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.
Automotive History: British Deadly Sins (‘50s Edition, Part 2) – Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire 234 / 236
CC Capsule: 1958-1960 Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire
CC Outtake: 1949 Armstrong Siddeley Whitley – One Aristocrat Meets Another!
I wasn’t aware many other people knew what these Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphires (A-SSS)were. I collected every “different” car I could. In the ’70’s a GI friend brought one of these back from England, then was afraid he couldn’t keep it up. Mine was the same upper blue but with a off white lower section Otherwise it looked identical. I never was sure what mine was. The pink slip listed it as a 1960, but I believe it was ’55-’57, it still had the pre-selector (which I loved), radio and heater as shown, plus power windows, and power steering that the effort could be adjusted on. It was incredibly elegant, drove and handled very well, and she could “gather her skirts” and accelerate briskly to just a nudge over 100 mph When I got the registration back from DMV the car had become an Austin-Siddeley Star Sapphire . I didn’t fight with them. I drove it to visit friends in LA, a 550 mile trip, each way, it was wonderful. Someone had added A/C which was a small unit, but worked well I loved the real wood and leather, and the sphinx was gorgeous I found myself taking time for picnics in the country with my lady friend After several months I started worrying about parts availability, and when a friend absolutely had to have it, I sold to him. Had a ’63 SIII Bentley later, which was a bit larger, but they had similar vibes Things I didn’t like on either were the mirrors at the front of the fenders, and right hand drive, freeways were easiest. Unlike the A-SSS, the Bentley (although I loved the looks, in charcoal and silver) became a near instant money pit, the power brakes were a nightmare, but that’s another car It’s been many years since having the A-SSS, but I’m still quite fond of it
Beautiful car! That twin carb 6 sounds mighty tempting.
“She could haul up her skirts and accelerate briskly…” Was that a polite way to say that she could “haul A-SSS.” 😉
My father and mother had one in turquoise and black I have an early memory of nearly falling out of it when playing with door handles aged about three . It always smelt of leather and I loved how the doors opened from the central pillar.
That 4 light is quite a find! I’ve only seen one other, a solid grey car and also at Mornington.
These are very capable cars with a devoted following – the UK owners’ club maintain a spares division building on a bequest from RR which absorbed the group for its aviation interests.
An unkind friend once described these as the web-footed offspring of a Rolls Royce and an MG. I take no notice and would gladly have a 346!
Here’s one with four headlights. Not an improvement.
Usually a few of these turn out at the annual British car day at Trentham, they are becoming rare I have a relative in the Aussie AS club he has a couple a 26 sedan all original and a 34 AS, I believe the cars now reside in Gosford north of Sydney but the old one originated in Melbourne.
An enjoyable tour of a car seldom seen in my part of the world. British “saloons” of the upper end of the market were not brought to the US in large numbers, except for Rolls-Royce and Jaguar which had enough genuine snob appeal to sell. Otherwise we got the sports cars in large numbers but that was about it.
I had forgotten that the Preselector had a life in postwar Britain. We didn’t see it here after the Cord and a smattering of other prewar cars. I could see it being a better fit with the smaller engines common in the UK than the automatics that were really designed to mate with engines very high in low rpm torque.
A tiny bit of trivia:
The 346’s optional power steering was the 1st time it was used on a British car.
Looking at pictures of the 6 light version and I would say that the 4 light looks so much better.
And maybe it’s my “strange” taste in cars, but both the blue car and the green car are ruined by the choice of colors used for the two-tones. In both cases, it looks like the paints used were those that were just “laying around on a shelf” in an old shed.
Interesting point Howard. Obviously both cars have been repainted, or at least the lower half of the green Star Sapphire, and it is hard to say whether they have kept the original colour schemes, are an approximation with available colours or an alternative of the owners’ choice. I wonder whether that metallic green is original, it would have been early days of metallic paint if so.
Lovely car. The immediate post-war era was brutal for cars in this class unless they could export to the US successfully, due the austerity and the new Labour government’s very high taxes on the wealthy. A-S’s demise was predictable.
Lovely traditional Brit machine; I have seen a few in US and more in UK.
A nice car. It demonstrates why the 80 Seville’s styling does not really quite work.
Those British “saloon” cars have always impressed me as “elegent”, that blue Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire, no exception. But one of the lesser known brand to me.
Noticed the British “saloon” automobiles all look similar. Perhaps built by the same coach builder? Also styling looks very dated by American style standards, i.e., echoing back to early 1940s. But charming in a warm, elegant old-world way in contrast to the brash, flamboyant American styling of the 1950s.
The blue Sapphire appears to have modern upgrades “touches”: The front amber turn signal indicator, the rear fender tailights may be LED type. I have mixed feelings about these “upgrades” but may have been done for safety reasons. Whatever.
That Green Star Sapphire (photo 10) is a real beauty.
I too think the amber front indicators are an upgrade – my Herald was 1961 and had white front indicators. it was easy to change the lenses on these round Lucas lights.
