Tested : Princess vs Granada vs Renault 20

Classic group test

After the Princess received its O-Series engine in 1978, it was finally capable of battling with the rest of the best of the full-sized European opposition. The main target was the base model Ford Granada, but the Europeans were strong in this sector, too.

Keith Adams compares the Renault 20 and Ford Granada against the impressive BL ‘wedge’ to decide which is the best 1970s executive car and finds choosing a winner very easy indeed.


Pity the Princess. When launched in March 1975, its maker was embattled to the extent that it was becoming a national embarrassment. The Government needed to bail out British Leyland in the closing months of 1974, and had appointed Lord Ryder to come up with an industrial plan that would save the company. In many ways, the Princess epitomised the morass the company found itself in during those dark years – it was so very right, and so very, very wrong.

In the positive corner was its superb and bold styling – a wonderful answer to the blobby, compromised Allegro – front-wheel-drive drivertrain, enormous interior and cosseting ride. But downsides were the confused 18-22-Series marketing (which lasted six months before the Princess rebranding), the use of the asthmatic B-Series engine; the lack of a hatchback; the shoddy build quality… In retrospect, the Princess’s faults were merely niggles (unless you still have bad memories of being dumped on the hard shoulder on a rainy night in the 1970s) and, one by one, the company set about putting them right.

Our test cars hail from early 1978, and represent the moment in the time when the Princess really began to come good. The long-awaited O-Series engine had been been installed, and our car represented the mid-point of the range – a High Line spec car with the 91bhp 2.0-litre engine and four-speed manual. The build quality was coming good, and that meant drivers could really appreciate that luxurious interior without tripping over lifting carpet.

The Renault 30 was launched almost the same week as the Princess, and was nothing if not interesting. Under the skin, it was a significant move forward from the Renault 16 – so it was suspended by coils and wishbones, had a longitudinal engine, front-wheel drive, with the gearbox mounted behind the power unit (it was out front on older Renaults). And in this earliest form, a big, fat 2.7-litre Douvrin V6 that pushed out more than 140bhp.

The four-cylinder version, badged as the Renault 20, was introduced in November 1975. The 2.0-litre cars were powered by a 2.0-litre Douvrin engine, which would also find its way into the Citroën CX and Peugeot 505, but wouldn’t arrive here until 1978, leaving the entry-level cars to be solely powered by the 1647cc engine with four-speed manual, shared with the Renault 16 and 17. It was very much a known quantity and, although the idea of a 1.6-litre engine in such a large car back then must have been a little alien (and surprisingly fashionable now), with 96bhp, the 16TX-engined 20 should – on paper – be able to see off the Princess and Granada.

Ah, and finally to the new boy on test, the 1977 Ford Granada 2.0L. The sharp-suited Granada is easily the most conventional of the three cars on test – a 2.0-litre 100bhp Pinto under the bonnet, with four-speed manual gearbox, wishbone and coil suspension set-up up-front, with an independent semi-trailing arm set-up at the rear. Well-developed orthodoxy, but it’s a recipe that worked so well for more prestigious players like BMW and Opel…


This variance in engineering between the three cars is quite refreshing. Had this group test taken place ten years hence, we’d have been looking at the Ford Scorpio, Renault 25 and Rover 800 – and, although the Ford retained its RWD platform, the styling and engineering of all three had converged significantly. So, let’s rejoice that during the 1970s, there was still a genuine choice for the individual looking for a reasonably-priced executive-class car.

In the right colour, the Princess is still a great-looking car; its low nose, rising waist-line and high, stubby tail give it a great profile, while the quad-headlamp arrangement set in those trapezoidal cut outs suffuse the Princess with plenty of rear-view mirror character. Like all charismatic styling efforts, it evokes strong opinions in most onlookers, so you’ll need to get used to justifying your choice of car to all-and-sundry – they’ll either love or hate the Princess.

The Granada is far more conventionally handsome – and typical of Ford’s extremely well-styled mid-1970s efforts. Being a 2.0L, our car’s missing a lot of the visual jewellery that really sets a Granada apart from its more mundane counterparts. So, no neat alloy wheels; no additional chrome embellishment; and no Ghia badge on the bootlid. But the Granada’s character is rooted in its functionality. And the fact that it’s an old Ford that appeared in The Professionals – so it’s therefore rather cool.

However, while the Princess looks striking and interesting, the Ford is cohesive, neat and ultimately a bit dull. But then, back in 1978, the Ford lacked the whiff of failure that afflicted the Princess – and the international sales figures reflect this clearly. A more relevant comparison might well have been with a top-of-the-range Cortina rather than a bottom-of-the-range Granada, but then this demonstrates the Princess’s weakness in terms of marketing (and one BL and its successors were continuously guilty of) – it straddles sectors.

And to the Renault. Or could we call it Plain Jane, Superbrain? The Renault 20 celebrates its huge practicality with a near-unadorned two-box body, all glass and angles. All of the flamboyance of the car it replaced, the 16, seems to have been replaced by a 1970s pragmatism that subsequently swept across Renault’s range (bonkers 14, aside). Of course, it’s near-extinct in the UK, and only a select band of car aficionados would ever recognise a 20 today (most of whom, probably read AROnline), and for some, that’s going to be instrumental in the appeal of this car.

Out of the three, though, it’s an easy win for the Princess – it’s not just an old car, it’s a classic old car.


We’ll make this a short and sweet one, as none of these cars are going to be bought for their outright pace. In fact, they’re all about cruising, and maintaining progress on the motorway. Of the three, the Granada is marginally the quickest, with a maximum speed of 105mph and a 0-60mph time of 12.5 seconds – a great achievement considering its size and weight and lack of overall power. Being a Pinto engine under the bonnet, progress is not that refined but, as we’ll see, in this company, it’s not much of a handicap.

