Buying and Owning a Princess
When the Princess was launched in 1975 it was unlike any other mass-produced car of its time and full credit should be given to BL for being bold enough to produce it. Compared with the other cars BL (and other manufacturers) were producing at the time the Princess showed that they could produce interesting cars given the vision and resources to do so. Look at an Austin-Morris brochure of the time and you will see that the Princess was probably the only car in the range that possessed any real design flair and style, which wasn’t difficult against cars like the Austin Allegro, Austin Maxi and Morris Marina. You could even be forgiven for thinking the Princess was made by another manufacturer.
Though a common sight on British roads during the late Seventies the Princess became a victim of its poor reputation (helped by almost weekly appearances on BBC TV’s consumer programme ‘That’s Life,’) and by the latter part of the Eighties and early Nineties a Princess or Ambassador was virtually unwanted and worthless.
Owning and Driving.
Today we can look back at the Princess without all the historical baggage that comes with it. It doesn’t really matter now that it wasn’t very fast; it’s adequate for trips to today’s classic car shows. The silky smooth six-cylinder cars are the nicest to drive, especially with automatic transmission, though the four-cylinder cars are also reasonably smooth in operation and, performance wise, there isn’t much between them. Maintenance presents no problems either as all models share the same basic mid-seventies technology which is very easy to look after.
Inside there is a mass of interior space with none of the clutter you find in modern cars and the driver’s seat on a Princess can be adjusted through 240 positions so driver comfort is not a problem. All models offer a reasonable level of luxury but the HLS models really are the best ones to have. If luxurious cruising is what you’re after then a 2200HLS with automatic transmission or an Ambassador Vanden Plas will not disappoint.
On the road the 2200 six-cylinder is obviously the smoothest and quietest and offers a relaxing and sedate drive. The four-cylinder engine cars are just as relaxed but you’ll probably find these engines feel a bit more lively than the 2200, though at higher speeds noise intrusion is noticeable and voices will have to be raised slightly at 70-80mph. Even so, the car will track straight and true and feels solid.
The soft Hydragas suspension offers superior ride comfort, though at the expense of handling as there’s a fair amount of body roll when cornering at speed. Most Wedges have the standard unassisted steering rack and this is very heavy, particularly when parking. The power steering doesn’t really offer much in the way of feedback either so corrections are nearly always necessary in corners but it is definitely worth having a car with it fitted and it can be retro fitted quite easily if you can source the parts. Overall though, the Princess can be hustled along with reasonable confidence but its forte is cruising. The brakes, with big four pot callipers at the front and big drums at the rear, are more than capable of hauling the Princess to a stop.
Is it a Classic?
The styling alone makes it a stand out car - it was way ahead of its time. The beauty of these cars is that lots of people owned them and they have a story to tell about them. They were a part of people’s everyday lives. A 1930s Bentley or a 1960s Porsche may well be regarded as desirable classics but how many people have actually owned or used one as everyday transport?
The Princess has featured in several classic car magazines in the last few years and is now taken seriously as a classic car.
As for the Austin Ambassador it was only in production for two years so it is quite rare, the most sought after being the luxury Vanden Plas version. Despite its practicality the Ambassador will always live in the shadow of the Princess and values reflect this. But if you’re after a reliable, practical and distinctive classic family car then the Ambassador is hard to beat.
So why should I own one?
People are quick to criticise products of BL; this is mainly because the cars are well known and most people know what they are. Everyone knows what an Allegro looks like so it’s easier to say that it is the worst car ever made - but of course it isn’t. Some of Leyland’s products weren't the best but the fact is, in the case of the Princess, the styling and design of the car was very good; it was BL’s lack of attention to engineering details that brought about the car’s reputation for poor quality. And most people haven’t forgotten.
These are now extremely rare cars and every effort should be made to save the ones that are left and even the bad ones can still yield some useful and hard to find spare parts.
The Princess is an excellent choice of classic car; they can be run on a low budget, they are easy to maintain, easy to drive, parts are reasonably plentiful and, above all, the Princess turns heads wherever they go. The Princess showed that British Leyland were willing to be creative and offer a genuine alternative to the rest of the mainstream offerings from other manufacturers. It’s just a shame that the Princess had such a poor reputation that many people chose to ignore it. In any case, clean examples of Princesses have recently been selling for anywhere between £3000 and £7000 as they have become more desirable to classic car enthusiasts in recent years.
The Princess celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2015 and this club was set up to cater for the increasing interest in the Princess and now in 2022 we are celebrating the Ambassador's 40th anniversary. You can join the Leyland Princess Enthusiasts’ Club here or you can look on both the forum and Facebook. These are excellent ways to meet like-minded owners and fans of the Wedge and look out for the latest events and classic car shows we are attending.
Go to the Princess Buying Guide