Welcome to Rare Rides Icons, a spin-off of Rare Rides where we take a deeper look at these particularly interesting cars throughout history. Today’s large and luxurious Icon is the first time we present a Daimler in this series. The DS420 was the marque’s flagship; a car for heads of state. And in fact, more than 50 years after its introduction, it is still used as an official limousine in several countries.
Daimler was founded in 1896 in Coventry, England by a certain HJ Lawson. Lawson purchased the rights to use the Daimler name on his automobiles from Gottleib Daimler of Daimler-Maybach fame. The company had immediate financial problems and went bankrupt in 1904. In 1910 the brand was purchased by Birmingham Small Arms Company, a large British conglomerate. Daimler quickly made a name for itself producing high quality luxury cars and received a Royal Warrant in 1902 to supply vehicles directly to the British Monarchy. He will retain royal favors until the 1950s, when he will be replaced by the fresh money brand, Rolls-Royce.
Fast forward to just after WWII, and Daimler established its DE lineup. DE was a flagship chassis used for its most expensive cars. They were sorts of phaetons and big sedans supplied to heads of state. The Twenty-seven was the standard straight-six chassis, sold alongside the long-wheelbase Thirty-six model powered by a 5.4-litre straight-eight. For the most part, Daimler supplied its luxury chassis to various coachbuilders, who put bodies on top to specifications for exclusive clientele. Daimler also had its own subsidiary, Hooper, which also built DEs.
The DE series cars ran from 1946 until 1953 when they were replaced by the Regina, a saloon eventually renamed DK400. The DK400 was of less interest to coachbuilders and was generally built as a limousine by Carbodies, the company that produced London cabs. Again Daimler’s flagship was used by royalty and delivered to places like Afghanistan, for his king. The Regina/DK400 was produced until 1960, just after Daimler changed ownership: Birmingham Small Arms sold Daimler to Jaguar in 1960. Jaguar chief William Lyons wanted to make more cars and saw an opportunity in the Daimler’s underutilized manufacturing facilities.
The replacement for the DK400, the DR450, was significant in two respects: it was the last car entirely designed by Daimler and was not – like its predecessors – on its own chassis. In fact, the DR450 was a development of Daimler’s Majestic Major, itself a more powerful version of the standard large Majestic sedan. Designed more like a rental car than a regal limo, the eight-passenger DR450 was produced in far greater volume than its DK400 predecessor. While the DK saw only 93 units produced in its series from 1954 to 1959, 864 units of the DR450 were manufactured between 1961 and 1968. Such vulgar figures!
There was also a problem, in that this lesser Daimler DR450 came out the same year as its new owner’s flagship saloon, the Jaguar Mark X. While the Mark X was not a limousine, the DR450 and the Majestic Major made things a bit cluttered. for Jaguar. In the end, the situation was losing for Daimler. Jaguar was taken over by British Motor Corporation (BMC) in 1966 (quickly renamed BMH, then British Leyland). Both companies under the BL umbrella, Jaguar was tasked with Daimler’s design. From there, every Daimler would be primarily Jaguar below. Enter DS420.
When it debuted in 1968, the DS420 (sometimes known as the Limousine) replaced both the DR450 and the Vanden Plas Princess limousine. Noticeably, a consolidation effort by this British giant Leyland. Designed by Jaguar, the DS420 used a floor plan, engine, transmission and suspension from the 420G (a new name that the Mark X had carried since 1966). The body wore slanted Daimler styling, with the marque’s signature fluted grille. The overall appearance was upright and imposing, as expected.
The DS420 rode on a 141-inch wheelbase and had an impressive overall length of 226 inches. The comparative figures for the 420G were 120 and 202 inches respectively. Power came from Jaguar’s 4.2-litre straight-six, mated to one of three different three-speed automatic transmissions. There were two different versions supplied by BorgWarner, as well as the reliable and rugged GM TH400. DS420s were originally built at the Vanden Plas factory.
At the front of the Limousine, a driver was positioned on a fixed bench seat with a single adjustment in front of him: 2.75 inches of telescope for the large steering wheel. Designed as a chauffeur-driven vehicle for various dignitaries, the DS420 focused on its rear passengers. Up to six members of the royal family were seated behind the partition with a sliding window. The main rear seat was over six feet wide and held three passengers. Folding booster seats held the other three, who sat facing forward with their knees against the center bulkhead.
Beyond the standard limo configuration, Vanden Plas staff would add as many layers of luxury trim and amenities as a customer deemed necessary. The DS420 was available in a more basic configuration with manual windows, or in more executive specifications with a full mobile meeting room in the rear. Early examples were most often purchased by undertakers and limousines and used for livery work, while well-equipped cars went to captains of industry or the royal family. It should be noted that two factory DS420 landaulets were produced, but these special examples were lost over time.
Although Daimler lost its royal warrant long before, the DS420 made considerable inroads with other royalty around the world. Many of them had kept their DE Thirty-six cars and replaced them with the DS420, a car launched coincidentally at the same time as the Rolls-Royce Phantom VI (1968-1990). The King of Denmark, the Prince of Monaco and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother were all DS420 enthusiasts. The list is long and includes the royals of Brunei, Malaysia, Oman, Luxembourg and Jordan. Queen Elizabeth II joined the crowd in 1984 when she ordered the first of several DS420s, this one to transport Prince Charles and his new wife Diana.
Over three decades, there have been only a few changes to this most traditional limo. A facelift in 1972 changed the passenger bulkhead design, grille and badging placement. There was another update in 1979 when Vanden Plas handed over manufacturing of the DS420 to Jaguar. Appropriately for that year, larger bumpers were added. There was another update in 1987 when the bumpers received a plastic coating and some minor interior changes arrived. Technically known as the Mark IV, this last DS420 was produced until 1992.
Jaguar and Daimler stretched the DS420 as long as they could. the 1940s The XK engine didn’t meet modern emissions requirements, and the old chassis didn’t perform too well in ’90s crash tests either. That last day of production meant the end of more than the DS420. It was the last coach-built Daimler limousine, the last of the XK straight-six, and indeed the last one-off Daimler car, as the marque’s other offerings had become trim on a Jaguar in 1969.
The DS420 remains an icon of royal transport and is still in use in Denmark, Luxembourg, Sweden and the UK. Unsurprisingly, they were never sold in North America, so you’ll probably only see one on the news.
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest TTAC news, features, takes, and all things truth about cars first subscribe to our newsletter.