Concepts and prototypes : Vanden Plas Princess 2200 (1975)

The Vanden Plas Princess 2200 is a fabulous one-off, and it’s a wonder why on earth this vehicle was produced at all.

You won’t need reminding that British Leyland’s was a line-up which was hardly short of luxury cars, given what Rover and Jaguar were producing at the time. Here’s its story.

Vanden Plas Princess 2200: the one that got away

Vanden Plas 2200 Prototype

What we have here, in essence, is a flagship car designed as range-topper for the new Austin-Morris 18-22 Series (ADO71) of cars. Designed to sit above the Austin, Morris and Wolseley versions of the handsome Harris Mann-penned ‘Wedge’ range, it would be sold as the big sister to the Allegro-shaped Vanden Plas 1500, launched in 1974.

Unlike the Austin, Morris and Wolseley 18-22 Series models, the Vanden Plas Princess 2200 was designed with bespoke front-end styling and an interior swathed in leather and wood. It was an unashamedly opulent take on a brand-new car.

It would have been sold at a price above the forthcoming Rover 3500 (SD1) at launch in June 1976, and would have offered a level of luxury that the mass-produced mainstream executive alternatives couldn’t have come close to matching.

Vanden Plas Princess 2200: development

Vanden Plas Princess 2200 interior

In 1974, Vanden Plas launched the Austin Allegro-based 1500. The new car followed the same formula as all previous Vanden Plas Princess models. The cars were taken from Longbridge and shipped to Kingsbury where the bodywork would be painted to a far higher standard, fitted with a bespoke wood veneer and Connolly Hide leather interior, stuffed with sound deadening and trimmed with thick-pile carpets.

The Vanden Plas 1500’s bodywork changes were limited to a towering Vanden Plas grille and new bonnet – in short, it was an opulently-finished miniature limousine sold at a healthy premium.

At the time of the Vanden Plas 1500’s launch, it cost £2312 compared with £1939 for an Allegro 1500 Super it was based on – a healthy 15% price rise. But what became clear quite early in the car’s life was that it was profitable for British Leyland at a time when every penny counted.

Vanden Plas Princess 2200 interior

That’s why Vanden Plas pressed on and built a prototype version of the Allegro’s larger counterpart, the 18-22 Series (ADO71). It had tried to build its own version of the previous-generation car, the BMC 1800/1200 ‘Landcrab’, based on the Australian-market Austin Kimberley, but that car failed to make production. That was a shame, because it looked infinitely better than its donor.

The Vanden Plas Princess 2200 prototype followed the same formula, but the undoubted modernism of the ADO71 was a far more interesting starting point. It was put together in mid-1975 just weeks after the Austin-Morris 18-22 was launched – and was based on a Morris 2200 in manual form.

Following the same formula as the Vanden Plas 1500, the larger car’s bodywork changes were limited to the use of a Vanden Plas 1500 grille (more suitably sized for this car) and refashioned bonnet – with a smattering of badges and bespoke Aubergine paint job. New headlamps that blended in with the new front-end styling completed the transformation.

What’s under the skin?

Vanden Plas Princess 2200 engine

The real magic happened under the skin, though – with an all-new interior, dashboard, Wilton carpeting and lashings of soundproofing completing the picture. It must be said that, although the exterior is surprisingly appealing and far better resolved than the Vanden Plas 1500, inside it’s even better – Vanden Plas replaced the ADO71’s dashboard with a traditional-looking plank of wood veneer, and finished it off by fitting new instrumentation.

The beige leather seats are supremely comfortable, while the commodious rear allows the passenger to stretch out and make proper use of Vanden Plas’ signature polished wood picnic trays. On top of that, the Vanden Plas Princess gained electric windows all round, and was every inch the scaled down luxury car needed in an era of rampant inflation and fuel price rises – and perfect for mid-level Government ministers.

Time and circumstances, though, weren’t on the car’s side. When the Kingsbury-developed 2200 was presented to management, it received a firm ‘no’ for production. Although development costs had been minimal, and a limited run of these cars could have been profitable for the company, it was a victim of the rationalisation of British Leyland’s range in the aftermath of the Government bailout at the beginning of 1975. There were uneasy noises made about who would buy this car – at its anticipated launch in 1976, it would be expected to cost around £4200 at a 15% markup over a top of the range ADO71.

