Buying any used car is a daunting
task, but buying a classic that may be well over thirty years old doesnít
necessarily have to be any more complicated. If you are about to view a
Princess it may be wise to take a few things with you such as something to
lay on for getting underneath, a pair of ramps or a jack, a torch, and a
small hammer for tapping the underside of the car. Remember to ask the
vendor if he doesnít mind you being so thorough.
Starting at the front check for
rusting at the air intake behind the front number plate on Princesses; put
your hand in there and press gently. If thereís any flexing or crunching
then it has rotted. Especially check the areas where the number plate
bracket bolts to the valance which can be awkward to repair. Also check the
bottom of the front wings ahead of the front wheels as these rot easily,
repairs can be made here if the rest of the wing is good but if the carís
got rusty wheel arches then it may be better to replace the whole wing. All
front body panels are very hard to source now and they can be expensive
when available. The Ambassador frontal styling has fewer rust traps
and most damage is caused by stone chips, so check the front valance for
corrosion. Ambassador front wings are very easy to source.
On Ambassadors look at the roof above
the rear quarter glass as this area can rust severely and is difficult to
repair. Usually cars this bad are ready for scrap. Look also for signs of
repair to the A pillar which can also corrode severely if not attended to.
As a rule cars this bad are best avoided as they will require skilled
Look along the bottom seams and on
the corners of all of the doors which rust from the inside out - some cars
may well have had repairs in these areas at some point. Whilst checking the
doors check the door hinge pins by grabbing the back edge of the door and
lifting, any movement means the door hinge pins are loose but they can be
tapped back into place. Also look along the bottom of the boot lid as this
also rusts from the inside out, and check for dings in the boot lid as this
often gets parking damage. Ambassadors have a large and heavy rear tailgate
which is supported by two gas struts that support it when open Ė check that
they still work before you get under it.
Look along the full length of the
sills, mainly at the bottom of the front wing and at the back where the
sill meets the inside of the rear wheel arch, prod it and any maladies here
will be easy to find. Expect to find evidence of welding here but make sure
it hasnít been bodged with newspaper and filler. Note that there should be
a gap between the bottom of the sill and the pivot arm bush mounting point
(see picture Ė you can see the grass through the gap.) Check also all four
corners of the floor as they can rot here, too.
The stainless steel wheel arch trims
are becoming very difficult to source so look at all four carefully for
dings or scrapes. Later Princess and Ambassadorís didnít have these fitted.
Also check the condition of the drip rail trim which is made of plastic,
this is also difficult to replace as its profile is unique to the Princess.
Princess bumpers get tatty with age
and were prone to rust even when new but they are not difficult to obtain.
Ambassador bumpers are made of plastic and usually show signs of age and
have scrapes on them so check carefully as these are not so easy to obtain.
Check the condition of the
vinyl quarter panels and vinyl roof on Princess HLS models. They are
usually either brown or black; the black roof coverings are much more
hardwearing than the brown. The brown vinyl (the vinyl pattern is called
Leyland grain) is particularly vulnerable and splits with age.
DIY replacement is possible (Iíve
done it myself) but a professional replacement will cost around £200 and
for best results the windscreen will have to come out. And if that cracks
you may have difficulty finding a replacement; add to that removing the
plastic trim around the screen on HLS models - which usually breaks upon
removal - and the whole process can be a daunting task. Earlier pre-1978
Princess HLS models used stainless steel screen trim and can be reused if
removed carefully. The rear screen neednít be disturbed.
Whilst on the outside have a look at
the wheels, if alloy wheels are fitted check for corrosion and flaking
paint and make sure all four black plastic wheel centres are present as
these are almost impossible to get hold of now. Tyres should be 185/70/14
on all models, even alloy wheeled cars.
Princess interiors are hard wearing
especially in HLS trim, but look for a sagging driverís seat and check that
the seat adjustment mechanism operates properly. On HL models the top of
the rear seat backrest can fade and disintegrate; especially vulnerable are
lighter colours and later facelifted Princess cars and Ambassadors seem to
From the driverís seat check the
condition of the leather steering wheel on the Princess and look for cracks
on the plastic moulded dashboard on all models, also look at the Princess wooden
dash insert for chipped varnish (especially around the radio aperture) and
fading. Replacement door panels and seats are scarce now so tatty ones are
best avoided. Check the roof lining for signs of damage and sagging which
is more prominent in cold weather as again itís a skilled job to replace
it. The Ambassador Vanden Plas has a moulded roof lining panel which can be
removed and recovered quite cheaply.
Check the carpets in the front foot
well and pull them back on both sides and feel for any wet or dampness
here; thereís a large sponge-like sound deadening pad below the carpet
which absorbs water very well, press on it and see if it squelches. If it
is wet then it is highly likely that the windscreen rubber has perished and
water is finding its way in. Windscreen rubbers, once again, are near
impossible to find so caution is advised.
Under The Bonnet.
