Armstrong Siddeley is a brand name that may well have little recognition now and especially so outside the UK, but it has a history that can be traced back to the Victorian era, and is named for what might be called engineering aristocracy. This was not a car from a mere cycle builder with ambitions.
The Armstrong element is traceable to Sir William Armstrong, who in 1847 founded a company to produce hydraulic cranes, bridges and other equipment, and later armaments. In 1897, Armstrong merged with Joseph Whitworth and Co, who had devised the Whitworth screw thread, a standard still recognised today, creating Armstrong Whitworth. The merged company expanded into cars in 1902, initially under the Armstrong brand and always at the top end of the market, and then aircraft from 1913.
Siddeley comes from Siddeley-Deasy, founded in Coventry in 1906 and managed from 1908 by John Siddeley, who added his name in 1910. By 1918, Siddeley-Deasy was a similar company to Rolls-Royce, building aero-engines and top end cars. Cars were always a small part of the overall business though.
In 1920, Armstrong Whitworth and Siddeley-Deasy merged to create Armstrong Siddeley with interests from cars and aero engines to shipbuilding and armaments. Cars continued to remain a small part of the business, and at the top end of the market.
Through a series of corporate moves, linking the company with Hawker to create the famous Hawker Siddeley name, the Armstrong Siddeley company can now be traced into airframes, shipbuilding and armaments now owned by BAE Systems, aero-engines owned by Rolls-Royce, and the trains and power station equipment distributed amongst the great engineering companies of Europe. Armstrong Siddeley car production ceased in 1960, and Armstrong Siddeley then worked a contract manufacturer for Rootes, principally on the Sunbeam Alpine sports car until 1965.
The feature car is a 1949 Armstrong Siddeley Whitley, to compete with the largest Humber, Rovers and the emerging Jaguar. It was actually a revision of the first post war Armstrong Siddeley, the Lancaster. One of the advantages of being closely associated with an aircraft builder was that Armstrong Siddeley had access to some great names. There was also a Hurricane and a Typhoon; the Whitley was named after a WWII bomber.
Built in a traditional boy on frame manner, the Whitley was 185 inches long on a 115 inch wheelbase, and was powered by a 2.3 litre 75 bhp straight six, giving 80 mph performance. Suspension was a by torsion bars at the front and leaf springs at the rear. The cost in 1949 was £1216, 11 shillings and 8 pence including tax when new, say around £30,000 ($45000 or thereabouts) now, or Jaguar XF money.
The bodies for the standard cars, either four light or six light, were built within the Hawker Siddeley group by Burlingham, but other bodybuilders produced low volume versions. Over six years, sales reached 2500. The brand was caught in a perfect storm of tough economic times, linmited export appeal and distribution network, and strong competition from Rover, Jaguar and may be Humber, all offering most of the tangibles offered in the Whitley at lower prices. The rights to the designs and logos are now owned by the Armstrong Siddeley Owners’ Club.
And why is this car parked outside a farm entrance on a September evening? Well, it was the second Wednesday of the month, so the fish and chip van was at the pub.
And that van was a 1967 Citroen H van, set up to serve the aristocrat of takeaway food, and with another aristocrat, Adnams Southwold beer, available (warm of course) in the Queen’s Head as well.
I might need a lift home. Who’s got the keys for the Armstrong Siddeley?