That RAC Rally Siddeley Special
I was interested to read of my old car, the Siddeley Special, AXC 1, in your April 1975 issue (page 362). She was on the way to the Torquay RAC rally, and I believe that the young ladies polishing her were not maids, but nurses from a near-by hospital. The design of the body was not by Fitzmaurice, but by your humble servant, who worked it out with Lancifield Coachworks. Of course, all designers observe and are influenced by others, and I had been in touch with Fitzmaurice, though I think by that date he was dead. By that time the old shape, with separate wings for the wheels, was on the way out. A year or two later the Chrysler Airflow appeared with an all enclosing envelope, though the designer was seeking, not only the form of lowest resistance but also the best structural performance, both as beam and in torsional stiffness, by spreading his structural members to the greatest width or height and thus getting the greatest moment and specific strength.
The Chrysler Airflow did not achieve market success. The Chrysler magnates hedged their bet—as successful magnates in the auto world are apt to do; those who plunge all-out being, sometimes though not always, the non-survivors—by keeping in production also a range of conventional sedans in which the strength was given by frames beneath the floor, which necessarily involved greater specific weight. In 1948 Algy Herreshoff, then chief development engineer at Chrysler, told me that there was a school of thought who held that the Airflow range would have been a success—with momentous consequences in the battle of the three giants, GM, Ford and Chrysler—if more steam had been put behind the marketing of it: the Chrysler dealers had taken the path of least resistance and sold their customers the traditional cars rather than fighting to educate them up to the car of the future. (Algy Herreshoff was son of the Nat Herreshoff who built the yachts which beat off the challenges of Lipton’s Shamrocks for the Americas Cup.) The Airflow was an outstanding car, not only for looks and the performance which its low wind resistance and favourable power/weight ratio gave, but also because its polar moment of inertia—a parameter which was then new to designers—in relation to its wheelbase gave it a phenomenally good ride.
The Siddeley was not on the whole a success. Although it used an aluminium block for the engine—following the successful Puma engine, which powered the DH9 aircraft— the all-up weight of the vehicle was too great. I daresay the project would have succeeded if I had taken the advice of Arthur Fox, of Fox & Nicholl, who sponsored the Talbot teams of Georges Roesch’s cars— one of which, GO 54, I owned immediately it came out of racing and later twice repurchased for short spells of ownership! Fox, on the demise of Talbots, had to look elsewhere for mechandise to retail; and he wanted me to wait for the 4 1/2-litre Lagonda, which he knew was in gestation, and which would probably have been a much better vehicle than the Siddeley.
Winchester GEORGE WANSBROUGH