To put that into perspective, a Ford Granada 3000 Ghia cost £4588, a Rover 3500 SD1 weighed in at £4750 and a Triumph Dolomite Sprint was £3636. And with that, it was cancelled. Ignominiously for Vanden Plas, the Princess name ended up being applied to the entire 18-22 Series in November that year, following a facelift of its newest car just months after launch. That was that – the Vanden Plas Princess 2200 was dead on arrival.

Vanden Plas Princess 2200 badge

What’s its legacy?

The Vanden Plas Princess 2200’s legacy is quite a sad one. It’s the final car in a long line of dignified luxury motors that proved there was profitability in this type of vehicle. The Vanden Plas 1500 might have been the final bespoke production car by Vanden Plas’ Kingsbury works, but the Princess 2200 could have been a far more suitable epitaph for Vanden Plas, had it made it into production.

Consequently, historians might have looked on Vanden Plas in the 1970s in a much kinder light, too. As an end-of-line vehicle for its maker, its preservation at the British Motor Museum is both welcome and necessary. When Vanden Plas ceased building its idiosyncratic line of luxury cars in 1980, the name would end up living on as a trim level for mainstream Austin Rover models. The first of which was the Rover SD1, which featured the leather and wood trim that made Vanden Plas famous, but none of the bespoke appeal.

This was followed by Metro, Maestro and Montego Vanden Plas models in the UK and Europe, as well as being used as a trim level in North American Daimler models, before fading away in the 2000s at the hands of a short-lived long wheelbase version of the Rover 75.

Thanks to: British Motor Museum and Classic Car Weekly

Vanden Plas 2200 prototype

Photography (interior and details): Stuart Collins

Keith Adams


  1. Oh dear, what a sad, unhappy face this car has. Rather like its little Allegro brother this is one for the Audrey Fforbes-Hamiltons of the era who wouldn’t be seen dead in anything so common as a Ford, but of little relevance to anyone else.

  2. I don’t see how this car could warrant a higher price than a Rover 3500 SD1. The interior though looks better than the exterior. Perhaps a smaller grille with twin round headlamps would have improved it.

  3. A neighbour of my mother had the Allegro Vanden Plas, from brand new, until she died in her eighties a few years ago. I always felt it was an ugly beast, but to be fair, at least it was different, the interior was very well-appointed, and it was still working fine after 40 years, so I guess you can’t knock it really. However, let me share what I feel was a REAL Vanden Plas Princess, and worthy of the name:

    The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but I saw one of these at Grasmere Motor Show a few years ago. From memory, I think they only made about 4,000 of them, and more than half went to America. It’s from 1966, with a 4-litre Rolls-Royce engine, originally intended for a military vehicle that never happened. Utterly beautiful, far more so than the later wedge-shaped models, in my humble opinion, and undoubtedly a credit to Vanden Plas.

  4. As with the Vanden Plas Allegro, the Vanden Plas Princess 2200 prototype could have benefited from both a smaller grille reminiscent of the Jaguar XJ40 (then just beginning its protracted development in 1973) and the Lancia Trevi / Gamma 3 volumi prototype as well as a three-box saloon bodystyle.

  5. A good idea spoilt by that ugly grille just like the VP 1500. The aerodynamics were already not impressive (Cd = 0.404 I believe) despite the wedge shape without making them worse with a taller grille.
    They should have just altered the Wolseley grille slightly (or not bothered), keeping the low lines.
    For lovers of the Wedge there’s a Danish guy on YouTube whose account is called `Seaside Garage’ and he is restoring a Princess 2200 Auto (his parents had a Princess 1800 – with 4 headlights – when he was a kid so he’s fond of them) When he fires it up after discovering the mouse nest in the air filter box the six sounds great !

  6. The interior treatment looks absolutely gorgeous but the front end grill and lights are pig ugly. The Wolseley 18-22 with the four headlights looked really classy and that’s the style which would really have suited this car.

  7. Why a Princess when, to me at least, the logical car to do this on was the SD1 as a replacement for the wood and leather in a P5B for those who saw a Jaguar as a bit uncouth but wanted the gentleman’s club interior

  8. The idea of a posh 2200 makes lots of sense, but the economics of hand creating it in a separate factory doesn’t, if you then have to charge a fortune for the car.

  9. Something about the forward-leaning angle on the grille just looks wrong. Maybe in my subconscious I’m expecting it to fall off?

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