When my valet interrupted my morning hot spider-milk body soak to let me know that the parent company of Mercedes-Benz will no longer be Daimler, I was so enraged that I held his stupid face under the spider’s milk until he peed himself. I regretted this almost immediately because at the moment I only own one pair of pants and he was using them. Also, I realized that this may be the perfect opportunity to clear up some of the confusion about the Daimler name that some of you may have been afraid to ask about. So let’s do it.
The thing about cars called Daimler is that I know many avid car enthusiasts have long been aware that Mercedes-Benzes were really Daimler-Benzes, and that they likely have also seen pictures of some cars with Daimler badging that look suspiciously like Jaguars.
I suspect that many younger enthusiasts not specifically into old-man vintage stuff may have noticed this in passing and wondered about a connection, but then it sort of just became awkward to ask, kind of like when you forget someone’s name at a party but you’ve been talking to them for almost 20 minutes and now it feels weird to ask again.
Don’t worry, though — Uncle Torchy’s got your back.
The root of all the Daimlers out there is our old pal, Gottlieb Daimler, the famed early automotive pioneer that had been working with four-stroke engine father Nicolaus Otto since the 1870s, and eventually developed his own throttle-able, high-speed gasoline engines.
Daimler installed his engines into two-wheel cycles and then an actual four-wheel automobile by 1886. Daimler didn’t partner with Benz until 1926, and in the decades prior to this famous partnership, Daimler was cranking out engines and impressing people all over Europe, which led to licensing out Daimler engine designs all over the place, including right here in America, where a Daimler Manufacturing Company was cranking out “Daimlers” from 1898 to 1907, including one called the “American Mercedes.”
In Europe, Daimler licensees included Peugeot and Panhard et Lavassor in France, Austro-Daimler in Austria (where Ferdinand Porsche got his start) and the Daimler that I suspect causes the most confusion, the British one.
It’s also worth noting that part of the reason why Daimler-Benz started marketing their cars under the name of one particular model named for a little Jewish girl, Mercedes, was because so many Daimler licenses were out there that people were getting confused.
The British Daimlers start with an engineer named Frederick Simms who encountered Daimler engines in some little railcars he saw in Germany in 1889, and by 1891 he arranged to have the British rights to Daimler’s patents, and by 1895 he started the Daimler Motor Company Limited to build cars.
There was a bunch of complicated back-and-forth with partners, and in 1896 the company was re-formed and began building cars by 1897, starting with some Panhard-engined ones then moving to Daimler-engined cars.
Also notable is that in 1899 Simms developed the Motor Scout, considered to be the first armed gasoline-powered vehicle ever built. Aside from the iron panel behind the Maxim machine gun there, it looks like most of the armor on this thing are layers of tweed and skin, which doesn’t inspire much confidence.
Simms later made a real armored car, The Motor War Car, which I’ve actually written about before.
Daimler soon became a respected British carmaker, arguably the oldest British carmaker to build cars in quantity. In 1902, they were granted a Royal Warrant to supply automobiles to the British Crown, and Queen Elizabeth still owned a 1984 Daimler Double-Six as recently as 2019.
Now, even if you know Jack Squatingshire about Daimlers, I bet you’re noticing a couple of things about the Queen’s one up there: specifically, it looks just like a Jaguar of the same era but has a funny fluted grille.
That’s because Jaguar bought Daimler in 1960, and soon after that Daimlers were all based on Jags, usually just fancier-spec Jaguars. While the styling changes were pretty minimal, one change that was always present was that fluted grille, which was a Daimler trademark from the very early days, when it was a visual stylization of the very early radiator tanks, which were finned to dissipate heat more effectively:
In the U.S. we never actually got Daimler-Jaguars, but sometimes got the fluted grilles on Jaguars that had the high-end Vanden Plas trim level.
So, I hope this helps the next time you see a car that’s called a Daimler but you’re sure it looks like a Jaguar, but just aren’t really clear how it’s related to the company that built Mercedes-Benzes.
This has been a very quick overview, but I absolutely suggest digging into these companies’ histories more, ideally by breaking into your local library and just starting a new life there, reading about old German and British carmakers until the police drag you out, screaming.