#Kyalami9Hour: An A to Z guide

Take a look at this cool A to Z guide of everything you need to know about the iconic race.

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Siddeley: 'Silent as a Sphinx'

2013-08-08 09:57


HIGH, WIDE AND HANDSOME: An Armstrong-Siddeley makes a fine wedding car. This Whitley model was spotted outside a church in London recently. Image: DAVE FALL

I was shopping – it was a Saturday morning – and around a corner came a wedding procession led by a beautiful old Rolls-Royce containing the bride and groom. Now wedding cars come in all shapes, ages, styles and sizes and it’s usually the bride who chooses - certainly that was the case when I married well over 40 years ago.

There’s something a little bit special about cars with double-barrelled names. Casually mentioning that you own the Aston-Martin outside the bistro or the Hispano-Suiza parked in a gravelled driveway is surely truly impressive. It tells people you’ve made it in the big, wide world, I suppose.


Another interesting double-barrelled car brand I came across on a trip to the UK was the lovely old Armstrong-Siddeley Whitley saloon (above) spotted outside a small church in a London suburb just before the bride and groom were whisked away to their reception.

Armstrong never made it to South Africa in big numbers; pity because their coach-built limousines had quite a following in other then Commonwealth countries. Australia, for instance, even produced a Ute (bakkie) version — how posh is that!

Had Siddeley (the Armstrong partnership came some years later) still been around today it would have been be well over 100 years old. The firm first traded in 1902, in Coventry, England - once the centre of the car manufacturing universe. Alliances were the order of the day, first with Wolseley and then with the Deasy Motor Company, and finally Bristol and Hawker aircraft companies were using their slogan: “As silent as the Sphinx” until Armstrong-Siddeley closed in 1960.

The company’s profits grew down the years, and rightly so because most of the mechanical expertise came from aircraft manufacture... hence the use of model names such as Lancaster, Hurricane, Typhoon, Tempest, Sapphire, and, of course, Whitley (a Second World War bomber).


Armstrong-Siddeley was the first car company in the UK to introduce a new range of cars after the lengthy hiccup caused by one Adolf Hitler. Just two days after VE (Victory in Europe) day the company announced “an all-new, 16hp (12kW) (two-litre) two-door, drophead coupe called a Typhoon. Two of these models were shipped to New York and Los Angeles for publicity purposes and evaluation and apparently did very well.

Because of the company’s advanced aero know-how, it wasn’t surprising to find overhead camshafts, hydraulic tappets and wet sleeve bore liners in their advanced engines. The type of transmission offered was a little unconventional — a Wilson pre-selector gearbox.

As its name implies, one selected a higher gear  — via a hand control — and when you were ready the change only effected when you stamped on the clutch pedal. It was, in actual fact, a smooth operation also used in army tanks, red London buses and even in the faster sports and racing cars of the day. (I remember using this type of box on a Lanchester Leda that was for sale many years ago in Pretoria... why I didn’t buy the car escapes me now.)


Well, the company soldiered on making cars such as the tri-model Star Sapphire that had a four-litre, beautifully made engine in 1960, but the advent of more mass-produced — but no-doubt quality-made, cars such as those offered by Rover, Jaguar and the big Wolseley 6/110 at very affordable prices — sealed the company’s fate.

If you were wondering what car was used for my wedding day it was an Austin Sheerline — but that’s definitely a story for another day!

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