Princess (car)

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For Austin Princess, Princess and Vanden Plas Princess automobiles produced from 1946 to 1974, see Austin Princess.

The Princess is a family car that was produced in the United Kingdom by British Leyland from 1975 until 1981. The car inherited a front-wheel drive / transverse engine configuration from its predecessor, the BMC ADO17 range. This was still unusual in Europe for full-sized family cars and gave the Princess a cabin space advantage when compared with similarly sized cars from competing manufacturers.

The car, which was given the design code ADO71,[1] was originally marketed as the Austin / Morris / Wolseley 18–22 series. In 1975 the range was renamed "Princess". This was a new marque created by British Leyland [2] although it had previously been used as a model name on the Austin Princess limousine from 1947 to 1956.[3] The Princess is often referred to as the Austin Princess. Although this name was not used in the UK market, it was used in New Zealand. The car later appeared in revamped form as the Austin Ambassador, which was produced from 1982 until 1984 and only ever sold in Britain.

Princess sales, although strong for the 1976 model year, tailed off more quickly than forecast, primarily because of quality and reliability issues. Also by 1977 many of its competitors had gained a versatile fifth door which the Princess lacked, and the medium large-car sector fell victim to a poor economic climate further compounded by the OPEC oil crisis of the day. Total production amounted to 224,942 units.

Launch of the 18–22 Series in three varieties[edit]

Austin 18–22
Morris 18–22
Early Austin Wedgie.jpg
1975 Austin 1800 (ADO71)
Overview
Manufacturer British Leyland
Also called Austin & Morris, 1800 & 2200
Production March to September 1975
Designer Harris Mann
Body and chassis
Class Large family car
Body style 4-door saloon
Powertrain
Engine 1.8 L B-Series pushrod straight-4
2.2 L E-series SOHC straight-6
Transmission 4-speed manual all-synchromesh[4]
3-speed automatic
Dimensions
Wheelbase 105 in (2,667 mm)[4]
Length 175.4 in (4,455 mm)[4]
Width 68.1 in (1,730 mm)[4]
Height 55.5 in (1,410 mm) [4]
Chronology
Predecessor Austin 1800 and 2200
Successor Princess
Wolseley Saloon
Wolseley saloon 1975.jpg
Overview
Manufacturer British Leyland
Production March to September 1975
Designer Harris Mann
Body and chassis
Class Large family car
Body style 4-door saloon
Powertrain
Engine 2.2 L E-series SOHC straight-6
Dimensions
Wheelbase 105 in (2,667 mm)[4]
Length 175.4 in (4,455 mm)[4]
Width 68.1 in (1,730 mm)[4]
Height 55.5 in (1,410 mm) [4]
Chronology
Predecessor Wolseley 18/85 and Six
Successor Princess

The car was launched to critical acclaim on 26 March 1975 as the 18–22 Series, "the car that has got it all together". The number designation 18–22 referred to the engine sizes available carried forward from the 1800 cc and 2200 cc BMC B-series-engined BMC ADO 17 "Landcrab". For the first six months of production three badge-engineered versions were produced: Austin, Morris and Wolseley. The Austin model bore the original "design intent", featuring trapezoidal headlights and a simple horizontally-vaned grille. The Morris and Wolseley cars had a raised "hump" permitting a larger, styled grille for each model; the Morris one was a simple chrome rectangle with Morris in the lower right-hand corner, while Wolseleys had a chrome grille with the traditional illuminated company logo, with narrower vertical bars either side set back within the chromed surround. Both of these versions had four round headlights, and the Wolseley model was only available with the six-cylinder engine and luxury velour trim. Apart from their bonnet and headlamp designs, and of course their badging, the Austin and Morris models were virtually identical.

