Curbside Outtakes: Daimler Series III or ’70 Cadillac De Ville – The Best In The World Or The Standard Of The World?

Something a bit different; two CCs of some note given their locations, one outside a used car trader on a British industrial estate and the other on a side street in a French town, slightly off the beaten track. Both top of their ranges, both dark red and both considered by at least some of their compatriot owners –and would be owners– as being as good as a car could be. Best car in the world, as it was hailed in some of the British press? Or the Standard of the World, as its maker declared?

First, the similarities, apart from the dark red paint. Clearly, both are their makers’ pinnacle offerings, and you could argue they are more contemporaneous than first impressions might guide you. The Cadillac is a 1970 De Ville. The Daimler is a Series III, a 1980s car in this case, but the 1979 Series III was clearly derivative of the earlier Series II and Series I.  There weren’t many (any) other V12 saloons in 1972 when the first V12 versions of Jaguar XJ6 Series I and Daimler Sovereign models were shown, under the model names of XJ12 and Double Six.

Just two years after our Cadillac, and the major obvious differentiator with the Series I was the higher, squarer roof profile, by Pininfarina, on the William Lyons shaped body. A 1968 car with the engine from 1972 with a 1979 roof and a heavily revised interior, if you’re being brief and a bit unkind.



So, broadly contemporary; but one a convertible, one a saloon. But there was also a Cadillac De Ville sedan and a Jaguar XJ-S coupe on a shorter version of the saloon floorpan, which also came in a couple of convertible forms over the years.

Size wise, there was a big difference — the Cadillac at 225 inches was 30 inches longer than the Jaguar, as well as 10 inches wider (79 inches plays 69 inches). It doesn’t take long to realise that much of this difference is style driven — 2.5 inches were added to the Cadillac front clip in 1969 purely for style for example. The wheelbase, perhaps a more accurate guide to interior space, is longer by 17 inches. Styling is always a personal taste; many will prefer the Daimler’s more compact and less imposing presence, but if you prefer the Cadillac’s well-executed and unambiguous statement, then enjoy.

Power levels were also discrepant — 375 bhp gross for the Cadillac, 266 bhp net for the Daimler. Detroit was more generous on torque too, with 525 ftlb against 290 ftlb for the Jaguar V12 HE (High Efficiency, post 1981) 5.3 litre engine. Factor in the weight, and the net/gross adjustment and the power to weight ratios are a lot closer. In a straight line, the cars were pretty evenly matched, with the Daimler ultimately faster at 150 mph.

Underneath, things are more different. The Daimler had a complex (too complex for some) V12, using chain driven overhead camshafts with an aluminium block and matched to a Borg Warner automatic gearbox. Getting it all under the bonnet was squeeze — a V12 only cross flow radiator was used along with two cooling fans and a relief valve in the fuel lines to manage vapour locks. Not many cars need a cooling fan just for the battery… Suspension was by double wishbones at the front and  Jaguar’s classic independent rear suspension, pioneered on the E Type, complete with inboard rear disc brakes.

The Cadillac was inevitably simpler — 7.7 litres of V8 (in this example) with the TH400 transmission, and front disc brakes from 1968.

Round the corners there would be little contest, at least when new. The Daimler may not have been the ultimate compact sports saloon but it wasn’t the Cadillac, with a lot of roll and pitch. If you’re driving from London to Paris for lunch, then the Daimler would probably suit better. If you’re crossing Arizona and Nevada for dinner, I can see the attraction of the Cadillac. Taking it round the Arc de Triomphe and parking outside the restaurant might be more of a challenge though.

The interiors offer more contrast – the Cadillac could perhaps claim six seater capability, the Daimler couldn’t and wouldn’t try. It was really a four seater, and whilst still a product of British Leyland and not built like either a Rolls-Royce or a Mercedes-Benz, could offer an interior, in terms of style, materials and (arguably) craftmanship that was a step up from the Cadillac.

The Cadillac seems to offer width for three in the front, and maybe in the back as well, but with a very different style and more regular quality materials.

So which is it to be? The more compact, outside and inside, Daimler, with the higher interior material quality and less brash style matched to a more sophisticated drive train and suspension, or the more in your face Cadillac, with a larger interior for four, immense road presence and less of an enthusiast’s driving experience? One of each? Neither, and go for a Jaguar XJS Convertible or De Ville Sedan instead?

Perhaps, like many teams, each plays best at home?