Some musings on that enigmatic character to be
seen on your Armstrong Siddeley bonnet.
heard it asked, "Why a Sphinx? Where does it come from? What
have they got to do with Cleopatra's Needle?" I have set
out to answer these and many more questions about the Sphinx and
must go back to the beginning, in fact to Egypt where the earliest
known Sphinx was the monumental Sphinx of Giza. This was constructed
during the reign of Pharaoh Kephren, c.2613-2494 B.C. The monument
was a representation of the god Harmakis (Horus of the Horizon)
and symbolised resurrection and also bore the face of the Pharaoh
Physically the classical Sphinx is a lion with a human head. As
far as we know, the Sphinx in Egypt was always male, and normally
associated with the Pharaoh. The Sphinx usually symbolised a guardian
of the sacred areas. Apart from having a human head, Sphinxes
were known to have lion's heads and ram's heads. The Sphinx also
personified the rules of the Pharaoh. All Egyptian examples were
sculpted in the crouching position.
well known crouching Sphinxes surrounding the so called Cleopatra's
Needle on the Thames Embankment, which were used as the basis
for an Armstrong Siddeley design, were in fact based on a small
black basalt sphinx, bearing the cartouche of Thothmes III, which
was in the collection of the Duke of Northumberland at Alnwick
Castle. Indeed the obelisk itself was also a memorial to Thothmes
III, although originated by Queen Ha-t-asu (Hatchepsut).
Avenues of sphinx were constructed in front of Egyptian temples,
again as guardians. This idea was used by the Greeks, but the
Sphinx in Greek Mythology was female, winged and sculpted in the
sitting position. The famous Sphinx story was that of Oedipus
who encountered the Sphinx, a winged monster, whilst on the way
to Thebes. The Sphinx asked Oedipus to solve a riddle on pain
of death. The riddle went: "What creature alone changes the
number of its feet, in the morning it goes on four feet, at midday
on two, in the evening on three feet and with the fewest feet
it has ever the greatest strength and swiftness". Oedipus
smiled and answered thus: "The riddle is easy. It is Man,
that in childhood goes on all fours, then walks firmly on two
feet and in his old age must lean upon a staff". Furious,
the Sphinx gave a shrill scream, flapped her gloomy wings, and
vanished among the rocks, never more to be seen at Thebes.
seriously studied and recorded these classical symbols in the
late 18th Century and by the 1850's the Sphinx in both Egyptian
and Greek forms was in common use as sculptural decoration in
the country houses and public buildings of Europe and North America.
interest in Great Britain in Egyptology is personified by the
amateur archaeologist, the 5th Earl of Caernarfon, who became
a founder member of the RAC, and took up archaeology as a sedentary
hobby following a serious motoring accident. Among his contemporaries
were Nathanial and Lionel de Rothschild and also John Davenport
Siddeley. Indeed, Caernarfon was an owner of an Armstrong Siddeley
car in the early Twenties.
first Sphinx used by the Siddeley-Deasy Car Company was introduced
in 1912. The story goes that nearly all Siddeley Deaseys of 1912
were fitted with a silent Knight sleeve-valve engine and also
bore the unusual arrangement of a coffin shaped bonnet with a
bulkhead mounted radiator. One enthusiastic journalist wrote of
the Siddeley Deasey on one of its road tests that its performance
was "as silent and inscrutable as the Sphinx". This
provided J D Siddeley with the inspiration to use the Sphinx as
the Siddeley Deasey Trade mark.
The first Sphinx design was a Greek type with upright design in
the sitting position. It has an Egyptian Head- dress and was a
male figure with a lion's body. This type was used by Siddeley
Deasey 1912 -1914 and by Armstrong Siddeley 1919-1931. The Siddeley
Deasey sphinx was probably of nickel-plated brass, some prestige
versions being German silvered, silver- or even gold-plated. There
were probably two basic sizes of Sphinx during this time. Later
examples in the late Twenties and early Thirties were made from
aluminium alloys such as Mazac. The upright Sphinx was relinquished
in 1932 for the new range of vehicles.
The next series were based on the Sphinxes at the London Embankment
and JDS sent an artist down to sketch there. As you will remember
the original was an Egyptian Sphinx at Alnwick Castle, so this
style looked solidly Egyptian. Each model in the range now had
a different size of Sphinx in proportion with the vehicle. By
1932 the V-radiator was also a common feature to all types.
1934 a new design was instituted which coincided with a new radiator
cowling design. The Sphinx was no longer removable, (although
this varied and some models retained a removable Sphinx until
1936). The 1936 design is perhaps the most Egyptian design of
all and in many ways looks the most authentically archaic. This
style persisted up to 1939 though some of the later types were
less finely modelled.
In 1945 the post war 16hp model had a horizontal slatted radiator
and this was touched off by a stamped out Sphinx, in fact a long
curved hollow strip with raised head. This design featured on
the 16 / 18hp models from 1945 -53. The same design but with different
dimensions featured on the Sapphire 234 / 236. These designs were
made of chrome-plated brass.
346 mascot used from 1953 to 1959 reflected the Armstrong Siddeley
aeronautical tradition. The Sphinx has a clearly smiling face
with a boxer's nose and is flanked by wings surmounted by jet
engines similar to those on the Gloster Meteor. I feel that this
is the most humorous looking Sphinx and has a jaunty look on its
vehicle. The figure is reclining.
The Star Sapphire Sphinx was a finer thing. The smallest of the
reclining style, barely 3 inches long. Of archaic design but not
so finely detailed as the Thirties design, this type was usually
chrome but one or two have been gold-plated.
the 346 there was a specialised Sphinx as seen on the Harold Radford
conversion. This was a classical Greek female Sphinx with feathered
wings and the figure was in the sitting position.
Sphinx was used on Siddeley cars for forty eight years. This included
six basic designs. Other designs of Sphinx were available from
the personalised mascot producers. A silver plated on bronze example
was produced in 1918 to the Greek design. A winged Sphinx was
also produced by the firm of Rolland Pilian from 1919-1931.
this example test if you can: first remove the Sphinx from your
car, or cover it over. The magic of the vehicle starts to fade,
put the Sphinx back and once again the majestic proportions of
your car are restored. For the Sphinx definitely sets off to a
tee the proportions of the car it sits on.
as you can see, inscrutability and silence have been exhibited
on the front of Armstrong Siddeleys and Siddeley Deaseys for nearly
a century. One thing is clear - without the Sphinx there would
be a very empty bonnet.