(first posted 12/16/2013) I know what you’re thinking: not again, not ANOTHER Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire. Bear with me. I like the two tone green and can’t help myself.
I will be the first to say that I don’t know much about this car other than that it’s flippin’ sweet. My parents were nice enough to take my me and my wife on a tour of Southern England in 2009, and all I did was ogle cars (but no Ogles, strangely). I snapped a few shots of this Star Sapphire in Stratford-Upon-Avon, and judging by the couple looking it over, they’re not that common in the UK, either.
My literature tells me that Armstrong Siddeley only produced Star Sapphires from 1958 to 1960, before ceasing automotive production entirely. This above photo seems to show an emblem saying “Star” on the decklid, which is the only reason I’m guessing this is a Star Sapphire rather than an earlier Sapphire. Apparently, there were a few of these tanks entered in the Monte Carlo Rally earlier in the 1950s. If I were spending days crossing the frigid Alps, I’d rather drive one of these than a Volkswagen, too. I guess you can’t let a lack of sporting pretense get in the way of a flashy entrance into Monte Carlo.
So…did you figure this was a Star Sapphire? They do grow on trees, you know.
Update (by PN): Here’s some pictures of the interiors of a couple of these, which help explain their high price ($6950 in the US).
The front, carved out of one solid walnut trunk (I kid).
The solid wood fold down trays are not visible in this shot. Truth is, there’s very little difference in the interior quality and materials from that of a Bentley or Rolls Royce, which cost three times as much.
Oh, you’ve got to love the British Upper Crust. Don’t you just love the way they hyphenate everything? You saw an Armstrong-Siddeley in Stoke-on-Trent? Oh, sorry, you said Stratford-Upon-Avon, or some such. Were you with Lord and Lady Wentworth-Wentwick when you spotted that car? Pardon me, I should have said “automobile.” That beautifully British beast is no mere ‘car.’ I suppose if I lived in Britain, I’d live in a less-impressive address… Something such as Allegro-on-the-Hard-Shoulder.
No Grey Poupon for you, my friend! 🙂
Isn’t that suppose to be Grey-Poupon?
Isn’t “suppose to be” supposed to be “supposed to be”?
Best comment of the day, I suppose.
We rarely use the word ‘automobile’ Britain.. ‘Car’ is normal, ‘motor’ is colloquial and, for the likes of this lovely thing, probably ‘motor car’ in full.
PS.. LOL @ “Allegro-on-the-Hard-Shoulder.” Brilliant!
Rolls-Royce is also hyphenated, which will be news to the author of this piece. Also, the A-S was clearly built to a price, as evidenced in the second image, and which belies the entire point of the article. But whatever.
“Automobile”? Harrumph! Motorcar!
And then there are those addresses of theirs, which seem to work despite looking like
Upper Topsbottom Shrankshire
Mildew-on-Saggar PQ21 3W9
It is beautiful, especially in that color scheme, and it is absolutely, unapologetically British. I don’t even know anything about it and I love it.
It looks to me like its had a lower half respray the darker colour looks original as Ive seen one the darker green.
Armstrong Siddeley didn’t spray cars,they painted them.Very nice,I heard you had to have an interview if you wanted to buy one as they didn’t want to sell them to oiks.
I believe each one was an individual commission by RAA fine arts graduate! Seriously, these were superbly engineered cars, but punters ultimately preferred the cheaper and dodgier Jaguars.
The end of the line for one of so many small Brit manufacturers. It’s amazing these little outfits survived as long as they did. Maybe they wanted to at least make it into the sixties?
How does it compare to a Rolls of that era?
Well they both look like totally outdated crocks, but I imagine that that this is way cheaper. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this being a car made between 1958-1960. We were making cars that looked like they could go to the moon at the time and old blighty was still making things that looked like they were preWWII used cars, amazing.
Some quick gorilla math indicates that 2645GBP is $33K today, and $4300 back then, which would have bought you a 2door Buick Limited Riviera hardtop, think about that. This Conestoga wagon or a Buick Limited.
