News : Pre-production Princess to star at NEC Classic Motor Show

Pre-production Princess (1)

The Leyland Princess website, which is celebrating its 10th birthday, has pulled off quite a coup for its stand at the 2013 Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show held at the NEC in Birmingham on 15-17 November. It will be showing a pre-production 18-22-series Princess (above and below), which site creator Kevin Davis has confirmed was number 15 built, in June 1974.

The pre-production model is particularly fascinating because it was registered in July 1974 as a Wolseley before having its identity changed to a Princess over the years. Along with the other pre-production cars, this car was also a mule to test new or remodelled components.

Kevin Davis also said: ‘the car still has its fascinating hand-written engineering log book that describes every change made to the car during its life as a mule, describing changes in detail such as modified suspension components, different ride height settings, braking systems, steering, driveshafts, grilles, bonnets and so on.’

He continues: ‘The car is also unique as it is finished in BL’s blaze orange; a colour that was never adopted for the 18-22 Series Princess once it went into production in March 1975.’

the car still has its fascinating hand-written engineering log book that describes every change made to the car during its life as a mule

This car has recently been recommissioned after 30 years by its owner Martin Nancekievell, who has owned the car since 1977, and the story of how he came to own the car is almost as interesting as the car itself. Kevin adds, ‘He’ll be at the show and will be pleased to go over the details of this unique Wedge with anyone who is interested. As far as anyone knows this is the oldest surviving roadworthy Princess and we’re pleased to present it at the Classic Motor Show 2013.’

The pre-production car will be the centrepiece on a stand that will also be showing a selection of models that includes a 1979 Princess 2 2000HL, a 1979 Princess 2 1700HL in Pageant blue, the famous 1980 Princess 2 2000ST in Snapdragon, and a 1983 Austin Ambassador 2.0HL in Cashmere gold.

Pre-production Princess (3)

Keith Adams


  1. Another car that should have used the 1750 E instead of the Allegro (the first being the Marina). That way the much needed five speed gearbox could have been used to help it compete against cars such as the Renault 16 then 20 & Citroen CX, not to mention the humble Vauxhall VX2300 that even came with me at the end!

    Anybody know why the E6 never used a five speed box whereas the E4 did? Too much torque by any chance?

  2. Shame it is not dressed as a Wolseley as originally built. Would stand out more and look like a pre-production more. At the moment, looks more like it has had a number plate transfer.

    Top job to Martin for looking after this car and how we’ll it is now presented.

  3. Landyboy, Stuart is indeed Martin’s brother. The photo is of the actual car but to see it properly you need to see it at the show where all the detail differences can be seen.

  4. A relative of mine once owned the Wolseley version . I preferred the Wolseley type as I thought it gave the car more visual presence . Gorgeous 6 cylinder engine also .

  5. When they first came out didn’t they all have the one piece headlights then it was decided not long afterwards to change the 1800 models to four round lucas types and leave the 2200 with the large singles?. Nice looker and dare I say doesn’t look to out of place on todays roads!

  6. A lovely looking example. I also assumed it might have had the original Wolseley grille and twin headlamps, but no matter. I remember “Blaze Orange” on the MGB V8 and it looks good on this Princess too. Well done Martin.

  7. A picture of sister vehicle SMG411M appears on the Leyland Princess website. What doesn’t help with the orange car is the 2001-onwards font used for the numberplates. Not sure what happened to the original set.

  8. In answer to (5) Phil Simpson, the manual transmission used on the 1800 and 2200 ADO 17 Land Crab and ADO71 models basically used C-series gear train components in a transverse box, and there simply wasn’t a 5 speed version of the C Series. There wasn’t money available at this stage to engineer a dedicated 5 speed unit. Torque isn’t a problem with overdriven 5th gears, they are the least-stressed ratios of all.

    The disposition of E and B Series engines was primarily down to production capacities of the various engines – in fact at one point of the ADO 71 programme, it was due to use the 1750 unit, until it became clear that the ADO 67 Allegro range would require all available E Series 4 cylinder production volume. I think that the 1800 B Series was actually better-suited to the fairly heavy Princess, having better low end torque.