Next up is the Princess, which with a mere 93bhp on tap, fails to get on terms with the Granada. But being the comfort-oriented car that it is – and the fact that if you wanted a little more potency, your friendly Austin-Morris dealer would be happy to direct you into the sweet-sounding six-cylinder model – a 100mph maximum and 0-60mph time of 13.1 seconds was probably enough.

Among these rivals it was anyway. Put it alongside a 2.0-litre Cortina or Cavalier, and the Princess wouldn’t see which way its repmobile rivals went. Perhaps, given its more refined station in life, this was how it was supposed to be. Someone should have told potential customers, though.

Bringing up the rear is the Renault. Considering its healthy power and torque outputs, it’s left struggling on the road, with a 0-60mph time of 14.4 seconds, even if it has a competitive top speed of 103mph. The main problem with the Renault is that it’s undergeared, and never really settles down to a happy cruise – a shame considering how vivacious the 1647cc is in the 16TX. But then, it’s dragging along nearly 1200kg of full-size hatchback body in the 20TL.

In classic terms, it’s probably fair to say that all three cars would be infinitely more desirable in six-cylinder form – especially the torque-steering, tyre-smoking Renault 30! But as we’re saddled with four-pots, we’re left with Hobons’s choice: and given the Princess’ engine is the most well insulated of the trio, and suits its laid back character the most, it’s a winner here.

Or, more precisely, the best of three losers.

Handling and ride

First to go is the Granada. In Mk2 form, the Granada is a supremely-sorted executive saloon that easily has the measure of the BMW 5 Series or Rover SD1. So why is it so easily dismissed? In 2.0-litre form, and blessed with less than sparkling handling and narrow tyres, you’re never really able to exploit the slightly sporting chassis. And that means the less than brilliant damping and thump-thump from the rear axle just becomes an annoyance.

On the motorway, the 2.0L is reasonably settled, but never does it feel truly relaxed. And that’s why the front-wheel-drive pair here are so much more appealing.

The Princess’ Hydragas suspension system is superb. At speed, it absolutely demolishes ruts, bumps and undulations in a way that only big Citroën owners will be truly familiar with. It’s a soft set-up, but rolls far less than you’d imagine in corners, which means a sympathetic driver can cover distances very quickly in the Princess without upsetting their passengers. And as this 2000HL is fitted with power-assisted steering, it also feel pretty chuckable – although not quite as much fun as a PAS-equipped Landcrab – once you learn to drive around the inevitable understeer.

It’s not perfect, though. Low speed ride is fidgety, and sharp irregularities like railway crossings shudder though the structure. And some passengers will complain of car sickness thanks to vertical pitching under acceleration and braking.

And for that reason, the Renault just aces it. But only if you want the ultimate in comfort. The ride is fractionally softer than the Princess’, and it rolls just a little more in bends, but there are fewer dynamic compromises in achieving this balance than there is with the Princess. However, wind it up to the legal maximum, get yourself onto a sweeping A-road or motorway, and few things this side of a warm bath are more relaxing. How alien that must feel compared with an equivalent modern…

Cabin and controls

The Renault’s ugly dashboard, shapeless seats and baffling rear seat-fold system mean that it can’t be treated seriously as a rival to the Granada or Princess. It’s a shame, because the same instrument binnacle used in the 30TX looks great, thanks to being stocked by a myriad of round dials – but, in the base model 20, well, it just looks forgettable. It’s a roomy thing, though, and if you’re used to a 16, you’ll love the additional practicality that the 4.52m long body gives – especially in the boot. But there’s nothing here that makes you feel special.

The Granada is nothing if not functional. Like the Renault, it’s roomy for passengers, and the interior is well screwed together. It also has a huge boot. But the main annoyance in buying a 20 is that you’re reminded of all the equipment you’re missing by not going further up the range – there are blanks everywhere, and even the glovebox lid is missing. As for a rev counter, you’re missing that, too – as you are on all three cars – but you do get a nice big quartz clock in its place.

And it’s another easy win for the Princess. How could it not be? Okay, so if you look closely, you’ll see some rough edges in the build and trim quality, but the overall appearance is one of luxury. The seats are big, supportive and well-trimmed, while the dashboard looks cohesive and well styled. There are some niggles when it comes to switchgear placement and reflective instruments, but overall, it feels like an altogether more ‘special’ proposition than the other two cars.

The only downside – and it is a big one – is the small boot opening. Once again, we cry, why the hell didn’t it have a hatchback?

Running costs

None of these cars are going to be cheap to fuel. Expect 25mpg in urban situations from all three, with the Renault just eking out a few more miles from its petrol on the motorway. But getting 30mpg from any of them is going to be some achievement. And that does have one asking – again – why go for an ‘economy special’ when there’s a six-cylinder alternative in the offing?

That’s an easy one to answer now – there is no reason not to go for a six-pot. But back then, when budgets were tight, and company car policy was a whole lot more strict than it it is now – employees were often limited by engine capacity.

For parts, the Ford and Princess are about equal in terms of availability, with the Renault a bit of a struggle, unless you’re a fan of French eBay. And as for classic insurance, all three are eligible with similar policies of around £200 per year for a safe, middle-aged driver.


Of our group tests, this has been by far the easiest to choose a winner for. Back in 1978, the Princess was considered the nicest of the three cars to own, and the same holds true to this day. It’s not that the Ford or Renault don’t have their own points of interest, and both have plenty of appeal for retro car fans today – but the Princess is not only a characterful car, it also has bags of ability.

For a start – it’s roomy, comfortable, looks quirky, drives well around town or on the motorway, and is a real conversation starter at parties – so we’re told anyway. If we had a long journey to go on, and had to choose one of the three here (with a fuel card, of course), the Princess would win out every time. And it’s no irrational decision – the Granada and Renault are both far more desirable in V6 form, and deliver all their promise thus equipped. The Princess does just fine as it is in two-litre form, proving that it’s a sound concept, even if choosing rivals for it was (and is) very difficult.

