Keith Adams tells the story of the Princess Special Six Automatic. It was a perfect range-topper, opulently trimmed and looking sleek and timeless in black.
And thanks to Stephen Harper, we have some new images of the design themes for its side graphics.
Princess Special Six: 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 in March 1977. The changes that came with this model were not far reaching – extra equipment, additional trim and a full-length Webasto sunroof – but it served a strategic purpose. As 1970s limited 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 to Princess in late 1975, and the subsequent bad press it received (simply for being produced by a Government-controlled car company), the new car was given the task of upping demand for straight-six Princesses with automatic gearbox.
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.
Special Six equipment
As you can see from the Stephen Harper sketches above and below, early plans were for an even bolder-looking car, along the lines of the Allegro Equipe and Mini 1100 Special but, in the end, the complex graphics and blacked-out doorframes were dropped in favour of something more sober looking.
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 striking options considered. In the end, the stripes chosen to go on the Special Six were quite understated in comparison.
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, that predicted the side styling of the later Ambassador…