  9. This design really has stood the test of time. I remember these as great cars in their day – extremely roomy and comfortable. But oh, the build quality …

  10. Aye, still looks the part. I fancy having a look for a Princess soon, not silly money to procure either.

  11. A great looking car, but have never understood where British Leyland thought they were going in the market. However reading British Leyland Chronicle of a Car Crash 68-78, I saw the logic that following the success of the Mk3 Cortina and before the recession that followed the 74 Fuel Crisis, 3 day week etc, they expected the fleet market to move up a size to the Princess.

    They were in fact by a double whammy as they had also expected the focus for the Allegro market to be on the 1500 and 1750 as that moved up as well, but again that market remained focused on 1100 and 1300 which lacked the charm of when they had been in the ADO16.

  12. Considered a big car in its day, but now dwarfed by what looks like a Mercedes A Class parked next to it! – A very good looking car, particularly with the trapezoidal head lights that all the cars should have had. A real shame BL wern’t able to capitalise on the early success of the car in 1975. The sudden change of identity to Princess, the lack of development, odd engine displacements, shoddy early build, 2200 drive shaft disasters and the reluctance to add a Hatchback until the very end of its life killed the car stone dead in the market

  13. ….And why didnt they offer it in that wonderful Orange colour? Did someone really stand back and say, you know, it looks much better in beige.

  14. What a lovely car! Not many are ever so distinctive, advanced when compared to rivals – I mean to say, Cortina vs Princess!!!

  15. Gorgeous car! One thing bothers me though – IIRC, wasn’t the Princess 2 sold in a very similar colour? I’m sure a friend of my Dad owned one.

  16. My father was a bus driver with London Transport for many years. One of the garage mechanics was a Hungarian, and he churned back and forth across Europe, visiting in his Princess for about a decade without a hickkup, despite the anti BL derision he got from colleagues.

    Another example perhaps of a car that perhaps was a lot better than all the bar room know-alls reckoned. For a car design just about on its 40th birthday, it still looks surprisingly fresh, when compared with other vehicles of the time.

    What let it down, as with so many other BL/ARG products was poor build quality at the beginning of production, that was remedied too late to save the reputation of the car.

    It proved to be a great shame that BL never produced it as a hatchback, when the car market were heading that way. The body shape cried out for this feature and BL had expereince of this with the Maxi – it probably cost a lot of sales.

    This was of course changed with the Ambassador, though that will never be anything other than a footnote in car history.

    The marketing of the Princess was always a bit odd – I was never altogether sure what it was supposed to be with all the badge changes and rebranding. Nice to see an early one has survived.

  17. Never thought the styling looked right on these. Wheelarches too flared, side panels scalloped inwards, awkward rear end. The front view looks ok though. The ride height always looked too high. How did the engineers get the angle of the driveshafts wrong so they wore out quickly?
    To me, these typify BL’s problems – unwieldy styling, poor preproduction development and reliability and the car’s size was in between segments. My father ran Austins in the 60’s but in ’76 (after an Allegro)he bought a Cavalier and never looked back.

  18. The reason why the ADO71 didn’t have a hatchback from the start is a simple one – the big guys, especially Spen King, were scared that another, cheaper, big executive hatch, would take sales away from their beloved SD1. It wasa s simple as that. At PSF, we had schemes for a hatch ADO71 in the mid and late 70’s, but they were rejected constantly.

  19. @27 I have heard it said that the overly slab like sides of the Princess was a reaction to the overly curved sides of the Allegro both by the styling studio and the tool makers.

    Not sure how much truth is in the story but could imagine it being in the minds of the people on the job at the time.

  20. #26 – too right! Why did BL/Rover fid it so hard to align themselves with established market segments, when every other manufacturer managed it? Always trying to straddle two segments with a single model, and then wondering why buyers found it too expensive compared to the segment below, and too small compared to the segment above. They carried on with this doomed strategy right up until the end, with the Rover HHR/400 and the 75.

  21. Sorry meant to write @26 not 27, sorry Kev

    Kev do you have any information on the from the frontline about the Princess Estate?

