In production : Vanden Plas Kingsbury Works

Between the two World Wars, the Vanden Plas Kingsbury Works produced some very prestigious motor vehicles indeed – particularly Bentley, but also Alvis, Lagonda, Rolls Royce and others.

Here’s the fascinating story of this amazing factory – from humble beginnings to sad decline…

Vanden Plas Kingsbury Works: a potted history

The Kingsbury Works originally sat in the grounds of Kingsbury House, a 19th Century house at Kingsbury, near Harrow in North West London, which had been an orphanage in the 1880s.

Note, though, that this should not be confused with the manor house built for the Duchess of Sutherland in 1899, which was also originally called Kingsbury House but was later renamed Kingsbury Manor. This house – pictured, right, in 1971 – still stands in Roe Green Park, and is currently a home for the elderly.

A variety of large workshop buildings had been constructed there during the First World War, which were used for the construction of aircraft for the war effort, the site also having its own runway. In the early 1920s, it briefly became home to the Kingsbury Engineering Company Limited, low-volume producers of a two-cylinder light car but, when that company folded in 1921, the workshops sat vacant for a couple of years.

Where it all began

The availability of the Kingsbury Works coincided conveniently with the acquisition of the Vanden Plas coachbuilding company by Edwin Fox, the entrepreneurial young son of a doctor from nearby Stanmore. In its former guise, Vanden Plas (England) 1917 Limited, the company had been operating from premises at Hendon, but had fallen prey to the post-war slump in demand for bespoke bodywork, exacerbated by the rise of mass-produced cars from the likes of the Austin and Morris companies.

Fox and his brothers had bought the name and goodwill of the company for a paltry £6 and relaunched it as Vanden Plas (England) 1923 Limited. They set about building a strong reputation for high quality coachwork and, in the course of doing so, forged an alliance with the Bentley motor company (then based just down the road at Cricklewood) which would see virtually all Bentley models of that era wearing Vanden Plas bodywork.

Indeed, WO Bentley himself had a marked preference for the bodywork produced by Vanden Plas, and the association between the two companies was further strengthened when parts of the Kingsbury site were leased to Bentley to provide the London-area service department and the racing-car preparation facility (the illustrious Le Mans Bentleys were all prepared at Kingsbury).

How Vanden Plas moved to Kingsbury

In 1925, Vanden Plas acquired the freehold of the Kingsbury Works and, a couple of years later, the company expanded further with the purchase of two former aircraft factories on the site. At the same time, they also bought Kingsbury House, along with its lake, garden and stables, giving them ownership of some 7½ acres in total. However, in the leaner years which followed in the early 1930s, this portfolio was curtailed, to focus on the site’s factory buildings which were central to the continuation of the company’s business.

During the Second World War, the Works was once again to play a key role in the war effort, with a contract from the de Havilland Aircraft Company (whose factory was in Stag Lane, Kingsbury) to build wings and other components for its Tiger Moth and Mosquito planes.

However, immediately following the war, a failed contract to build bodies for Rolls-Royce left Vanden Plas scratching around for new business. Salvation came in the form of Austin Chairman Leonard Lord, who was looking for a company to build the bodies for its new, top-of-the-range Princess six-cylinder saloon.

Post-War changes

In June 1946, a deal was swiftly signed which saw Vanden Plas become a subsidiary of Austin. Six years later, the formation of the British Motor Corporation (BMC) from the merger of Austin and the Nuffield companies meant that the Kingsbury Works had become a very small cog in a very big wheel. Nevertheless, with confidence riding high, the Kingsbury site acquired an impressive new headquarters building in the mid-1950s.

Occupying a prominent position at the main Church Lane entrance to the site, the three-storey building housed a showroom on the ground floor, executive offices on the first floor and a drawing office on the top floor. Its main entrance sat on the building’s southern end, alongside a radiused south-west facing corner featuring glazing which spanned all three floors, behind which could be seen a sweeping spiral staircase.

As the 1950s were drawing to a close, demand for coachbuilt cars like the Princess was beginning to wane, leading to the discontinuation of the standard-wheelbase A135 saloon in 1957. With only the long-wheelbase limousine version remaining in production, it began to make economic sense for Kingsbury to take on the assembly of the chassis, as well as building and attaching the bodywork, thus producing complete cars for the first time.

