[The Armstrong Siddeley, made by the famous Coventry company which has built outstanding aeroplane engines since the first World War and still, of course, in production, is a somewhat neglected make, so far as the older models are concerned. No club exists to cater for these cars. Very few are to be found amongst members of the Vintage Sports-Car Club. Sometimes the early versions are dismissed as lethargic and ponderous. This is unfair. A vintage car is not necessarily judged on performance and the pre-war Armstrong Siddeleys were clearly successful, as is proved by the numbers sold and the affection felt for the make by the older generation. A great many Armstrong Siddeleys are still to be seen on our roads and used examples of these robustlyconstructed, long-wearing cars can be acquired for quite modest prices compared to those asked for more illustrious vintage makes such as Rolls-Royce, Lanchester and Sunbeam. It is to honour the memory of the older models from the famous Coventry concern and to create interest in them, in the hope that this will prevent existing versions from passing into oblivion, that this historical survey is presented.—ED.]
The Armstrong Siddeley stems from the Siddeley Deasy, a make which enjoyed quiet fame up to the outbreak of war in 1914. It had a Knight sleeve-valve engine and suspension and worm-drive back axle on Lanchester principles. Captain H. P. Deasy founded the Deasy Motor Company in 1906 but although cars of this make were built for the 1906 T.T. race, and Miss Muriel Hines (now Mrs. Lord) was appointed to demonstrate the normal models, progress was slow and soon work on the 45-h.p. model ceased and an attempt was made to finalise the Type B 24-h.p. Deasy. This was scarcely successful and in 1908 Capt. Deasy resigned.
After Capt. Deasy’s resignation, Deasy cars improved and in 1909 J. D. Siddeley joined the company. He had founded his own motormanufacturing firm in 1906, which built 6, 12 and 18-h.p. cars as the Siddeley Autocar Co. Mr. (later Sir) J. D. Siddeley (he was afterwards created Baron of Kenilworth) later joined the Wolseley Company and evolved the Wolseley-Siddeley, but differences of opinion broke out between him and Sir Herbert Austin over the adoption of high-speed vertical engines and Mr. Siddeley left the Wolseley Company to become General Manager of the Deasy concern. By 1910 John Siddeley and his team had redesigned the Deasy car, which adopted the name of Siddeley Deasy. Two models, the 14/20 and 18/28 were listed, followed in 1912 by a 12-h.p. poppet-valve car whose engine and worm-drive back axle were made by Daimler. This small Siddeley Deasy was followed by an Aster-engined Type R chassis, bought complete from the Rover Company.
In November 1912 the name of the company was changed from The Deasy Motor Car Manufacturing Co. Ltd. to The Siddeley Deasy Motor Car Co. Ltd. During 1911 a 14/20 Siddeley Deasy had successfully completed a 15,000-mile endurance test at Brooklands, averaging 34.71 m.p.h. and 23.143 m.p.g. on the Track, the cost of subsequent renewals being under £2. Deasy cars were driven in the 1911 Prince Henry Trial by Lionel de Rothschild and Sir A. Conan Doyle. As a result, H.M. War Office became interested, ordering cars which were exhaustively tested on Brooklauds Track before delivery.
In the same year, 1911, an experimental commercial vehicle was constructed but when war broke out in 1914 only two lorries had been built, one for Len, the chimney sweeps, the other for Coventry Gas Works. Light cars were contemplated at the same time, to be named the Stoneleigh, but the commercial vehicle venture caused this project to be shelved until 1923.
The outbreak of a European war resulted in an order for some 100 Stoneleigh lorries for Russia, and other chassis went to Russia equipped as field kitchens.
As war contracts developed the Siddeley Deasy factory was engaged in building aeroplanes and then R.A.F. IA V8 90-h.p. and V12 140-h.p. aero engines, the latter at the rate of ten per week to fulfill an order for 300, while 18-h.p. Siddeley Deasys were in big demand as ambulances.
In 1916, urgently seeking a reliable aero engine of 200 or more h.p., the Air Ministry asked Siddeley Deasy to build the B.H.P. six cylinder water-cooled engine, of which only six prototypes existed. J. D. Siddeley agreed only if he was allowed first to bench-test one of these engines. On a 50-hour destruction test the valves fell into the cylinders after 49 hours’ running. F. R. Smith, the Siddeley Deasy engineer, redesigned the engine, which emerged as the highly successful Puma, eventually built during the war at the rate of 160 a week.
As the war drew to a close, J. D. Siddeley, looking to the future, seeredy imported an American Marmon car and, setting up a drawing office in the billiards-room of his private residence, released certain key men from acre-engine production to study this transatlantic design and get going on the post-war Siddeley car. Thus was the 30-h.p. Siddeley Six evolved. This was followed, as described later, by various four and six-cylinder models, and the small six-cylinder, in the form of the 12-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley, was pioneered in 1928.
