting.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    NIce looking vehicle ruined by incredibly cheap and unoriginal-looking turn signals. Surely they could have found something better than that, for this level vehicle.

    One more thing, does/did the British Daimler have anything to do with the German Daimler, or was it just a coincidence?

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    570 HP out of an old school SBC is a very high state of tune, which would have required a pretty lumpy cam to achieve, and certainly would not be keeping in character with this car. Today. you can have a supercharged LS motor making that much power and more with perfect driveability, but I suspect that the HP number in this case is overrated by at least 200. Engine pics would be nice.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Limo drag races anyone?

    Now we just need a Cadillac factory limo from the late 60s early 70s and see much punch we can get out of the big block…

  • avatar
    Vojta Dobeš

    Hm. Redneck got a Daimler.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Remember here we may be thinking eighties but the design dates back to the sixties. Budget Roller

    White DS420 = wedding rental
    Black = funeral.

    Niched for the UK industries as a cheaper alternative to the Phantom VI.

    They came in other colors – burgundy & navy. On occasion two tone.

    Why the dark tint? You were mean ‘t to be seen in these cars. Those drapes I’m sure are add-ons.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    Interesting article, but a few technical inaccuracies:

    You refer to the vehicle as both a 1984 and a 1985.

    “Based on the Jaguar Mk X chassis, with handbuilt bodywork by Jaguar’s Vanden Plas coachbuilding subsidiary, the car was originally powered by the great “XJ” 4.2 liter Jaguar double overhead cam inline six cylinder.”

    Vanden Plas have never been a subsidiary of Jaguar. It was owned by Austin, then subsequently by BMC, BMHC, British Leyland, Austin Rover, Rover Group, Nanjing and finally its current owner SAIC. Vanden Plas were if anything a competitor to Daimler in the limousine business with vehicles such as the Austin Sheerline and Vanden plas Princess. VDP did indeed produce the DS420 but the Jaguar connection pretty much ends there apart from the name being used on some Jaguar models (under license after 1984).

    The engine is the XK not the XJ.

    “With that much power it was probably a good idea that they got rid of the less-than-robust AW automatic transmission the car likely came with. There may have been more Jaguar owners that have replaced their car’s AW with a GM unit than have swapped engines. The bow-tie powered Daimler now has a 700 series TurboHydramatic put together by Phoenix performance transmissions.”

    A 1985 DS400 would have been delivered with a GM400 AT, not a Borg-Warner.

    “The body has also been discretely modified. Since it was built to carry passengers, as originally constructed this DS420 had no trunk”

    This simply doesn’t sound true. For a start the spare wheel and access to the fuel system is via the boot on these cars. Why on earth would they weld it up. None of the Queen Mother’s DS420s ever lacked a boot. Just makes no sense at all. This car has clearly had a lot of cosmetic body work, for instance the tail-lamps aren’t right. They’re supposed to be a chrome affair, these are off a late model MGB.


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