The USD/GBP exchange rate at the time was pegged at $2.80/GBP, so GBP 2645 equals $7406 at the time, or roughly $59000 in today’s dollars.
I’m not sure where your figures come from but I’m showing a 1959 USD to GBP of 1=1.6305
The exchange rate was fixed under Bretton-Woods. From the end of the war until 1948, it was $4.03 to the pound, from 1949 to 1968, it was $2.80 to the pound, and then from 1968 to 1972 (the end of Bretton-Woods) it was $2.40. After that, the sterling was allowed to float.
So, in actual dollars — setting aside any kind of adjustment factors for inflation, Don is right.
Holy crap, that’s even worse, this thing was as expensive as a Cadillac Eldorado. I couldn’t find anything with forex from 1959-1960, so I guestimated using todays numbers, but that’s shocking.
Bretton-Woods makes 1945 to 1970 exchange rate conversions pretty simple because they were fixed to the dollar — there were a few adjustments, but not many and there wasn’t the kind of daily fluctuation you get now.
It’s actual list price in the US (it was available here) was $6950, per my Encyclopedia of Import Cars. A RR Silver Cloud II was listed at $15,655, or almost three times as much.
Seven grand for that thing? In-sane.
The did go out of business in 1960….
+1, what a hideous piece of crap!
Did any sell in the US? for similar money I’m with Carmine in a Buick.
Haqving ridden in 58 models of both it isnt a Rolls by any means, andc was much cheaper new though much rarer now.
Just for comparison a 1960 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud was 6045 GBP or 9925 USD
Unbelievable that they had the nerve to charge that much for a 1939 Packard.
Hey, the ’59 Roller had optional power windows for the first time
Wow, now they could finally ditch the fireplace.
Correction in 1958 they were $13,995
Maybe if Packard had stuck with that styling they’d still have been around in 1959!
There was too a ’59 Packard…
And they were almost as quiet the next-generation Rolls that was almost as quiet as a Ford LTD!
Yeah but Ford achieved its quiet through disgraceful sleight-of-hand like fiberglass timing gear.
Several years ago I came upon a two-tone gray 1953 Sapphire in the outdoor portion of the Centralia Swap Meet. I think the guy was surprised that I knew what it was. He said he didn’t really want to sell the car, but just wanted a close parking spot.
This was one of the featured vehicles in the very first cars-of-the-world books I saw in 1953 when I was 13, and for some reason stuck with me, although I’ve only ever seen two or three of the actual cars.
Havent seen one of these for a while my uncle in Sydney is an Armstrong Siddeley Man owning the only 1926 sedan in captivity and a 1934 model as well. Well made cars though they were in a declining market by 58 when this model debuted it competed with Jaguar on price but not performance the luxury features were all there but it failed.
Rover had the same problem – they built very conservative upper-middle-class cars for a very conservative upper-middle-class customer base. Which was fine for them at home, and exporting to countries like NZ that had a British connection, or ones like the Netherlands with no domestic auto industry to protect. But it went completely pear-shaped in America (France, Germany, Italy…) where such very conservative upper-middle-class buyers did not buy foreign at that point.
Jaguar succeeded because Jags looked different, flashy, foreign in an exotic way and appealed to an entirely more adventurous demographic.
Jags sold mostly on performance nothing could catch them for the same money and they were beautifully styled, this wasnt.
This car debuted in 53 which accounts for the styling, they also made the smaller 234/236 which were available with manumatic transmission. the 3.9 L Star Sapphire was the last model before Armstrongs merged with Bristol and car production ceased
From the rear quarter it looks like an over grown Triumph Mayflower with that razor edge styling.
The main complaint about the Mayflower was that the styling looked bad on such a small car, but to my eye it doesn’t look any better on a big car.
But who am I to be critical? I like 1960 Buick wagons..
Something about this car appeals to me. I really like the shape of the greenhouse, in fact the whole car just screams “I am veddy, veddy English.” From back when an English car could be immediately identified.
Oh, +1. All kidding aside, it’s beautiful. For one thing, I love the way the line of the front fender continues across the top of the rear wheel opening. Too bad there’s no interior shots!