After the Armistice orders for the Siddeley Six began to flow in and Mr. Siddeley, seeking to expand his factory and at the same time to safeguard his steel supplies, tried to amalgamate with Winder. This fell through, but Mr. Siddeley’s company combined with the Armstrong Whitworth Company and, in 1919, the Armstrong Whitworth Development Co. Ltd. was formed, the Siddeley Deasy Motor Car Co. Ltd. being re-named Armstrong Siddeley Motors Ltd. and the aircraft and motor section transferred to Parkside, Coventry. There Armstrong Siddeley cars were built in proximity to such famous peacetime aero-engines as the Armstrong Siddeley Lynx, Jaguar, Tiger and Cheetah. The Cheetah was the last piston aero-engine to be built by the company and during World War Two nearly 40,000 were produced; various marks are still in service throughout the world.
In 1928 Armstrong Siddeley took another step forward by introducing the preselector epicyclic gearbox as standard, this transmission subsequently becoming synonymous with the make. Mr. Siddcley took over the English patents for this gearbox from Col. Wilson. Two years later, when the Daimler Company found that a normal gearbox was ill-suited to their newly-introduced fluid flywheel, they coupled it to a Wilson self-change gearbox made under licence to Armstrong Siddeley.
In 1933 the never-very-distant link between the aero-engine and car sections of the Armstrong Whitworth organisation was emphasised by the introduction of the high-performance Siddeley Special car, the majority of its engine components being of Hiduminium light alloy as employed in acre-engine construction.
Nineteen thirty-five saw the Armstrong Siddeley Development Co. Ltd. absorbed by Hawker Aircraft. With the advent of another World War car production ceased and armament work was undertaken for the Admiralty, self-change tank gearboxes were constructed and the Cheetah aero-engine built in large numbers, the final Mk. 15 version giving 420 h.p.
With a return to peacetime conditions Armstrong Siddeley announced the first of the post-war British cars, in the form of the 2-litre Hurricane drophead coupe and the Lancaster saloon, the type names honouring the memory of those famous fighter and bomber aircraft. These new cars were then of advanced styling and had torsion-bar i.f.s. For 1949 the engine size was increased to 2.6-litres and the Whitley saloon—another famous aircraft name— added to the range.
In 1952 the new Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire graced the Earls Court Show, notable for inclined o.h. valves operated by push-rods and rockers from a normally-located camshaft. Today, the famous Coventry company concentratee on the Sapphire 346 saloons and limousines, with synchromesh gearboxes or automatic transmission, and the new 4-litre Star Sapphire. In the aeroplane engine field, it builds the extremely powerful and reliable Sapphire gas turbine which powers such aircraft as the Hawker Hunter, Gloster Javelin and Handley Page Victor. Research also proceeds on rocket propulsion.
Part I—THE VINTAGE YEARS
After the strife of World War One some manufacturers decided that their best course lay in meeting the requirements of munitions profiteers, while others felt they would do better by catering for the millions who were expected to spend their war gratuities on light cars. Armstrong Siddeley adopted the former course, although in providing a large and dignified car they kept the selling price Moderate and thus did not clash with the exclusive Daintier and Rolls-Royce market.
How much the car which formed the post-war product owed to the secretly-imported Marmon is best left to students of American design. This first Armstrong Siddeley was made almost entirely in the Coventry factory, even to back axle, suspension, steering. clutch and brakes. The bodywork was also made in the factory, E. Smith being responsible for the first touring body and the jigs for its manufacture.
Early in 1919 the new chassis, which was a 30-h.p. six-cylinder, was ready to be fitted with a body and the idea of a detachable-top saloon was adopted as one of the models for the 1919 Motor Show. For a long time the frontal aspect of this car displeased the Works Superintendent and the Company Buyer, so much so that eventually a London sculptor was called in—surely the first industrial designer ? —and he suggested some acceptable alterations to the front-end of the vee-radiatored car which considerably improved its appearance. But for many years the bodies remained notably angular, Mr. Inglis, who was Coach Manager, being reluctant to alter them, which he excused with the remark, “The top hat is always smarter than the bowler.”
The new car was announced in September 1919. It was impressive in appearance and possessed several ingenious features. The chassis was of massive construction, with integral running-boards and part of the wings forming an extension of the side-members. Suspension was by 0.5-elliptic front and cantilever rear springs set well within the width of the frame. Detachable disc wheels were used, these being bolted to the brake drums at the rear and to secondary discs, in size equivalent to that or the brake drums, at the front, so that when unbolted these wheels were lighter to handle than solid discs and they also ensured that there was no overhang of the wheel bearings at front or rear, giving a centre-point steering layout. Many parts of the chassis had metal-fibre self-lubricating bushes.
The engine had its six cylinders cast in pairs of three, the dimensions being 88.9 by 133.4 mm., giving a swept volume of 4,960 c.c., or just under 5 litres. The power output was quoted as 60 b.h.p. The cast-iron cylinders had aluminium water plates. Tulip overhead valves operated in phosphor-bronze valve guides and seated directly in the heads, being operated by push-rods enclosed in individual light-alloy tubes and rockers having shim tappet adjustment. The valve covers were in two pairs, so that the separate cylinder blocks were connected only by water pipes and manifolds. The manifolding was on the near side. The balanced crankshaft ran in three whitemetal bearings, the hollow connecting-rods were machined all over, and light cast-iron pistons were used. Pump lubrication and cooling were employed.
