Edition 1 – Large MPV
Chances are, if you’re in the market for a large, seven-seater multi-purpose vehicle (MPV), you’ve considered the ordinary already, casting your eye over the usual suspects: Chrysler’s Voyager, Renault’s Espace, Toyota’s Previa, the Forkswagen Sharalaxy and the Citroën/Fiat/Peugeot van-esque stablemates to name but a few, but you’ve been left cold. You may have even sailed close to the wind and considered an outsider like the SsangYong Rodius. But even that particular South Korean bus isn’t as alternative as this.
No, you’re an individual and you want to show the world that just because you need to transport six passengers around regularly and have space for their luggage too, that you’re not willing to sacrifice things that are important in your life. You have style, class, a penchant for the finer things in life. You want everything this car can give you. Your alternative large MPV is the Daimler DS420 Limousine.
The Daimler DS420, also known simply as Limousine, was a favourite of royalty and those in positions of civic responsibility alike, meaning the majority of the ones on the market have had pampered lives and been regularly maintained. They may even have the required attachments for you to fit your family crest on a flag on the front wing.
Launched in 1968 it replaced two models – the Daimler DR450 and the Vanden Plas Princess Limousine. Indeed, the first decade of production was at the Vanden Plas works in Kingsbury, London before moving to Jaguar in Coventry at the end of the 1970s, where it remained in limited production until 1992.
If model history appeals, then you’ll be keen to know that the DS420 was the only unique Daimler-branded model developed by Jaguar after it acquired its British rival. That said, it was based on Jaguar hardware, such as an extended version of the separate chassis used by what was then the Big Cat’s largest saloon, the 420G. The engine, was Jaguar’s famous Le Mans winning XK straight-six unit, here at 4.2-litres of capacity.
Although it’s a fine alternative to modern so-called people carriers, the DS420 was a direct rival to Rolls-Royce’s Phantom VI model. In terms of spaciousness, opulence, brand aura and sheer road presence, the Daimler admittedly fell a little short of the Rolls in many respects. But the DS420 was remarkably good value, costing approximately 30% of its rival’s list price.
The DS420 was in production from 1968 to 1992 and a handful more than 4000 examples were produced, with less than 600 estimated to be still road legal, so you’re guaranteed relative exclusivity on the road.
Purchasing & Running Costs
For the price of a conventional and boring MPV that’s just approaching an age where it’ll have it’s first MOT, you could buy this Daimler. At the time of writing, AutoTrader only has one example listed on its website, illustrating both the DS420’s exclusivity and sheer value for money. Did you realise that a hand-crafted, lovingly created limousine was so close to your financial grasp.
Because of the DS420’s age, they can be insured in classic policies, but bear in mind such arrangements come hand in hand with an agreement to limit mileages and if you enjoy driving with the family all aboard for a summer jaunt to the south of France, you might need a more conventional agreement.
Like most cars, providing you look after it and service it regularly, it will provide years of sterling service for you and your family. Additionally, the Daimler’s old enough to not be riddled with electronic gadgetry that can go wrong on a whim and its engine is a known stalwart in the reliability stakes.
Have you admired those curvaceous rear wings, where a series of delightful styling lines culminate at the bumper corners? Of course you have. Those wings are very wide and are each topped by a fuel filling aperture, with a 10 gallon tank contained within each. A touring range of 326 miles might not immediately sound impressive in today’s world of ultra-economical diesels, hybrids, and EVs but think of the pleasure you’re giving others – not just in the sense of the visual pleasure derived from allowing people to see your splendid car but also because you will be significantly contributing to the nation’s recovering economy, keeping both your local petrol retailer (and the oil industry itself) afloat.
Plus, I’m sure it’s not lost on you, how cool is it to have a car with two petrol flaps. Think of the bragging rights they’ll earn you everywhere from the board room to the McDonald’s drive thru.
Jaguar’s XK engine is a thoroughly well-proven and respected straight-six powerplant, offering growling hard acceleration when demanded and serene cruising the rest of the time. The 3-speed automatic gearbox is accessed via a delicate floor-mounted lever in these later DS420s; earlier models featured an old-fashioned column-mounted lever. Together they work in sweet unison to provide brisk performance that its restrained and sophisticated exterior don’t hint at.
The mechanical simplicity will please both the home mechanical and your wallet as there are few expensive parts that can go wrong and most areas of the engine are easily accessed beneath the alligator mouth-like bonnet.
The chassis is separate from the body, unlike modern monocoques meaning you’re further isolated from the ruts and bumps of the road surface below you. Aiding this ride refinement is the four wheel fully independent suspension. Braking is via all-round disc brakes, providing stopping power ample for a car weighing almost 2.5 tonnes.
In a world where phrases like Euro NCAP and ISOFIX are understood by most car buyers and dashboards are adorned buttons with three letter initials bearing legends like SRS, TCS and ESP, the Daimler’s interior makes a refreshing change.
Yes, there are seatbelts, but only four of them. This is not something that should concern you though. After all, if you were unfortunate to have a collision in a frontal impact, so long is that bonnet that you’d have time to make the initial impact and warn your passengers to brace themselves. By the time the inertia had reached the cabin, the drama will be almost over, but as a precaution, that rear cabin’s so large than children confined to it would have time and space to somersault through the air and softly land on a deep, lambswool over-rug before they knew what had happened.
The dashboard is a crime scene as far as Health & Safety do-gooders are concerned, but what do they know? Not only is it airbag and soft padding free but its beautiful instrument panels are fashioned from solid pieces of the finest walnut. The switchgear is festooned with uncompromising metal rocker switches and chromed knobs. It all works precisely and looks striking.
