For Just $50K, A 570 HP Limo Fit for Royalty
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.
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.
Every 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.
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.
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.
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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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.
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.