The flywheel was of the open spoked pattern and carried a dry multi-plate clutch. The three-speed and reverse gearbox was in unit with the torque-tube, being carried at the front on a Siddeley ball-and-pot universal joint. The bevel-driven back axle, with aluminium easing, had a ratio of 3.69 to 1, the gearbox ratios being 3.36 to I (first) and 1.63 to 1 (second).
A Lucas starter drove by chain onto the crankshaft through the agency of a free-wheel, the Lucas dynamo was belt-driven front the driving member of the clutch, and there was provision on the engine for a mechanical tyre pump. The steering wheel had three friction. locked minor controls in its centre, operating ignition, throttle and mixture, with horn button in the boss, and the front bench seat was adjustable by turning a small aluminium wheel. Brake and gearlevers were centrally placed. Pressed-steel brackets supported a scuttle petrol tank. The radiator was of massive vee-formation, apparently with the idea of identifying itself with the pre-war Siddeley Deasy, which had a coal-scuttle bonnet with behind-engine cooling element. To facilitate manufacture, although the honeycomb was of vee-shape, it was encased in a detachable shell. Early photographs of this 29.5-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley chassis show no radiator mascot, but drawings published at the same time to show what the complete cars would look like clearly depict the now-famous Sphinx sitting on the radiator cap. Apparently a journalist, writing of an earlier Siddeley car. referred to it as being ” as silent and inscrutable as the Sphinx.” and Mr. Siddeley was so pleased with this that he sent an artist down to London to make sketches of the Sphinx on the Thames Embankment, from which a mascot for the first Armstrong Siddeley was prepared. This mascot has appeared in several versions. sprouting wings in deference to the aircraft associations of the manufacturer, who, in later days, adopted the slogan ” Cars of Aircraft Quality.”
The 30-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley, then, was a car of individua aspect and massive appearance. Its wheelbase measured 11 ft. 8 in.. with a 4 ft. 8 in. track, and by the date of the 1919 Motor Show the chassis price had been fixed at £720, a complete touring car costing £960. At the Show a chassis, all open 2/4-seater, a saloon-phaeton and a limousine-landaulette were exhibited, the engine. with its push-rod tubes rising on the off side and the water-pump and magneto in tandem on the same side, now having its tyre pump in place. On the near side of the engine was the Claude-Hobson carburetter. In the coachwork section of the Show, Mann. Egerton & Co. Ltd. exhibited a V-fronted saloon on an Armstrong Siddeley chassis.
Thus was born a car of quality, with, for its era, a good power, weight ratio, endowed by adherence to aircraft items of design in engine and chassis. Production, at the minimum rate of 5,000 a year. was intended to get into its stride by the spring of 1920 but, although the demand was great, it is believed that output never rose above 3,000 to 4,000 cars a year, 130 per week being a record. The body fitted with the detachable saloon top, having four windows each side, was named the Burlington, and after the Show closed was used as Mr. Siddeley’s car for some considerable time.
During 1920 H.R.H. the Duke of York purchased a 30-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley for official journeys. At Brooklands, Capt. D. E. B. K. Shipwright raced a two-seater Armstrong Siddeley, affectionately known as the ” Baby Tank,” early modifications stopping at strip mudguards attached to the upturned ends of the integral running boards. The following year, Capt. Shipwright. having tuned the car, as described on page 76 of ” The History of Brooklands Motor Course,” by W. Boddy (Grenville), and cut away the running-boards, actually won a race, lapping at fractionally over 77 m.p.h. Today, a happy link with the long ago, Sqd. Ldr. Shipwright runs an Armstrong Siddeley Lancaster saloon.
For 1921 the 30-h.p. car was continued almost unaltered, although slight changes were made to the cams and tappets to obtain greater silence, the silencer was situated at the back of the car, and clutch and brake gear were simplified. A chassis and four complete cars were exhibited at the Motor Show, the chassis being priced at £875. a 5/7-seater tourer at £1,190.
During 1921 various special bodies were built on the 30-h.p. chassis including a caravan . In the summer of that year Capt. Shipwright, aforesaid, wrote to The Autocar about a journey he had made in his Armstrong Siddeley from Hyde Park Corner to St. Ives, his running time average on the outward journey being 33.69 m.p.h. and on the return journey 34.75 m.p.h., the car, which had a dashboard stocked with instruments. including an air-speed indicator and an altimeter, running faultlessly for the entire 556 miles. It is significant that this was considered a fast drive in those days and brought an admonition front Viscount Curzon. M.P., who thought such feats would result in greatly increased police-trap activity on the roads out of London.
Also during 1921 the company opened a service station in Manchester, and Thos. Tilling Ltd. used the 30-h.p. chassis for a fleet of ambulances they built for hire work.
