Car of the Month : September 2005

Princesses have something of a fevered following among enthusiasts. None are more committed to the cause than Kevin Davis, who seems to be on a one man mission to raise the profile of this oft-maligned car…

Kevin has spent much time and effort tuning this ex-Peter Wood Princess into the car that BL should have always released.

Here’s the full story of the Princess ST as told in Kevin’s own words:

IT has been two years this August (2005) since I first purchased ‘Snappy’ from fellow BL fan Peter Wood, and in those two years Snappy has undergone a fairly dramatic makeover. The first thing that drew me to it was the colour; I have never seen and have yet to see another Snapdragon Yellow Princess.

Peter emailed me in July 2003 asking me if I was interested in ‘Snappy’, it was a runner but had a noisy water pump, though a new one was provided, and it needed an MOT as it had been stood for over a year, there was also the issue of the paintwork, which had deteriorated as far back as the primer in some areas so that needed attention. It did have a good service history, and all the old MoT’s to prove its 19,000 miles. Anyway, £200 was handed into Peter’s sweaty palm and I trailered Snappy to its new home.

The story of how this Princess was first restored can be found on the member’s page of this site, but I decided in mid 2004 that this Princess should be made a bit more interesting. After eliminating the idea of fitting a more powerful engine into the Princess engine bay, mainly due to technical problems which I felt were beyond my abilities and patience, my thoughts turned to making this Princess 2000HL into a sporting Princess that BL could have built and might have made available in the showrooms at the time. Also keeping the original engine wouldn’t compromise the cars originality.

More performance would be a good start, and the cheapest and simplest way to make the O-Series go better is to ditch the single SU carburettor and fit twin-carburettors, but I’d need an Ambassador Vanden Plas for those. A regular check on ebay eventually turned one up and another £200 later it was mine. It’s always a shame to have to wreck rare cars, but this VP was on life support and I decided it was best to put it out of its misery, so off came the carbs, and the engine and gearbox were saved to see another day.

The twin inlet manifold was fitted to Snappy, but I decided to use carbs from a Princess 2200 instead of the Ambassador as the latter have an ASU (Automatic Start Unit) which I wasn’t happy with. The 2200 carbs required a few modifications but went on without any problems. The Princess is some 150kg lighter than a fully specified Ambassador so performance is markedly improved, with mid range acceleration being particularly impressive – uphill isn’t a struggle anymore so it is definitely a worthwhile modification. I expect the power from the standard single 92bhp SU carb to leap to 100bhp with twin SUs. Fuel consumption has also improved considerably.

With all this extra performance now available the decision of what to call this sporting Princess was considered. First thoughts were to call it an MG, but it would have been a bit too early in 1980 for the MG name to be resurrected onto saloon cars. Other sub-brand names given consideration were Vitesse, Equipe and GT. Then I found the name I was looking for without looking for it. I was flicking through the Princess handbook where at the back I found a page about performance enhancements that can be bought from the BL Special Tuning division – and there was the logo, ST; that’s the one!

Next problem was badges, where would I get ST logos? Easy! I scanned the ST logo into my computer, printed it the size I wanted and placed it over some black vinyl of the type used for signs. I then cut around the letters and chequered flag with a trimming knife and, hey presto! 2 ST decals. I did the same for the rear decal using chrome effect vinyl, sticking it over a piece of matt black vinyl the same size as the HL badge on the bootlid. In a moment, the standard Princess 2000HL became the much more sporty Princess 2000ST.

Next to receive the makeover was the interior, the rather large standard clock on the Princess dash didn’t convey the sporting pretensions of this Princess ST, so an Allegro rev-counter was sourced and fitted in lieu – the face diameter and font match the Princess speedometer exactly – and it was easily wired into the system. A digital clock from an Ambassador was fitted to a slot cut into the gearlever console and it looks completely original. The steering wheel was replaced by a Maxi HLS 3-spoke drilled alloy wheel and instantly added an air of sportiness to the car.

Next problem was the seats. I was halfway there because the interior trim colour is black, but the seats had seen better days and weren’t by any means sporty looking. I had a set of seats from an MG Montego, but efforts to recolour the grey trim to black proved fruitless. The answer was to fit some Recaro seats from a Rover 800 Vitesse, which are actually ash grey but look almost black. Returning to ebay, a suitable donor car was sourced locally and I set about removing the Princess seats, ready for the Recaros. Fitting the front seats proved fairly straightforward, I just ground off the original Recaro bolt holes and had two pieces of angle welded to the seat runners to line up with the mounting points on the Princesses floor.

This works perfectly, you sit much lower in the Recaros but I managed to keep the drivers seat height adjuster on there. I also fitted the Recaro rear bench seat with a bit of modification, the seat is only slightly narrower but you won’t notice it. The seats were recoloured to black using ordinary scuff-coat shoe polish, which doesn’t come out.

