2022 Shannons Autumn Timed Online Auction
1956 Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire Saloon
Result: PASSED IN
This lot is no longer available
The Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire, which debuted in 1952, was larger and much more powerful than its predecessor, the so-called ‘18-horsepower’ range (based on the British RAC horsepower rating system). The old cars peaked at 75 brake horsepower, while the Sapphire opened its account with 120. This sleek newcomer, sometimes referred to as the Sapphire 346 (to distinguish it from the smaller ‘Baby Sapphire’ 234 and 236 models, 1955-58) was a most worthy rival for the Jaguar Mark VII launched a couple of seasons previously. One wonders whether Armstrong Siddeley management had inside information about Jaguar’s forthcoming Mark VII saloon, when they began planning the Sapphire in the very late 1940s: would they have cared? In any event, when the Sapphire was shown in 1952, comparisons were made between the two fast and elegant Coventry luxury saloons but there were, in the end, more differences than similarities. Where the Jaguar could be seen as wearing its twin overhead camshaft heart on its sleeve, the Sapphire was more restrained. Indeed, Armstrong Siddeley had deliberately failed to maximise the new 3.4-litre engine’s power output, out of deference to its traditional customers who were not interested, the managers believed, in buying an overtly sporty machine. So, in a sense, the Sapphire was not intended to be a rival for the Jaguar, but it handled better and when the twin-carburettor version arrived with the Mark II upgrade (October 1954) with 150 brake horsepower (mainly with export markets like the US and Australian in mind) gave similar performance with a top speed of 100 miles per hour, in an era when ‘the ton’ really meant something! The Sapphire was available in four-light and six-light guise and its elegant coachwork lent itself to the numerous two-tone colour combinations offered by the factory. For the Mark II, Armstrong Siddeley offered three transmission options on the Sapphire, four-speed manual, Wilson pre-selector and Rolls-Royce four-speed automatic. Armstrong Siddeley cognoscenti prefer the Wilson box which imparts even more character to a most desirable postwar classic saloon; the tiny gear selector is a thing of joy! The Sapphire’s luxurious English club style interior is trimmed in leather with fine carpets and abundant burl walnut. The Mark II Sapphire with twin carburettors was the penultimate Armstrong Siddeley. The 4.0-litre Star Sapphire, only available with automatic transmission, was shown at Earls Court in late 1958 where it won the award for most distinguished coachwork. Sadly, comparatively few were built and the last Armstrong Siddeley was produced in June 1960.