Gottlieb Daimler was a German born in 1834, and is credited with inventing the internal combustion engine and producing the first four wheeled vehicle. While exhibiting his invention in 1890, an Englishman, Frederick Simms, purchased the patents and in 1896 The Daimler Motor Co Ltd was formed in England. At first, vehicles were imported from Germany, but by the following year the company was producing its own, and thus became Britain’s first motor vehicle manufacturer.
Royalty purchased its first vehicle in 1900 after the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had sampled the delights of motoring. Naturally the vehicle was a Daimler – a 2 cylinder, 6hp model. Although other makes were used by Royalty, Daimler retained the Royal patronage until 1956 and was always the vehicle used for State occasions and processional work. Post-war models included names such as Consort, Empress, Regency, Majestic and Sovereign.
At about the same time the Lanchester brothers – Fred, George and Frank – were developing their own vehicle and had one running and on the road in 1897, but not developed for sale until 1899. Frederick Lanchester was an extraordinarily competent engineer and inventor, but fell foul of his board of directors, so moved to Daimler in 1909 to help overcome technical difficulties that company was having.
Charles Knight, an American, had developed a new system of internal combustion with a sliding valve instead of the noisy poppet valves of the day, but couldn’t sell his invention in America. Daimler approached him and perfected the system, using it in all their vehicles from 1909 until the early 1930s when better engineering saw the re-introduction of poppet valves.
At about the time this system had run its course, Daimler brought in a transmission system that coupled a pre-selector gear box with a fluid flywheel to produce a foolproof method of gear changing that was quiet, smooth, non-stalling and free from grating of gear teeth. Daimler used this in all their vehicles from 1930 to 1956 when automatics were perfected.
The company was also the first to use wireless in vehicles in 1922, but this was discontinued due to problems with setting up the aerial.
Prestigious car manufacturers such as Daimler and Rolls-Royce, generally did not make their own bodies, concentrating on the mechanicals and leaving the artistry to others. Major coachbuilders prior to World War II were Hooper, Barker, Mulliner, Rippon and many others, the first two being purchased by Daimler around the war time. Lanchester was one of the few who went against this trend and mostly made their own bodies. After the war the use of pressed steel was perfected and the coachbuilders became redundant by the end of the 1950s.
It would not be a meaningful potted history of the marque if Sir Bernard and Lady Docker were not mentioned. Sir Bernard Docker became chairman of BSA, and thus Daimler, in 1941 and married Lady Norah Collins in 1949. She was a millionaire in her own right, having seen off two millionaire husbands previously and Sir Bernard was as equally well heeled. Lady Docker was not prepared to take a back seat wifely role, but got herself elected to the board of Hoopers, the coachbuilders. She then ordered extravagantly designed and decorated cars for the Earls Court shows for each of the years 1951-5 and they certainly gained fame and notoriety for the company. Eventually Sir Bernard was sacked from the board in 1956, but their time in office is a book in itself.
The Birmingham Small Arms company (BSA) acquired Daimler in 1910 and Lanchester joined the group in 1931. BSA made some vehicles in their own name from about 1908 to the 1930s and the group then comprised the three car companies and the two coachbuilders until 1960 when BSA sold its vehicle business to Jaguar. In turn, Jaguar were taken over by Ford in December 1989, and while the Lanchester name has disappeared, Daimler is still marketed as an up-market version of the Jaguar saloon.