• Recent car show prize-winner
• Superb original upholstery
• Used sparingly in present ownership
Today, Armstrong Siddeley is one of many sadly long-lost car makers, but for a period of time in the mid-20th century it represented the best of the British motor industry, and was also well-known as a prolific aero-engine manufacturer.
The first Armstrong Siddeleys were built in 1919, following the merger of Armstrong-Whitworth’s automobile division with Siddeley-Deasy. By the end of the war (which various Hawker Siddeley aircraft had helped the Allies win), Armstrong Siddeley had a reputation for solid, powerful and luxurious cars, such that it became the marque of choice for Sir Malcolm Campbell and other prominent owners.
The introduction of the Sapphire, named after an Armstrong Siddeley jet engine, in 1953 also heralded the arrival of the Coventry marque’s first new post-war engine, a 3½-litre straight-six with a hemispherical cylinder head. With luxury in mind, the Sapphire was offered with a four-speed synchromesh gearbox or, as a £30 option, an electrically-operated Wilson pre-selector, and a heater was standard.
It could be specified as either a four-light or six-light saloon, with individual or bench front seating. In 1954, a model with twin Strombergs capable of 100mph became available, and in 1955 a long-wheelbase limousine was introduced and a fully automatic gearbox became optional.
The result was a powerful A-road cruiser perfect for the owner-driver who might prefer to be driven into town during the week, but take the wheel himself at weekends. With a twin-carburettor synchromesh model costing £1757 after tax in 1953, the Sapphire was only ever a car for the discerning few and just 7697 were built.
The Sapphire was succeeded in 1958 by the visually similar Star Sapphire, which boasted a larger engine and automatic gearbox as standard. Sadly, it was all to end in 1960 when Hawker Siddeley merged with the Bristol Aeroplane Company, which also made cars. Bristol cars would continue for many more years, while Armstrong Siddeley was laid to rest.
Unfortunately, we do not know anything of this car’s history other than that it was issued with its West Suffolk registration in March, 1955, and a plaque on the door indicates that it was originally supplied by T. H. Nice & Co. Ltd. of Bury St. Edmunds. The present owner is the fifth registered keeper according to the V5, which is impressive if correct, having acquired it from a gentleman in Basingstoke who bought it in 2015.
In the current ownership the car has won an award at a local classic car show, but the owner, who has owned numerous Veteran, Vintage and classic cars over his life, has not been able to use it properly for a couple of years due to health reasons, hence he is offering it for sale.
Other than the current logbook, the Armstrong Siddeley has nothing in the way of a paperwork file.
However, it is also being sold with an exhibit sign for shows detailing the Sapphire’s technical specification, a copy of a Penrite Oil lubrication chart for Armstrong Siddeley models, and a rare original Sapphire Service Manual.
The Sapphire offered here is certainly a deserving award-winner, as it looks beautiful and has obviously been well cared for over its life. It has evidently been resprayed at some point in the past, in what we suspect was its original colour scheme, and the paint still looks extremely good.
While it sports a few very light cosmetic blemishes, and there are some flaws in the paint around the valances and at the base of the front wings, it is only under extremely close scrutiny that these become apparent and, unless one has concours in mind, they shouldn’t detract from one’s enjoyment of the car.
The chrome is also exceptionally good and an afternoon spent with a tin of polish should bring it up to a most enviable shine. The chrome falls just short of being perfect, and it sports a light patina all over, but there are no signs of pitting or peeling or anything else that might cause concern. We would like to draw bidders’ attention to what must be one of the best British radiator mascots ever used – a jet-powered sphinx, no less.
The mascot is derived from a journalist’s comment that Armstrong Siddeley’s straight-six was ‘as silent as inscrutable as the sphinx’, and references the fact that the Sapphire took its name from an Armstrong Siddeley jet engine. All Armstrong Siddeleys from the 1930s onward featured the sphinx mascot, but only a small handful featured jets.
All around the car, the glass is very good, and some auxiliary flashing indicators have been installed at the rear for ease of driving in modern traffic. The wheels and tyres are also in fine order, although the rear wheels are largely concealed behind those elegant spats.
If the paint is simply nice, the interior is gorgeous on account of its wonderful, well-preserved original leather upholstery. It has matured beautifully and one would not think it was really 66 years old. Only some small cracks in the leather give away its age, but it does not sport any real damage and the new owner will want to continue to preserve the original leather for as long as possible. With that delightful deep red finish, it has literally aged like a fine burgundy.
The armrests on the doors appear slightly more worn, and one has a hole in the leather, but both are still beautiful and have lots of life in them. Sadly, the door cards at some point were judged to be in need of replacement, so they have been recovered in the recent past. The carpets, too, also look quite new and we suspect they were done at the same time. In the rear, the original leather is, again, beautifully aged, while the headlining is almost immaculate.
The interior woodwork is also all original, and has aged similarly well. On the dash and door cappings, the walnut veneer boasts a light patina which adds texture to its already beautiful finish. The speaker in the dash suggests that the car has had a radio from new, and we suspect the Philips transistor radio presently installed is the original item.
Having seen this car run, we can confirm that it runs well and will obligingly move under its own power although, on the day of our viewing, some fettling was required to get it started owing to it having been unused for some time.
It has obviously been looked after in its current ownership and we are sure it is ready to be enjoyed, but since it has not been driven for some time and does not have a valid MoT, prudence dictates that the buyer should conduct their own checks before taking to the road.
Anyone with a taste for dignified luxury motoring should immediately appreciate the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. In its looks, it is elegant and discreetly suggestive of wealth without being flashy. Inside, it exudes the ‘old English drawing room’ sort of luxury and, on the road, it is like driving a featherbed.
A worthy rival to the more expensive Daimlers and Humbers, the Armstrong Siddeley badge also carries the prestige of aeronautical engineering and the mysterious allure of a long-defunct marque.
In brilliant condition, this example is a good one to buy for a number of reasons but the real selling point is that outstanding original interior. Such well-preserved original leather is increasingly hard to find, so every journey in this car will be something to savour.
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