Introducing BMC-based cars

Around the same time, a new idea was tried that would soon change the entire emphasis of the work carried out there. In 1958, a limited run of 500 Austin A105 Westminster saloons was sent to Kingsbury to be retrimmed in walnut and leather, emerging as the Austin A105 Vanden Plas. The success of these cars led to the launch of the Princess 3-litre saloon in 1959, based on the new Farina-styled Austin A99 Westmister.

The following year, the car was relaunched as the Vanden Plas Princess 3-litre, the Vanden Plas name having now become a marque in its own right. By 1964, many (but by no means all) examples of the Longbridge- and Cowley-built Vanden Plas Princess 1100 were passing through Kingsbury to have their upholstery and woodwork fitted, and their hand-painted coachlines applied.

BMC and Jaguar/Daimler had joined forces in 1966, and Kingsbury was subsequently selected to build the new Daimler DS420 limousine, whose introduction in 1969 finally spelled the end for the coachbuilt ex-Austin Princess limousine. In 1972, the DS420 was joined at Kingsbury by the Daimler Double-Six Vanden Plas, an upmarket version of the newly-launched long-wheelbase, V12-engined Daimler saloon (itself derived from the series 1 Jaguar XJ6).

The smaller Vanden Plas models

Trimming of the ADO16-based Vanden Plas Princess 1300 was also still underway, although within a couple of years it would give way to the Allegro-based Vanden Plas 1500, launched in June 1974. The following year marked the beginning of the end for Kingsbury. BLMC was in dire financial straits, and the Ryder Report, published in March 1975, recommended drastic rationlisation.

First victim of this thinking was the Wolseley marque, which ceased to exist when the 18-22 series was relaunched as the Princess range. Intentionally or otherwise, there was a certain irony in the choice of this new marque name as, up to that point, Kingsbury had been working on a Vanden Plas version of the car which was destined never to reach the dealers’ showrooms.

Video: Thames TV visits Kingsbury in 1975

To closure…

Indeed, there would be no further models launched under the Vanden Plas marque and, by 1979, it was finally decided that the Kingsbury Works had become unviable. In March that year BL pulled the plug on the operation, with production of the Daimler DS420 moving to Jaguar’s Browns Lane factory in Coventry, and the retrimming of the Austin Allegro-based models (now called the Vanden Plas 1.5 and 1.7) moving to the MG plant at Abingdon, which was by then also living on borrowed time.

Following closure, the Kingsbury site was inevitably sold for development, and all of the original workshops were demolished to make way for new industrial buildings. However, the impressive 1950s showroom building which fronted the site survives to this day: following refurbishment, it was taken over by a computer supplies company in the early 1990s, before being divided up into separate business units in recent years.

Production models produced at Kingsbury (1952-1979)

Model Dates Notes
Austin A135 Princess II/III/IV 1950-1957
Austin A135 Princess limousine 1952-1968 Austin name was dropped in 1958 and Vanden Plas brand was adopted in 1960. Chassis was also assembled at Kingsbury from 1958 onwards
Austin A105 Vanden Plas 1958-1959 Limited edition run of 500
Princess 3-Litre 1959-1964 Vanden Plas marque name added to designation in 1960
Vanden Plas Princess 1100 1963-1967 Available with 1275cc engine during Summer 1967
Vanden Plas Princess 4-Litre R 1964-1968
Vanden Plas Princess 1300 1967-1974
Daimler DS420 limousine 1968-1979 Built at Browns Lane following closure of Kingsbury
Daimler Double-Six Vanden Plas 1972-1979 Finished at Browns Lane following closure of Kingsbury
Daimler 4.2 Vanden Plas 1975-1979 Finished at Browns Lane following closure of Kingsbury
Vanden Plas 1500/1.5/1.7 1974-1979 Finished at Abingdon following closure of Kingsbury


The Site

Kingsbury Works photographed in the 1920s, when the area was still mainly rural. The area highlighted in yellow shows the approximate location of the HQ building which was erected in the 1950s (see below). Church Lane can just be seen running past the site in the bottom right-hand corner of the photograph.

The headquarters building

The 1950s-built HQ block, photographed during the late 1960s or early 1970s. The elegant lettering on the side of the building seems a little at odds with the obligatory British Leyland roundel mounted just to the left of the tall windows.