Before the 1921 Show a new Armstrong Siddeley was announced. A smaller companion for the rugged 30-h.p. This was the 17.9-h.p. model, which followed generally the specification of the larger car. The engine, with six cylinders, the blocks in two pairs, had a bore and stroke of 69.5 by 104.8 mm., giving a capacity of 2,318 c.c. The pistons were still of cast iron. The vee-radiator was retained. Tappet adjustment was now by means of hardened steel cups on the upper ends of the push-rods, which could be locked by a split cone-nut, and steel in. stead of alloy tubes enclosed the push-rods. The petrol tank was carried in the scuttle, with its filler neck protruding from the dashboard. The new 18-h.p. car had a wheelbase of 10 ft., a track of 4 ft. 8 in.. was shod with 815 by 105 tyres on the famous disc wheels, and in open tourer form it cost £795 and weighed about 26 cwt. The chassis was priced at £575, the most expensive model being the landaulette, at £975. The gearbox was still three-speed, with ratios of 16.65, 7.82 and 4.7 to I.
At the 1921 Motor Show Armstrong Siddeley were able to show an 18-h.p. saloon specially built for Prince Henry and a 30-h.p. saloon constructed for H.R.H. the Duke of York, the latter with Triplex glass, blind rear quarters, smoker’s canteens, Yale locks and other special features. Armstrong Siddeley designed and built these Royal bodies, providing another 18-h.p. and a 30-h.p. for the Duke of York in 1922, B. Rigby and G. Taylor being responsible for one car and D. Mountford and J. Smith the other, under the Chief Draughtsman, C. Davidson, who prepared full-size drawings.
Seeing a slump ahead, which, indeed, drove Armstrong Siddeley to experiment with cinema projector equipment until a contract from the Ministry of Supply for track vehicles known as Artillery Dragons saved the day, the company began to think in terms of a small car. Work proceeded quietly in the old tool-room at Parkside on a car which a subsidiary company, the Stoneleigh Motor Co. Ltd., was to build, and the Stoneleigh was announced in November 1921. The design was extremely simple. The engine was a 90-deg. vee-twin air-cooled unit of 85 by 90 mm. (1,010 c.c.) which appears to have owed its origin to an early Hotchkiss design and the push-rod o.h. valve gear of which was very like that found on front-wheel-drive B.S.A. three-wheelers up to the mid-nineteen-thirties. The transmission consisted of a dry-plate clutch, three-speed gearbox in unit with the torque-tube as on the Armstrong Siddeley, and a differentialless spiral-bevel back axle. The body was a simple aluminium and wood-frame structure and flared wings dispensed with runningboards. Suspension was by 0.25-elliptic springs. A novel idea was that the driver sat centrally behind the wheel, with a bench seat for two behind him, the passengers stretching out their legs on each side of him. This earned scathing comments from Mr. Ernest Siddeley. so that production versions had normal seating. Harry Crook was responsible for development. The price, originally announced as £225, was reduced to £155, or less than that asked for the Austin Seven and Rover Eight. Two saloon Stoneleighs were built and some useful publicity gained from a successful ascent of Snowdon, up the railway line, and from awards won in M.C.C. Trials and in the Scottish Six Days Trial. A ” Chummy ” model was brought out in 1924 but at the works the Stoneleigh was known as the ” wash-tub ” and “sack of potatoes car and Mr. John Siddeley as the ” man who has made walking a pleasure,” and eventually the Stoneleigh faded from the scene.
The Burlington Carriage Co. made many bodies for Armstrong Siddeley chassis. one of which was supplied in 1922 to Talbot O’Farrell, the entertainer. Eventually Armstrong Siddeley took over the works, adjacent to their own, of the Burlington coachboilding concern; in this building Armstrong Siddeley cars are assembled today and the old brass plates can still be discerned on the entrance to the building.
The company set about proving the worth of the new 18-h.p. car and put it in for an R.A.C. 10,000 mile test. This tourer came through with flying colours, averaging some 450 miles a day for 23 days at an average of 20 m.p.h., during which time the car returned 24.64 m.p.g. of petrol/benzole, 13,347 m.p.g. of oil, used 1.5 gallons of water, retained the original tyres and had trouble only with a broken wheel bearing ” of the most famous make in the world.” The drivers of HP 3889 were F. C. Woodbridge, I. C. Straight and J. C. Humphries. At Brooklands, at the conclusion of the test, the car covered half a mile at 56.18 m.p.h.
Later in the year W. F. Bradley, then Continental Correspondent to The Autocar, drove from Paris to Barcelona in three days, a distance of 750 miles, in an open 30-h.p. tourer, XK 8017. He obtained 17 m.p.g. and had but one involuntary stop, when a 6-in. French nail punctured a Dunlop Cord tyre.
By the time the 1923 Motor Show came round Armstrong Siddeley were able to announce proudly that they had been awarded the Dewar Trophy in respect of the R.A.C. test of the 18-h.p. car and were able to display the open 18-h.p. and state-bodied 30-h.p. cars built for H.R.H. the Duke of York, the latter having seven external lamps.
