British Leyland Princess
|1975 to 1978|
|Also called||Austin Princess (New Zealand)|
|Production||September 1975 - July 1978|
|Body and chassis|
|Class||large family car|
|Body style||4-door saloon|
|Engine||1.8 L B-Series pushrod straight-4 2.2 L E-series SOHC straight-6|
In 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 cc model bore the twin headlights, with the 2200 cc 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".
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.
An estate version was also proposed, but never reached main 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.
a Princess 2200HLS Automatic, the 10/20 Glassback was used as a showcase for the new Triplex 10/20 toughened laminated windscreen as well as the latest techniques in glass engineering.It was designed by the Ogle studio and was shown at the 1978 British Motor Show. It now resides in the Heritage Collection at Gaydon.
The base engine fitted was the 1800 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 The basic design of the engine dated back to 1947 and the unit with a claimed output of 84 bhp was notably lacking in power, although torque was reasonable. The larger engine, fitted to upper models in the range, was a 2200 cc E-series SOHC straight-6. This was very smooth and a much more modern engine, with a published output figure of 110 bhp, 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
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. 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. At the same time its overall fuel consumption at 20.7 mpg was usefully superior to the Ford's 18.1 mpg.The lighter Fiat was more frugal with fuel than either of the other two. 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.
Although its performance figures on paper were a little underwhelming, the testers were impressed with the roominess and roadholding of the Austin 2200. They found it quiet and comfortable, the driving position in particular representing a vast improvement over the car's predecessor. They mentioned in passing that the boot/trunk on the test car "leaked slightly", but did not labour the point.
|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 2226 cc E Series||4-speed Manual 3-speed Automatic|
|Princess 2200 HLS||September 1975–July 1978||6-cyl 2226 cc E Series||4-speed Manual 3-speed Automatic|
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, 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.