Leopold de Rothschild (1845-1917) had first become interested in the automobile in the 1890s, an interest he shared with his friend the Prince of Wales. His sons Lionel (1882-1942) and Anthony (1887-1961) were members of the Cambridge University Automobile Club, founded in 1902. Whilst at Trinity College, Lionel was summoned for “driving a motor car at a greater speed than 12 mph”, and fined the sum of £1.
Rothschild, Wolseley and Siddeley
Rothschild involvement with Wolseley can be traced back to 1888, when N M Rothschild & Sons helped broker the amalgamation of the Maxim and Nordenfeldt ordnance companies, which were later taken over by Vickers, who took over the Wolseley Tool and Motor Company in 1901.
Lionel de Rothschild was elected to the board of The Wolseley Tool & Motor Car Company Ltd. Through Lionel, an approach was made by his friend John Siddeley to Wolseley, to help him design and build a car to his own specifications. The first cars of the Siddeley Autocar Company were unveiled at the Crystal Palace motor show in 1903. In 1904, Lionel ordered a Siddeley 100 hp racing car.
In 1905 Wolseley purchased the rights of the Siddeley Autocar Company and appointed John Siddeley their London sales manager. Siddeley resigned from Wolseley in 1909 to go into partnership with H.P.P. Deasy and during the First World War, Siddeley-Deasy produced aircraft engines. In 1919, Siddeley-Deasy merged with the motor department of the aircraft engine business of Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co Ltd and the new motor entity became known as Armstrong Siddeley Motors.
Lionel de Rothschild and Armstrong Siddeley
In September 1927, Armstrong Siddeley Motors quoted for repairs to an 18 hp Open Touring Car owned by Lionel de Rothschild, which had been badly damaged in an accident. The car was to be repaired and then allowed in exchange for a new Long 20 hp “Ascot” Touring car, to be painted the usual shade of Rothschild blue with a yellow coachline, with natural grain dark blue leather trimmings. In November 1932, Lionel wrote to his friend John Siddeley to advise him of his intention to acquire a new ‘small’ car for Exbury, his Hampshire estate, and subsequently purchased a 10 hp Armstrong Siddeley; the paths of the Exbury estate were designed to be wide enough to accomodate it.
The 1933 Siddeley Special
In July 1933 John Siddeley lent Lionel a 30 hp Siddeley Special to test; in a letter to John Siddeley, although Lionel enjoyed his drive and thought the car “remarkable value for the money” he found it heavy and tiring to drive when compared to his “Rolls”, and found the comparison unfavourable; “while I love the little 10 hp Siddeley I have at Exbury for running about, when I really go long distance I have been spoilt by the Rolls to such an extent that I rather fancy I shall stick to them.” Siddeley must have been put out by this rejection of the Siddeley Special as he was hoping to compete with Rolls-Royce quality, but despite Lionel’s concerns, he sold over 200 of these cars.
In 1936, Lionel purchased an Armstrong Siddeley Twelve Plus de Luxe Open touring car, registration CG 4444, blue with blue leather trimming. The car cost £350, around £22,000 today. The beautifully illustrated catalogue and associated correspondence survives in the collections of the Archive.
Armstong Siddeley was taken over by Bristol in 1960. The last model produced was the Armstrong Siddeley Star Sapphire; the last car left the Coventry factory in 1960, and one of the great names of British motoring history sadly came to an end.