Classic: Armstrong Siddeley

By: John Wright

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Armstrong Siddeley Armstrong Siddeley Armstrong Siddeley
Armstrong Siddeley Armstrong Siddeley Armstrong Siddeley
Armstrong Siddeley Armstrong Siddeley Armstrong Siddeley

Silly name, crazy numbers

Classic: Armstrong Siddeley
Armstrong Siddeley

 

Armstrong Siddeley

The Earls Court Motor Show of 1955, in hindsight, can be seen as the first sign that the rather sedate Armstrong Siddeley brand was not long for the world and, further, that its demise would be primarily due to Jaguar.

It was beginning to look as if Bill (later Sir William) Lyons couldn’t make a mistake. The star of that 1955 show was the Jaguar 2.4 Litre. Crowds thronged the stand.

Another equally radical newcomer was the Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 236. In theory, it should have been some kind of rival for the 2.4 but it was dearer, much slower and was as drab in design as the Jag was beautiful. Few showgoers paused.

Somewhat curiously, each of these ostensible rivals would be joined by more powerful siblings. Perhaps the so-called ‘Baby Sapphire’ might have fared better had the 234 been the debut car. But the advent of the 3.4 litre in February, 1957 further consolidated the mystique of the new small Jaguar, the marque’s first monocoque.

Armstrong Siddeley’s ‘product planning’ was weird. Firstly, there’s ‘Sapphire’. The large 3.4-litre Sapphire was Armstrong Siddeley’s great success story of the early 1950s. It seems that AS management believed that calling the new smaller car a Sapphire, too, would help sales. But there was no obvious resemblance beyond the radiator grille, which was the most handsome element of the 234 and 236.

Oh yes, those numbers. The 236 used a 2.3-litre six, a mildly upgraded version of the engine fitted to the early postwar Siddeleys – Typhoon, Hurricane, Lancaster, Whitley (the car my so-English father bought brand new in December, 1950 and the source of my obsession with the marque). The 234 had a four of the same capacity. It was an abbreviated version of the ‘other’ Sapphire’s six.

Most people would expect the six-cylinder car to offer more urge than the four, but the reverse was the case, with the 234 hitting 100 miles per hour after reaching 60 in 15.5 seconds. It was only a little slower than the Jag 2.4. But the 236 needed nearly 20 seconds to achieve 60 and had a top speed of 85, and only then when equipped with the optional overdrive. (My car only achieved 80 after a painful wind-up.) Power outputs were 85 and 120 brake horsepower respectively.

I was probably seven when the Baby Sapphires were at the Melbourne Motor Show. For the next 24 years, until I wrote a story on Armstrong Siddeleys for Wheels, I kept looking out for one on the road! It was like my thylacine obsession.

The 236 will probably be my only Siddeley. I paid $5K for it. After maybe a couple of years, my friend David Berthon said I’d probably already had $5K worth of value from it. He was right and I sold the car after five years for $4250.

 

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