Princess Special Six

The Special Six version of the Princess was a perfect range-topper…

And thanks to Stephen Harper, we have some new images of the design themes for its side graphics.

The sleekest of the sleek

The Princess had been on sale a mere two years when the Special Six Automatic made an appearance on the marketplace. As special editions went, it was nothing out of the ordinary – extra equipment, additional trim, and a full length Webasto sunroof. As 1970s special editions went, this was was pretty top drawer. However, there was a serious side to the Special Six – ever since the name change from 18-22 Series in late 1975, and the subsequent bad press the Princess received (simply for being produced by a government controlled car company), the new car was given the task of upping demand for autobox straight-six Princesses.

But why? By the end of 1976, it was clear that in manual form, the six-cylinder Princesses had developed a healthy appetite for driveshafts, and there was an underlying design fault at the root. The simplest solution was to withdraw the manual versions from sale while the engineers rushed to get a fix into production. The Princess Special Six Automatic was, therefore, concocted to drive buyers into self-shifters. In the end, the solution was to re-mount the engine!

According to the Leyland Princess website, its equipment tally was as follows:

· HLS seats available in all colours.
· Rear passenger courtesy lights.
· Wooden dashboard insert.
· HLS wheel trims and chrome rim embellishers.
· Standard black paintwork.
· Unique silver coachlines.
· Full length Webasto sunroof.
· Limited to a production run of 1200 cars.

Actually, it was a sensible decision, and offering the auto-only constriction as a positive was actually something of a master-stroke. As can be seen from the accompanying sketches by Stephen Harper, a fair amount of work went into the configuration of the side graphics, with some very bold options considered. In the end, the stripes chosen to go on the Special Six were quite understated in comparison with what could have been.

More interesting is the sketch below – also dating back to the same period. Clearly Harper was keen to use a six-light design to increase airiness. If nothing else, it predicted the side styling of the later Ambassador…

Keith Adams


  1. I knew someone who used to own a BL garage in the 1970s and they said that 500 examples of the Special Six Automatic were built.

    However, their own particular example did not have the Webasto sunroof, or any sunroof for that matter, but definitely did have the Black paintwork and special badging on the bootlid.

  2. Wow, what a good looking car with the six-light configuration, add a hatch and what could have been!
    I’d love to see one in the flesh (A special six) are there any left?

  3. I always thought they were such pretty cars. Not advanced looking, since I was still a little kid when the ambassador gasped its last, but just pretty. Something a little bit different and special (in the not dribbling during PMs questions sense of ‘special’ of course).
    I’d love another classic.

  4. what a depressing pile of rubbish,the “princess”looks like a cross between a peageot,at the front,and a semi detatched house at the back.ive noticed reading my real life crime magazines,the “princess”was a favorite car for peadophiles.the rover sd1 was such a better car.

  5. Going on the internet is a favourite pastime for Paedophiles, but that doesn’t make all of us Paedo’s. Stick to your crime mags.

  6. In 1978 I was a salesman with a BL garage in Wales and in July that year I had one of these – in November of that year I wrote it off in a big way! Wearing seat belts was optional in those days and after hitting a bank at about 100 I was thrown out. Broken ribs, punctured lung and fractured skull. Car was squashed and resembled a banana after somersaulting. I wasn’t very popular and never went back! Reg. No. PFF 353S – beautiful car!

    • I suppose you buckled up after that terrible accident, in the same way a teacher at school skidded on ice in his Fiat 127 and hit a skip. While he didn’t do a full dive through the windscreen, his face smashed into the dashboard and he resembled someone who’d been hit by Frank Bruno for several weeks. After that, he vowed always to wear a seatbelt and gave talks about how important it was for front seat passengers to wear a seatbelt.

  7. My dad had a lovely Princess special six when we were kids and always swore it was his favourite car. Even now he would take it back in a heartbeat! The reg number, if memory serves me right, was VOC 600S, anybody know anything about it? Especially if it still exists! Though I can’t imagine it does.

  8. Would the C-pillar window treatment shown in the sketch above that later appeared on the Ambassador have been an improvement for the Allegro (let alone ADO22 – albeit based the sketches available)?

  9. There was fundamentally nothing wrong with the Princess. It was a striking looking car, drove and handled well, and was a relaxing car in bigger engined form. Hpwever, issues with drvieshafts hurt sales, and even when these were sorted by the series 2 car, buyers were wary of committing to a Princess.

    • Except that it wasn’t what most British buyers wanted, which was a conventional 3 box saloon…

      • @ Maestrowoof, yet had it been well built from day one and production not interrupted by strikes, the Princess could have done well as all the reviews were positive. It was light years ahead of the elderly ADO17 in terms of styling, dashboard ergonomics and driving abilities, and could have been a worthy contender to top of the range Cortinas and large Vauxhalls, which probably were its intended targets. I’ve always been a Princess fan, even forgiving its poor start as the car was so good otherwise.
        Thew Ambassador, though, for all it was given a well overdue hatchback and carried over all the good points of the Princess, the detailing was dire and the interior was like something out of an Allegro.

  10. The leyland princess special six are a beautiful car. I believe I own the last special six on the road! She is the one on the photographs on this page. She is still in very good condition, drives beautifully and very comfortable. Just wondering is there anyone eles that has one. Her English number was ADX227S, her Irish reg is ZV9450, it’s a vintage reg.

  11. I always thought using Princess as a stand alone brand was always weird as nearly everyone called them Austins. The Austin branding should have been used for the basic models, with the HLS models continuing with the Wolseley Six branding that was used on very early versions of what became the 2200 HLS. I could never get why Wolseley was dropped as the brand had strong recognition in the mid seventies as a more upmarket alternative to Austin Morris.

    • I guess by the mid 1970s the Wolseley brand was seen as old-fashioned, & BL wanted to shed another brand from their overcrowded portfolio, especially as the Austin & Morris dealer networks were being merged at the time.

      My Dad remembered the situation being odd, with the car being launched without much of a name leading to the “Wedge” nickname, then being re-launched as the Princess just a few months later.

      The Austin branding returned with the Ambassador.

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