Armstrong Siddeley : quality and tradition

From 1919 to 1960, the British manufacturer Armstrong Siddeley produced refined cars with a rigour inherited from its activities in the aircraft industry.

In 1909, the Deasy car factory, based in Coventry, took on the engineer John Davenport Siddeley, who had previously worked for Wolseley. The company changed its name to Siddeley-Deasy. The firm produced lorries, ambulances and, from 1917, aircraft engines and aeroplanes, which helped it grow in importance on the British market. For its part, Armstrong Whitworth, a company specialising in artillery, had been building cars since 1904, when it bought the Wilson Pilcher licence. Several models were produced, and they were renowned for their excellent build quality and reliability. In 1919, Armstrong Whitworth bought Siddeley-Deasy. The company changed its name to Armstrong Siddeley.

Preselective gearbox

The manufacturer quickly moved into the luxury sector with a fairly imposing model featuring a 30 bhp engine with 5 litres of displacement. A smaller 18 bhp model appeared in 1922 and a 2-litre 14 bhp model arrived the following year in 1923. In 1928, Armstrong Siddeley introduced its first 6-cylinder 15 bhp block. The following year, the Wilson pre-selective gearbox became available as an option. Offering great ease of use at a time when all cars had non-synchronised manual transmissions, this gearbox was finally delivered as standard from 1933.

Even though Armstrong Siddeley had a 4-cylinder model, its vehicles equipped with a 6-cylinder overhead camshaft block gave it the image of a top-of-the-range manufacturer. When the Second World War broke out, the manufacturer had just presented the new Lancaster and Hurricane. During the war, Armstrong Siddeley concentrated on producing aircraft and star engines. After the hard times, production resumed and the 6-cylinder engine in the last two models was upgraded from 2 litres to 2,3 litres, giving 18 bhp. Two utility vehicles were also developed, mainly for export.

In 1953, the Sapphire was launched. Intended to compete with Jaguar and Bristol, this car had a 3.4-litre, 6-cylinder engine. Three years later, the range was extended with the arrival of the 234 (a 2.3-litre four-cylinder) and the 236 (with the old 2.3-litre six-cylinder engine). The Sapphire 234 and 236 look very different from the traditional Armstrong Siddeley classic and appeal to some of the brand's loyal customers. The "little Sapphire" heralded the beginning of the end for Armstrong Siddeley, which was too conservative in its technical choices. Jaguar had just started building its 2.4 saloon in 1955, which was faster, much cheaper and much more elegant than the bulky and unharmonious 234/236.

Overtaken by the competition, the manufacturer was living out its final months. The last model produced by Armstrong Siddeley was the 1958 Star Sapphire, with a 4-litre engine and automatic transmission. Armstrong Siddeley disappeared with the merger with Bristol in 1960. In 1972, Rolls-Royce LTD, which had become the owner of the defunct marque through a series of takeovers, sold all the stock of spare parts, together with all the patents, specifications, drawings, catalogues and the Armstrong Siddeley Motors Ltd name to the Armstrong Siddeley Owners Club LTD, which today is the sole resource for all owners of vehicles made by the marque.

About the author:

Continue reading