Car of the Month : February 2006

ALTHOUGH there have been several Cars of the Month featuring the Vanden Plas script, or the Princess crown badge in the past, we have yet to feature a car with a true link to the Kingsbury factory…

This particular car, owned by Karin Lukaszewicz from Aachen in Germany, features an additional novelty BMC had to offer at the time – the AP four-speed automatic gearbox. Even if the price-tag of this extra was quite hefty, it nevertheless proved quite popular, in particular with the upmarket Vanden Plas Princess.

ALEXANDER BOUCKE describes how, following a thorough restoration in 2004, Karin’s Princess looks almost identical to how it rolled out of Kingsbury in 1968.

MIDNIGHT blue was not this car’s original colour. The last owner, who also imported the car from the UK to Germany, changed it from a rather dull Almond green to the elegant combination seen now. One wonders why Midnight Blue was not available with Champangne beige seats from the factory. More changes applied to this car include the addition of a 1300GT brake servo and a large, colour-coded folding roof.

The car was originally purchased in a rather run-down condition, and it featured the usual ADO16 rust. It was decided to give the car a full restoration, while keeping the colour chosen by the car’s last owner. Fitting the engine and gearbox from a donor car left the mechanicals in a good order, so that little work was needed in this department.

So how does it drive?

When BMC’s engineers started thinking about fitting an automatic gearbox to the Mini and the 1100 range, they knew that using a typical two- or three-speed gearbox, little of the cars’ good performance would be left, due to the limited torque available. To overcome this, a compact four-speed box was developed in conjunction with Automotive Products (AP) which shared the engine’s oil, just like the manual transmission did. The Mini and 1100 engines received a larger carburettor and small changes in tune to compensate the power loss in the torque-converter of the new transmission. The more powerful 1300, as fitted to this Vanden Plas, was denied this treatment. Slightly shorter overall gearing compared to the manual transmission was choosen to get lively performance, but on the other hand the twin-carb setup, as featured on the manual Vanden Plas and other plush ADO16 variations was dropped.

From the inside, the most obvious difference over more conventional automatics, is the collection of unusual markings found around the gear selector. The usual parking lock is missing, but in addition to ‘R’, ‘N’ and ‘D’ the positions ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ and ‘4’ are found. These allow the manual selection of every gear, just like on a modern Tiptronic gearbox. It is even possible to tow-start the car in ‘2’ as an additional oil-pump has been fitted for this purpose.

Selecting ‘D’ after starting the engine proves quite jerky, as the gear moves in very spontaneous manner with a hefty bump. Once driving, the experience is completly different from most other automatics: This gearbox reacts with real alacrity! No slurring gear changes, no seconds of thought before changing into kick-down…

When floored at lower speeds, a lower gear is selected instantly. The same happens when lifting the foot off the pedal, a sudden change up one or several gears will occur. Together with a rather short gearing and the four close ratios, this behaviour of the transmission makes driving in town or on twisty country roads hugely enjoyable and entertaining. Once the driver knows the car a little bit, control of the gearchanges using the right foot is easy, so that the manual override of the automatic changes is rarely used. On the other hand, the car’s performance leaves a bit to be desired above 50mph, when the engine runs out of breath in third.

Although a top speed of 85mph will eventually be reached, the natural cruising speed is more around 65-70.

The classy interior including the famous picnic tables at the rear.

But how did Karin come into posession of this car? Here is her story…

Karin with her car near Dover during the first journey after restoration was completed.

“Why this car? Now, the first time I saw this car was at the house of my boyfriend’s parents. And, of course, it was the front with this big grille my eyes fell on first, not the rear which is, compared to the front, not very impressive but gives at least a nice place to put a sticker reading ‘When I’m grown up, I will be a Rolls Royce’.

“The second thing I discovered when going around the Princess and examining it a little bit more were the picnic tables in the back. Picnic tables! In such a small car! And this nice wood – real wood, not plastic – everywhere. Then there was the dashboard with these wonderful old fashioned switches.

“I melted away and heard myself saying ‘I would like to own one of these cars’ for the first time. This was an unusual remark for me, because my family never owned an old car, only new ones and these were mostly Fords. I still remember I suffered a lot in these as a child, sitting in the back and feeling very sick being driven along bendy streets on holidays in Norway. On the other hand, up to the moment when I met my boyfriend [that’s Alexander Boucke – Ed], I had never imagined there could be people owning more than two cars. Yes, that was very naive, I know… Don’t ask how many cars there are in the family at the moment.

“I own two-and-a-half cars myself currently: This Vanden Plas Princess, a green Golf MkI and half of a Rover 216, the car that I use to drive to work daily. The Vanden Plas is only used when the sun is shining and for holidays, as last year, when we went to Cornwall.”

The trip went as far as Cornwall – St. Michael’s Mount giving a beautiful backdrop here. Apart from a perished fuel line no faults were encountered.

Posing with fellow ADO16s on a local meet in Germany.

Alexander Boucke

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