Five Classic Trials
Daimler Regency Empress
Driving a Daimler Regency is very much a polite affair. It’s as if character references are required in order that you may obtain the necessary introduction to the birdseye maple-adorned interior. Invitation duly accepted, it is time to make yourself comfortable with the Wilson pre-selector transmission and only then may you enquire if the engine would like to commence.
It is a stunning car completely at home in an era where etiquette still insisted that the man of the house mowed the lawn wearing a tie. Gentlemen drove and – as this car so superbly illustrates with its fine touches – ladies were driven. Why else would there be a Daimle-rembossed umbrella next to the passenger seat or a Max Factor-filled vanity case in the backseat’s central armrest?
The Hooper-bodied Regency – the Empress – was very much a Docker Daimler. The Dockers, Sir Bernard and Lady Docker – Norah, a former dancer and a formidable character (much to the delight of the 1950s popular press) – had a grand vision that included a line of regal-looking cars, complete with superb coachwork; expense was not an issue.
And while the Regency wasn’t gold-plated, as the DE36 famously was as per Lady Docker’s instructions – ‘please don’t call my goldplated car vulgar,’ screamed one headline – the aluminium body, leather upholstery and snakeskin parcel shelf, drinks and vanity cabinet with, of course, the beautifully smooth Daimler fluid flywheel gearbox mated to a hefty six-cylinder engine, certainly turned plenty of bowler-hatted heads. It still does today.
Our Regency hadn’t graced – Regencies do no less – the roads for more than 40 years but now, after a slow restoration over several decades, it’s time to return it to the highways. A simple flick of the pre-selector to second, build the revs to a suitable healthy level and blip on the gear pedal level and the car serenely moves up to speed. There is first gear, but such is the power that pulling away in second is the preferred method for this car.
Not a murmur of discontent, not a hint that this 3.0-litre engine had undergone 26 years of renovation by its owner Edward Smith and would perhaps understandably be reluctant to play ball.
Yes, there’s an ever-so-polite cough as the overdrive gearbox reacquaints itself with the altered spaces of the gears – built so to accommodate the huge engine – but from there it’s plain sailing. The torque is enormous and it’s easy to feel that speed is available should it be needed. What’s more, as owners would discover, overdrive would prove jolly useful for those new-fangled dual carriageways which were being introduced at the time.
This car is all about the finishing touches. It’s a little warm, so you need to wind down the window – but this is a state-of-the-art 1950s machine, so you press a button to lower them using newfangled electricity. You don’t even need the engine running to do so. Thirsty? Well, the champagne glasses as standard suggest the tipple preferred by passengers, although it does run happily on unleaded. And it’s difficult not to fall in love with the railway carriage door thud the Regency doors provide. And as for that radiator grille, complete with its trademark flutes – just superb.
Of course, given that barely 50 were made and at the time they cost the equivalent of three houses, not many saw much action. A few were owned by celebs; pop star Susan Maughan, who sang Bobby’s Girl, had one, but not too many others did. Our test car featured on the Hooper stand at the 1951 Earls Court Motor Show and just 27 of the Hooper-bodied version of the Series II were built, with perhaps just two or three surviving today. The reason for the low build number? A lack of interest. It was as simple as that; nobody wanted to buy the car so production ended. We reckon buyers didn’t know what they were missing out on.
DaimLeR ReGency emPRess FivE ClassiC trials
electric windows were the height of 1950s luxury.