Models[edit]

Models Years Engine Types Transmissions
Austin 1800 March 1975–September 1975 4-cyl 1798 cc B Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Austin 1800 HL March 1975–September 1975 4-cyl 1798 cc B Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Austin 2200 HL March 1975–September 1975 6-cyl 2227 cc E Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Morris 1800 March 1975–September 1975 4-cyl 1798 cc B Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Morris 1800 HL March 1975–September 1975 4-cyl 1798 cc B Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Morris 2200 HL March 1975–September 1975 6-cyl 2227 cc E Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Wolseley Saloon[5] March 1975–September 1975 6-cyl 2227 cc E Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic

Controversial styling[edit]

Like many other controversial cars, the exterior styling was distinctive, innovative, and somewhat divisive. "The Wedge", as it was often nicknamed, was indeed very wedge-shaped; the styling was all angles and slanting panels. This was in very much 1970s style as created by Italian stylists (see Lamborghini Countach for the production epitome of such style). Within BL the car was often referred to as "The Anteater". The designer, Harris Mann, was also responsible for the Triumph TR7, another notably wedge-shaped car, as was his original design for the Austin Allegro, although by the time that design had been readied for production nearly all the angular styling features had been lost.

The Princess, unlike the Allegro, made it to production metal relatively unscathed and unaltered from Harris's original plan. The bonnet (hood) was a little higher, to allow for taller engines, but the biggest change from Harris's design involved the rear. Harris had intended the design to be a five-door hatchback, but management decided that the Austin Maxi should be the only hatchback in the range, making that its unique selling point, and besides, they thought the Princess's prospective buyers would not like a hatchback – despite the fact that in the Rover division the new Rover SD1 was being given a hatchback design. Consequently, the Princess received fixed rear glass and a separate boot, belying its appearance. Some feel this was to prove a sales-loser for the Princess's entire life.[citation needed]

An estate version was also proposed, but never reached production.

Interestingly, for a car that was distinctive (particularly in its body lines), it was actually a popular car with professional car converters, namely Crayford Engineering, Torcars (who both did conversions of the car to hatchback form – sold confusingly as "Princess Estate") and Woodall-Nicholson – who built stretched limousine and hearse variants.

Mechanical details[edit]

The base engine fitted was the 1798 cc B-Series pushrod straight-4. The lay-out closely followed that of the predecessor model, but access to the alternator/water pump was greatly improved by exploiting the car's longer nose to fit a front-mounted radiator.[6] The basic design of the engine dated back to 1947 and the unit with a claimed output of 84 bhp[6] was notably lacking in power, although torque was reasonable. The larger engine, fitted to upper models in the range, was a 2227 cc E-series SOHC straight-6. This was very smooth and a much more modern engine, with a published output figure of 110 bhp,[6] but was still not hugely powerful. The Princess was a big car, and the engine choice gave lacklustre performance, not helped by the provision of only a 4-speed manual gearbox (a Borg-Warner automatic transmission was an option, but performance with this was by all accounts positively lethargic). A 5-speed gearbox might have improved top end speed, economy and NVH: alas BL funds never stretched this far in development.

During the early 1980s an example was spotted in Littlemore, Oxford (not far from the factory) bearing an "1800D" badge on its boot lid and the sound it made confirmed that there was a diesel engine fitted. This was probably a test-bed in previous times, most likely powered by the diesel version of the 1800cc B-Series engine.

Suspension used BL's Hydragas system, and was very soft and smooth; the intention was to offer as smooth a ride as the Citroën CX and this was almost achieved. The Princess's ride was excellent, and comfort in general was a selling point; the car was roomy, reasonably well-appointed for the time, the seating was comfortable, and overall the driving experience – provided you didn't care that much about performance – was excellent.

Performance and price comparison[edit]

A six-cylinder car was road tested by Britain's Autocar magazine in March 1975 at the time of the model's launch. It recorded a maximum speed of 104 mph (167 km/h) and reached 60 mph (97 km/h) from a standing start in 13.5 seconds.[4] The top speed was marginally lower than the 109 mph (175 km/h) achieved by a recently tested Ford Consul 2500 L and a full three seconds slower to 60 mph than the Ford which managed the standing start test in just 10.4 seconds. The 2200 also fell slightly behind the Fiat 132GLS 1800 in these comparisons.[4] At the same time its overall fuel consumption at 20.7 mpg was usefully superior to the Ford's 18.1 mpg.[4] The lighter Fiat was more frugal with fuel than either of the other two.[4] On price, the Austin's domestic market recommended retail prices including taxes of £2,424 was significantly higher than the £2,221 charged for the Ford.[4]