During the early 1990s the former HQ building was occupied by the computer supplies company Technomatic, who renamed it Techno House and used this striking image of the three-storey corner windows in their product catalogue. The railings which can be seen in this photograph look remarkably similar in design to the original ones, which may indeed have been recommissioned for this purpose.

The area behind this building, which used to be home to the Vanden Plas workshops, is now an industrial estate; sadly, none of the original workshop buildings remain.

Still instantly recognisable today, the building has thankfully survived intact as a business centre. The interior has been subdivided into business units which are rented out to companies requiring serviced offices but, as can be seen below, the reception area has lost none of its sense of impact. The building is now called Kingsbury House, echoing the original name of the manor house in whose grounds the old workshop buildings on the site were erected during the First World War. The road in the foreground is Church Lane.

This panoramic interior shot shows the building’s reception area as it is today, but also gives a clear idea of the scene which would have greeted visitors to Kingsbury in the Vanden Plas days. The main entrance doors are on the left, while those on the right would have led through to the ground-floor showroom. The base of the sweeping staircase can be seen in the middle, following the curve of the distinctive three-storey corner windows as it ascends.


Vanden Plas Princess 3-litres undergoing final assembly in 1961.

The upholstery shop in the 1960s, where top-quality Connolly hides were selected, marked-up and cut, prior to being sewn into coverings for seats, door panels and other interior surfaces. Cutting is a highly-skilled process, with the patterns used having been carefully designed to ensure that costly wastage is kept to an absolute minimum.

19 June 1974: end of the line for the Princess 1300, and for the Princess name itself within the Vanden Plas domain.

Daimler DS420 limousine bodyshell undergoing its dip in the primer bath.

Many thanks to Andrew Minney and Jeff Maynard for their contributions.

Declan Berridge


  1. Great story of another famous British automotive name, sadly no longer with us. Good to see the office building survives even if not related to its original purpose. My first employers office building still stands too, although now sub divided into units for numerous tenants. The good memories of a bygone era are still fresh though.

    • Dear Mr Stanford,
      I am wondering if the Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas Series III has ever been produced at the old Kingsbury works location? I currently own a series I and series II Vanden Plas, and I am looking for an opportunity to complete my collection with a series III, but i woud prefer to have an original Kingsbury works car, if that would exist.
      I would very much appreciate your reply,
      Kind regards,
      Ruben Freudenthal
      Burg. Den Holländerweg 1
      2391 MC The Netherlands

    • My Dad use work at vanden plas kinsbury he did the interior leather work and carpet his name is Peter Jackson

        • Hi Colin, does that mean that you might have worked on Daimler Vanden Plas cars through the 1972-1979 period? I have some questions on the fit out of these cars, which I would like to pose to you if possible.

          Best regards, Ruben

  2. Steve Stanford-did you know my dad Raymond Richarde as he worked at Vanden Plas Kingsbury 1963-1978?
    If you can answer look me up on facebook as it would be nice for my dad to revive some old memories

  3. I had an uncle who worked at The Kingsbury Lane factory in the 60s and I sometimes went to the factory on Saturday morning’s and used sit in these car’s as they were being put together, wonderful place, My Uncle Alf Hodkingson who retired and moved to Bury St.Edmunds.
    Did anyone know Him ?

  4. I think there is just one error in the story : the A135 standard wheel base car did not finish in 1957 . Between late 1957 and 1959 there was a small run ( I think about 200 cars ) of the Austin Princess IV, which was rather more streamlined particularly at the rear end than the earlier car and had the 4 speed Hydromatic box ( as also fitted to the 541S Jensen ) as standard. I am pretty sure that these cars were all built at Kingsbury, and one sees the odd survivor come up on the classic car websites from time to time

  5. Started work at Vandies 1972 straight out of school work in trim shop spent most of my time working on the line 1300/1500 Limo & double six .best times working with the mad man Ron Orchard.

    • Colin, we must be a similar age, I started a jaguar/Daimler apprenticeship in 1972 with Stratstone in Willesden, and when I passed my driving test the following year I remember driving DS420 chassis from Coventry to Kingsbury sitting on an orange box with goggles and gloves and not a lot of safety gear, mostly if I remember correctly to have hearse bodies fitted.