Here’s the front:
And the rear (not the same one, obviously). Here’s where all that money went…
I recall seeing one of these at the NY auto show, probably in 1951 or 52. Sort of a competitor of the Jaguar Mark VII, but not as sleek.
“Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
“Britons never will be slaves.”
This car is as British as Winston Churchill holding a bulldog and drinking beefeater gin…
+ 1 Haha, I always enjoy your dry wit.
“dry wit.” Ha, I see what you did there
My favorite Churchill story:
Churchill was at a dinner party and one of the female guests found him rather crude and boorish.
She told him; “Sir, if you were my husband, I’d poison you.”
Churchill replied: “Madam, if I was your husband I’d drink it!”
Or how about the one where a lady said “Winston, you’re drunk,” and he replied, “Yes, but you’re ugly, and I shall be sober in the morning.”
I wonder how many of those Churchill quotes really came from Churchill…
That really took place between Lady Astor and Churchill. Here’s another good one…
Aneurin Bevan: “Winston, for heaven’s sake, your fly is undone.”
Churchill: “You needn’t bother yourself about that. Dead birds never fly from the nest.”
I prefer the old Uncyclopedia versions:
“Winston! You’re drunk!”
“I may be drunk… but your grandfather clock doesn’t flush properly!”
My 2 favorites
“Capitalism is the worst form of economic system…..except for all the others”
“Capitalism is the uneven distribution of wealth, socialism is the equal distribution of poverty”
Aaron 65-I think the quote of I’m drunk, you’re ugly, is more frequently attributed to W.C. Fields.
“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend … if you have one.”
— George Bernard Shaw, playwright (to Winston Churchill)
“Cannot possibly attend first night; will attend second, if there is one.”
— Churchill’s response”
I love its British brand of anachronism! The green suits it well, and you won’t see yourself around every street corner like you would in a Rolls (Tongue-in-cheek).
The only obvious difference between the Star Saphire and the previous Saphire is that the top of the grill was chrome on the earlier model. An uncle of mine had one of these, which I presume he bought new, and I remember him saying it had a hemi-head engine. You can get an idea of why they went under by looking at the junior 234/236 model they introduced in a bid to increase sales. They gave you a choice of 4 or 6 cylinder 2.3 litre engines – hows that for rationalisation ?
This car looks odd because the deadlights don’t appear to be the regular Lucas units, and that registration plate is not UK mainland but perhaps one of the colonies ?
The jet fighter connection is that Bristol Siddeley made aero engines, but after the war ended there was less demand for planes and car production became their bread-and-butter.
The distinction between the 234 and 236 would probably have been more meaningful in the days of the old RAC taxable horsepower scale (£ per RAC HP), which was based on bore and cylinder count — the six was only 19 cc bigger, but fell into the 18 HP bracket, whereas the big-bore 234 was in the 20 HP category.
The Star Sapphire had the new oversquare 3,990cc six with 165 hp, Borg-Warner (probably DG) automatic, Dunlop front discs, and power steering, so it wasn’t completely antediluvian.
On the aircraft side, the late ’50s was a difficult time for the British aviation industry. It had been doing okay since the end of the war despite the inevitable postwar drawdown, but in 1957, the Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys, declared that guided missiles were the way of the future, which put the brakes on a huge number of British military aircraft projects. Some went ahead anyway, but some were canceled outright and development in that area really stalled. With a number of notable exceptions (like the GR.1 Harrier), the British ended up sticking with ’50s designs like the Lightning and Buccaneer well into the ’80s.
The registration is actually British Military – I knew the format looked familiar.
I thought it was possibly a Dutch registration?
This car is indeed registered in the Netherlands.
First admission on June 30th 1950. Registration in the Netherlands on October 31st 1978.
Armstrong Siddeley was always a low volume producer, and was part of the Armstrong Whitworth group.
