Concepts and prototypes : Princess

Below are some pictures showing the development of ADO71 – or Diablo, as it was known in the early stages.


Wedge development

One of the first "Diablo" concept pictures, as penned by Harris Mann. The Princess character is already abundantly clear.

One of the first “Diablo” concept pictures, as penned by Harris Mann. The Princess character is already abundantly clear.

Two-door scheme never made it into production... (Picture: BMIHT)

Two-door scheme never made it into production… (Picture: BMIHT)

By August 1970, the first full-size clay model is finished - and it shows remarkable similarities to Mann's early sketch (above). Contrast this with the final clay model of November 1970, shown below.

By August 1970, the first full-size clay model is finished – and it shows remarkable similarities to Mann’s early sketch (above). Contrast this with the final clay model of November 1970, shown below.


Slippery wedge…

Not a glamourous picture this, but it shows the ADO71 undergoing wind-tunnel testing at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) in Nuneaton. This is actually a one-third scale model and demonstrates that the air flow over this model was pretty good for its day. Drag co-efficient was Cd0.404 (compared with 0.44 for a Ford Cortina Mark IV).

Not a glamourous picture this, but it shows the ADO71 undergoing wind-tunnel testing at MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) in Nuneaton. This is actually a one-third scale model and demonstrates that the air flow over this model was pretty good for its day. Drag co-efficient was Cd0.404 (compared with 0.44 for a Ford Cortina Mark IV).


Three-box alternative

What do you get when you cross a coke-bottle design with a wedge? This proposal for a three-box saloon was ruled out early in the car's development, with Saab and Rover P8 overtones. (Picture: John Capon)

What do you get when you cross a coke-bottle design with a wedge? This proposal for a three-box saloon was ruled out early in the car’s development, with Saab and Rover P8 overtones. (Picture: John Capon)


Frontal treatments

Despite the fact that the new Leyland management charged their BMC forebears with excessively resorting to badge-engineering, they planned for their upcoming "D" sector car to be available in Austin, Morris and Wolseley forms. (Pictures: John Capon)

Despite the fact that the new Leyland management charged their BMC forebears with excessively resorting to badge-engineering, they planned for their upcoming “D” sector car to be available in Austin, Morris and Wolseley forms. (Pictures: John Capon)

Many frontal treatments were tried... (Picture: BMIHT)

Many frontal treatments were tried… (Picture: BMIHT)

What's this Project Delta? (Picture: BMIHT)

What’s this Project Delta? (Picture: BMIHT)

Trapezoidal headlamps coming through... (Picture: BMIHT)

Trapezoidal headlamps coming through… (Picture: BMIHT)

If only... (Picture: BMIHT)

If only… (Picture: BMIHT)


Interior designs

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

13 Comments on "Concepts and prototypes : Princess"

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  1. JonBoy says:

    I always liked the Princess, i felt it was a great looking car let down by dodgy build quality, personally looking at the concept drawings i think they definitely got the right design to the market

  2. GP-DAV says:

    I remember seeing the new princess when it was first launched i was only 18 at the time and i remember my dad saying what has BL created here again, and i thought the princess looked awfull myself. Then back in 1998 i visited the
    Heritage museum and i looked at the princess again and could not believe how this car amongst others like the austin aggro and maxi and the awfull morris marina had ever made it into the showrooms. These cars looked bad to me way back then. The mini was the best looking car BL ever made even today the classic mini still looks cool- But Things have changed and moved forwards since the old days and BMW have moved the mini into the 21st century thankfully…..Phew !!!!

    • fizrar6 says:

      Everyone to their own taste but I thought the Princess looked great. My Dad had one of the 1st 18-22 Series in a metallic turquoise with light beige interior. It must have been one of the few with decent build quality.

      I guess GP-DAV prefers Eurobox/Shoebox designs but in 1975 the Princess was away ahead of its time.

  3. Graham says:

    The Princess was I believe the product of some unfortunate market developments rather than flawed thinking.

