Honest Quality; The A S Hurricane
The Armstrong Siddeley Hurricane carried a plane name whilst was certainly no plain Jane. The Coventry manufacturer continued in 1945 as they had pre-war by building large, stylish and superbly engineered vehicles on a modest scale for the more discerning driver. Not interested in mass production the company had been through austerity before and survived better than most; in fact one of their best years was at the height of the depression in 1932 when they were able to sell over their normal 1000 cars per annum. Experience on the workshop floor was matched by that in the board room and to understand how this all came together it is necessary to look back to the beginning.
Partnerships and Takeovers
In 1906 the Armstrong-Whitworth Company produced cars at their Newcastle factory alongside the Tyne; engineering works that had been started by founder Sir W G Armstrong over fifty years prior. Their machines were something of a revelation in the automobile world and within 2 years they produced a 7.7 litre engine and a 3.4 with a five bearing crankshaft. State of the art in 1912 was their 5.1 litre six cylinder car with twin magneto ignition, electric lights and the option of a powered tyre pump. The same year saw Deasy Motorcar Manufacturing Company based in Coventry begin trading when Captain H Deasy joined forces with former Rover designer E W Lewis to produce a very unique 4.5 litre four cylinder machine. By 1908 they had progressed to a 12 litre monster and were beginning to attract the attention of other manufacturers. Earlier in 1902 John Davenport Siddeley was putting bodies onto a Peugeot chassis and marketing them under the Siddeley Autocar banner and he must have performed well because a merger with Wolseley took place in 1905. Just three years later Siddeley left Wolseley and took a partnership with Deasy, in 1912 the Siddeley-Deasy came to be using the famous ‘Sphinx’ motif which alluded to the silent operation of their machines. World War 1 saw most factories re tool for munitions production but straight after hostilities ceased the takeover war restarted and Armstrong-Siddeley became a new name in car manufacture at their Parkside factory in Coventry. The inter war years were profitable for the marque and during the late 1920’s the company introduced a new partner Walter Gordon Wilson, who with J D Siddeley developed the pre selector or self-changing gearbox; this was available on all AS models up to 1960 and was also used in Daimler, Riley and Lanchester vehicles whilst ERA, Connaught and HWM chose it to fit into their race cars. In 1935 more takeovers occurred when the owner of Hawker Aircraft (Thomas Sopwith) bought out Siddeley’s interests in the company for a reputed £2 million and the car business became a junior in the now famous Hawker Siddeley Aircraft Company.
The Plane Names
When the UK’s post–war Government asked motor car manufacturers to offer a programme of production Armstrong-Siddeley were ready, their Lancaster model was set for production in May. This was the base for the Drop Head Hurricane and examples of both were available before Xmas. Naming the cars after wartime aircraft was popular and linked in with their parent company; a year later the Tempest and Typhoon arrived all powered by a pre-war design 1991cc straight six. In 1949 a larger 2.3 litre engine was made available and that is the unit fitted to Mark Gaterell’s 1953 Hurricane 18 HP DHC; an amazingly honest example, with a sympathetic restoration carried out 5 years ago. Mark is the first to admit he is ‘a user, not a polisher’; the day prior to my visit the Hurricane had made the most of ‘Drive it Day’ covering 160 miles, in all weathers, without a hitch. The Hurricane like all AS models was in direct competition with other coach built marques such as Lea Francis and Alvis but without the financial outlay required for a Bentley or Rolls Royce; it still however remained twice the price of the average mass produced models. This was a narrow market place and the Hurricane was not a cheap option when launched in 1945 at £1151 plus tax whereas the more available Hillman Minx DHC was £525 inc purchase tax and 12hp Vauxhall saloon £430 only inc tax, that’s if you could buy one, with waiting lists stretching for years. Autocar Earls Court Show guide of 1953 listed the Hurricane at a similar figure but by this time the year old Sapphire model had pride of place on the AS stand number 167 and this would be the final year for the Hurricane.
