The British classic car industry has seen its fair share of memorable cars, from the Mini, to the Jaguar E-Type. Other vehicles start off in a promising fashion, only to end up becoming rare. This is the case with the Princess, produced by the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland. It’s an example of a car that started with strong sales, but was outpaced by competitors. Today, the Princess is an attractive classic car, so we’re taking a look into the history of the model.
British Leyland decided they wanted to produce a family car, so the Austin-Morris division developed a vehicle that was named the Austin Wolseley 18-22. It launched in March 1975 and it wasn’t long before the car was renamed ‘Princess.’ Other cars had used the name, such as the 1947 Austin Princess limousine and the Vanden Plas Princess.
The exterior had a distinctive wedge shape common among a few 1970s cars. The Princess shared similarities with the Triumph TR7 in terms of shape. It had a high bonnet to allow for a tall, 1798 cc B-series pushrod straight-4 engine. The Princess reached a top speed of 104 mph. The Hydragas suspension system provided a smooth ride and excellent handling. The performance and spacious interior were the main selling points.
Initially, the Princess was well received, but poor quality control affected building. The wedge-shape proved to be divisive, so British Leyland tried to salvage the car by producing a new version. The Princess 2 came out in 1978 with a new O-Series engine. Two versions were available, with the 1700 cc model presented as a company car, while the 2000 cc appealed to private motorists.
Although the Princess enjoyed early success, it could never quite shake off its shortcomings. A major reason for this might have been down to it not being a hatchback. The original plan had been for the Princess to have five doors, but management decided to go with the Austin Maxi as the only hatchback in the range. They believed potential buyers of the Princess wouldn’t want it to be a hatchback. Instead, the Princess came with fixed rear glass and a separate boot. Some believe this stopped the Princess from reaching its full potential.
Even with its shortcomings, the Princess founds its place in popular culture. One appeared in the BBC sitcom Terry and June and another showed up in Fawlty Towers. A Princess was tested in Top Gear, with it being declared the best car British Leyland produced.
In the modern day, the Princess is a rare car, but it can be considered memorable all the same. Have you ever owned one? Feel free to share your photos on our Inside Classics Facebook page.
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