Much is made of pedestrian safety too these days, which is fair as modern cars are much quieter and more anonymous in their styling, so people on foot are much less likely to notice them approaching and need to be cushioned by the car. The Daimler though, is much more noticeable both visually and aurally. Frankly, if you can’t see or hear it coming, you deserve all you get. That robust grille with traditional Daimler fluting to the top, and the aggressive hoods on the four headlamps, will remind anyone daft enough to walk out in front of it, never to do it again.
Despite its saloon body and lack of a folding rear seat, the DS420 is a practical proposition for the modern large family. Those 1½ sizes-wide front seats are well padded and mounted both high and forwards to maximise room in the rear cabin. If you plump for an earlier model, identified by fully chromed bumpers, you’ll discover the front seat is a full-width bench, allowing graceful access from the kerbside before scuttling across the leather cushion to sit behind the wheel. The rear features five seating positions with two in the middle row and three on the rearmost row. That middle row tips forward when not required, a feature on the Daimler long before the likes of the Vauxhall Zafira were even conceived. And when rolled forwards, the legroom is so palatial that Maybach passengers will be green with envy.
Entering the rear quarters is an experience within itself. Firstly, you open doors that wouldn’t look out of place in an exclusive private members club – inches thick, beautifully detailed and closing with a vault-like thud. As you enter, you have the room to climb aboard, turn slightly and ease yourself back into that cosseting sofa. And when you’re settled and enveloped by leather, the huge expanses of glass permit a glorious vista of the world outside.
Many MPV owners like the space and flexibility their vehicles offer, not just in terms of passenger carrying, and it’s not unusual for them to be used as a makeshift campervan or motorhome. Again, the DS420 comes into its own: that rear bench is comfier than many beds and the floor area when those middle seats are tumbled is bigger than many a 30s-semi’s box room. And is carpeted with a lambswool rug – a perfect accompaniment for a sleeping bag, whether at the Reading Festival or the British Grand Prix.
On long journeys, bickering children can test the patience of the most saint-like drivers. The sliding glass division between the front and rear cabins helps minimise the noise intrusion from the back. If you wanted, you could always retrofit a laminated, double-glazed unit for even greater seclusion.
One criticism often rightly levelled at conventional MPVs is that with all seven seats in use, there’s a paucity of luggage carrying ability. It’s a load carrying conundrum that usually involves superfluous items of kit that should be confined to the boot being located during every miniscule gap between the seven occupants. The Daimler takes a different approach, which a colossal boot. Opening the enormous lid reveals a fully carpeted area that almost looks big enough to garage a Toyota iQ within it. Everything a family of seven would need to take away with them can be contained within, allowing that luxurious cabin to used exclusively for people in relaxed comfort.
One downside of Daimler living, or at least with the DS420 is that it’s not always the easiest of vehicles to nip into kerbside gaps or reverse into parking bays. Like the best things in life, length and width are enormous, at 5.74m and 1.97m respectively. This is a car that was sold long before the adoption of parking sensors and rear view cameras, so there’s a lot to be taken into account when manoeuvring around car parks. The small rear view mirrors provide a bulletin of reversing news but remember, if parking against a kerb, that overhang is as long as a small city car. Leaving the Daimler in a conventional car park may require the purchase of two tickets in order to stay.
The DS420 is equipped to a standard most late 1980s luxury cars were although, there were some omissions compared with some of the features fitted to contemporary BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes, let alone modern MPVs. But again, if you’re buying something with a provenance and tradition behind it, you don’t expect it to be laden with all mod-cons. Leather is fitted to this test model although, it was an option in the rear cabin. Windows wind down electrically but other than that, there’s little else. Air conditioning and stereo equipment were options, for instance, so there’s no chance of finding television screens to play DVDs or video games on. This should not fill you with dread, but instead an opportunity for family re-engagement. After all, with no distractions, what else will the children have to do on their way home from school than talk about their days? Buy a DS420 and reignite the delight of conversation.
At the Wheel
Jaguars have long been famed for their ride and handling prowess that few other manufacturers get close to matching and while this Daimler benefits from those engineering hallmarks, one has to acknowledge that for a car of Titanic proportions, it should not come as a total surprise that some of its handling characteristics mimic those of a cruise ship. But because it eschews modern fascinations of cornering like it’s on clichéd rails or ride so firmly you require a post-drive visit to the osteopath, you and your passengers will arrive at your destination relaxed and refreshed.
That said, when you need to press on, the DS420 is more than capable of keeping in touch with the speed of today’s traffic. On winding B-roads, it provides entertainment too. Different from the kind of entertainment a small roadster will bring, but the car demands respect when driven with vigour.
The Daimler DS420 Limousine is not a multi-purpose vehicle in the mould of the Galaxy and Espace but it does seat seven people in luxury and have space for all of their luggage. Plus, you’ll be buying into something quintessentially British with graceful styling, imperious road presence and racing heritage engineering. Surely your question shouldn’t be “should I buy a DS420?” but “where can I find a DS420?”
Model Featured: Daimler DS420 Limousine
Top Speed: 110mph
Average fuel consumption: 16.3mpg
Engine size: 6/4235cc twin carburettor petrol
Price: £33,100 (spring 1987)
Prices Today: from £7,500 upwards
All photographs © Keith WR Jones 2011
Car very kindly supplied by Ian Johnson of www.weddingcarlincs.co.uk