Encouraged, they submitted a 30-h.p. interior-drive limousine to a 15,000-mile R.A.C. test in September/November 1922, the car carrying three persons and running day and night for 34 working days. It returned 21.2 m.p.g. of petrol, 6,667 m.p.g. of oil, consumed 3.2 gallons of water and clocked 62.83 m.p.h on Brooklands Track. The average running weight was 401 cwt. The price of this car was £1,000, and the 18-h.p. tourer had been reduced to £660.
It was obvious that by 1923 the six-cylinder Armstrong Siddeleys were firmly established and substantial price reductions were possible, the 18-h.p. tourer costing £670 complete with rear screen, the 30-h.p. tourer £950, although the interior-drive limousine now cost £1,125. Towards the end of the summer Perrot-type front-wheel brakes were available for the 30-h.p. cars at £35 extra.
In July another new model had been announced. This was the ” Four-I4,” the first four-cylinder Armstrong Siddeley. A conventional monobloc 76.2 by 101.6 mm. (1,852 c.c.) engine was used, with push-rod-operated o.h. valves in a detachable head. Rather unusual was the location of the engine components, dynamo, magneto and water pump being driven by the single timing chain and located on the rear off side of the tinting case. A three-bearing crankshaft, H-section connecting-rods and an oil pump skew-gear driven from the camshaft were used and the large flywheel was of characteristic open-spoke pattern, carrying a single-plate clutch. The gearbox was, as usual, mounted on the front of the torque-tube and provided three forward speeds, of 17.5, 8.63 and 4.7 to 1. A Claudel-Hobson carburetter fed an exhaust-jacketed manifold on the near side of the engine.
A departure from previous Armstrong Siddeley practice was seen in the flat-fronted radiator, while the chassis had 0.25-elliptic springs front and back, actually extended behind their clamps and free to slide in the back-axle clips to give a semi-cantilever effect. The special disc wheels were shod with 760 by 90 tyres and normal running-boards were used. This 14.4-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley had a wheelbase of 9 ft. 3 in., a track of 4 ft. 8 in. and was intended to sell for £400 in touring form, with a de luxe version at £425. However, by September the chassis price was announced as £260, the tourer at £360, a coupe at £480 and a landaulette at £505. To prove that the new ” Four-14 ” was really in production, Mr. J. D. Siddeley produced a fleet of them for demonstration to the Press in the Cotswolds, following a lunch at Warwick in July 1923. The Autocar was at this time persuaded to give some excellent publicity to the service station at Lisson Grove, N.W.8, and in October Mr. H. P. Henry, Sales Controller of the Armstrong Siddeley Company, left England via the Paris Salon, for a sales tour of India, where specimens of the new 14-h.p. car had been shipped. together with a number of six-cylinder models.
Incidentally, it apparently paid to be in politics in 1923 because although he lost his seat by three votes, the Conservatives of Tiverton presented their candidate, Col. Troyte, with a new 14-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley tourer, TA 8036.
Early in 1924 a two-seater 14-h.p. car, HP 7724, was being submitted to the Press for road-test. Top speed was just above 50 m.p.h., petrol consumption under hard driving 23 m.p.g., and 10-30 m.p.h. occupied 16 sec. in top gear, 10.5 sec, in second gear.
The 18-h.p. tourers were proving popular in America and Overseas and for 1924 the price was reduced to £595 and front brakes were available for £30 extra. The prices of the 30-h.p. car remained unchanged but a new touring landaulette was introduced, at £1,050. The 14-h.p. car was reduced to £460 for the normal or Weymann fabric saloon, £485 for the saloon-landaulette or 0.75-landaulette. At the 1924 Show a petrol gauge was introduced on the scuttle fuel-filler cap of the 14-h.p. model, which was available with 29 by 4.95 balloon tyres if required. In Queensland a privately-owned 14-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley won the Dunlop Trophy in a 1,100-mile trial over shockingly bad roads.
For 1925 the Duke of Portland, who had been using a 30-h.p.. acquired an 18-h.p. limousine. Later in 1925 the engine of the 30-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley was redesigned. The cylinder block was now in one piece, although the detachable heads were still in pairs. Two separate exhaust manifolds were located on the off side, but a twin Claudel Hobson updraught carburetter fed through a separate inlet pipe, which possessed an odd combination of angles and curves and was extensively exhaust-jacketed. The valves were now staggered in the heads and slightly inclined in the same plane, actuation being by push-rods now concealed within the cylinder block. Aluminium split-skirt pistons were used and an increase in power output of at least 15 per cent. was claimed. The starter motor was more accessibly located above the left-hand rear engine bearer and a new multi-plate dry clutch was used. Otherwise the chassis remained virtually the same. So the 30-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley fell into line with current practice. It seems unlikely, alas, that any of the two-block 18 or 30-h.p. engined cars have survived to the present day. The new 30-h.p. was priced at £800 for the chassis, at £1,050 as a seven-seater tourer, up to £1,350 for the enclosed landaulette and limousine. The integral running-boards, open flywheel and unusual disc wheels remained as a legacy from the past.
