1952 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

The United Kingdom was once a hotbed of all manner of industrial activities. During the early 20th century, factories, sheds and warehouses full of busy staff building things were never more than a stone’s throw away. There were myriad companies doing many, many things. Interestingly though, a lot of different things were often built, engineered and produced by single companies. Companies like Armstrong Siddeley, for example. We might think of that name and instantly land on cars, but this powerhouse of a company also made aeroplane engines, it had its hand in more general engineering and it also made cars. Luxury cars, at that. Let us not forget, Armstrong Siddeley would go on to be absorbed by Rolls-Royce.

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When you think of British luxury cars, you think of Jaguar, Daimler, Rolls-Royce and Bentley. But back in the day, luxury motor cars were this country’s bread and butter. Rover, Humber, Triumph and of course, Armstrong Siddeley to name a few were all competing to build the most luxurious cars. This 1952 Sapphire 346 is a glowing example of that. A refined, imposing machine that would almost certainly have once sat on the driveway of someone doing very well indeed. Our money is on the bank manager.

What is it? 

What we have here is a rather handsome 1952 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 346, making it one of the earliest of its type, as this is the year the 346 was introduced. It was car that carried a significant responsibility, as it has to carry on the good work of the 236 and 234 before it. To do this, engineered gave it a new and incredibly elegant body. It could be had a four-light or six-light, this being the latter. Under the bonnet, the power was upped significantly to a 3,435cc straight-six engine that boasted hemispherical combustion chambers. This car has a single carburettor and thus should be the 125bhp model. However, it was offered with twin Stromberg carbs, which took it to 150bhp. There was a heater as standard, along with leather and lashings of walnut trim. This car has a four-speed manual transmission with full synchro, delivering power to the rear wheels. The 346 also boasted Girling hydraulic drum brakes all around – very modern for the time. But modernity was to be expected with a £1,757 price tag. Or £51,858 in today’s money!

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Why is it a project? 

As is often the case with classic cars, this Sapphire is the product of hopeful ambitions confronted by a lack of time. The garage that has the car is selling on behalf of the current owner, who has owned it since 1988. He bought it with the best intentions of using it, but then his haulage business exploded and the car was soon forgotten and left in the corner of the warehouse until now. Having come to the realisation that it’s never going to be sorted, the owner has opted to part with it.

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Happily, while there is a fair old bit of work to do, the car is impressively solid. There is a delightful picture showing the underside and other than a very rusty silencer, there doesn’t appear to be anything too scary. The chassis looks good, the floors too. The body is pretty solid from what we can see in the pictures, the interior is all there and then there is the best bit – the car runs. According to the garage that currently has it, this handsome old beast fires up on the turn of the key. The brakes are shot though, and the clutch has issues, but for a car that has been laid up for thirty years, we’ll allow it!

Five things to look for:

1) Rust

This old Armstrong Siddeley looks very solid in the pictures, but as we all know, you should still check it out in the metal. There is some corrosion coming through, most notably on the roof gutters. This needs checking. The chassis, floors and pillars all need a good inspection too, especially the chassis.

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2) Wiring

Happily, the wiring on this old machine is going to be fairly simple. That’s good, as it means re-wiring the car won’t be too much work. The loom that’s there might still function, but it would be a risky affair. Joints and connections could have become brittle over time, earthing points might have corroded, and that all makes for a potential hazard.

3) Trim

This isn’t a 2008 Ford Focus, and as such, parts are going to be hard to find. Pleasingly, this 346 seems to be complete, which saves a lot of worry. But, is what’s there still usable? Check the condition of the chrome, the clips, the fixings, the window surrounds. You need to be able to save it, as find replacement stuff is going to be hard.

4) Brakes

The seller says the car has no brakes but doesn’t say why? In reality, they’re going to need a complete overhaul anyway, including new lines. But even so, it doesn’t hurt to find out what’s gone wrong prior. Has a line burst, have the cylinders given out? Have a look and see what’s happened. It might be a simple fix.

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5) Clutch

Again, the seller has been good enough to highlight the fact the clutch doesn’t work. They say it’s partially stuck, but as the car starts, it’s obviously not engaged in any way. Maybe the pedal has ceased, perhaps the pressure plate has given up? It’s worth a bit of investigation, as it’s going to be a big job and parts might be hard to come by.

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What should you do with it? 

There is only one thing you should do with this glorious old Armstrong Siddeley, and that restores it back to its former glory. It has only covered a mere 29,736 miles over the course of its life and as such, combined with the impressive condition, it is the perfect candidate for restoration. It’s complete, it runs, it appears to be very solid indeed. This could be a pleasing restoration. And just think of the thrill that would come from getting this wonderful machine back on the road. A celebration of a now long lost motoring name. Lovely.

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