  6. Ah, the time when London had a manufacturing sector ! Cars, white goods, even electronics.
    It’s not just the North and Midlands that lost out.

    • London was a big manufacturing centre until the mid seventies, when the decline in manufacturing hit the capital big time, although a massive expansion in services saw London avoid the worst of the downturn. I do recall London producing goods as diverse as radios( Fidelity) and tobacco pipes( Dr Plumb).

      • London was also a big vehicle manufacturer in the guise of Lesney = Matchbox… The Vanden Plas name lived on for some time as a Jaguar model sold in the States.

        • As a child of the 80s, some of my earlier models were Macau made.

          “On July 11, 1982, after years of difficulties due to the economic climate in Britain at the time, Lesney went bankrupt and into receivership. Competing companies Mettoy (Corgi) and Meccano (Dinky) also suffered the same fate. The Matchbox brand as well as Lesney’s tooling were bought by and became a division of Universal Holdings/Universal Toys, where the company re-formed as “Matchbox International Ltd.” Tooling and production were moved to Macau.”

          I believe Jag had to use VP to sell Daimler models in the US, presumably sidestepping legal issues with Daimler Benz?

          • I remember having Matchbox cars made in Macau as well.

            Quite a lot of my toys were made in Hong Kong, Taiwan, & some other places, before the Chinese started to attract investors.

            As for industry in London I imagine the East End had a lot of factories as the docks made supplies of raw materials & distribution easy.

          • It’s interesting what London used to manufacture and I do remember the Matchbox factory in Hackney. Also you had factories producing television sets and radios, a whole set of factories supplying the capital’s considerable motor industry, breweries, food processors, Royal Ordnance armament works and even brass instruments. Sadly mostly gone now.

          • Jag sold cars in the US ad Jaguar Vanden Plas and not Daimler because in the US, the trucks were always known as Daimler trucks, even though they were branded as Mercedes Benz but the parent company being Daimler-Benz (at the time), so the “Daimler” name was associated with trucks.

        • Back in the late seventies/early eighties, there used to be a private service known as the “Matchbox Bus” trolling ’round Basildon picking up workers at the Lesney factory which was in Rochford I think, maybe Rayleigh; both were far-off exotic destinations to me at the time.
          It was around 1983 that the “Superfast”/”75” range stopped being displayed in those exciting plastic display cases in the shops and just dangled off a hook in a blister pack with no order or seemingly no consistency of colours or liveries. That’s when they started saying “MADE IN MACAU” underneath.
          For a good few years after that there was a range of older 70s models with black windows and no interiors sold under the name “Super GT” and were still made in England..

          Later in life I was privileged to find myself working alongside one of the drivers of the Matchbox Bus, a very nice man with many tales to tell.. Getting back to the subject, one of the original founders of Lesney was Jack Odell. He went on to found Lledo models, which (last time I looked, approx 1989) are made in England and have the old Matchbox style lettering underneath.

          Other notable London manufacturers of model cars were Lone-Star & Budgie. Nowadays I expect that the only souvenir Routemaster or FX4 model you can buy is from China,and nowhere near as crudely made, but lacking something..

    • I bought an Armstrong 626 receiver from a small ad in the back of my father’s HiFi World magazine when I was a student in the early nineties..
      It soon became unstable due to age but after a quick internet search (it was all written out on paper in those days and scattered far & wide) I discovered the same company was still in existence in E17 and although operating as a general electrical repairs shop were very happy to see one of their products from happier days. I still feel warm thinking about it, although the resulting burns were fairly minor and didn’t occur until much later.

      Uninterestingly that reminds me of Britain’s, a maker of toy soldiers and farm animal replicas that also had a factory in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow. I used to write for their catalogue every year and it would come (eventually)so sharply pressed and neat that I was afraid to touch it without washing my hands; the front bit with Autoway(1:32 scale motorway repair blokes), then a bit of army stuff, then the proper farming equipment and most importantly the tractors. Tractors are pretty dull to most people admittedly, but when you’re 8 and there are so many different makes all conveniently coloured by brand it’s more fun.
      Probably. Then there were the implements..

      All their (out of scale) stuff is made in China now.

