In a driving career spanning more than 30 years and 250+ cars, Keith Adams highlights some of the highs… and lows.
Here, in the fourth of the series, it’s time to recall a Princess 2200 HLS bought in Blackpool and exported to the East Midland badlands… where it failed to cover itself in glory!
A cheesy friend in distress
At the turn of the millennium, I was going through something of a nostalgic streak, and found myself picking up a few 1970s bangers and running them alongside my more modern cars. Whether this was because I was wanting to give the middle finger to my aspirational colleagues in IT fixated on running the nicest possible company cars, or a desire simply to drive something that stood out from the crowd, I really don’t know (and I suspect only my therapist can help me with that).
Anyway, the upshot was that, when all around me were running Mondeos, Xantias and Vectras, you’d find me hammering down the outside lane in a Cavalier Mk1, Allegro or rusty Citroën CX. How I came into possession of this remarkably beige Princess in 2000 comes down to a bit of happenstance, really. I was on one of my many visits to Blackpool after moving out of the area, when I decided to check in with the now-long gone Belle Vue Garage on Whitegate Drive.
It was a fascinating showroom, which boasted an art deco frontage, and was slowly mouldering away as its repair and sales business faded away. Skirting the disused petrol pumps and heading past the ramshackle collection of cars for sale, I wandered around to the workshop, which was round the back (just visible to the far right of the image below) to see what was going on. To my absolute amazement, there was a sad and dusty Sandglow Beige Princess 2200 HLS in there alongside a Woodhall Nicholson Kirklees Princess limousine.
How did it go?
It took me a while to find the owner. There was no one to be seen in the dark and dingy workshop, which looked untouched by human hands since the 1950s. So, I trudged back up the ramp and wandered into what was the garage shop at the front of the premises. Opening the door, I was greeted by an overpowering smell of damp paper and used engine oil (lovely it was too), and coughed for some attention.
The owner seemingly appeared from nowhere, saying that I shouldn’t be in here. Contact made, albeit grumpily, I asked the owner if the Princess and the Kirklees were for sale, to which he replied – to my amazement – in the affirmative… The 2200 HLS could be mine for £350, and I could make an offer for the Kirklees. Although it was difficult not to be overcome by a fit of the vapours and try and bag both, a rare attack of sensibility hit me, and I went for just one of them.
So, there you have it – I bought the 2200 HLS on the spot, as I wasn’t sure even I could swallow a stretched Princess. It was one of those silly purchases, especially as I was only there on the off chance, with my partner next door doing some food shopping. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Was it mission accomplished?
The first time I drove it was on the trip home to Northamptonshire in convoy with my partner, who said she hated it with a passion and it reminded her of a Primula cheese wedge. But it never missed a beat on the 180-mile motorway drive, and soon I pressed it into service as my weekend plaything.
It looked well cared for, with an immaculate interior and, although it was missing its vinyl coverings for its C-Pillars, it was remarkably original.
The six-cylinder engine was smooth and silky and responded well to a comprehensive oil and filter service delivered on my drive. It never let me down and proved simple and pain-free to run. The biggest issue was cosmetic rust, which was creeping upwards from the bottom of the car. In the interests of keeping it tidy, I applied a liberal coating of black Hammerite to the door bottoms and front valance, giving it an interesting two-tone look.
Well, I say it never let me down, it did play a very BL-style trick on me. Heading home from a Sunday morning car boot sale with my two sons, I was ambling through the local countryside. As I neared home, I could hear a light clonking and grinding coming from the nearside front of the car – mindful of my precious cargo, I continued gingerly, figuring it would be OK for the mile-or-so remaining.
It wasn’t OK, though. By now, travelling at no more than 20mph, there was bang from the front, then the nose dropped to the ground. I jumped out, to find the wheel had dropped off and was rolling away… Quick as a flash, I chased after it, caught it and returned it to the car. Jacking it up, I found no mechanical damage, just a mangled front wing, missing chrome trim, and an absence of wheel bolts.
To get the wheel back on, I took a bolt off each remaining wheel and used the three to get this one back on. After tightening them all up, I drove home, ordered some more bolts, and put the car up for sale after a little tidying to make it look at presentable from ten feet. To this day, I still have no idea where the wheel bolts disappeared to…
What became of the Princess?
I sold it via eBay for the princely sum of £250 to a chap from Peterborough, and thought I’d seen the last of it. When he came to look at it, he made some positive noises about fixing it up and keeping it on, but as this was the year 2000 and I’d yet to create AROnline and wasn’t really that hooked up to the owners’ club scene at the time, I immediately lost touch with the car, and assumed I’d never see it again.
I was surprised, therefore, to see it again at the BMC-BL Rally in Peterborough in 2002 or 2003 sporting a ‘For sale’ notice, but didn’t get a chance to chat with the owner – I noticed that the wheelarch had been replaced, although it was still missing its chrome trim. Again, it disappeared from view…
Apparently it lay mouldering in a Peterborough garden until 2010, when Stewart Marsden extracted it for Karl Mullen, who then sold it as a project via the Retro Rides forum. And from there, it appeared again in the hands of classic car journalist Richard Gunn, who’d bought it as a project.
I think he kept it on for a little while, but ended up selling it to colleague and fantastic writer Sam Glover – although the DVLA is saying it’s on SORN, so the chances are, it’s still in one piece. I would dearly love to see it again!
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