In the summer of 1925 an 18-h.p. landaulette was supplied to H.H. Yang-di-Pertuan Besar, the Regent of Negri Sembilian, and at home Margaret Bannerman took delivery of a 14-h.p. saloon with a specially-wide driver’s door (not that Miss Bannerman was stout !) from University Motors.
In June an improved Mk. II 14-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley was announced. The main alterations concerned the chassis, which now had 0.5-elliptic suspension front and back and the wheelbase increased to 9 ft. 6 in. Front-wheel brakes, with the operating rods carried beneath the front axle, were introduced, the under flywheel guard was extended, an exceptional clearance was provided vertically and laterally between tyres, mudguards and body, to facilitate negotiation of bad surfaces, while the capacity of the petrol tank was increased from six to eight gallons. Minor changes were made to the engine, a detachable cover-plate being provided for the exhaust muff on the inlet manifold. The clutch had an oil catcher and thrower, the horn was mounted on the dash instead of on the inlet manifold, the hand-brake lever was moved front the side of the gearbox to the main cross-member and wide teeth were adopted for the gearbox.
A striking new tourer body known as the ” Sundown ” was introduced for the improved Armstrong Siddeley Fourteen, priced at £395. An interim model on the older chassis had preceded the ” Sandown,” this being an improved ” Cotswold” tourer. Soon a “Sundown” tourer was made available to the Press, this being a red tourer, Reg. No. RW, 3200, with the name ” St. George ” painted on the bonnet. This was the forerunner of a delightful idea, whereby Armstrong Siddeley put three demonstration ” Sandown ” tourers on the road, the red ” St. George,” a white one called “St. David” and a blue one called ” St. Andrew.” These cars, which had covered some 300,000 miles between them, were taken on a publicity tour, in red, white and blue order, visiting prominent towns all over the country, preferably while there was a carnival taking place, when they were driven slowly about in top gear to demonstrate their flexibility—a stunt which would cause untold traffic congestion today.
In September 1925 the 18-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley was revised to bring it into line with the 30-h.p. This Mk. II version had a monobloc engine and in this case a single-piece detachable cylinder head was used, with o.h, valves slightly inclined in the same plane, similar to those of the new 30-h.p. although in the 18-h.p. engine inlet and exhaust manifolds were both on the near side. Whereas the 30-h.p. engine dimensions had not been changed, those of the Mk. II 18-h.p. were increased to 73 by 114.29 mm., giving a swept volume of 2,872 c.c. Both engines had three-bearing crankshafts and camshafts.
The new 18-h.p. model was offered as a short-chassis tourer at £450, the long-tourer costing £575. Various body styles were available, the Mk. II I8-h.p. saloon costing £695. The Mk. II 14-h.p. tourer now cost only £330 and the” Broadway” saloon £400. The 30-h.p. landaulette was now priced at £1,175, the Pullman limousine at £1,450.
Late in 1925 Armstrong Siddeley Motors built a fine sports-tourer on a Mk. Il 30-h.p. chassis, finished in white with black wings, the four-panel V-windscreen having two wipers, which was then considered to be unusual.
With the four-cylinder and the two six-cylinder models brought up to date and selling well, it was not to be expected that many changes would be made to Armstrong Siddeley cars in 1926. A sports/tourer body was introduced, with sloping doors and a faint suggestion of a pointed tail, this taking the former name of ” Sundown ” on the 14-h.p. and-” Braemar” on the 18-h.p. chassis. The doors of the normal tourers were made wider, a convertible all-weather body with sliding windows and folding head was added to the 18-h.p. range, and the bench seat of the 14-h.p. 2/3-seater ” Mendip ” was widened to accommodate three abreast, with parcels space and sidescreen receptacle behind, similar seating being introduced for the coupe bodies on both the smaller chassis. One 14-h.p. tourer was converted to take beds for camping, this car, incidentally, having a front bumper bar. Normally, Armstrong Siddeley cars were not fitted with bumpers, even when these were commonplace on other makes, the late C. G. Grey, one-time Editor of The Aeroplane, recalling, in an article he wrote some years ago for MOTOR SPORT, how Cyril Siddeley disliked these fittings, saying that if a man drove properly they shouldn’t be needed! Also in 1926 a 14-h.p. tourer was driven from Perth to Adelaide, a distance of 1,950 miles over some appalling roads, and averaged 28 m.p.g.