Which is a good way of explaining why it never sold in the numbers it should have. But perhaps if the Marina had been any good, the Princess wouldn’t have been pushed into the role of unwilling Cortina rival – instead being sold as a sweet and comfortable executive instead of rep thrasher, a role it was just not cut out for.

Anyway, for now – we love the Princess; and in this test, it’s a winner…

[Original photo, thanks to What Car? magazine]

Keith Adams


  1. There were “multi cylinder offerings”? So the cars on test were single cylinder?

    The Princess was a excellent car – some of them were even reliable – my old man’s 1700HL clocked up over 250K miles with very little in the way of servicing (no oil changes at all other than topping up the oil due to the usual O-series cam-cover leak!) and no major new parts.

    • Hi Keith, the real issue with the 18/22 Princess was its gearbox, how many and how easy to find them even at a standstill. One test drive out of the showroom and you’d take it, if it allowed you, to the Ford dealer. My father persevered from an early 18/22 to a later Princess. He had worked out that even though it only had four gears, top was really high perfect for the motorway cruising he did. The old B series lump was infinitely better given that you didn’t really want change gear once you’d got one, it was tractable with the accent on tractor. The lack of tailgate made it one of the stiffest cars known to suspension engineers, giving it the lack of roll and predictability. The boot was huge, it just had a small mouth!
      Marketing wise it should have got Austin, Wolseley, Riley and VDP Princess differentiating it from the dreary Marina, and they wouldnt have had to come up with that Dogs dinner Morris front end. Yes, the rear lights did look crap. However, it’s a better looking car today than it was at the time because we see where they went rather than where they were coming from.
      My ideal? A Rover V8 plonked across that enormous Princess engine bay.

      • Many valid points, though Riley had been dropped for a few years by the launch of the Princess. Certainly having VDP alongside Wolseley would have been good for the top spec models.

        I’m not sure if the Rover V8 would have fitted in either way, it was a tight squeeze to get an E6 block under the bonnet & the Ambassador front end was too small to take one.

  2. I’m afraid the technical description of the Renault 20 is wrong. It shares nothing with the 16 apart from the engine, which seats between the front bumper and the axle. So, the gearbox is located between the engine and the scuttle, not the other way around, as you mention it.
    As for the suspension, it doesn’t resort to torsion bars but coil springs, even at the rear.
    In fact, the 25 basically is an evolution of the 20, whereas the 20 was designed from a clean sheet.

  3. @2 Well he was a lucky man then… lol!!

    I always liked the Princess2 shape but it really should have been developed a bit more.. and given some more palatable colours. The MK1 Scirocco proved that the wedge shape could be attractive and desirable if engineered (well, built) properly and with some organisation.

  4. A bit of pro BL bias in parts of this review 🙂

    I suspect, that most neutral people would pick the Grandad, big Fords are in their own way quite iconic, and even though it’s a lowly 4 cylinder model, it’s an ‘executive car’ in the way the Wedge never will be.

    I’ve always struggled to work out where in the British market the Princess fitted, it’s too unusual to be a Cortina rival in the UK, too small to be an executive car, and has the wrong badge to be an upmarket choice (that’s what Rover and Triumph were for?), assuming anyone could work out what ‘brand’ it was!

    • I’m not sure about most people choosing the Granada Mickey, I know all my chums at our local weekly car meeting would choose the Princess every time. Also, some of the greatest motoring successes have been cars that made their own market – and not just slotted into one.

  5. Granada all the way for me, both objectively and subjectively, although mine would have to be at least GL spec:)

  6. The Renault 20 was initially only available with the 1,647 cc Renault 16TX engine – which, as testified by the above, was it’s biggest downfall in the market. Only in 1978 did Renault plug the gaping hole between the 20TL and the 30 with a proper two-litre car, the 20TS which got the excellent (for its day) new all-alloy Douvrin engine with 110 PS if I remember correctly. Unsurprisingly it soon became the best selling model of the 20/30 range by far.

    Of course, in later life the Renault’s biggest problem was being water-soluble to an even higher degree than its adversaries…

  7. Here in Germany the standard offering for the Granada was the 2.0 V6, though slightly less powerful than the 4pot it made you feel more special (in fact I thought it was fairly underpowered – don’t ask how the 1.7 was like!). Was the suspension setup different for the UK? The ones I tried had no sporting appeal at all, rather soft, bordering to wallowing. The 4 cylinder was only offered with the Sports pack over here…
    A friend of the family had a 2litre Renault 20. That car was about the quietest and most comfortable cars I have been in in my childhood days – it seemed to beat the Mercedes 450 someone in the neighbourhood had.

  8. The Princess was the obvious choice in the line up provided but if you had gone for the top of the range models it definatley would have been a Granada. The Big Renault in V6 mode was quick but just soft and wolly and made you feel sick when pushed hard, while the Princess just could not cut it in 6 cylinder form, but as Mikey C stated you would have bought a Rover/Triumph and the SD1 was far superior and more special than the opposition, shame about the build quality ……

  9. Granada would be the natural choice.
    Had the “Sweeney” factor. Fords of that era are still fairly cool. (mk2 Escort, Cortina, Capri, Granada)

    The Princess looked good in it’s own way – especially in darker colours like the burgundy/maroon colour that was popular. Citroenesque in profile and technology.
    The Ambassador seemed to be only available in beige and got 80s standard lights that made it look like it was wearing NHS specs, vs. the Peugeot-style front of the Princess.

    Can’t ever recall seeing a Renault 20. Did it have the asymmetrical wheelbase of that era Renaults? No doubt rusted as a 70s Renault would.

    The 1988 test, you’d have a choice of 25 hatchback, 800 saloon/hatchback and Granada hatchback (saloon in 1990).

    1998 and you’d have a Safrane hatch, R17 800 saloon/hatch and ugly duck Scorpio saloon.