I still think that BL missed a marketing opportunity by not having a sports model in the Princess range – all of its competitors did so, and when you consider the small amount of work required to make the Princess go faster it becomes even more of a disappointment. I suspect that BL just didn’t consider it a necessary addition to the range.

So, here we are in September 2005 and the original Princess 2000HL has become the Princess 2000ST. I’m proud of what I achieved with this car, and I think the enhancements are enough to make it stand out without going over the top, and people do believe that it was a factory standard model. It seems that others agree, and Paul Wager, the Editor of Retro Cars thought it was worthy of a four-page feature in the September 2005 edition.

But there’s more to do with Princesses – I’d still like to see a 200bhp turbocharged version with the T-Series Rover engine in place, that would be a very exciting car – all that’s needed is someone willing (and mad) enough to do it.

Keith Adams


  1. I like this car!! Its overall image is exactly that of an original Princess yet the improvements, alterations are significant. You could indeed imagine it as a factory produced sports model.

    I’d love to see this car. Are you going to the POL?

  2. A simpler transformation would be to shoehorn an MG Maestego 2.0 Turbo into the Princess, complete with end on five speed box if that wouldn’t be too much trouble.

    I greatly suspect that BL realised they were barking up the wrong tree size wise during the latter stages of the 18-22’s development. The 1800/2200’s main competitors, in size at least, were the Ford Corsair & Vauxhall Victor. Ford re-aligned it’s mid to large range offering, replacing the Mark 2 Cortina & Corsair with the Mark 3 leaving the Granada which came along two years later as the Landcrab’s nearest competitor from the Ford stable. The problem for BL is that this car’s engines ranged from two to three litres whereas humble ADO17 started at 1800cc & only went upto 2200cc. Vauxhall found themselves in the same predicament with the Victor (1.6 to 2.0 with the FD then 1.8 to 2.3 wit the later FE models).

    However in the same year that the 18-22 was launched, Vauxhall came out with Cavalier which matched the Cortina for size & three years later the Granada sized Carlton came ok. Ok in those early days, it only came with a take it or leave it two litre engine but if you wanted a six cylinder car, you could go for one of the big bonnet Royales with a 2.5l lump under the lid.

    Therefore I suspect BL thought that they’d come up with a white elephant which would give other cars in the group a run for its money & thought they’d nothing to gain in investing any more money in the car. Presumably this was after the three marque policy had been devised to decimate economies of scale & keep product planners bust for another six months after the car’s launch.

    It’s all a shame really. The 1.8 B was a spiritedly old (literally) unit with a pair of twin carbs fastened to it & surely it could have been mated to an overdrive gearbox. That’s assuming the newer 1750 E from the Maxi HL with its five speed box was too darned tall to fit under that sleek bonnet. As the owner of this “ST” intimated, large clocks in dashes do smack of Base model/L in Ford parlance so a rev counter would have been nice in the HL & HLS at least. And don’t get me started on the hatch omitted from the cars smaller & larger than the Maxi to bolster said hatchback’s flagging sales.

    Car manufacturers have often made cars in sizes which don’t conform to the norm. Ok the Corsair never sold in big numbers, nor did its predecessor the Classic but the Victor did ok for Vauxhall although how much of this was by stealth due to the chasm between itself & the Vauxhall Viva is a moot point. More recently The Rondas 400 & Civic five door & Skoda Octavia straddled the Focus/Mondeo sizes until the Mondeo grew in size at least all with at least reasonable & in the case of the Skoda, considerable success. In fact the majority of today’s mainstream manufacturers are aping the Princess having grown their mainstream family cars to cover their former flagship ranges. Moon does & Insignias are far bigger than their predecessors fifteen years ago & Skoda is muscling in with the Superb for those who want a Car a bit bigger than a Passat for less money & aren’t bothered about foregoing some of the style for the privilege.

    So maybe people will start to judge the Priincess less as a car that got left behind (although that probably happened quite often at the lights on suburban dual carriageways) and more as one that was around 30 years ahead of its time.

  3. Excellent job in making a Cortina 2.0S competitor out of the Princess. Looking at some of the shots, all that seems to be missing are matt-black bumpers, overriders and some spots to complete the transformation. I particularly like the interior – the dash was always crying out for a rev-counter, and the seats are far better than the brown Terry & June originals. I’m thinking that the later O-series with fuel injection and a 5-speed ‘box would have cut the mustard, however. for some reason BL was notoriously bad at warmed-up versions of its ‘cooking’ Austin/Morris motors – the only decent ones that spring to mind are the Austin/Morris 1300GT and Mini 1275GT. Otherwise the more enthusiastic driver would be directed toward the Triumph part of the showroom….