  22. The orange colour on the pre-production car looks great, BTW. As others said, it’s a shame it never made it onto the production cars, although understandable given the “Terry & June” target market…

  23. @29 Often a lack of funds, but also understand that the Princess was a response to having Ford wrong footed them in the market with the Cortina Mk3 v the Marina and then they were wrong footed by the mid 70’s fuel crisis.

    Also you could say the same gap existed between Golf v Passat and GS v CX in the mid 70’s so maybe they were also wrong footed by the Fuel Crisis?

  24. Could’ve been BL’s BX.
    Perhaps with a proper hatch and if the diesel engine that was explored was put into production….?

    The diesel engine that made the BX popular – the XUD – was later fitted to the R8 200/400.

    The Ambassador should never have gotten rid of the Princess’ Peugeot-style headlights. The square Ital-style units always looked frumpy to me. Like a big pair of 80s glasses.

  25. The Princess was available in Vermillion orange from 1978, which is slightly darker than blaze but just as striking.

  26. On a separate note, has there ever been a more weak and insipid name than “Princess”? I wasn’t around at the time, but I thought the 70s were supposed to be an era of unreconstructed manliness.

    Given some of the other great names of the era – Stag, Hunter, Avenger, Cavalier – how was Seventies Man supposed to maintain his manly image with such a girly-named car? Changing the name to Ambassador was a small step towards reclaiming some authority, but it was too late…

  27. @ Kev you may know the answer on this.

    The Princess was a soft car being set up very much for comfort over the drive. This was I think a mistake at a time when the age of middle managers were getting younger the fleet market for this car was aspiring to something a little sportier, ie an SD1.

    So do you know if the Princess was made soft to protect the SD1 and the still born SD2?

    Adding to your earlier point had the SD2 arrived into the market along with a Hatchback Princess, was that just too many hatches with Maxi, Princess, SD2, SD1?

  28. @Andy

    The name would probably sell nowadays, albeit as a ‘premium city car’ to the crowd who put headlamp eyelashes and pink seatcovers on their cars.

    Names now are increasingly childish, possibly relating to popular technology names such as ‘Wii’, ‘Google’, ‘Twitter’ – has given rise to the likes of ‘Adam’, ‘Mokka’, ‘Mii’/’Citigo’/’UP!’.

  29. Re 39: Car names aren’t deliberatly ‘childish’. The simple fact is that all of the good names have been taken – either used, or copyrighted. The big companies have departments to come up with new names. That’s why you get meaningless names like ‘Friende Bongo’ (Mazda)and ‘Cedric’ (Nissan). How about the ‘Life Dunk’ (Honda)? How about ‘GIGA 20 Light Dump’ (Izuzu)? Or the ‘Fodil’ (Daf)? Snipe (Humber)?

  30. Where does Fodil come from ? It was the Daffodil which is rather appropriate for the only Dutch manufacturer . And the Humber Snipe was one of a long list of cars from various manufacturers named after birds ( usually of the feathered variety )

  31. I’m not so sure the lack of a hatchback affected sales. We should remember that few of its competitors offered one – a fifth door was seen as the preserve of the supermarket car-park, or windswept camping holidays in Devon. Or the French. Ford and Vauxhall only started to offer hatchbacks on mid-market cars in the 1980s. To my mind, it was doomed as soon as its name was so rapidly changed and news of its unreliability was spread by a hostile press.

  32. I remember coming south on my motorbike along the Abingdon bypass, (A34) some time in 1975, and happening upon a little convoy of these cars. Of course I didn’t know what they were because the launch had not then taken place. I always though the design was OK ,but as was proved later, the build quality was absolutely dire and they soon became a bit of a laughing stock to be honest. Of course we were in the 70s, that decade of complete and utter madness, (barking mad insanity even), in Great Britain

  33. I always thought the name Princess was chosen because it may have been the intention to see this car as a kind of low entry late successor of the Big Vanden Plas Princess Limousine (and of course the Morris Oxfords and Cambridges). Rolls Royce stepped away from their big sixties limousines with the Silver Shadow, so why not BMC/Leyland from the Big Princess Limousine to the modern handsome (?) 1974 Princess.

