Old classics return from Canberra's formative years
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Old classics return from Canberra's formative years

When aircraft manufacturers produce cars, the results are usually notable. Even more notably, very few are still in production.

However, one premium British brand had a significant connection to Canberra during the capital's formative years - and these old classics will be returning in number to mark the brand's centenary.

White-coated Commonwealth drivers and their Armstrong Siddeley cars gather at the Governor-General's residence in Yarralumla, circa 1930.

White-coated Commonwealth drivers and their Armstrong Siddeley cars gather at the Governor-General's residence in Yarralumla, circa 1930.Credit:the Mildenhall Collection

British engineering company Armstrong Siddeley was formed in 1919 through a merger of two other companies, Siddeley-Deasy and Armstrong Whitworth.

The result of that merger was vehicles of extraordinary engine quality and refinement, rivalling that of famed brands Rolls Royce and Bentley, as well as some of the world's most powerful jet engines and advanced aircraft.

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From the founding years of Canberra, much of the Commonwealth car fleet were Armstrong Siddeleys.

Former prime minister Joe Lyons was driven in an Armstrong Siddeley with the first FCT 1 (Federal Capital Territory) number plates, as recalled in an interview with Nan Boyd, the daughter of Charles Daley, who was the secretary of the Federal Capital Commission from 1924.

A precursor to the modern twin cab ute was the 1950 Armstrong Siddeley station coupe four seater.

A precursor to the modern twin cab ute was the 1950 Armstrong Siddeley station coupe four seater.

"My father told me they had to decide about car registration in Canberra and how it was going to happen and who was going to have the numbers," she said.

"Dad said to Joe Lyons: 'of course, you'll have that [FCT 1] because you're the prime minister, you're the number one person'."

The cars were used for a variety of official Commonwealth duties, with a fleet of Armstrong Siddeley sedans as the official transport when the Duke and Duchess of York opened Parliament House in Canberra in 1927.

These cars feature in the Mildenhall Collection of more than 7000 photographs taken around the time of the development of Canberra. The collection is held by the National Archive in Canberra and has been made available online through a joint project with the Museum of Australian Democracy. You can view the photos here.

Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire limousines were also used extensively from the 1950s through to the mid-1960s by the Commonwealth Car Service.

The last Armstrong Siddeleys were produced in 1960.  A centenary display of beautifully restored models, including a very rare extended-cab utility version called the station coupe, will be held in front of Old Parliament House on Saturday, March 30 between 10am and 3pm.

Peter Brewer is a Canberra Times reporter.

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