The only new model brought out in 1926 was the Long Eighteen. Which bad a wheelbase of 10 ft. 9 in. and a track of 4 ft. 8 in. and a revised braking system with 17.5-in, drums on all four wheels and six sets of shoes. The pedal operated on all wheels, the hand-lever the separate set of rear shoes, the brake rods being taken through guides to prevent rattles developing. Intended for spacious bodywork, the Long Eighteen could be had as the ” Ascot” all-weather four-seater with sensibly wide doors, at £600, in ” Malvern ” seven-seater saloon limousine form for £795, in folding-head form as the ” Maidstone ” at the same price, or as the ” Chester ” landaulette or ” York” limousine, which both cost £825. Some idea of the quality of the bodywork is afforded by a comparison with the chassis price, which was a mere £450. This chassis retained the 0.5-elliptic front springing and cantilever rear suspension of the larger Armstrong Siddeley models, but by the time of the 1926 Show both long and short-chassis 18-h.p. models were provided with 0.5.elliptic back springs, shackled at both ends. The 30-h.p. model was retained, a ” Cheltenham ” Pullman limousine being shown at Olympia. A similar Pullman landaulette had been supplied to H.H. The Sultan of Kedah.
During the season the 18-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley was publicised further by inviting journalists to gather at the Shakespeare Hotel in Stratford-on-Avon and afterwards go in six cars over rutted lanes and ploughed fields in the course of a severe cross-country demonstration, pausing for lunch at ” The Bear” on Rodborough Common, near Stroud. Stanway hill was tackled and Birdlip Hill was ascended in top and second gear, five up, at never below 25 m.p.h. At least one of the guests was obviously impressed, praising the car’s cellulose finish, its smoothness, its flexibility, its ability to do a genuine 60 m.p.h. without fuss or flurry, its good springing, wide track and excellent four-wheel brakes. All, as he observed, in a car priced at only £450, reduced at the end of the year to £435.
Nineteen twenty-seven saw Armstrong Siddeley successes maintained. In Australia a 14-h.p. tourer was placed first for reliability, first for petrol consumption and third for hill-climbing in a 700-mile trial organised by the R.A.C. of Australia. Another 14-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley won a reliability trial in Ceylon. Incidentally, a pleasing gimmick given away by the company at that time to the journalists who took part in the previous year’s Cotswold “rough stuff” demonstration was an ink-pot or match-box case in the form of an 18-h.p. radiator. The public could buy these for 7s. 6d each – do any survive ?
A new model introduced during the summer of 1927 was the ” Lonadale ” four-door, six-light saloon with separate front seats, sounded rear panels and slightly domed roof, on the 14-h.p. chassis. This was additional to the ” Broadway” saloon and cost £395.
In September 1927 central chassis lubrication, via a foot-operated plunger pump from an under-bonnet oil tank, was adopted for all Armstrong Siddeley cars. A new model had not been produced for some time but for 1928 a side-valve six-cylinder 15-h.p. model, of 63.5 by 101 mm. (1,900 c.c.), was introduced, its chassis similar to that of the 14-h.p. car and priced at £270. This model, like the Fourteen, had a flat-fronted radiator. The Fourteen itself was improved in respect of a smoother-running engine, better seats (following careful research) and softer suspension. The 18-h.p. car was renamed the Short Twenty and Long Twenty, respectively, according to wheelbase, and at last the 30-h.p., its engine dating back to 1919, came into line with these Twenties in having a one-piece detachable cylinder head. The hot-spot was also made adjustable and the exterior appearance considerably cleaned-up. Prices were substantially reduced in the case of all save the Long Twenty and a wide variety of bodywork was offered, including the” Cotswold” tourer, ” Broadway” saloon and ” Mauston ” fabric saloon on the Fourteen chassis, the same bodies on the new Fifteen, a tourer, ” Sterling ” saloon and ” Cranwell ” fabric saloon on the Short Twenty, and, on the famous 30-h.p., the ” Shrewsbury ” touring landaulette, ” Richmond” enclosed-limousine and, most costly model of the range, at £1,300, the ” Cheltenham” pullman-limousine. All 1928 models had the instruments neatly grouped in a central panel.
In 1928 came the epoch-making debut of the self-change gearbox, offered before the end of the year on the 20-h.p. and 30-h.p. cars. This revolutionary four-speed transmission with fool-proof selection of the epicyclic gears from a small lever above the steering wheel and engagement through a single pedal, was exhibited at Olympia on a 30-hp. chassis. It cost £50 extra and was available at extra cost on the 20-h.p. cars also. The 30-h.p. model was modernised for 1929 in respect of a taller radiator and higher bonnet before a redesigned scuttle and the petrol tank (21 gallons) was mounted at the back of the chassis.
The 20-h.p. car used underslung back springs, while the Fourteen had a lower frame, improved appearance and also underslinging of the back springs for 1929, and the 15-h.p. appeared with Weymann convertible saloon body.
In spite of the research necessary to perfect the Wilson self-change gearbox and get it into production, Armstrong Siddeley had an entirely new model at Olympia in 1928. This was the Armstrong Siddeley Twelve, with the smallest six-cylinder engine on the British market, the side-valve power unit having a bore and stroke of 56 by 84 mm., giving a swept volume of 1,236 c.c., or 206 c.c. per cylinder. It is interesting to note that, as in earlier Armstrong Siddeley cars, the gearbox was mounted, separately from the engine. on the front of the torque-tube. It had a cast-iron casing and the ratios were 16.8, 8.85 and 5.0 to 1. The back axle, of spiral-beve type, had a steel banjo pressing instead of being built up as on all previous Armstrong Siddeleys. Ignition was by magneto, the exhaust pipe was swept forward away from the engine, and the cylindrical scuttle. petrol tank held six gallons, with 1.5 gallons in reserve. Disc wheels were fitted. The flat-fronted radiator was used for this new ‘Twelve, which sold for a mere £250 in four-door four-seater touring form, or two-seater with dickey. A four-door, four-light fabric saloon was priced at £275.