More Features than the Odeon
The Hurricane defies the austerity theory. Shortages of steel meant AS craftsman used aluminium for the bonnet and doors whilst small fittings were secured with brass. Aircraft design extends through the car with weight (and material) saving evident on under bonnet panels incorporating louvered and strategically placed holes in the frames. A puncture would be an inconvenience any time but less so with jacks built into the floor and each car supplied with a hand pump. A three position removable top gives options for the driver that enjoys the wind in the hair experience and with 75 bhp from the straight six ensures the Hurricane has the power to stay with modern traffic. On the move I found the suspension quite firm and the body roll quite limited for a 62 year old and the dials encased in the solid wood dash sprung to life with a press of the starter button. Before heading off Mark produced the owner’s manual pointing out the procedure the driver is required to carry out should the Wilson Pre Select gear change become somewhat vague or uncertain. By selecting each gear and then pumping the clutch ten times the driver can return the adjustment of the gearbox to the correct pitch; personally I am not sure what it meant but Mark assures me that it works. The gear changes on test were swift and punctual; just select the next gear you want and at the time of the drivers’ choosing depress the clutch and the next gear is automatically selected. With the lever on the steering wheel it becomes obvious why those more motorsport minded manufacturers approved of this method, as Mark demonstrated. Braking for a corner Mark selected the gear he wanted for the exit, this early selection allowed him to concentrate on getting his line correct and at the appropriate moment the clutch was engaged and away we went. Whilst Mark drives the Hurricane with enthusiasm, it is certainly no sports car, he is able to work the 17inch cross ply tyres hard and the 1.6 tons never felt unwieldy. Saying that, this AS is no ‘Tinkerbelle’ either; at 15ft 6in long and 5ft 8in wide she has a 37ft turning circle without PAS, that’s like trying to turn the Isle of Wight ferry on land. None of these things matter when this car is cruising on a twisty ‘A’ road, sunshine streaming in as the top is clipped back (coupe de ville). The lines get admiring glances where ever it travels but the best feature has to be the huge leather trimmed suicide doors. Launched at the very beginning of the austerity years the Armstrong Siddeley completely contradicted the time and the shortage of materials did not seem to affect the quality. The straight six engine was increased at a time of fuel rationing and the Hurricane came at a price few could afford even if a dealer could supply. A total of 2606 discerning drivers enjoyed this drop head coupe that oozed style and no doubt brought some colour into their lives when the world was still very black and white.
Why the Hurricane? Mark Explains...
I took ownership of NAC 425 a couple of years ago. I wasn’t particularly looking for an AS but there is something compelling about the lines of the Hurricane that hooked me at first sight. Probably that mix of ‘transatlantic’ and Art Deco styling up front mated to the rounded curves of the rear; all accentuated by the shallow windscreen and roof line. It seems I ’m not alone in appreciating its form. I have had complete strangers pull up outside our house simply to say what a beautiful car it is. One consequence of that roof line however is that rear vision with the hood up feels a bit like peering out of a letterbox. Clearly, the Hurricane’s no rocket ship but the performance and handling are ideally suited to the roads around West Sussex where she seems completely at home. Late evening dashes across the South Downs in the summer are a particular favourite but I even press her into action for the weekly shop whenever possible. These cars are put together really well and outside of a couple of minor updates, such as an alternator conversion and an electric fuel pump, and some routine maintenance items she has been very reliable. Long may it continue.
The AS Hurricane DHC Specification 1953
Two door coupe with three position roof
Construction aluminium over wood frame and steel
Length 15ft 6in Width: 5ft 8in Weight 1.6 tons
Engine: Straight six 2309cc (OHV) 75bhp RWD
Transmission: Wilson type 4 speed Pre-select
Fuel: Stromberg DBA 36 Carburettor
Fuel Tank: 11.9 gallons MPG: 21
Performance: 0-60 22 seconds Top speed 81mph
Tyre size 5.5-17 inch