Although its performance figures on paper were a little underwhelming, the testers were impressed with the roominess and roadholding of the Austin 2200.[4] They found it quiet and comfortable, the driving position in particular representing a vast improvement over the car's predecessor.[4] They mentioned in passing that the boot/trunk on the test car "leaked slightly", but did not labour the point.[4]

Princess[edit]

Princess
Princess Zwart.JPG
1975-1978 Princess
Overview
Manufacturer British Leyland
Also called Austin Princess (New Zealand)
Production September 1975 - July 1978
Body and chassis
Class Large family car
Body style 4-door saloon
Powertrain
Engine 1.8 L B-Series pushrod straight-4
2.2 L E-series SOHC straight-6
Chronology
Predecessor Austin 18-22
Morris 18-22
Wolseley Saloon
Successor Princess 2

By September 1975, the process of unifying Austin and Morris dealerships was advanced sufficiently, while the Wolseley marque was to be abandoned. Thus the policy of selling seven 18–22 series models under three different marques was changed and the range was reduced to four models all sold under the Princess name. A crown badge was affixed to the point of the bonnet and the script word "Princess" was affixed to the grille, the thick vinyl-clad C-pillars and the boot. Only the 1800  model bore the twin headlights, with the 2200  models sporting the wedge-shaped headlights Harris Mann had designed the car to be seen with.

Build quality of the Princess was affected by poor quality control and constant industrial disputes; it gained a reputation for unreliability it could never shake off, even though quality improved in later years. The styling, praised upon introduction, was soon labelled "ugly". To quote a phrase in Parker's Car Price Guide from the 1990s, "an early critic suggested that the people responsible for designing the front and rear of the car were not speaking to one another".

Models[edit]

Models Years Engine Types Transmissions
Princess 1800 September 1975–July 1978 4-cyl 1798 cc B Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 1800 HL September 1975–July 1978 4-cyl 1798 cc B Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2200 HL September 1975–July 1978 6-cyl 2227 cc E Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2200 HLS September 1975–July 1978 6-cyl 2227 cc E Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic


Princess 2[edit]

Princess 2
British Leyland Princess HL 1979.jpg
Overview
Manufacturer British Leyland
Production July 1978 – November 1981
Body and chassis
Class Large family car
Body style 4-door saloon
Powertrain
Engine 1.7 L O-Series SOHC straight-4
2.0  L O-Series SOHC straight-4
2.2 L E-series SOHC straight-6
Chronology
Predecessor Princess
Successor Austin Ambassador

In July 1978, the Princess was given a revamp and renamed the Princess 2. The main change was the replacement of the old 1800 cc B-Series engine with the new O-Series engine. The new engine was offered in two sizes: 1695 cc and 1993 cc. Since there was an 1800 cc tax barrier for company cars at the time, the 1700 cc O-Series engine was developed to take advantage of that, whilst the 2000 cc engine was developed for the private motorists who wanted something different from the popular Ford Cortina. The car had perhaps reached its pinnacle when the prestigious Motoring Which publication described the Princess 2200HLS automatic model as "An excellent car, marred only by poor reliability".

Production of the Princess ceased in November 1981.

The basic Princess design lived on in revised form until 1984 as the Austin Ambassador.[7]

Models[edit]

Models Years Engine Types Transmissions
Princess 2 1700 L July 1978–November 1981 4-cyl 1695 cc O Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2 1700 HL July 1978–November 1981 4-cyl 1695 cc O Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2 1700 HLS May 1979–March 1980 4-cyl 1695 cc O Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2 2000 HL July 1978–November 1981 4-cyl 1993 cc O Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2 2000 HLS May 1979–November 1981 4-cyl 1993 cc O Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2 2200 HL July 1978–January 1979 6-cyl 2227 cc E Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic
Princess 2 2200 HLS July 1978–November 1981 6-cyl 2227 cc E Series 4-speed Manual
3-speed Automatic

New Zealand — Austin Princess[edit]

In New Zealand the car was officially sold as the Austin Princess. Assembled in the New Zealand Motor Corporation's plant in Nelson, it was introduced to the market in 1977 and utilized the Austin 1800 B-series engine.