Essentially, Armstrong Siddeley was an aircraft and especially an aero-engine business – Armstrong Whitworth bought Siddeley-Deasley in 1919 and in the late 1920s John Siddeley purchased Armstrong Siddeley when Armstrong purchased the bigger and stronger Vickers company. Ultimately, this led to the creation of Hawker Siddeley (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawker_Siddeley), builder of some of Britain’s most famous aircraft, including the Hurricane, Hunter and Harrier, and now part of BAE Systems, as well as a variety of locomotives, trains and many other heavy engineering products. “Armstrong” is almost synonymous with advanced and innovative engineering with commercial success, for the period from 1850 to 1960. Go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armstrong_Whitworth for more.
After some more corporate machination, Armstrong Siddeley was merged with Bristol Aero engines and ultimately Rolls-Royce in 1966. R-R was (and still is of course) principally an aero-engine business that built cars, just like Armstrong Siddeley. Product wise, Armstrong Siddeley was in a similar position to Daimler – trapped between genuine high quality, high craftsman ship products from R-R and Bentley on one side and challengers like Jaguar on the other. It doesn’t take an MBA to decide what to do, and similar choices were made elsewhere, for example Alvis.
The name is rather silly and fun. Is the second half pronounced Sid-ee-lee, or Sid-uh-lee, or Sid-lee?
Sidley. If in doubt with British pronunciation, emphasise the first syllable and eliminate as much of what follows (by letting it die away, or just ignoring it) as possible. Should you ever meet a Mr Featherstonehaugh, his name is pronounced “Fanshaw”.
Sid Lee had a much more famous brother known as Stan Lee who drew comics. Both came from the Ach du Lieber family.
I became aware of the Sapphire ca. 1959, when I was in grade school and saw it in some kind of book of cars of the world. I definitely liked the way “Armstrong Sidd-e-lee Sapphire” rolled off the tongue and didn’t give much thought to whether that was correct!
I love that the British were building ’30’s designs into the ’60s. It was their signature, like the Bug, but in the luxury realm. They should have kept it up with something besides taxies.
My all time favorite in the genre of classic looks built late is the Mercedes Aidenauer in the 6 window pillarless hardtop. A college friend’s dad had one. Truly fascinating to see the American body style in a classic Benz. It had power windows (IIRC) and factory installed AC in the trunk that looked like an on board refrigerator.
Mercedes were using an ohc engine while Rolls Royce were still soldiering on with the Edwardian F head,even Harley Davidson had dropped the F head many years ago.These cars looked very staid and old fashioned compared with Cadillac,Lincoln and Imperial..
These things looked prehistoric alongside Vauxhalls and Fords of the era never mind US designs you might cross shop a SuperSnipe with one of these but not a RR.
It’s the class thing allover,an Armstrong Siddeley buyer wouldn’t dream of driving a mere Ford or Vauxhall let alone those vulgar American cars.
Armstrong-Siddeley really weren’t competing with Rolls-Royce, despite the surface similarities. They produced a smarter car than a Rover or Humber, but a lesser vehicle than a (pre-Jag) Daimler. They weren’t in the same league as Rolls-Bentley.
The Forces numberplate, and indeed the green, may suggest that this was the Brigadier’s car of choice. The multiplicity of car makes in the 1950s, and the ease with each can have a class label pinned on it, suggests to me that each army rank could be matched with a different and smarter motor car, from the Private’s old Ford to the Field Marshal’s Rolls-Royce.
It’s a Dutch number plate
The Humber 3L hemi six used in the later Super Snipes was an Armstrong Siddeley design
The photos barely show the Armstrong-Siddeley’s most intriguing feature: the sphinx hood ornament/mascot. Do you have any close-ups of that feature to add, along with the interior photos?
Wasn’t it a sphinx with jet engines attached to the side? I’m not joking about this!
Here it is!
It looks like a very self-satisfied sphinx! Almost a smirk on its face.
Apparently some sphinxes had jet engines, and some didn’t.
No dice. I’d have to jump in my wayback machine and return to 2009.
Their advertising slogan was, “As silent as the Sphinx.”
The Star Sapphire was a/k/a “the rich man’s Rolls-Royce” because of its high running costs.
Here’s a link to a transcript of a talk about the Sapphire:
Thanks for the link.