    2008 however, and you’d be struggling to find any ancestors from these. The Vel Satis was dropped in the UK (with the Laguna surviving in the UK until 2011), the Scorpio had been killed off after an unsuccessful facelift attempt with smoked lights (although the Mondeo is easily mk3 Granada sized), and Rover were no longer. Unfortunately the test from this era would be between a 320d and an A4 TDi.
    Or possibly between a Discovery, Kuuga and Koleos.

  10. I don’t think I’ll ever understand why the Princess wasn’t given a Hatchback. I know there were the conversions available, through IIRC Torcars and Crayford, but with a shape which lends itself so easily to a hatch it seems silly and surely restricted the car’s appeal.

  11. Out of the three the Renault was the most complex and expensive if it was to go wrong, i recall a auto gearbox problem on a 2.0 in 1980 that was caused by the computer controlled system making it a prohibitive repair at the cost then of around £1000! so the car was duelly sent to British Car Auctions at Frimley.
    The 30TX with the 3.0 engine was the best to drive although a bit snatchy on acceleration being a massive engine on a FWD set up, the best of the three if you wanted arm chair comfort.I sheared a plug of in a 30 as they had the habit of seazing in the alloy head, luckily it was helicoiled out succesfully!.

  12. @Mark Mastro

    I think the official reasons were two-fold:

    – Saloons were prestige but hatchbacks were utilitarian
    – They wanted the Maxi to have the hatchback market to itself

  13. The Princess was not a hatch, according to a friend who worked @ BL, because “it would have competed with the SD1”.

    Alex B – agree that Grannies wobbled. They were also expensive to service, especially the sixes – this left a gaping hole in the market for the Carlton, which originally came as saloon or estate, take it or leave it.
    The 2.0 Granada was rough and had camshaft trouble (clap, clap, clap – that’s not Chinese!)
    The 2.3’s were slow and thirsty. Early 108bhp engines had 2 ports per bank, shared between 3 cylinders. Later engines got 3 ports per bank, another 6bhp and better economy. I liked the 2.3 Sierra, because it would power oversteer, unlike the 2.0; but only if someone else (Lucas) was buying the petrol.
    Will M, the burgundy colour was nice, but prone to “bloom” (go into patches of matt finish). You could wipe the bloom off with a rag, but it was back within 24 hours. Polish didn’t help.
    A neighbour of mine had an old 1700 Prinny, and couldn’t work out why it was so rough – until I pointed out that his mechanic had left the nut off one of the 4-point engine mounts!

  14. I suspect the real reason was.. it was seen as an Austin, had it been a truimph it would have had the hatch

  15. I think the Princess was never really upmarket enough to be a Granada competitor, and BL sort of cocked up the placement of products there.

    It’s weird. Ford understood selling aspiration. BL really didn’t, except when it was properly aspirational like a Jaguar. OTOH, Ford had FORD to think about, nothing else, BL were trying to interlace marque and model ranges.

    It’s a shame, really, that they failed to get aspiration so thoroughly that they kept the basic, utilitarian brand and threw away the desirable Triumph one. It’s also a curious artefact of being so reliant on the British market – utilitarian sells in many countries, where buying is on quality rather than status. Hence VW’s success (though they enjoyed that halo here as an ‘imported German car’).

    The Princess should have been a small Rover.
    The Marina/Ital should have been killed a long time beforehand.
    Mini should have been a marque for the MiniMetro.

    Eh, hindsight, blah blah. I’d rather have a Princess over an R20/30 anyday. Not sure on the Granada, I quite like ’em, but the Princess looks better.

    I may have bid on a Princess automatic :/

  16. @ Will M
    The R20 has ‘normal’ coil springs, so its wheelbase is the same on both sides!

    The market seems to have shifted, so that the modern day ‘Cortinas’ are bigger and more upmarket, and sell far fewer, i.e. they’ve become modern day Princesses rather than Cortinas! This shift upmarket has left no room for noderm day Grandads or R30s.

    Cortina/Sierra – Mondeo 4
    Cavalier – Ingignia
    Solara/405 – P508
    BX – C5

  17. our family had an 18/22 and then a B series Princess. Both were well loved, but the reason they didn’t sell more I believe was solely down to the lack of a five speed transmission – 4th was a long gear, but not long enough considering the character of the car.
    In its favour the lack of a tailgate did make it torsionally robust. The Princess was replaced by a Dolomite with overdrive.

  18. The Princess looks the best of the trio,even today,the Renaults were always quick with the PRV V6 engines. I always liked the high-line Granadas especially the rare 2.8iS models.

  19. @Ford Prefect. Not sure why you think it would have had a hatch if it were a Triumph. I don’t think there was ever a Triumph hatch (GT6?). But there was an Austin hatch on the market when the Princess was on sale (Maxi).

  20. @19 Richard Kilpatrick

    I couldn’t agree more regards BL & Triumph.

    Often wondered if the original “Rover” 213/216 would have been more suited as a Triumph?

  21. My placings would be – 1, Granada, 2, Princess, 3 Ren 20. As usual, Ford seemed to offer modern designs with good trim levels and Executive appeal. Add to that proven mechanicals and a huge dealer network.

    The Princess is a good second choice but as ever, Ford tended to dominate the fleet market – like them or not!

  22. The Renault 20 was actually quite an attractive car let down by rather drab detailing. If it had a more interesting lighting arrangement, and more modern plastic bumpers and side mouldings it would have probably looked quite striking, rather than plain.

    Doesn’t the Princess look good though? Those wheeltrims really lift the appearance of the car. It would be my choice of the three (never had much of a soft spot for large Fords).

  23. The 2.0L Granada was a rather dreary thing indeed, a friend of mine had one and it was very utilitarian inside. I gave him a lift in my 2.8i Ghia X one day and he then realised what all the blank panels in the dashboard were for on his!

