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History of a Siddeley Special with a Hooper Body

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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 34.

 

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 holidaying. The Count had arranged delivery as a surprise for his two sons, Joseph aged 12 and Luccio aged 10.

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 Venice where their home Palazzo Labia. 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 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 Counts wife died in 1961 and the car was sold out of the family reaming in South Africa until 1988 passing 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 was the coachbuilt body, the chassis, engine and transmission.

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Siddeley Special interior

The rear seats and rear doors were re-trimmed with a very similar West of England cloth and the headlining 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.

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