Saga of the Siddeley Special

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Armstrong Siddeleys, advertised as being ‘of Aircraft Quality’, were wellmade cars of dignified appearance. C G Grey, editor of The Aeroplane, had several and asked of his first how far he should go to run it in, to be told, “as far as the factory gates, sir”.

Yet these cars were regarded as pedestrian, from the 1919 advent of the massive 30hp until the appearance of a Sports Twenty in the 1930s. Sammy Davis of The Autocar had already done well in the 3600-mile 1931 Monte Carlo Rally with a Silver Sphinx and Cyril Siddeley entered a team of three 20hp cars for the tough 1932 7500-mile Alpine Trial. They lost no marks and brought home to Coventry three Glacier Cups and scored again in the Rally.

Generally, however, Armstrong Siddeleys were regarded as rather dull, although the 12hp model took beauty prizes and rally awards. So publicity was sought with nine rally cars, each one a different colour. But the 12hp coupe for ‘The Daughters of Gentlemen’ was not as fast as some of the girls whose daddies had given them one; even Ricardo could do little to ginger-up its side-valve 1236cc six-cylinder engine. All this changed in 1932 with the arrival of the Siddeley Special. A genuine 90mph car, using the same 89.9×133.4mm (4960cc) engine dimensions as the 1919 six-cylinder 30hp, butwith block, head, crankcase, sump and even the conrods of hiduminium alloy, which the aero-engine firm was well able to handle. Two SU carburettors later replaced a downdraught Claudel. And after some trouble with direct-seated valves, aluminium-bronze seats were used.

The 1934 lift-wheelbase sportstourer lapped Biuoldands at 88.9mph and could hit 93mph on its 3.6:1 axle ratio and 6.50×19 tyres, and it was competitively priced at £950. The four-door sports saloon model would exceed 87mph.

Improvements soon followed. The lightweight engine was moved forward a few inches, a clutch aided the four-speed Wilson pre-selector gearbox, clutch and brakes had vacuumservo assistance, and various chassis changes further improved ride and road-holding. The wheelbase was increased by 4in. Open cars did 70 in third gear, could crawl at 6mph in top, and weighed 41cwt, with very good brakes. Impressive?

There was even a stillborn plan to prepare a Siddeley Special for Le Mans. In 1933, Sir John Siddeley loaned an open tourer to W F Bradley of The Autocar who, with his artist-daughter and Whitlock from the factory, took it to survey for the AA the proposed London-Istanbul road link. They arrived 91/2 days after leaving London, the only trouble referred to in Bradley’s report being broken ignition wires and the screen-wiper; he divulged the car’s bhp as 110, the only figure I have seen. This outstanding car continued in production until 1937, and about 235 were produced. Sir Malcolm Campbell had a 1936 VdP sports-tourer, the Hon Cyril Siddeley a Burlington saloon, and various well-known coachbuilders put bodies on the 12ft chassis. The standard limousine cost 1,1250. Lord Tweedsmuir, GovernorGeneral of Canada, used a landaulet

In 1962, a well known Ford dealer gave me a Siddeley Special saloon which I shared with Jenks until he decided a ’38 fiat-twin Jowett saloon was a more frugal shopping car. One day he told me someone with several A-S models had offered to store ours, and one morning it was driven away. I asked DSJ who this kind person was, but he had not thought to ask his name or address. To this day I have never seen the car again. Any clues?