    My Dad had a Princess for a while, an automatic 2200HLS. I remember it being very comfortable, but certainly not a dynamic or sporting ride in any respect. It gripped well, but it was definitely a cruiser in character.

    Never had any experience of the Renault, in 20 or 30 form. There were an offbeat choice when they were current, and I can’t remember seeing one anytime recently!

    The early MK2 pre-facelift Granadas are getting pretty rare now too, I saw a 79/80 model 2.3GL in Central London the other day and did a double take! Like all 76-80 Fords they were made from poor steel and most have dissolved now.

  24. I was offered a Renault 20TS for £30 in 1986, I bought a Mk1 Granada 2.0 instead.

    I remember the original test in What Car? well

  25. Rare cars like the Renault can be found in surprising numbers in Morocco, where a bewildering array of cars are somehow kept road-going, perhaps aided by the dry climate.

  26. Recent premium german brands produce models that echo the princess, BMW 3 series and Audi A4, both look like a hatchback but are a booted saloon and sell in large numbers.

  27. I am almost ready to apologize for rattling on about Carltons; but as they don’t have their own page yet, here goes.
    1) I once drove a Viceroy, aka Opel Commodore – very disappointing. The 2.5-litre six was very smooth, but very heavy, and only made 115bhp; a 100bhp 2-litre Carlton was much more sensible. Exactly the same mistake as the Austin 3-litre. The later, 130bhp injected engine must have been better.
    2) My dad had a Y reg Carlton with overdrive – a very rare and somewhat hurriedly-engineered option (the relay was screwed to the top centre of the bulkhead, after bending the rubber sealing strip out of the way) One day my dad complained that the o/d switch only worked intermittently; so I unscrewed the steering column surround, expecting to find a loose connection. Poked around, couldn’t find any problem, put it all back together – worked perfectly. Hurrah for inspired bodgery.
    3) My parents and I went to an ill-starred wedding in the Welsh Marches. Not only was the bride heavily pregnant, we all got food poisoning, and needed to get home (near Aberdeen). So my dad and I took turns to drive. In the Scottish borders, we were followed by a near-new XJ6, which we later found out, had a bale of hay in the boot! (A clear case, as Russell Brockbank would say, of the money getting into the wrong hands) I didn’t fancy four halogen headlamps dazzling me in the rear view mirror, so I stirred all 100 horses into action, and overtook a queue of mimsers – the really amazing thing being that while I was wringing the Carlton’s neck, both my parents fell asleep. Happy days.

  28. Triumph upmarket? dull as dishwater more like! today’s equivalent would be a Honda. It’s just like when Volvos are classed as prestige!!

  29. @Ken Strachan

    I did the same in a 2 litre Omega, while my dad slept off a hangover 🙂
    Comfortable big saloon.


    I would say the likes of the Honda Civic, Accord, CRZ are nice cars. And I would class Volvo as premium, and certainly more interesting than the teutonic ‘premium’ boxes that litter the corporate car parks.

  30. Also in 1978 my Dad changed his much loved Triumph 200O mk2 automatic for a Mk4 Ford Cortina 2.0 Ghia (Auto)…

    He thought the Princess at the time was ugly looking and build quality issues put him off.

    His 1st choice would have been a Rover 2600, but that was just out of his price range back in 1978….

  31. @38 – Are you sure you’re looking at the right cars? Both look suspiciously like saloon cars in my office car park……

  32. Have been in all three , at the time..1980 ish, and looking back it would be a difficult choice as I like them all. Also been in an Ambassador which for me would be the choice in top HLS trim. Although I was passengered in a Renault 30TX which I think had the Delorean engine? This car was an absolute flying machine. .


  33. In the mid to late 80s my father owned first a 76 Princess 1800hl and then later into the early 90s a Renault 20 TX. Ask him now and he still vastly prefers the Renault largely because it was at least mildly dependable. Both were dreadfully rot prone but even now 25 years later i can still remember the numerous occasions the Princess broke down. Having said that I still rooted for the Princess as a kid, it was such a likeable beast.

  34. If only BL hadn’t made such a hash of product placement in the New Avengers, and later The Professionals – maybe we’d be looking at the Princess as the cool car with loads of cred, and the Granada as the also-ran…….although, Austin/Morris’ complete failure to make any performance versions of just about any of it’s 70s cars (Mini Clubman 1275GT and 1300GT aside) didn’t exactly help matters, compared with Ford, which seemed to shell out iconic cars in every sector in those days. The rivals – Escort RS2000 vs Allegro 1750SS / Cortina 2.0GXL vs Marina 1.8TC / Granada 2.3 V6 Ghia vs Princess 2000HLS. Ok, it could be argued that some of the BL rivals came from the Triumph or Rover ranges, but that’s not the point of a tarted-up ‘cooking’ rep-mobile. Ford completely understood the market. It took ARG another 10 years to fully get it……

  35. @47 I’ve driven a 2.0HL Ambassador – I learnt to drive in one. A lovely looking, roomy and extremely comfortable car, with a nice interior (shame about the dashboard) let down by a mediocre drivetrain, lack of power and lifeless power steering…..I still hold the 2 my Dad owned in high affection though – although they had faults, they were classy cars, and much more capable than people thought at the time.

  36. I bought an Ambassador in my “yoof” to tart up and sell,this was the only car ever to bring me to the brink of suicide and was a steep learning curve in what the second hand car buyer didnt want,it was awfully built,leaked everywhere and stunk,even a BA3 Lada was better built,even now i would baulk at buying one even concours,much prefer the princess which looks far better proportioned,even pondering buying one in the future.