  7. I worked in the lubrication bay in the service dept. In Kingsbury in 1962. As an irresponsible teenager not long out of school I got great delight in firing the high pressure grease gun the length of the workshop to land on the back of the fitter who had his head under the bonnet of a car being serviced! Needless to say, after putting 22 pints of auto gearbox fluid into a manual gearbox car ( and being made to run after the car down Church Lane to call him back, just following the oil trail) I was invited to leave after a severe b….king!

  8. Another legendary London factory, the art deco Hoover factory in Perivale, which closed in 1981, but became listed and was saved and became apartments. Sad to say, the Firestone tyre factory in Brentford, which was a classic art deco design, was demolished after it was closed in 1980.
    While not as well known as the economic decline further North and offset by a huge expansion of service industries and construction, London has seen a massive decline in its manufacturing industries in the last 50 years to the point where only one in fifty workers are now involved in manufacturing, compared with nearly one in three in 1972. Brewing, the motor industry, armaments, electrical goods, foodstuffs and textiles, which were major employers in London at one time, have largely vanished.

      • @richardpd, the docks started to decline in the sixties when containerisation and larger ships meant the 19th century facilities in London were too small. Many of the dockers who were laid off moved to new, modern docks in Tilbury, which replaced the older docks in London, and continue to be very important docks to this day. Luckily the whole area, which had become derelict by 1980, was conpletely redeveloped and regenerated later in the eighties and in the nineties.

        • Even when the docks were still in use the government started the redevelopment programme as it was inevitable that it would stop being a working port in the next few years.

          • @Richardpd, London’s industrial base has changed massively since the sixties, where the docks and manufacturing have largely died out. Now the city relies on financial services, IT, retail, tourism, central government and air travel for its prosperity. Also there seems to be one construction project after another in London.

  9. The magnificent Firestone Factory, the building was due to be listed commencing on a certain date, a secret demolition operation commenced on the weekend, with orders to tear down the frontage of the building. Office workers arrived on the Monday morning , their desks etc still in place but their papers and possessions blowing in the wind. a terrible waste, the factory was replaced with “yet another” tedious retail outlet.

    • Firestone seemed to be in a bad way at the time, losing a lot of money when some of their tyre designs were found to be faulty, and they tried covering it up rather than having a recall.

  10. Another loss to London was the coachbuilder for RR and Bentley, Mulliner Park Ward based in Willesden. Production was moved to Crewe in 1991

    • @ maestrowoff, London at one time was a considerable part of the motor industry. Ford at Dagenham is perhaps the best known factory, and still survives producing car engines, but at the high end there was Vanden Plas and Mulliner Park Ward, that I’d forgotten about, as well as AEC’s two factories in west London. I’m not sure if the factory still exists, but Connolly Leather, producers of leather seats for Rolls Royce and the like, had a factory in Wimbledon. Then there were Radiomobile( car radios), Firestone Tyres, AP Clutches and Lucas, who made ignition parts in Enfield, as component suppliers based in London.

  11. Another loss, the AEC Works in Southall, highly regarded commercial vehicle maker, the home of the famous Routemaster bus

    • I heard many AEC workers took a redundancy package but had no problems getting work at Heathrow.

      BL had quite an overcapacity of factory space for commercial vehicles in the 1970s, & being so close to London meant Southall was one of the more obvious ones to close as they would get a good price for the land.

  12. can anybody tell me the year that this car was made the tags on it is Princess 4 litre Vanden Plas (england) 1923 LTD Kingsbury London NW9 England Body No 10446 this next tag says British Motor Corporation replacement parts BMC Service LTD Cowley Oxford, England Quote Chassis V-DM4-15651 and engine SRD4 RS 27047 thank you

  13. The Vanden Plas name is probably better known to people under 50 as the top trim level on Austin Rover cars in the eighties. I wonder if any of the staff made redundant at Kingsbury had any input into eighties cars like the Metro Vanden Plas.
    Now this, like the Vanden Plas 1300 a decade earlier, really was an example of how to make a run of the mill supermini look really upmarket inside and no other competitor could match the upmarket fittings in the Metro VDP. Those which had the optional leather seats fitted really looked like a miniature Daimler insode.

  14. I worked on the ground work and shuttering for that building when l was 17 late 59 remember looking down into the part where the glass is and seeing the steel rod sticking up before they were encased in concrete.Remember it being bloody cold and scraping the snow off the acrow props. Just along the road was a cafe we builders used

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