In early 1979 the car was re-engined with the BL O-Series OHC motor. Due to a conflict of the Austin Princess and Morris Marina competing in the same market sector in New Zealand, the Princess got a 2.0 L unit mounted transversely, while the Marina (which was face-lifted at that time and renamed in NZ as "Morris 1.7") received the 1.7 L unit mounted longitudinally.

Being competitively priced, the Princess proved a popular car on the New Zealand market, and proved to be a good alternative to the rear-wheel-drive Ford Cortina, Mitsubishi Sigma and Holden Commodore ranges.

Local production of the car ended in June 1982, when the completely knocked-down kits of the car had been used up. The Austin Princess R, the last model sold there, was still on new-car price lists in 1983, and was available only in black to commemorate the end of local assembly of a long line of Austin cars.

Torcars Princess Estate[edit]

The Princess designer Harris Mann intended it to be a hatchback and Torcars created a conversion designed to meet the growing demand for fifth-door saloons which was dealer approved. The Torcars Princess Estate was available in 1800 or 2200 engine sizes, with manual or automatic gearboxes.

The original sleek wedge profile was completely retained but the tailgate revealed an enormous loadspace accessible by probably the largest estate car aperture available on any European car at the time. With the rear seat lowered there is a load length of nearly 6 feet (1.8 m), a load width averaging 4 feet (1.2 m), a load height of nearly 3 feet (0.91 m), and an overall carrying capacity of 54 cubic feet (assuming Dunlop Denovo run-flat wheels and tyres are fitted, obviating the need for a spare wheel).

Also included as standard items not available on the standard Princess were a wash-wipe system for the rear screen is fitted and a fully carpeted luggage area.

Today[edit]

Few Princesses are left in roadworthy condition. By the 1980s the Princess was outdated and practically valueless; most went to the breakers yard or were dismantled for parts. Displacers for the Hydragas suspension system are now no longer manufactured, meaning that Princesses (and Austin Ambassadors) still on the road face a dwindling supply of this essential component.[citation needed]

Popular culture[edit]

A Princess was owned by Terry and June Medford, in the BBC sitcom of the same name. Similarly Bobby and Sheila Grant drove a blue Princess in Brookside (this was later replaced with an Austin Montego), until the opening sequence was remodelled in the 1990s, their car could be seen throughout the opening credits and was visible on the title-card.

The character "Lomper" (Steve Huison) attempts suicide in a Princess in the film The Full Monty.

The character Dirk Gently owns a Princess, which played an important role in the 2010 television adaptation of Douglas Adams' novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency.

Top Gear tested the Princess alongside the Dolomite Sprint and a Rover SD1, declaring May's Princess to be the best car British Leyland made, after it had performed the best in the majority of their challenges. Also on Top Gear, the car was shown to Jay Kay for his comments. He selected only a minor part of the trim as having any design merit and demonstrated the poor design of the engine bay by standing in the space left next to the engine.

A 2009 episode of the BBC police drama Ashes to Ashes (set in 1982) was called "Death of a Princess" in reference to a fatal accident in which a stolen Princess car crashed while being chased by police.[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Princess Development Story Retrieved from www.austin-rover.co.uk on 24 November 2008
  2. ^ Graham Robson, A-Z of Cars of the 1970s, 1990, Page 133
  3. ^ Michael Sedgwick, A–Z of Cars 1945–70, 1986, Page 24
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q "AutoTest: Austin 2200 HL". Autocar. 142. (nbr 4092): pages 20–25. 29 March 1975. 
  5. ^ Sales brochure for 1975 Wolseley Saloon, Free Car Brochures Retrieved on 6 February 2012
  6. ^ a b c "Buying secondhand: Leyland 18–22". Autocar: pages 51–53. 23 April 1977. 
  7. ^ Martin Lewis, A-Z of Cars of the 1980s, 1994, Page 19
  8. ^ Last night's TV: Ashes to Ashes, The Guardian, 28 April 2009

External links[edit]