  37. @Buttyboy
    Badly worded on my part. After the chaos had cleared from the formation of what we called BL the management was largely skewed in triumphs direction, so had the Princess been a truimph project it would have had the money to make it a hatch from the begining, however it was an Austin.. and thus sufferd ‘not made here’ syndrome in the eyes of the management, almost certainly the same reason it never got 5 speeds. If you think thats bad.. only one factory was closed, the one that had back orders from the US.. Abgingdon where they made Triumphs main sports car rival, tyhe MG

  38. The 25 had either a 2.4 or 2.9 version of the V6 and given that the 2.2 8v was fast enough to be lethal what the 2.4 Turbo could have managed was a scary concept. The fact that the 20/30 was even lighter than the 25 I can well imagine the 30TX was a rocket in Cessna clothing. If I remember the 2.2 engine as used in the 25 and later Safrane was the basis for a Lotus engine (they did a substantial amount of playing with it to get the power levels up, although from memory they only managed 18hp more than the common or garden 12v Renault head).
    I have to say though having had experience of all three manufacturers I’ll always go with Renault. They may be frustrating sods to own, expensive, and not the quickest – but you can drive across Europe in one at 80mph all day, get out and feel as if you have spent the entire day in an armchair watching TV – the comfort in them is in a totally different class to anything else. That even goes for the most menial 4-speed Renault 5 Campus – 800 miles in a day, mostly at around 85-90+mph and still managed 50+mpg on that trip.
    The R16 is just utterly and completely insane from stem to stern and the TX model with the breathed on engine is deceptively quick, but then it would be, when its only 6hp off the round 100..

  39. I would have chosen the Princess in this test, as base Granadas were rather like the FD Victors of ten years previous, they looked upmarket but were meanly specced for the money. While the Ford would have the advantage of more dealers( just in those days) and would be marginally more reliable than the Princess, the Princess would win out on a more upmarket interior and better equipment levels and a more comfortable drive. Was there a 2.0 GL Granada in those days as this would have been more competitive with a 2000 HLS Princrss?

  40. With the montego fuel injected o series they would have been fab.The early o series was it bit noisey but reliable.I thought the b series ‘wedge’ was smoother.The wedge used narrow rims with wide tyres to improve ride, but pas was a must.The ambassador was a folly.Cheap trim the character bonnet which hid the wipers was gone,the stupid auto choke unit on the twin carb model which also plaged the later sd1.The 2200 auto was jet like smooth.I wounder how many people replaced engines thinking their big ends were gone when it was a cracked borg warner drive plate.

  41. I wonder why the original Carlton wasn’t chosen. This was British made and interestingly came with only trim level and engine size. It was spec wise similar to an HL Princess and about the same size.

  42. ” Which is a good way of explaining why it never sold in the numbers it should have. But perhaps if the Marina had been any good, the Princess wouldn’t have been pushed into the role of unwilling Cortina rival – instead being sold as a sweet and comfortable executive instead of rep thrasher, a role it was just not cut out for. ”

    Well put!!

  43. 49. Simon H. I totally agree, Ford knew exactly what their buyers wanted, yet BL suggested that you chose another model in their range if you wanted a specific type of car. The Princess wasn’t a hatch because BL thought it would take away the sales potential of the Maxi, but buyers did want the up to date Princess with a hatch and didn’t want the out of date, poorly styled Maxi.

    Certainly, the Princess was no sports car, but neither was the Cortina ‘S’ but clever marketing made buyers think they had something sporty and that’s what mattered.

    BL never utilised the full marketing potential of each model.

  44. #40 Ian – Triumph was upmarket, when even the Toledo and Spitfire had wooden dashboards, they were more prestigious than ADO16 and Spridget. Our 1500TC and Dolly 1500HL had much nicer trim than Cortinas etc. Triumph were a BMW rival back in the day, but sadly, couldn’t design an engine which worked. The Stag was the most unreliable car sold in the US until the TR7 knocked it off its perch! Sad, but inevitable, that warranty costs killed the brand.

  45. I owned An Ambassador 2.0 Vanden Plas in Silver, nice comfortable and roomy car, Re No47, HLS had a good spec,V Plas even better, just a shame a shame didnt have a 5 speed box, but it did have an light bulb alarm light on dash as well brake pad wear which was very helpfull. I also own one of very last Austin Princess 2.0HLS so it reminded me howe nice the Ambassador was. The Met Police had Ambassadors and Princesses all in black as I remember. Good feature, well done, Regards Mark

  46. @60
    The could desigen an engine that worked, had they been given the time they wanted, the Stag engine needed at least 6 months more development that it never got when it went on sale, the engineeers behind it have said this on many occasions, but as ususal it was the quick buck that won out and utimatly killed the name

  47. Never had a Prinny or Ambassador, but did have a 2.0 Lx Granada Estate and a R30….The Granada, not surprisingly, was incredibly slow lumping so much weight around but also, surprisingly, was trouble, trouble, trouble and even broke down driving it home after collecting it from the Dealer, first day….I traded it after just 15k miles in 18 months when Ford would no longer do the frequent repairs under guarantee….I bought the R30 ( what memories !! )in France when working there – absolutely superb !! The most comfortable car I’ve ever had before and since, went like a rocket on steroids, quite reliable for its day, but a pity that after just two years it was already starting to have serious rust problems. Imported it back into the UK as our family car about three years old, but couldn’t afford the (1) petrol and (2) the servicing costs so sold it for almost peanuts at four years old as it was LHD and seriously rusty by then….Came close to having a Prinny as a company car – already ordered, but then my Boss chose one for himself so we had to have 1.8 Marinas….Utter rubbish !! But many trips as a pasenger in his Prinny and I thought it was a seriously good and desirable car, even more so ‘cos I couldn’t have one….

  48. I know the Princess is almost Granada sized, but BL pushed it as a Cortina alternative. The SD1 was Leylands Granada. Suppose this again confirms BL’s inability to produce cars that slotted into established market slots. Always straddling the B,C,D sectors with something too big and expensive or too small. Allegro, Marina, Maxi, Maestro, HHR400, Princess. None of them fitted in where they should. BL wernt alone in not being able to measure. Vauxhall (Viva/Victor) and Chrysler (Avenger) also made a mess of it and all failed miserably. Its no conicidence that Vauxhalls mid 70s renaissance was built on a coherent Ford matching range with the Chevette and Cavalier.