  4. The following is a letter (unpublished) that I sent to the boys at Classic & Sports Car about their Wolseley article in a recent issue.


    The Article on the demise of Wolseley (C&SC August) brought back memories from my years growing up in Dearborn, Michigan. Dad was an engineer at Ford who, in the mid-1970s, worked out of the Parklane Towers across from Ford World Headquarters. Affectionately known as “wash” and “dry” for their resemblance to top-loading cleaning appliances, the two towers often held a treasure trove of oddities and test vehicles in their parking lots. Inevitably, each has a small sticker in the lower left corner of the windshield enumerating which group within Ford was responsible for the vehicle. From this it was pretty easy to determine for what purpose it was being used (competitive analysis, powertrain, climate control, etc.), and fantasize what secrets were being discovered as a result.

    During the long days of Summer, it wasn’t unusual for me to hop on my 10-speed Schwinn bicycle and ride over to the Parklane Towers, dodging traffic on Greenfield Road, ducking down Hubbard Drive, and going to the western parking lot that sat behind a small grove of trees. Here Ford parked its test treasures, well to the side of the main parking area, and protected from prying eyes by a line of trees. Fiestas, Australian Falcons, domestic competitors, modified current Ford production vehicles and — occasionally — vehicles from foreign makers that weren’t sold in the U.S. congregated here.

    It was on one of these reconnaissance missions that I spotted a shape unlike any other. It was a four-door with distinct wedge shape, and looked nothing like any of the cars on the roads around Dearborn. This was the Bicentennial year, 1976, but this interloper from Britain upstaged the fireworks that July 4th. It was lean, sleek and sexy compared to the multitude of sedans trolling the roads, each seemingly with a “formal” roof line, “opera” windows, and yards of overhang. There was no clue as to what level of exotica was under the hood or even which wheels it drove. However, crawling around the car, and under it, soon revealed a transverse front-drive powertrain and beam rear axle. In a land of rear-drive everything, this car was exotic!

    Mesmerized by its beautiful greenish blue color, I forgave its reliance on a vinyl roof, and instead concentrated on the details. I knew nothing of Harris Mann, the car’s designer, at the time, but imagined that he had been greatly influenced by the Lotus 56 and 72, maybe even the McLaren M16. Though it seems funny to say it today, fit and finish weren’t bad, especially in light of the garbage that often rolled out of our assembly plants at the time. And the low tail lamps reminded me of another perennial favorite, the NSU R0 80, which also pushed the boundaries of style, layout, and — unfortunately — reliability. But what really surprised, other than the fact that the British seemed to use as much of the horrid plastics we used in our interiors, this car, which was oddly badged “Princess”, wasn’t a hatchback. It had a separate trunk lid, just like the 2.0-liter Pinto my father drover to work at those towers every day. Being a naive lad just shy of his 18th birthday, I deduced that British Leyland engineers opted for this solution because they wanted a bulkhead between the cargo and the passengers in order to reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels within the cabin, not because management didn’t want to step on the toes of the larger, hatchback Rover SD1.

    I often came back to the spot, even taking my dad over to see it, and have him decode the sticker on the windshield for more clues. Though he currently owned a Pinto, his previous cars, the ones that I could remember, included a Mark 1 and Mark 2 Cortina, and a tiny little Prefect of the era before the Anglia adopted the reverse-rake roof the Mercury brand over here called the “Breezeway Top”. British cars semed to permeate our lives. Another brother had a BRG Mark 1 Cortina GT, still another a Series 1 Lotus Elan DHC, and — later — yet a third brother (I have five, all older) would make a Mark 2 Cortina GT his first car. (I now have a Mark 2 Cortina and Lotus Elan S4 DHC, both from 1969, in my stable.)

    In two years, Dad would be diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma, and in four years he was dead. However, I kept going back to that parking lot as I made my way through the University of Michigan-Dearborn just down the street. Eventually, the Princess disappeared. Dad’s decoding work showed that the car was undergoing both engineering and styling evaluation, but that’s as far as our detective work went. The trail went cold until another Summer day in, I think, 1979 or 1980. While driving down Oakwood Boulevard past Ford’s design center and toward its Dearborn test track, I spotted a wedge-shaped car ready to turn into the road that cut between the design building and the dynamometer building. It was a two-door, not a four-door, had a grille that looked like it could have come from an electric razor, and had a dash-to-axle ratio that screamed this car was front-drive. Looking like a cross between the missing Princess and VW’s first generation Scirocco, it stood out against the backdrop of everyday cars in which it found itself. And then, suddenly, it was gone. It was much later that I learned it was the sports coupe portion of a mid-size front-drive project within Ford. Beyond that, I have very little information other than, unlike the Princess, it was a hatchback.

    Thank you for stirring memories of the Summer of ’76 and my crossing paths with a Princess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.