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 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 ADO17 ‘Landcrab’. For the first six months of production three badge-engineered versions were produced – Austin, Morris and Wolseley.
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. 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 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.
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 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”.
Our Princess came into our hands in 2006 when an elderly relative wanted to sell her as he struggled with the lack of power steering. After a series of unsuccessful adverts were placed she came into our hands.
She had been bought from an retired gentleman in North Wales who purchased the car new in 1975 and went to a lot of trouble stripping all the trim off the car and Waxoyling it. He also injected all the box sections and inside the body panels. The Princess was in perfect condition with no corrosion at all and had never had any bodywork repairs. It also had very low mileage â€“ around 25,000 miles.
As with many BL or BMC cars you either love or hate them. Unfortunately ownership was not going be an extended one. I found the steering to be too heavy even at speed and the seats to be a ‘Brushed Nylon Nightmare’. After some well placed adverts, an enthusiast was located who bought her virtually unseen for a reasonable price. Just maybe if our Princess had been a later Princess 2 model with power steering and better upholstery, she could still have been in our stable.