  49. A great but forgotten car in France. I’ve never seen one in flesh this side of the channel, as long as I can remember!

  50. It sounds like the Granada reviewed in the article above was a taxi spec one, having a large engine but being poorly specced (I believe Ford did produce one around that time).

    I definitely think an article about the Carlton is overdue. My family had one, together with a Mk 1 Astra, in the 80s. Although obviously much more powerful and luxurious than the Astra, the Astra was better at getting out of our steep close in snow and ice due to being front wheel drive and having the weight of the engine above the driving wheels!

  51. This article has brought back vivid memories of all three cars.

    Princess – these were current cars during my BL dealer days. Good ones were excellent, bad ones would be BAAAAAAD. The PAS equipped models always felt as though they had more assistance in one direction than the other. Owners/drivers tended to be on the middle management ladder rather than sales reps but there were still a number of very high milers that we only saw for routine servicing.

    Granada Mk2 – a mate of mine picked up a white one and we had great fun steaming down lane 3 of the M40 causing everyone else to scurry out of the way. Of course the Granny was the Old Bill’s favourite traffic car at that time.

    Renault 30 – I joined a small leasing company in the mid 80s and we had a 30TX as an office run around. It had so little value it wasn’t worth selling. Lovely car but very temperamental electric door locks – you avoided locking the car in case it wouldn’t let you in again. Then other times it would unlock itself all by itself. Best feature was that heavy V6 hung out ahead of the front axle. Being an automatic as well it was the perfect car for practicing J turns. That’s made me wonder if I can still do them 🙂

  52. Really enjoyed this article – reminded me of all my CAR magazines from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s!!!
    @64 Paul. I take a different view reference the Vauxhall model range – I think Vauxhall had it absolutely right with Viva, Victor and Cresta/Viscount. (Notice I didn’t say ‘the’ Viva – you have to remember the Vauxhall ads of the day to appreciate that!)
    The Viva HB/HC was a spot on competitor for the Mk 1/2 Escort, but was brighter inside with a lighter styling touch. I used to deliver them new and they were just so ‘chuckable’ – I drove Escorts too but would have chosen Viva every time.
    The FD Victor (in my personal opinion so please don’t anyone shout at me), was one of the most sexy perfect shapes of any saloon car! The Mk 3 Cortina came close but the boot always looked (to me) too short. As for the coke bottle Cresta/Viscount versus the Mk 4 Zephyr – the words beauty and beast come to mind. I had a Cresta for a year or so – one of the all-time greats that I really do wish I had not let go!
    Whilst I also agree with comments about the 1.8 Marina being less than desirable (Mr diplomacy me), I must make mention that the 1.7 Marina I had was a great machine. Paid peanuts for it – it went like a bullet and you could kick the back out, oversteer, under steer, opposite lock – all sorts of stuff. Blooming awful ride, horrible brakes and a dashboard that annoyed me every time I got in the darned thing but………

    • You might think Vauxhall got it absolutely right but nobody else did, nobody bought them and the company effectively ceased to exist, becoming a different brand applied to German Opels that it remains today.

  53. The Met police had a lot of princess/ambasadors red ones were the Diplomatic protection unit black were senior officers cars which were chaufure driven.Our Commanders car had the auto gearbox seize up at 600 miles;I heard that one DPG car had the door hinges fracture and the three policemen on the back seat ended up in the road.I heard that the Met would not buy the granada in a big way because of the cost of the german autobox

  54. Granny for me, the Princess was never an option, it had dire reliability, poor customer service when in for repairs, dreadful paintwork, and rusted like a goodun.

    yes the granny might not have been much better, but Ford hid it from the buying public a lot better than BL ever did, they knew about PR even back then, if BL had better PR people, along with decent engineers etc then the woeful reputation the entire company had would not have been so and, and might even be here now.

    • @ Jagboy, maybe true of early cars, but cars made from 1978 to 1981 were vastly better. I’d have taken a chance on a Princess 2000 HL in 1978 as it was a pleasanter place to be than a 2..0 L Granada, and PAS made driving less of a chore. Also as regards rust, the Princess was quite well protected against rust by the standards of the time and many were still running by the end of the eighties. Then, as regards dealers, maybe there were some bad ones, something Ford were more guilty of, but ones I knew like J Edgar and Son and Mungo Graham had impeccable customer service.

  55. @71 JagBoy. You are spot on. BL would wring its hands in public about a problem it was trying to solve, while Ford would ignore a similar problem and then launch an updated model with an ‘improved’ whatever.

    The public would then flock to buy the ‘new’ updated model and off-load the troublesome ones, only to start the whole cycle again.

    I was running a mixed fleet of Mk3 Escorts and Meastros in the late 80s. The Escorts had far more issues then the Maestros but Ford had the knack of keeping the drivers on-side.

  56. I actually had to make this choice when it was time to trade in my beloved Triumph 2000TC. The 2.3/2.6 SD1s were still too expensive: I could not bear the thought of buying a Renault; and the guy next door had a Princess that he regularly poured a kettle of boiling water over to make it go. I ended up with the Granada 2.3 GL manual, and I have to say that that was one tough car. A mad woman ripped the side off it; it was hammered all around the country, over hill and down dale, and it simply would not die. I remember giving a guy in a Silver Shadow a near coronary because he could not pass it. We also had access to some 2.8i Ghia’s at work for long hauls, and we’d blow up and down the M1/A1 in those all day long and never miss a beat. Ford never made a better car.

  57. Great review. I have to say I quite like the look of the Renault, never driven one though. Princess neither. I did drive an Ambassador some years back, but was too early in my driving career to make a lot of comment about it.