    Do not forget that Leyland was in a difficult package when they had to take over the BMC-Jaguar Car divisions, kind of forced by government. They had already taken on Rover and long before that Triumph and they had to rationalize all these products to a logical range of cars, where of course there also was a lot of Management competition between the separate companies. Not an easy task. At the same time the UK had to open their market for the Euro competition with lower import taxes. Leyland must have underestimated that effect. Mind you… position yourselves in the shoes of Donald Stokes, only having the information you than had… Would you have done it right? i think Leyland tried hard, but had to keep to many balls in the air and then colapsed. Their decisions were just too late with too limited budget…. Oh now I stop… With BL you can just keep on debating, because it was there in so many places… And it still is in many ways funny enough with Mini, Leyland (DAF), LR/Jag, Ashok, BMC Turkeye, SAIC MG Roewe Maxus, Multipart… It is all still there… just different… Isn’t it great 😉

  34. I think we need to be careful about criticising the ethos and persona of a decade from the past. Considering the ‘femininity’ of the name Princess in a derogatory way, misses the point that no one found it out of place in this way – at the time.
    I also don’t hold with the idea that manufacturer’s are coming up with (in many people’s opinions) daft and off the wall names , like Juke and UP! because they have run out of good names.
    In my portfolio of car styling exercises I have whole ranges of cars from SMART car size to luxury saloons and sports cars. Every one of them has a name that conjures up a physical or spiritual idea relative to the strength of that model. Many car manufacturer’s have done this but none so eloquently as Lotus with the Esprit. (One spiritual thought).
    If some of us think UP is naff now – goodness knows what our grandchildren will think of it 40 years time!

  35. Kev – October 3, 2013
    Car names only become ‘meaningless’ when considered outside their target market.

    All that pseudo Japanese/Chinese on the Superdry’s clothing is actually mumbo jumbo and doesn’t make any sense, but it sells well in here in the UK.

  36. Colourwise its Blaze and is correct for the year (My Marinas the same colour) the later similar red I believe is called vermillion.


  37. A handsome car, particularly in 2200HLS form with the trapezoidal lights. Has aged extremely well.

    Only the rear end seemed awkward. Would be interesting to mock up a vertical rear-light arrangement or even L shapes, a-la Avenger.

    I remember the comfort, the lovely 6 cyl engine. Rosytintyvision remembers fluid-squish sounds from the PAS being the loudest sounds heard on the move.

  38. The car would look more authentic if it had a period number plate rather than a post-2001 one. It always surprises me how many people do decent restorations then stick a plate like that on.

  39. I agree, you see it also on period film and telly stuff too. The anorak in me screams NOOOOOOO! For £20 get proper plates!


  40. @ Mark Williams and Tony:

    I agree with you on this. It really irritates me to see a thorough restoration project let down by wearing either the wrong font on its number plates, or acrylic number plates in place of the original aluminium plates with raised letters. Look at Gene Hunt’s Audi UR Quattro on Ashes to Ashes, for example…

    @ Richard Davies:

    There are plenty of these number plate companies who still offer this service without charging the earth. Most can be found advertising in the back of a classic car mag or newspaper (e.g. Classic Motor Monthly) or by visiting a reasonably large classic car show such as the Classic Motor Show at the NEC next month or the Bristol Classic Car Show at the Bath and West Showground. Most traders will make them up within the hour at one of these events and simply need to see your V5C document as prove that it is your car.

    Trouble is, classic car owners and restorers will simply go along and ask for new number plates to be made up and not specify the “pre-2001 font”. Therefore, the number plate setter will assume that the current font is acceptable. An amazing oversight by the vehicle’s restorer or owner.

  41. Re number plates – its not as easy as you suggest. I found it really difficult when I came to replace the worn-out reflective, pressed plates for my 1972 Escort van. The best I could find were companies offering refective plates with raised, plastic digits, or pressed plates with the ‘computer’ font that were briefly popular around 1980. Reflective plates with raised letters were fast becoming an oddity even in 1972.

