As memories of BL’s constant struggles throughout the 1970s begin to fade with the passing of time, we’re left with many legacies of a bright, creative and interesting car manufacturer that wasn’t afraid to introduce bold-looking and innovative cars. For younger fans, born long after British Leyland had gone to the wall, to be replaced by the all-encompassing Rover Group, the idea that the company which built these cars was wiped out so readily, can be a little difficult to comprehend.
But take a quick look through the site’s archive pages, and you’ll soon unearth what did it for BL between 1968 and 1986. There were the strikes, all-round industrial unrest, poor product quality and a messy model line-up that overlapped, was often not clearly aligned with the desires of buyers, and in some cases, were styled simply to lose. Okay, I am not going to point fingers at the Allegro and Maxi, because let’s face it, it’s no longer the time to come up with the same tired old knocking copy. Now, they’re quirky and appealing classic cars that you can buy for very reasonable amounts of money.
But looking at the dear old Princess (nee Austin-Morris 18/22-Series), I can’t help but cry a few bitter tears of regret. Why? Because I (vaguely) remember them being launched in March 1975, and as an impressionable five year old kid, I thought it looked sensational compared with my dad’s Cortina. Funny thing is now, that I still feel that way about the Princess – as you can see from the accompanying advert, in profile it’s still a remarkably handsome looking car, which in the context of its rivals, really was years ahead.
What tickles me about this advert is that the marketeers at British Leyland had clearly been struggling with the Princess’ USP – it was a supremely comfortable family car with acres of room and excellent handling. It was sized (certainly inside) to compete with the 2.0-litre executive opposition, such as the Ford Granada 2000, but was priced to fight the Cortina and Vauxhall Cavalier, for as we know, BL was great a straddling market sectors – and failing to conquer either as a consequence.
‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a 5ft ballerina or a 20 stone shot-putter, you’ll be quite comfortable driving a Princess,’ the advert tells us. Interestingly, the changing use of English over the years may have altered the meaning of that statement – back then, being ‘quite comfortable’ clearly meant very comfortable. But today, it comes across as being something rather more self-effacing. In the way that Telly Savalas told us that the view of Birmingham from the top of the Rotunda almost took his breath away, here BL tells us that its ambitious new product was pretty comfortable.
Of course, it could be concluded that BL missed the mark with this advert (and many others, such as calling it ‘not‘ the car for Mr Average), failing to make it appealing to the pushy reps queueing up to buy the inferior Ford Cortina. Their loss…
Today, I can’t help but love what we’re presented with, and as the happy former owner of a Princess, I can tell you that it’s more than quite comfortable.