Early in 1929 the French Motor Co. of Calcutta announced that it had built what was believed to he the first fabric body made in India on a 15-h.p. six-cylinder Armstrong Siddeley chassis. At home a new four-door, six-light saloon version of this model was offered in May 1929, with smarter radiator and mudguards, priced at £300. At the Parkside factory a new 1-in-3 indoor test-hill was constructed, to test climbing, restarting and braking powers, the gradient being so steep that battens were employed to enable the tyres to grip. In Australia an extensive service organisation was being built up. Armstrong Siddeley cars having proved so well able to withstand the exacting motoring conditions in that Continent.
In 1929 British cars at the Paris Salon were something of a rarity but Armstrong Siddeley exhibited some fine examples of their products, all finished in blue with black tops. A fine closed car was supplied, complete with extra lamps, including searchlights higher than the roof, and a serpent horn, to the order of the Maharajah of Aliwar, and during the year Armstrong Siddeley had installed a chromium-plating plant, although they announced that over-ornate embellishment of their cars would be avoided.
Further service establishments were opened in South Africa, F. C. Woodbridge, who had been Assistant Manager of the Cricklewood Service Dept., leaving for the headquarters in Durban with several Armstrong Siddeley men. In the summer of 1929 W. G. McMinnies took an open Armstrong Siddeley Twelve (VC 276) to Le Mans and on to Nice, Covering 2,300 miles at about 25 m.p.g. of petrol and 1,400-1,500 m.p.g. of oil.
At the 1929 Olympia Show all the existing models were continued, the Twelve now having its radiator painted to match the bodywork, with a narrow edging of chromium, while the Fifteen, still supplied only with a normal gearbox, had grouped instruments, a rear petrol tank, a parcels shelf before the front passenger and better lines for the saloon. The normal Twenty retained 0.5-elliptic back springs but a Special Twenty was available with cantilever back springing. Triplex safety glass, automatic advance and retard and antidazzle headlamps were standardised on all models except the 12-h.p. It is pleasing to find the 4.9-litre Thirty still being built, the limousine with self-change gearbox being priced at £1,500. Before the year was out a coachbuilt four-door, six-light saloon was made available on the 12-h.p. chassis, at a price of £295, or with sunshine roof at £305, while Triplex safety glass to all windows was available as an extra.
Early in 1930 a new four-door, four-light fabric saloon body was provided for the 12-h.p. car, very nicely appointed and having fitted suitcases in the boot. It cost, like the coachbuilt saloon. £295, or £302 10s. with Triplex safety glass throughout. Double bumper bars could be fitted for £5 extra.
As a wedding gift for a Mohammedan lady a fine saloon was built on a 30-h.p. chassis, the finish being lacquered matt silver, with chromium-plated radiator, lamps, ornamental sidelamps; wheel centres and battery boxes, etc. Steering wheel and hand-brake were of ivory.
A new model introduced early in 1930 was a revised Fifteen with improved engine of the former size and a new chassis with optional three-speed or four-speed preselector gearbox and a steel-banjo back axle. Underslung back springs were used and small improvements had been made in the self-changing gear. A two or five-seater tourer cost £350, a fabric saloon £385, coachbuilt saloon £410, and “Foursome ” coupe £475, the self-change gearbox being £40 extra.
To win a half-crown bet two motorists drove 6,000 miles from India to England in a 20-h.p. Armstrong Siddeley tourer, being greeted on arrival by Mr. J. D. Siddeley, C.B.E. Their overloaded car covered 131 miles a day, at 17.2 m.p.g. Again, in the summer of 1930, Armstrong Siddeley sent out a fleet of demonstration cars, two flat-radiator saloons, a flat-radiator tourer and a vee-radiator saloon painted and named patriotically, as referred to earlier.
The Australian cricket team used another fleet of Armstrong Siddeleys in their visit in search for the ashes, including a Twelve tourer (VC 4038) and a Twenty tourer (VC 4039).
Towards the end of 1930 new models were announced but these belong to what is now termed the post-vintage period and consequently will be described in the next instalment of this history. – W. B.
(To be continued.)
Motor Sport Classified Advertisement Section
Motor Sport Classified Advertisement Section CLOSING DATE first post on the 23rd of the month, for publication on the 1st of the following month.
All the colour of F1's decade of extravagance Formula One has never reflected its times better than during the 1980s. Motorsport was a microcosm of the world at large, characterised…
Letters from Readers, November 2000
Fascinating restorer stories Sir, I am writing to thank you for your splendid series 'The Classic Restorers'. I began following vintage and classic racing some 20 years ago when I…