    The Princess was conceived as Austin’s entry into the mid-sized family car market, intended that it would sit alongside a heavily revised Marina and then its replacement. Given that it would have a very conventional Morris product in showroom alongside it, it made sense that the Austin product should be very forward looking car. Also given that Ford had succeeded in taking the UK Family car up half a size with each successive generation of Cortina, something that had wrong footed them in 1971 with Marina being undersized compared with its main competitor, it made sense to plan for the market to upsize again in the mid 70’s. However in this market sector the demand was more on show than go, so performance or expensive detailing was not important or affordable, hence why the car was signed off with sedate performance, 4 speed gearbox, simple steel bumpers and details like basic flat door cards and rear lights.

    However the economic situation in the mid 70’s was such that the market did not upsize and the Cortina Mk4 stayed the same size the Princess was over size for the mid-market but whilst it delivered the space to compete with larger saloons, it lacked the detailing or performance that class demanded and was reflected in the SD1.

    With hindsight had the Maxi been reskinned into a Princess like wedge (with hatch), then it would have had more success and produced and interesting and credible alternative to the Ford Cortina for the private motorist, although I think the fleet market would still take another 5 years before it would accept FWD.

  4. Erik Loye says:

    I was a BL dealer in Denmark when the Austin Princess was lanced early 1976. It sold quite well and had a unique design compared to the traditional Ford, Opel, Volvo and Audi competitors.
    Come the first winter we had to change all outside chrome and lots of generators and batteries. I don’t remember any rear screens popping out on any of the Princess we sold and serviced but heard some stories of it happen from other dealers.
    Shame that all BL cars was so badly build. BL’s market share was around 25% from 1975 until 1978. Sales were helped by a local 3 year warranty but the cost of it was prohibitive. So it was discontinued as from 1979. Not much fantasy is needed to know what happened to sales afterwards. I stopped as BL dealer in 1982 and became MD for Fiat and Nissan dealerships.

  5. Richard Davies says:

    I’ve heard of Allegros popping out rear screens when jacked up wrong or is that just an urban myth?

    Denmark had some interesting special editions during the BMC era, did this continue into the 1970s?

  6. Mark says:

    My nephew bought a Wolseley “Wedge” in the early 80s. It was a beautiful car (lovely to drive) and no quality issues at all but the fuel consumption was terrible. It returned low 20s mpg however you drove it. Extremely comfortable and practical. But why on earth didn’t BL make it a proper hatchback?

    • Richard16378 says:

      I did hear the reason that BL were worried about losing Maxi & SD1 sales to a hatchback Princess.

    • Spyder says:

      For BL to build another large hatchback in the early/mid 70s would have been a huge risk. The Maxi had not been a great success- party because the press did not understand it (most early road tests were against estate cars). VW had hedged its bets by offering 2 and 4 door versions of the Passat- a considerably smaller car than the Princess. Other manufacturers of similarly styled large cars, Lancia and Citroen, also played it safe and stuck to four doors.

      Of the three manufacturers that did offer large hatchbacks in the 70s, Audi, Renault and Rover only the SD1 was a success, in my opinion due to being a good car- not because it was a hatchback.

      • Kev says:

        In real terms, the SD1 was a resounding failure. There simply was no market for an ‘executive’ hatchback, and there still isn’t. In this niche, the market wanted 3-box sedans and estates. This is why cars like the Ford Granada sold so well. It’s why BMW have never offered a 5 Series with a hatchback.

        The SD1 was a poorly conceived product, poorly executed, and poorly built. It was a car that should never have happened, and cost the company dearly.

        • Nick says:

          The 5 series is now avalible as a hatchback. It’s called the GT although I wouldn’t say it’s been a hugh success

  7. stevo says:

    Liked the Princess, marred by the wrong name and then the change of name shortly after.

  8. Richard16378 says:

    My Dad can remember the original launch with just the numbered cars, leading to the wedge nickname, then a relaunch with the Princess branding, thought everyone seems to call the Austin Princess.

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