The sport of drag racing has grown to have international appeal, and today you’ll find a wide variety of cars contesting the 1/4-mile around the globe. One of the more unusual —and amazing— examples of diversity and innovation is the Daimler-powered dragster of England’s Robin Read. He’s cranked out a best of 6.37-seconds and a speed of almost 210 mph at the renowned Santa Pod Raceway in Northamptonshire, United Kingdom. And that’s with only 153 cubic inches.
Read’s current 250-inch wheelbase dragster is the epitome of resourcefulness, as the car is run on a tight budget. The chassis was built by Wayne Allman of the Intergalactic Custom Shop in 2020 to SFI Spec 2.5C (good for e.t’s over 5.90), with Robin and Brian Thomas building the body.
Credit Boghos Nahoualakian for the upholstery and Denis Lowry the wiring.
This is the fourth in a series of diggers raced by Robin —the first being a front-engined Volvo-powered car built in 1974. At the time, it was purported to be the world’s quickest and fastest naturally aspirated four-cylinder gas-burning drag vehicle and credited with a best performances of 10.70s, in the high 130 mile-per-hour range. After Robin sold the car it won three European championships in Comp Eliminator.
Power for Read’s “Spirit of Le Patron” (so-named as a tribute to his late father, Jim, who raced a Pro Comp car named “Le Patron”) comes from the unique Daimler SP250 sports car. Built between 1959-64 by Daimler Motor Company Ltd. of Coventry, England (not affiliated with Daimler-Benz), the SP250 has a 2.5L V-8 engine that does resemble a scaled-down early Chrysler Hemi. It has a similar cylinder head with hemispherical combustion chambers and dual rocker shaft design, but the cam uses motorcycle-type lifters. It was originally designed by Edward Turner, who is best known for his Triumph and Arial Square-4 motorcycle engines.
The basis of Read’s engine is a stock 2.5L Daimler cast iron block that has been heavily fortified on the bottom end by Robin and his longtime “chief engineer” Bertie Hopkinson. A billet aluminum version is planned for the future. Read and Hopkinson have developed straight-port billet aluminum heads to replace the OEM cast aluminum units, with the ever-resourceful team machining “hand-me-down” titanium intake valves from Pro teams to fit the Daimler; the exhaust valves are stainless steel from GS. Credit Bertie Hopkinson for fabricating the shaft rocker arm setup, too.
The flat-tapped “fat” camshaft is a product of Kent Cams that has oversized journals and facilitates higher lift lobes, with lifters from Kershaw Engineering and titanium pushrods (3/8-inch tube on the intakes and 3/8-inch solid heat-treated titanium on the exhaust side) with Daimler tips made by Hopkinson. A set of Crane valve springs originally intended for a Chevy LS motor are also employed. The head studs, main studs, and all other fasteners are ARP. Bearings were manufactured by ACL to “Triple R” (Robin Read Racing) specifications.
An Enderle 1200 fuel pump is employed to feed an 88 percent nitro load to the tiny Daimler through a specially constructed carbon-fiber injector from John Hansell of Fibrelyte. The the mixture is forced into the engine via a modified 4-71 blower from Littlefield. It has a special 2-inch thick rear end plate to facilitate running foot-long 6-71 rotors. The blower sits on a fabricated aluminum manifold. Note that the Daimler valley is considerably shorter than an early Chrysler, hence the 4-71 case.
Housed inside the Daimler block is a stock-stroke (2.800-inch) billet steel crankshaft (S132 material) made by Arrow Precision, along with a set of hybrid connecting rods made by Bertie that feature billet aluminum beams and steel Daimler caps that are secured with ARP rod bolts. Robin bought a box of forged aluminum Venolia pistons (3.030-inch bore) from Joe Pisano in 1987 and still uses them. Cosworth supplied the wrist pins. Lubrication is handled via Kendall 70-weight oil, a modified Daimler oil pump with 2-inch long gear rotors (195 psi) with a System 1 remote oil filter handling the cleansing and the pan a modified Daimler/Jaguar unit. The cylinder charges are fired by an MSD 44-amp Pro mag running through 7mm MSD wire.
The Daimler SP250 Story
We know that Gottlieb Daimler of Germany is credited with developing the modern internal combustion engine in 1885, and he subsequently teamed-up with Karl Benz to form Daimler-Benz in 1926 to manufacture automobiles. That company has grown to become the Mercedes-Benz Group. However, before then he partnered with British investors and formed the Daimler Motor Company Limited, headquartered in Coventry, England. They were mostly known for building stately saloons favored by royalty, but in the late 1950s decided to develop a sports car —primarily for the American market. It featured a fiberglass body and a robust little V-8 engine. In fact, some were put into service by the London police to catch speeders. Debuted at the 1959 New York Auto as the “Daimler Dart,” the name was hastily changed to “SP250” as Chrysler had trademarked “Dart” in the U.S.
Only about 2,600 Daimler SP250 sports cars were produced from 1959-1964, with half coming to the U.S. and most others staying in Europe. Initially, they did well in SCCA sports car racing, with Duncan Black (of Black & Decker tool fame) winning the C/Production national championship in 1960. Daimler was acquired by Jaguar in 1960, and abandoned the SP250 sports car a few years later in favor of their stunning new XKE. Jaguar continued to use the 2.5L Hemi in its Daimler-badged Mark 2 saloonsfrom 1962-69, easily identified by its fluted grille shell.
Among the surviving SP250s is one restored by well-known car enthusiast, Jay Leno. His “Jay Leno’s Garage” video on the Daimler can be viewed HERE.
Other particulars on the 1,765-pound car include carbon-fiber wings front and rear made by Reverie, a Strange modular aluminum rearend (90inch Ford) and disc brakes, with additional stopping power courtesy of DJ Safety chutes. DJ also made the sump “diaper” and blankets for the Lenco CS4 transmission. Power is transmitted to the rearend via a 3-disc clutch based on a Crowerglide that was fabricated by Hopkinson. It’s housed in a titanium can from Boninfante. Data logging is from a John Force hand-me-down Racepak.
In 2008 the Read family was inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame. In addition to his success with the “Le Patron” Pro Comp car, Jim Read was Chairman of the BDRA for 10 years. Robin has been drag racing since 1974, had solid success in the European Competition Car Championships, and in 1984 became the first to run a 6-second e.t with a British-engined car with the predecessor of “Spirit of Le Patron.”
Today, the Robin Read Racing team continues on its quest to field the world’s quickest and fastest British-engined race car. Robin, Bertie, and teammates Mark Evans (crew chief), Bill Mears, Ella Chapman, Damian Burke, Herb Andrews and Dave Wilson have been together for over 30 years and plan on continuing to up the performance of the amazing little Daimler. Is a 5-second 1/4-mile run in the future?