This Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire was parked outside the Great Australian Rally in Mornington two and a half years ago. We have featured most of the other post-war Armstrong Siddeley cars, from the Lancaster that was probably the first new car anywhere to debut after WW2 (May 1945!), to the final Star Sapphire that ran to the end of Armstrong Siddeley car production in 1960, but not yet a Sapphire 346. Might it have been Armstrong Siddeley’s best car?
The front-on view shows a traditional grille with very distinct separate front mudguards, wings or fenders – depending on your terminology. While this was not cutting-edge, given that cars such as the 1949 Ford or 1950 Ford Consul/Zephyr in the UK had genuine full-width styling, it was distinctly not a pre-war car.
Apart from the headlights being integrated into the front guards, this was not something that was absolutely the case for the previous Whitley and Lancaster cars. Given they had really been designed before WW2, it is not surprising that there wasn’t any break new ground in styling. The Typhoon coupe above has the same front end, with a slightly more stylish body past the windscreen; still pretty unadventurous mind you.
It is important to note that the Jaguar Mark V (1950; 1955 Mark VIIM pictured above), Daimler Regency (1951), Humber Super Snipe Mark IV (1952) or Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud (1955) all had similar “flowing fender” styling to a greater or lesser extent, so the Sapphire was very much in keeping with the conventional styling of a prestigious British car of the era; what was probably even then being described as traditional.
Looking outside the UK, even the 1952 Cadillac or Lincoln (or a 1953 Buick, above) were not a million miles from the appearance of the Sapphire. Yet. This was soon to change of course, and things would progress rapidly – by the end of Sapphire 346 production in 1958 the American luxury cars were hugely different.
Note the tail lights are on the tiny side. There aren’t any distinct indicator lights (unlike the separate reflectors), but given the front has orange indicators (which indicate it is a Mark 2 version from 1954 or later; they replaced semaphore type trafficators) there is every chance there will be a bulb somewhere.
The rear three-quarter view shows off the sweeping body lines to best advantage, with an undeniable elegance that is enhanced by the two-tone colour scheme. This is the four-light version; there was also a six-light alternative that had an additional window behind the door to roughly the end of the rain gutter. Perhaps this is the type of tail profile that the infamous 1980 Cadillac Seville was aiming for? I think it also makes a good case for keeping the separate front fender – but perhaps not external door hinges, which are an unfortunate inclusion on an upper crust car.
The interior shows all the wood and leather you would expect, plus some sheepskin seat covers. At the slightly blurry left side of the photo you can see the heater controls under the radio. I’m not sure if that is a later addition, but there is a speaker grille above it. The arm on the steering column may be the control for a pre-selector gearbox, which was the easier-to-drive option to an all-synchro 4-speed until a torque converter automatic became available in 1954.
The Sapphire had coil spring independent front suspension at the front of its new chassis, replacing the earlier Lancaster torsion bar system. The 3.4-litre 6-cylinder hemi-head engine was also new, and a big move from the previous 2.3 L one. With the optional twin carburettors (shades of the Hudson Twin-H), you could have 150 bhp and a top speed of 100 mph – not too shabby!
Perhaps the pity of it all was that after six years the Star Sapphire (found by Aaron65) was so little changed. I can well imagine that the Sapphire 346’s production of just 7697 units did not fund a lot of development, but apparently the entire bodyshell was changed subtly. If this involved slight modifications to the existing tooling I can understand, but otherwise surely changing so little was madness?
Or was the Sapphire 346 in fact already too conservative? I would say not quite, not for a prestigious, near-limousine type of car at this time. As Tatra87 relayed so well earlier in the year, the 1955 Sapphire 234/236 was the car that made it clear Armstrong-Siddeley didn’t have the vision or resources to be a success in the increasingly tough world of car manufacturing. And when the Star Sapphire didn’t right the ship, it became clear to the Armstrong Hawker board the exercise was futile, and they withdrew from car production in 1960.
Happily, there are some impressive machines as a legacy.