Armstrong Siddeley, The Company
Armstrong Siddeley is a name that few people have heard of now but it had an impressive engineering pedigree. Its roots go back to before the dawn of the motoring age.
In 1847, engineer William George Armstrong founded a business in Newcastle, to produce hydraulic machinery, cranes and bridges. This organisation merged with the shipbuilding firm of Charles Mitchell to form Armstrong Mitchell & Company, merging again with the engineering firm of Joseph Whitworth in 1897. This company expanded into the manufacture of cars and trucks in 1902, and created an aviation department in 1913, which became the Armstrong-Whitworth Aircraft subsidiary in 1920.
Armstrong-Whitworth began car production in 1904 (when the company took over construction of the Wilson-Pilcher, designed by Walter Gordon Wilson) before producing cars to their own design in 1906.
Meanwhile John Davenport Siddeley founded Siddeley Autocars, in Coventry in 1902. This company merged with Wolseley in 1905 and made the stately Wolseley-Siddeley motorcars which were favoured by King George V.
In 1909 J. D. Siddeley resigned from Wolseley and moved to the Deasy Motor Car Manufacturing Company Ltd. He became Managing Director the following year and two years after that the company became known as Siddeley-Deasy. Like Armstrong-Whitworth it produced cars, aero engines and aircraft.
In 1912, the company began to use the slogan "As silent as the Sphinx" to promote its cars and started to sport a Sphinx as a bonnet ornament, a symbol that was to become synonymous with descendent companies, being worn by all subsequent cars until production came to an end in 1960.
In 1919 Armstrong-Whitworth acquired a controlling interest in The Siddeley-Deasy Motor Car Company Limited and changed its name to become The Armstrong Siddeley Company Limited. Armstrong Siddeley manufactured luxury cars, aircraft engines, and later, aircraft. At one time their cars were marketed under the slogan "Cars for the daughters of gentlemen".
Mergers and takeovers, that had been such a feature of the company’s early history, continued with the purchase of J. D. Siddeley's interest in the business by the owner of Hawker Aircrafts, leading to the establishment of the subsidiary Hawker Siddeley.
Armstrong Siddeley itself merged with the aircraft engine business of Bristol Aeroplane Company to form Bristol Siddeley. This company continued to manufacture cars until 1960 when vehicle production ended to concentrate on the aviation division.
Bristol Siddeley and Rolls-Royce then merged in 1966, the latter subsuming the former, which remained for a while as an aircraft engine division within Rolls-Royce.
The "Siddeley" name survived a while longer in aviation; in Hawker Siddeley Aviation and Hawker Siddeley Dynamics before they joined with others to become British Aerospace which, with further mergers, is now BAE Systems.
The Sapphire 346
In 1952 Armstrong Siddeley produced an entirely new model in the form of the Sapphire 346. The car had a six-cylinder 3,435 cc engine. It was of entirely new design throughout, described by the motoring press at the time as outstanding. It gave a particularly refined driving experience.
The front suspension was independent coil springs with a rigid axle and leaf springs at the rear. The body was available as a four-light or six-light (two or three windows on each side) at the same cost and with either a bench or individual front seats.
The upholstery was beautifully trimmed in leather and that air of refinement, which only wood can give, was achieved by the use of burr-walnut for the attractively designed fascia board and the window fillets.
The 346 was introduced with the choice of a Wilson electrically-controlled finger-tip four-speed pre-selector gearbox as a £30 option or four-speed synchromesh gearbox. It also became available with automatic transmission (shared with Rolls Royce) with the introduction of the Mark II in 1954.
7,697 vehicles had been made by the time production finished in 1958, to coincide with the launch of the Star Sapphire, which was to be Armstrong Siddeley's last car.