My Uncle had a Sapphire – before the “Star Sapphire” appeared – and I can remember riding in it. I think the “traditional” styling was expected on cars of this class ( Humbers/Jags etc were lower class).
I never realised there was a “four light” version though.
“Uncle” Tom McCahill, our first semi-celebrity pop-culture magazine road tester (Mechanix Illustrated), did a street test of one of these in the mid-Fifties. It was equipped with the pre-selector gearbox, which he praised. This was one of the few of his published tests that did NOT have a photo of him broad-sliding it in the dirt, his usual method of checking a car’s handling, but he seemed to like the car pretty well. I was in my early teens at the time and a sucker for prewar classics, or anything that resembled them, so this thing pulled all my strings. Still kinda does …
Forgot to mention mine was a six window If I’d known parts were available it would have been a forever car She was a lovely thing
Lovely find – like some other commentators, I’ve never seen a four-light (or four-window) version before either.
A bit of trivia: the separate reflectors were the result of an Australian law (or was it a Victorian one?) that required red reflectors at the rear. I think this started around 1949-50, as you’d see an occasional FX Holden without them. Many British cars had accessory reflectors like this. Back in the day I even saw some fitted to a metal strip mounted between the body of the light fitting and the fender.
And those taillights may well be original. Some upper class British cars had a clear glass light that glowed red when lit. I’ve seen Rovers and Humbers like this.
I’d put the date at slightly later, maybe 1951 or 52 although I’m not sure it would be that late.
A friend has a Bristol 401 which originally had tail/brake lights that were smaller than a playing card, mounted quite low (and semaphore indicators), that he converted to function as indicators/turn signals as well as putting a high-mounted stop light in the rear window.
I’d guess the lights are original, I didn’t examine them closely but they didn’t strike me as LED replacements. Without semaphore indicators it would almost have to have the flashing type (it is possible cars may have snuck through with none at the right time and place).
Beautiful car, and the four-light treatment seems to suit it better than the six. Good from any angle but drop dead gorgeous from that rear 3/4 which best shows off the line of the fenders, aided by the fully skirted rear openings and the well-placed cut line of the two-tone treatment. And I think the light blue/royal blue works perfectly. Similar to the Mark VII/VIII Jag, but so different at the same time.
We hired one of these for my wife to travel in to our wedding. She picked it out of a fleet of classics, deciding that it was the one she like the look of best.
Simply smashing. I got see one up close and speak to the enthusiastic owner who pointed out the fine features. Traditionally styled but attractive in a classic way. I wonder what their later cars would have looked like if the marque had survived.
From some rear angles mine reminded me of the 48 Roadmaster’s 3/4 view After looking at the blue one I really regret selling mine I had the Bentley and a Mark V Jag, but the A-S was dependable, and drove nicer From an article in a British mag years ago, A-S seemed to be heading in the Silver Shadow direction for styling, too bad they didn’t make it
Okay. I know Armstrong-Siddely made cars. I’ve admired them, even. I know very little about the company (although I know more NOW).
But as lovely as many of their automobiles are, THIS is the A-S that I want. It may be the best looking sport ute I’ve ever seen!
How many did they make? Where can I find one besides Australia?!?
The station coupe (2 rows of seating and short bed) and the coupe utility (single bench and long bed) were relatively low volume Australian market only vehicles.
I understand they have alloy panels.
Here’s the station coupe version, seen at a local car show.
Ironically that vehicle was photographed somewhere in the US!
The article linked below says 1,750 built with 1,250 coming to Australia. As for the rest I’d imagine they would have gone to South Africa and other African colonies, Canada, the Middle East, India and perhaps some other Asian markets plus some that stayed in the UK!
To me this is classier than a Rolls of the period and a much snobbier name!
“We arrived in the Silver Dawn”
“Well, we arrived with the Star Sapphire!”
But neither can beat my Invicta Black Prince!
If it gets you there. That transmission was legendary…..
What a pleasure to read this article on the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire 346. Yes, that is a factory correct radio speaker grille on the facia, and no, the automatic transmission which appeared in 1954 was not a torque converter design: it was a Rolls-Royce built GM 4-speed Hydramatic with fluid coupling. A Borg Warner 3-speed torque converter gearbox appeared with the Star Sapphire in 1958. The Wilson pre-selector gearbox is a joy to use, and these old Sapphires are sturdy and characterful cars of distinction. The four-light configuration is actually quite rare; most all Sapphires had the six-light design, and all Star Sapphires did.
Here is a very rare Sapphire 346 “Limousine”…
the car have a long wheelbase chassis.
We recently acquired a 1956 Armstrong siddeley sapphire but dont know much about it. First could you tell me where to locate the vin # and is there any literature on this vehicle any help is greatly appreciated
Chassis number is on the left front of the frame ….. I have a lot of literature …. Do you have the license plate of the car? Then I can help.