A Gentleman’s Motor Carriage which is Extremely Easy to Drive Yet Exceeds 100 m.p.h., with the Security of Girling Disc Brakes.
Britain still manufactures high-class beautifully-appointed luxury cars which have no equal anywhere in the World. Such a car is the Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire which was introduced at the time of the last London Motor Show, This 100 m.p.h. gentleman’s carriage has many interesting and commendable features, such as a 4-litre six-cylinder “over-square” engine with inclined o.h. valves operated not by an overhead camshaft but by different length push-rods and rockers, fully automatic gearbox with an ingenious form of “hold” selector, Girling disc brakes on the front wheels and a separate heating and ventilating system for the rear compartment which includes rear-window de-misting. These aspects of the impressive Star Sapphire are apparent when examining the car but only road experience brings out the ease with which this large, powerful car can be driven. Such ease of handling transcends the control afforded by two-pedal control and disc braking and stems from excellent forward visibility over a low-set steering wheel and the feeling that this isn’t such a wide vehicle as some other V.I.P. carriages.
In fact, although there is accommodation for six persons in great comfort in this newest Armstrong Siddeley, the Star Sapphire does not spread itself as do other cars in the same category. The four-door body is relatively close-coupled and there is scarcely any parcels storage between back seat and rear window. Thus there is just a flavour of the sports saloon about this dignified motor car that stems, perhaps, from its great forebear, the Siddeley Special. However, this Star Sapphire makes little concession to modernity, with normal windscreen, long bonnet which masks the near-side wing, thick screen pillars, and a rear window which makes no pretence at wrap-round. Indeed, while slaking our thirst in the bar of a remote country inn at Tangley we were amused to find, on catching sight through the open door of just the vee-radiator grille and bonnet of the modern Armstrong Siddeley in the car park outside, that it reminded us irresistably of the original Thirty of forty years earlier.
It is the slimness of the front of the car and the view from a driving seat set up like a club armchair, rather than a wide field of vision which would necessitate a brief bonnet and thin screen pillars, that makes a driver feel at home in the Star Sapphire even in heavy traffic. He is also greatly reassured by the smooth functioning of the Borg Warner automatic transmission, the finger-light Burman power steering and the Girling disc brake security, the brakes being vacuum-servo assisted.
The deep burr walnut facia contains a huge non-lockable cubby hole, a recessed central switch panel, and three dials before the driver, the last-named consisting of a Smith’s 120 m.p.h. speedometer with trip and total mileometers, an extremely accurate clock and a four-in-one dial dealing with oil-pressure, amps, water temperature and fuel contents. A stalk on the right of the steering column controls the flashers, this being the sort with indicator light at its extremity, rather crude for a car of this class. Radio and heater controls for the front compartment are below the central panel. There are nine neat but confusing switches, three of which have pendant finger grips. These latter control the two-speed heater fan, two-speed wipers and lamps, the remainder looking after panel and map-reading lights, petrol reserve, starter and fog and spot lamps. The ignition key is separate from the starter button. A cigar-lighter is provided. Three warning lights to the right of the driver on the facia warn of full lamps beam, no dynamo charge, and choke control in use. These are flanked by the washers button. The choke control is in the form of a lever sliding across a quadrant. A scuttle ventilator is fitted and the control for the notable separate rear-compartment heating, ventilation and de-misting consists of a knob on the r.h. door pillar.
The gear lever is cranked up to the left of the steering column to give the usual R, L, D, N and P control over Mr. Borg Warner’s automation. This lettered quadrant is illuminated permanently when the car is in use, which is excellent in daytime but a bit dazzling after dark.
Instead of a flick-switch or selector lever for obtaining a hold over second gear, the Star Sapphire has its own unique system. An upright quadrant to the left of the speedometer has a lever which can be set to 20, 30, 40, 50 or 65 m.p.h., second gear being held until the selected speed is reached. This is a pleasing idea, but in practice it is likely that while auntie will leave the thing at “20” and the press-on driver will have it permanently at “65,” intermediate positions will seldom be used. Indeed, the big 165 b.h.p. 4-litre engine of this Armstrong Siddeley does most of its work in the 3.77 to 1 top gear and although accelerator kick-down control of the gearbox is also provided the action is comparatively stiff, encouraging this effortless top gear motoring.
Without interference, upward changes happen at 37 and 63 m.p.h. and thereafter the Star Sapphire will accelerate to fractionally over 100 m.p.h. under ideal conditions. Acceleration is not as brisk as that of some other luxury cars but is adequate.
The Star Sapphire is luxurously equipped, both front door’s having adjustable arm-rests and deep pockets with spring-loaded lids. The front seats are in the form of separate arm-chairs, the passenger’s being wider than the driver’s so that, with the central arm-rest retracted, three can he carried abreast, The back seat has a very high back and central arm-rest, and the rear quarter-lights open. The doors shut nicely and have effective “keeps,” high-quality leather upholstery is used, and there are vestigial running-boards. The back of the front seat squabs contains two spring-loaded pockets and a central ash-tray and the aged are assisted in rising from the back seat by metal grabs on the door pillars. Swivel ashtrays are found in the front-doors and the cubby-hole lid is lined with Formica to provide a small picnic table.
