3rd September 2020

The Docker Daimlers – An Exercise in Pure Extravagance

What connects a night club hostess, five Daimlers and a zebra? The answer is not the plot of a lesser known Carry-On film, but rather Nora, Lady Docker and a wonderfully exuberant six years.

When the twice widowed ex-nightclub dancer Norah Collins married the noted industrialist Sir Bernard Docker in 1949, it was to herald the start of six years of glorious excess, funded dubiously off the back of the Daimler Company Ltd. Ultimately, it was to end in ignominy for the pair, but the legacy of these years remains in the three surviving examples of Lady Docker’s extraordinary taste in vehicles.

When Sir Bernard promoted his new wife to the board of directors of Hooper & Co, the famed British coachbuilder owned by the Daimler Company, Lady Docker immediately set about on a new marketing strategy to wow the crowds and win headlines. Whether for purely personal gain, or commercial reasons was never clear, but she immediately commissioned a ‘show car’ for the Earl’s Court Motor Show in 1951.

“The Golden Daimler” was a limousine built to live up to its name. Based on the DE36 chassis and powered by a glorious straight-eight engine, on this car all that glittered was, in fact, gold. Seven thousand gold stars adorned the lower half of the elegant coachwork and all items, which might usually be chrome, such as the wheel trims, door handles and even driver controls, were gold plated. The rear compartment was upholstered in gold brocade fabric and featured a cocktail cabinet, a vanity set and occasional tables, all of which were, of course, made in gold.

The following year at the same show, Lady Docker unveiled “Blue Clover” to yet more fanfare. Based on the same limousine platform as the Golden Daimler but with updated and more streamlined coachwork, “Blue Clover” was so named for the two-tone blue and grey coachwork, which featured many thousands of blue four-leaf clovers painted across the lower body. While more muted than the car it followed, Blue Clover was by no means less extravagant. The interior was trimmed in a deep blue hide, which was complimented not by wood veneers or chrome, but grey/blue lizard skins that covered every surface other than the carpets. The cocktail glasses, vanity set, binoculars and even an 8mm video camera that came fitted inside the car all featured sterling silver.

Sadly, no prize was awarded to Lady Docker’s efforts for the 1953 Motor Show, where her two-seater, two-door Daimler coupe known as “Silver Flash” won little attention, even with an interior trimmed largely in red crocodile with matching luggage sets. This show car, based on a smaller Daimler three-litre chassis, failed to impress. Duly, efforts for the 1954 were redoubled, when “Stardust” was launched at the motor show. The Stardust was effectively, the Golden Daimler scheme but reversed: the car was a dark blue/grey with silver stars painted across the coachwork. Blue Crocodile skins featured heavily on the interior of the limousine, to compliment the silver brocade upholstery, while on the floor was a nod to the absolute latest in modernity, a nylon fur rug.

The final car, the 1955 “Golden Zebra” was in part, the undoing of the Dockers. The car itself was a true return to showstopping form for Daimler. Based on a DK400chasssis, it was a grand coupe par-excellence. Lustrous cream paintwork complimented the heavily styled coachwork, featuring hooded lights and spatted rear wheels. In place of chrome work, was a return to gold plating, which was found everywhere from the bumpers to door catches. Incidentally, the framework for the dashboard was made from latticed ivory, while the seats, trimmed in genuine zebra hides, complimented the usual plethora of vanity sets, umbrellas, cocktail cabinets and other accessories. A show-stopper, she was, but what was harder to get past the other board members of Hoopers and Daimler was the £5000 that Lady Docker paid for her mink and gold outfit which she wore to unveil the car. At around £200,000 in today’s money, this was seen as an extravagance too far for the company, who swiftly removed Sir Bernard and Lady Docker from their roles. 

The fall from grace for the glittering couple was swift. Stripped of their income, their castle and the Daimlers by the company, they soon fell into a life of relative normality on the island of Jersey, much to the chagrin of Lady Docker. Of the five cars built, Blue Clover, Stardust and the Golden Zebra are still in existence today, the latter on display at the Louwmann Museum in Holland.

Have you seen one of the Docker Daimlers? Let us know your impression in the comments below.

Not only have I seen one, but I own and I am restoring the 1950 Docker Daimler. Yes, 1950 is the first show car to be truly called a "Docker Daimler". When Lady Norah Head of Hooper and Osmond River Head of design for Hooper would show a special each year. Shown in The Daimler Traditions PG. 175, 176, 177 & Daimler Days Vol.2 PG. 733, 734 Vol.3 PG. 325. To say it's big is a understatement and to drive it is a bit intimidating. When driving next or up to other cars or a standard truck they look small. When a DE36 is 20ft. long, just under 7ft. wide and 3 tons in weight most everything is small in comparison. Hopefully within time I can clear up the history that so many have wrong, even Wikipedia.

1950ShowcarDocker, 10/12/2020