Armstrong Siddeley Heritage Trust
History of a Siddeley Special with a Hooper Body
This is the fascinating history of a surviving Siddeley Special with a Hooper built body, it was ordered by Count Natale Labia, Italy’s First Minister to South Africa. Armstrong Siddeleys build records show that the rolling chassis was completed in March 1934 while the Hooper job sheet lists the coachwork being undertaken in July 1934. Hopper expected the car to be delivered to Cape Town, instead, delivery took place in 1935 to a hotel near Geneva, Switzerland where the Labia family were residing for both business and relaxation. The Count had arranged delivery as a surprise for his two young sons, Joseph and Luccio.
After the holiday in Switzerland, the family, plus the chauffeur and the mother’s maid (6 people in total plus their luggage) travelled across the Alps in the Special to their home in Venice. Joseph and Luccio probably sat on the 2 occasional seats behind the division. Finally, the car and family crossed Lombardy to Genoa and boarded SS Giulio Cesare for South Africa. The Siddeley was garaged at the family’s diplomatic residence in Cape Town and used mainly on official business and sparingly by the family.
The Count died in 1936 from a heart attack. This was believed to have been brought on by stress following Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and the subsequent diplomatic pressures on him. The car was inherited by his wife who had it put into storage, in the early 1950’s, the car was recommissioned and put back into gentle use. The Count's wife died in 1961 and the car was sold out of the family remaining in South Africa until 1988 where it passed through 3 more owners before being imported back to England.
On arrival, the Siddeley was described as being in original condition with less than 10,000 recorded miles. The paint was faded and worn through in places while the cloth upholstery had been damaged by moths and was in quite a sorry state. In contrast, the leather front bench seat and door trims were in good condition as were the body, the chassis, engine and transmission.
The rear seats and rear doors were re-trimmed with a very similar West of England cloth and the headlining was replaced with a close match to the original. In the interest of safety, a new wiring loom was fabricated and installed. To reflect the new owner’s heritage a pair of Jersey and England flags were used for the pennants.
From 1989, the car has remained in the same family ownership and is kept ‘on the road’ supporting local events, family trips out and a few further afield for the Armstrong Siddeley Owners Club. In recognition of this car’s early history, a pair of period South African and Italian flags are occasionally worn in place of the more usual Jersey and England flags. To go back to the Siddeley Special gallery please click here
This article is an abridged version of one written by John Stoodly. thanks to John for lettings us use his work.