The bonnet is supported by two gas
struts so make sure they are still capable of holding the bonnet up before
getting under it. New gas struts are readily available. On all engines
check for a smoky exhaust - a puff on start up is fine but not under
acceleration or when idling, and listen out for rumbling bearings and
rattly tappets; the latter are only adjustable on 1800 engines. Of all the
engines the 2200 six-cylinder are the most fragile so check for regular
O-Series 1700 and 2000cc engines are
very sturdy and will go on for over 100,000 miles if well maintained,
though these engines have a timing belt so make sure itís been replaced
every 48,000 miles if in doubt renew it Ė itís very easy to replace on
these and can be done in 30 minutes. Also, unscrew the cap on the
thermostat housing and attempt to lift out the thermostat. It may need a
bit of persuasion but if it is jammed then the housing can be damaged
trying to remove it.
All engines are fairly coarse in
operation except the 2200 six-cylinder which should be super smooth and
quiet; the four-cylinder carís tend to transmit vibration into the
passenger compartment, especially at idle, but make sure the idle is smooth
and even without any Ďhuntingí up and down. All Wedges will run
perfectly well on unleaded fuel with a slight adjustment to the timing with
97 octane being the preferred tipple.
Check the radiator for leaks and make
sure it has anti-freeze mixed coolant and not rust coloured water, which is
a sign of a neglected car. Each engine size has a different radiator,
though the O-Series 1700 and 2000 share the same design.
All Wedges use the same Borg-Warner
35 three-speed automatic gearbox which is a sturdy and reliable unit if
properly maintained. Regular fluid changes are essential Ė the fluid should
be a light pink colour. Upon engaging gear at standstill there should be a
slight jolt. Gear changes should be smooth and jerk free. Drive the car at
a moderate pace and it should change up through all 3 gears before you
reach 30mph. Press hard on the accelerator at around 30mph and it should
kick down into second immediately. Odd gear change patterns can sometimes
be traced to an incorrectly adjusted kick-down cable; adjustment can be
accessed just below the carburettor(s).
The four-speed manual gearbox is also
a strong unit but first gear can be particularly awkward to engage Ė this
is normal, though this can sometimes be caused by a worn clutch or slave
cylinder. All gears have a notchy action and can be frustrating in use and there
is a slight whine present in all gears.
Chunky four-pot callipers at the
front and big drums at the rear easily haul the Wedge to a stop. The brake
pedal should be firm with no sponginess. Check for seized pistons on the
callipers and also check the flexible brake pipes to the callipers (2 per side)
as these perish with age and can be quite expensive to replace. Look also
for leaking or seized wheel cylinders on the rear drums. Repair kits for
both front and rear brakes are easily obtainable.
As with all front wheel drive cars check
the CV boots for splits then drive the car on full lock left and right
listening for Ďclickingí which means the outer CV joints are worn.
Steering & Suspension.
All Wedges are fitted with the
Hydragas suspension system. A Princess or Ambassador sagging on one side
may just mean that the suspension needs pumping up. The ride height should
be 14.5Ē from the wheel centre up to the bottom centre of the wheel arch.
Most garages have a Hydragas suspension pump; ask around your local garages
to check availability and expect to be charged for 30 minutes labour, but
it may be worth investing in your own pump which regularly crop up on ebay.
Budget around £100 for a used one.
If it wonít respond to pumping, or
drops again after a few days, then a displacer will need replacing.
Displacers are increasingly hard to come by and when they do crop up
theyíre not cheap - £100 is the going rate at the time of writing. A front
displacer can be swapped in around 45 minutes. Rear displacers are slightly
more complex to replace but seem to last better, but corrosion on the pivot
arm can make removal of the old unit very difficult.
The ride should be smooth and
comfortable, particularly so on later models. A hard or jiggly ride usually
means the nitrogen in the displacer unit has escaped with age. There are
individuals who offer a nitrogen regassing service to displacers (the
displacer will have to be removed) and although this may rejuvenate the
ride quality it is no guarantee of longevity of the unit as none of the displacerís
inner components are or can be replaced. Displacer failures after regassing
have been reported.
Check the Hydragas interconnecting
hoses for signs of perishing as these can cause fluid to leak, though there
may not be any sign of leaking as the Hydragas fluid evaporates.
Only 2200 Princess and HLS/VP
Ambassador models were fitted with power steering as standard and it was an
option on all other models. The non-assisted steering is very heavy,
especially when parking, but once on the move itís not so bad but by modern
standards, itís bloody hard work! Choosing different tyre types can help
with the ride and steering, as well as adjusting the tyre pressures.
185/70/14 size tyres are fitted to all models. Power steering can be retro
fitted quite easily and new old stock racks are very cheap to buy, but itís
worth hunting down a car with PAS.
Very basic 12-volt negative earth
system with only 8 main fuses which are located in the engine compartment
on the driverís side bulkhead on Princesses. Ambassadors have a more
complex wiring system and its fuse box is located behind a removable panel
on the driverís side of the dashboard. Some Ambassadorís have central
locking and electric windows so check these all work. Most faults are due
to corroded fuses or connections.
The Princess and Ambassador are
straightforward designs and should pose no real problems for the owner who
isnít afraid to pick up a spanner and have a go. Just buy the best you can
afford and keep it properly maintained and remember that the overall
condition of a car is more important than the mileage.
Itís fair to say that a late
seventies Princess 2200HLS is probably the best model to go for. It has the
silky smooth six cylinder engine and is really nice to drive. The interior
trim is extremely hard wearing and can look like new even after 40 years.
It is obvious today that the quality of the trim and fittings is superior
to that of lesser and later models.
Updated 28th October 2016.