As the car is rather close-coupled the bases of the front seats are cut away to give foot room to back-seat passengers but they are still limited in respect of head space and top hats would have to be removed. There is an interior light operated by opening the doors or using its switch on the off-side pillar. Good carpets enhance the comfort of the occupants. Push-button exterior door handles are used and Triplex toughened glass is fitted to screen and windows. The bonnet naturally terminates in the famous Sphinx mascot. The steering wheel is of small diameter, set low, and in the roof are recessed rigid anti-dazzle vizors, with mirror for the passenger. A good wide rear-view mirror is provided. The front-door window handles take two turns to fully lower the glass, the rear handles likewise. The front quarter-windows are devoid of rain gutters or thief-proof catches.
The test car was in an odd colour combination which drew crude comments from some of our acquaintances. There were Lucas 490 side lamps with tell tales visible to the driver and Lucas spot and fog lamps,
On the road this Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire saloon is impressivelv quiet, its big engine inaudible when idling. The suspension is fairly supple, promoting some up-and-down motion and roll when cornering fast, the latter slightly spoiling the accuracy of the steering. Generally, however, this big car gets round corners satisfactorily but we were disappointed to hear too much protest from the Dunlop Gold Seal tubeless tyres when cornering even slowly, or braking. This problem was worrying the Armstrong Siddeley directors last October but apparently Dunlop failed to find a solution.
The servo-assisted Girling front disc brakes call for a mere caress to pull the car up from cruising speed, and the action is pleasantly progressive. There is very powerful retardation in reserve should an emergency intrude on the Star Sapphire’s silent, purposeful progression, which enhances the driver’s peace of mind. And peaceful is the key-note, inspired by the comfort, luxury appointments, automatic gearbox and extremely light steering. The steering wheel needs four turns, lock-to-lock and effortless control is assisted by quick castor-return action. No shocks are transmitted to the wrists, indeed this is faintly vague steering, excused by the light work it makes of parking manoeuvres.
The driving seat is very generously upholstered and supremely comfortable except for an impression that one was sitting facing slightly inwards. There is an appreciable transmission hump in the front compartment.
Driving reasonably hard, fuel consumption is rather heavy at 14.7 m.p.g. This represents a range of approximately 237 miles. A reserve supply, said to be two gallons, is brought in by a knob on the facia but we have painful recollections of walking to a garage under a blazing sun because this supply is exhausted after only 15 miles of low-speed driving!
At night the lamps are adequate but facia lighting is rather dull — the knob first gives facia illumination, then pulls out further to bring on a centre flood light — a map lamp before the passenger would be better. After 1,000 miles the dip-stick indicated far above the “full” mark. Thinking there must be a special method of wiping the stick we asked for it to be checked when the car was returned to Armstrong Siddleley’s Cricklewood Service Depot. They confirmed our reading. While we do not believe that the car incorporates a hidden oil-well, owners need have little fear of heavy oil consumption!
The bonnet has to he propped open to reveal the impressive engine with its ingenious push-rod operation of o.h. valves inclined at 70 dg., twin Stromberg carburetters beneath transverse drum-type air cleaners and two three-branch exhaust manifolds. Not as attractive as the Jaguar twin-cam power unit, this is an interesting engine, the valve gear of which Humber has been pleased to crib.
The boot lid, which is lockable, rises automatically to reveal a rather shallow luggage space, the cases having to occupy a shelf over the spare wheel. Tools are carried in a drawer within the boot. The small petrol filler cap is secured by a chain and lives under a flap in the near-side back wing.
Not offering as good value for money as the Jaguar Mk. IX, less brisk and more thirsty than the Daimler Majestic, the Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire shines as a fine car of the old school, sober in appearance and particularly easy to drive. It is priced at £1,763, which purchase tax inflates to £2,498 14s. 2d. — W. B.
The Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire Saloon
Six cylinders, 97 by 90 mm. (3,990 c.c.). Push-rod-operated inclined overhead valves; 7.5 to 1 compression-ratio; 1,656-h.p. (145 net b.h.p.) at 4,250 r,p.m.
Gear ratios: Borg Warner fully automatic transmission with selective override. First, 8.67 to 1; second, 5.41 to 1; top, 3.77 to 1.
Tyres: 6.70 by 16 Dunlop “Gold Seal” tubeless on bolt-on steel disc wheels.
Weight: Not weighed. Maker’s figure: 1 ton 15 cwt. (kerb weight).
Steering ratios: Burman power steering; four turns, lock-to-lock.
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons, including approximately a gallon in reserve (range approximately 237 miles).
Wheelbase: 9 ft. 6 in.
Track: Front, 4 ft. 9.4 in.; rear, 4 ft. 9.5 in.
Dimensions: 16 ft. 2 in. by 6 ft. 2 in. by 5 ft. 2 in. (high).
Price: £1,763 (£2,498 14s. 2d. inclusive of p.t.).
Makers: Bristol Siddeley Engines Ltd., Parkside, Coventry, England.