The ex-London Motor Show 1955 Daimler DK400 Golden Zebra Coupé Coachwork by Hooper & Co Registration no. TYL 575 Chassis no. 92705 Engine no. 48771
Daimler maintained its long-established position as royaltys favourite in the immediate post-WW2 years while grabbing headlines in the popular press thanks to a succession of often outrageous Docker Specials featuring bodies by in-house coachbuilder Hooper & Co. The driving force behind these sensational styling exercises - all the more remarkable for their appearance at a time of great austerity - was Lady Docker (née Norah Turner), wife of the parent BSA Groups millionaire chairman, Sir Bernard Docker. Lady Docker had been appointed a director of Hoopers, with special responsibility for styling matters, and set about transforming Daimlers staid image into something altogether more exciting, commencing with the spectacular Golden Daimler which amazed crowds at the 1951 Motor Show. The culmination of this succession of sensational Docker cars is that offered here, the so-called Golden Zebra, a voluptuous extravagance on the 4.6-litre, six-cylinder, DK400 limousine chassis, which debuted on Hoopers stand at the 1955 Earls Court Motor Show. The Motor commented on Hoppers masterpiece in glowing terms: The annual set-piece on the Hooper stand is now almost a Motor Show tradition. The Show would hardly be the show it is without a new Docker Special to show the world that Britain today has designers and craftsmen able to equal, or excel, the finest artisans of the past. Certainly no one, looking at this years Daimler coupé, could say: They dont build cars like that now! Fabergé himself might have made it. The outside is cellulosed in perfectly plain ivory-white, with all the bright parts plated in gold. Gold plate is used throughout the interior, while real ivory replaces wood on the instrument panel, and for all capping and finishers set in a very slim, gold-plated framework. The most striking feature however, is the upholstery of the seats and the doors, which is zebra skin. The bench-type front seat is made up of three definite panels and there are two folding armchair seats behind. The zebra skin is applied only to the faces of the cushions and squabs; the borders are in ivory-coloured leather. A new nylon material the colour of ivory and with a tiny spot has been specially woven for the headlining by Messrs Fothergill and Harvey. The roof has a Perspex panel with occluding shutter, and the boot contains rawhide suitcases with Bramah locks. All cocktail and toilet accessories are in ivory or cut-glass and gold; there is even a gilt-and-nylon umbrella sheathed in the near-side door. Lady Docker was particularly proud of the zebra skin upholstery. When asked Why zebra? she famously replied with a flippancy that would have made Marie Antionette blush: Because mink is too hot to sit on. In April 1956, Golden Zebra and Stardust, another Hooper show car, were shipped to the South of France for the wedding of Prince Rainier of Monaco and film star Grace Kelly, to which Sir Bernard and Lady Docker had been invited. By this time the Dockers perceived extravagance was causing rumblings of discontent within the BSA Group board and on 30th May 1956 a special meeting was called that resulted in Sir Bernard being voted out of office. With their creators banished, the Daimler show cars were stripped of their expensive trimmings and sold. In 1966 Golden Zebra, which cost £12,000 to build (many times the value of the average semi-detached house at the time) was offered for sale by Daimler distributors Henlys of Chester with 25,000 miles on the clock for only £1,400. After several owners, Golden Zebra ended up in California, USA from whence Daimler collector John Wentworth brought it back to the UK in 1988. Since then this unique motor car has been thoroughly and painstakingly restored, although because of John Wentworths other interests work did not start for ten years. Golden Zebra was meticulously repainted by Daniel Chester, the engine reinstalled and a legion of expert craftspeople recruited to assist with this most daunting of restoration projects. The problem of acquiring suitable zebra skins was solved by sourcing the correct Kenyan zebra hides from a tannery in South Africa. The steering wheel was refinished, the instruments reconditioned and parts for gold plating despatched to Kingsley Chrome. On 27th September 2002 the first re-plated items were returned, and the following day John Wentworth unexpectedly died. Assisted by, among others, German Daimler enthusiast Volkmar Mietke, Johns widow Seija continued the rebuild. It was clearly out of the question to replicate the original elephant ivory dashboard, so a combination of flamed sycamore and ivory wood was used, echoing the zebra patterning. Two cabinets were specially made for the rear compartment and a gold-coloured fabric approximating to the original headlining sourced. After three more years hard work, Golden Zebra was returned to former glory earlier this year. Wonderfully redolent of the 1950s, an age when excess still had the capacity to shock, this uniquely stylish piece of Daimler history is offered with sundry restoration invoices, current MoT and Swansea V5 registration document. The Dockers invitations to the Monegasque Royal Wedding and Grand Opera are included in the sale.