  42. Interesting comments. For your information this car hasn’t been restored let alone “thoroughly restored” although it has been recommissioned after 30 years none use. This is an ongoing process. The photo at the start of this post was taken as it went for its MoT in the perhaps mistaken belief that it needed modern plates to pass. The car will not look like the photo when it appears at the NEC. It will have its own unique grille and will be on period plates to name but 2. I hope this appeases the intense irritation the original photo seems to have caused……
    As I say it is not restored but it looks good from 2 yards (albeit doesn’t stand close scrutiny) and has a very interesting history. I look forward to your coming to see it and, if you think appropriate, to criticise in person at the NEC, Hall 12, in November! See you then.

  43. Happens a lot when you put a car online, Martin – people like to have their say (and I encourage them to do so), but sometimes they can be brutal, too. I remember when I had my SD1 restored in Poland, there were many helpful comments about the state of my ‘work in progress’. My Lancia Integrale, too – the funniest of which is that it’s riding too high. It isn’t – most are just lowered by owners who obsess about ‘stance’ over dynamic capability. But don’t let it bother you – it’s a great car, and only a handful of people have made comments about your ‘plates.

    I think your car’s an incredibly unique part of Princess history – and as I said in my original piece via Kevin, I just spoke of it being recommissioned – so, am not sure where the ‘thoroughly restored’ comment comes from.

  44. Andy 35. Blinking heck, you are so right about the name. I’d honestly not thought about it in that context (and I was around at the time). Ambassador was a much better name, but it had been lost by then. I remember as a ten year old being quite excited about a new BL car, then being disappointed and confused that it was just a rebrand.

  45. Fascinating. Lovely colour. Interesting history. I’ll try and get to the NEC just to see this car!

  46. Looks good in red. Such a shame that so many were painted in horrid giffer spec colours towards the end. Also the vinyl roof. What was BL thinking? The base specs ones look far better and more modern without any vinyl on their c pillars or roof at all.

    Another odd characteristic of BL was their insistence on developing entirely new platforms for each model cycle. I know there was no such thing as an entirely new BL car but why didn’t they just reskin the Ambassador rather than making an entirely new car. Did the Montego really represent such a leap forward.

  47. @58, Kris

    Maestro and Montego were designed to be lighter [and smaller] cars, able to deliver class-competitive MPG and performance figures when these tended to be writ large on advertising.

    The Princess/Ambassador HLS buyers were presumably expected to trade up to a 4/6 cylinder SD1.

  48. @ Keith Adams and Martin Nancekievell:

    Keith’s quote: “I just spoke of it being recommissioned – so, am not sure where the ‘thoroughly restored’ comment comes from.”

    I believe this may have come from me through a poor choice of wording on my part in relation to number plates. My comment was meant to be generalising about me often seeing well restored cars where the attention to detail often does not extend to the period font or style of number plate used. I certainly was not looking to imply that Martin’s Wolseley fitted into this generalisation and had been restored, as the article makes no reference to it having been restored. I accept that my choice of wording may have conveyed a different message to what was intended and I apologise for any offence this may have caused, Martin.

  49. @David3500

    Thank you for your generous apology but it really wasn’t necessary. Despite Keith’s response I was not in the slightest offended by any comments. My post was genuinely to inform and all the comments have been fair comment as far as I am concerned. Perhaps I’m too thick-skinned!
    The car is now resplendent on its aluminium period plates. For info, the first thing I did when I bought the car in 1977 was get rid of them as I still far prefer the plastic alternative but there you go.
    As I say many thanks anyway for the apology


  50. Are you sure this is a Genuine factory car? It has a Middlesex registration. All genuine factory cars were either Oxford Or Birmingham plates. My neighbour his name was Albert Bagnell who worked at Cowley for many years used to bring these cars home every night to Northolt Middlesex to test them while they were still on the secret list as his drive home was down the A40 and part of the M40 and all the cars he drove were Oxford registered.

  51. @JohnDupont

    Absolutely certain. It was registered July 1974, is the 15th pre-production car and has full documentation from Longbridge to prove provenance. I’m not quite sure who else other than Austin Morris you are suggesting might have owned this car 8 months before the announcement and before production had started. Clearly not all genuine factory cars were registered in Oxford or Brum plates but I’ve no idea why it was Middlesex registered nor why it had done over 1,000 miles, presumably on trade plates, before it was registered.

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