Read all of them and came to the conclusion that the entire car operation from the mid 1930s to 1960 was nothing more than amateur hour. Really poorly organized if it can even be called that.
Sure, they had all manner of aeronautical engineers working on the cars but nothing sustained enough. Here one year, gone the next. They got lost having a great time theorizing on this and that, then forgot to hire a stylist. All the mechanical uselessness led to a 2 year delay in the initial rollout of the Sapphire till 1952. One can only imagine the unreliability.
I grew up in Blighty until the age of eleven in 1959 and was an anorak car-spotter. Only saw a few AS Sapphires, even fewer Alvises, but they looked like a better job all round. Sapphires looked lost and bewildered just like this one in the article – seemed to not look confident and were incredibly old-fashioned looking with sort of fake RR styling.
I assume only old rich widows with a lap dog and a chauffeur actually bought them. Nobody else lusted after them. We were Aston Martin then Jaguar in my boyhood.
It actually kind of looks like an early 1980s Seville from the rear. Kinda…
The only thing I have to add, however late is: I like the Vulcan bombers. Reminds me of James Bond in the movie “Thunderball”!
Zackman, on a comparative scale, there was probably more room in the Armstrong than the cockpit of a Vulcan, which was very claustrophobic!
A couple of days ago in the CC Clue, when all we could see of this car was a thumbnail pic of one headlamp, I was among those who thought we were looking at a Jag Mk. IX. But that’s only because I’d never heard of an Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire — or of Armstrong Siddeley at all — and you can’t nominate something you’ve never heard of.
Hey Paul, is that the same Armstrong that did the steering on your old F100?
Only 980 of the Star Sapphires were built, including a handful of limousines in 1960.
As said before, it is a Dutch registration. Our Registration Office lists this car / registration as a Star Sapphire, first on the road mid 1950, imported in the Netherlands in 1978, last owner from Oct 2003.
Another proof that the Registration Office is wrong with its data as the AS clearly is a Star Sapphire (several details confirm that) but the First on the Road date is wrong. I think that when the car got registered in 1978, they did not have the original (UK) papers for it and just guessed the build date. This has been done more often and remember this was ages before the internet which made looking up cars so much easier. Original new delivered Armstrong Siddeleys to the Netherlands were very rare and it might well be that there was no other Star Sapphire registered before this one.
All that aside, there is a quite active Armstrong Siddeley club in the Netherlands and there are more cars in the Netherlands now than when they were built new. This is the same for many more classics, for example much more Jensens now (or Triumph TR4s) than there have ever been in the Netherlands. In the 80s and 90s many, many classic cars have been imported from the USA and UK into the Netherlands.
I have been adding to that as well, importing a Jensen, Triumph TR4, Herald, GT6, Stag, Roadster, 2000 Mk2, Rover 90, Range Rover 3 door, Jaguar 420 and Mk7, Hillman Imp and Husky over the last 30 years. 🙂
I took a look at the talk about Armstrong-Sidney which Staxman posted some five years ago, and amazingly the link is still good.
Was the ever a more British Car Company story than the one below?
The company first considered the use of gas-turbines in cars in 1946, when it was suggested that an old Heppner scheme be adapted for automotive use. F. A. M. Heppner was a German refugee retained by Armstrong Siddeley during the war to work on highly complex gas-turbine schemes [6’ turbo-fans with contra-rotating combined compressor/turbine wheels, suggested thrust – a mere 11,500lbs – and all that in 1943!] that would have been exceedingly profitable had they worked. Heppner had the unshakeable backing of both Sopwith and Spriggs (the senior directors of Armstrong Siddeley and its parent, Hawker Siddeley). Senior engineers, including the chief engineer [Stewart Tresilian], who openly questioned the viability of Heppner’s schemes, were quite simply required to leave in early 1942. Heppner was formally declared insane in 1945.
None other than W.O. Bentley himself was involved in the development of this car. I’m not exactly sure how; I’ll have to do a little research.
A Bentley for those who couldn’t afford a Bentley.
I don’t really have a thing for British cars, but this one is lovely.