    Had a gold 2.0 LX Granada(admittedly facelift) in the late 90’s, and it was superb. Had a few extra toys like electric windows, sunroof, central locking and so on. In comparison to my lovely 2.8i Ghia XX which I still own, I thought the 2.0 was actually better balanced, particularly with the manual box to hand – I used to have enormous fun driving it, especially around the lanes of Essex. Sadly the rot did catch up with it eventually and I replaced it with an E39 528i which was a huge step on, but I’ll always look back fondly at the 2.0LX. I racked up some serious miles in that Ford and hardly ever had to do anything to it.

    • A friend purchased a S/H Renault 20 , I rode as a passenger and the French suspension setup, long travel at the rear and good seats, gave a very comfortable ride, a few electrical gremlins, overuse the electric windows and they would stop working (presumably overheating of the circuits ) then return to normal later. Did Renault use self-resetting circuit breakers in the electrical systems?
      The demise of the car was the automatic transmission, cruising at a steady 80 mph, the gearbox self-changed to a low gear and self-destructed, the repairing mechanic, a specialist in automatic transmissions, said the gearbox was a GM unit with a number of modifications by or for Renault, the Renault replacement parts for the repair were very expensive, had the gearbox used standard GM components, the repair was feasible on cost, the mechanic also revealed it was typical for the R20 gearbox to fail for the age and mileage of his car, and probably the reason the car was sold on by a former owner

  58. The 2 litre Granada was the equivalent of the 1.3 Cortina, an underpowered poverty spec model that only people who were desperate to have a Granada wanted. Go for a 2.3 V6, which featured the Cologne engine, and this was a more powerful and more refined car and had more trim options. However, the one to have was always the 2.8 V6 in Ghia trim, Ford Europe’s answer to the Lincoln Continental with every conceivable option fitted and masses of refined power and well loved by traffic police and management alike.
    Yet in terms of relaxed cruising, a cossetting ride and masses of interior space, I always considered the Princess to be a better car. If all out performance wasn’t your game and you preferred a sedate and quiet motorway drive, this was the car to have. In 2 litre form you got the right trade off between economy and performance( the 2.2 could be thirsty).

  59. Ran my company 1700HL for two years, supplied and serviced by excellent Dunham and Haines in Leighton Buzzard, and I had little trouble with it despite driving it hard. It was superbly comfortable and a pleasure to drive. I would have replaced it with an Ambassador but was disappointed by the finish and ended up with a Peugeot, which was a true Friday car.

  60. Princess of these three cars for me, it had come right by the end of the seventies and had a two litre engine which placed it right in the heart of the large family car market. In HL form you got PAS, which made driving less of a chore, and it came with a decent amount of standard equipment. It was the sort of car you could drive from Edinburgh to London without feeling stressed or tired as you just sat back in the very comfortable seats, stuck to a steady 70 mph and listened to Wogan and Jimmy Young on the fitted radio. Also by 1979, breakdowns and bits coming off were a lot rarer than on early cars.

  61. Sorry Keith but I don’t agree with the “But perhaps if the Marina had been any good, the Princess wouldn’t have been pushed into the role of unwilling Cortina rival” comment

    The Princess was conceived as a Cortina rival, the assumption being that Ford would seek to upsize the class 1/2 size again in the mid 70s as they had done with the Mk2 and Mk3 Cortina. It was thus reasonable to think that the fleet markets centre of gravity would shift from 100″ wheelbase 1.6 to 105″ wheelbase 1.8 (Interestingly where the Chrysler 180 and Victor then sat).

    This explains a lot of the simplicity and dare I say here, cheap detailing of the Princess, it was built down to this price point and the modest performance and the 4 speed gearbox with no overdrive were what the market expected.

    However the 1973 Oil crisis and the resulting recessions across Europe kept the fleet market centre of gravity at the 100″ wheelbase 1.6 until the late 80s and even then whilst the Peugeot 405 was 105″ wheelbase, when launched in 87, the 1.6 engine was still where the volume was.

    Thus as before with the BMC1800, British Leyland were to find themselves out of step in the market with a car that was too big and expensive for the bulk of the Fleet market, but also lacked the pace and style for the executive market.

    • Ford did not “upsize the Cortina by 1/2 a class”. All Cortina saloons were the same length, give or take a couple of inches. They just got about five inches wider from first to last.

  62. The Princess was seen as the sort of car that would appeal to buyers who bought larger family cars like bigger engined Cortinas and the Vauxhall Victor, whose smallest engine was a 1.8. The Princess was also sold as a more upmarket alternative to the Maxi, with a luxury HLS version that could be bought with a six cylinder engine. Making the car a brand in its own right made the Princess seem more exclusive( there was never an Austin Princess, contrary to what people thought at the time).
    To me, the early versions were let down by strikes and poor quality and the dated B series on four cylinder models. The Princess finally came good in 1978 when the B series was replaced by the more economical and refined O series, including a Cortina and Granada chasing 2 litre, and quality and reliability were significantly improved. Having been a passenger in a Princess a couple of times in the early eighties, few other cars could rival it for passenger comfort, the cosseting ride and the quiet 2 litre engine.

    • There was indeed an Austin Princess. It was the A135, made in saloon versions from 1947 to 1959 or thereabouts. and continuing as a limousine version for some years afterwards until superseded by the Daimler DS420

    • I will agree that was where the car ended up in the market, where it sat like the Victor and if anybody noticed the Chrysler 180 north of the markets centre of gravity.

      But as I explained above, that was not what was planned when the car was conceived, because at the time it was expected that Ford would with the Cortina Mk4 seek to size the market up again by 1/2 a size. However that did not happen and so the Princess was set to live its life out above the market segment it was intended to be.

    • @ yme 402, don’t forget Cowley’s Granada 2.8 Ghia in The Professionals, the Granada to own. Yes Terry and June had a Princess, but it wouldn’t put me off a later model, which was a much better car than the B series original. However, the ultimate large non premium saloon in 1979 would be the Citroen CX, particularly when the Douvrin engine was fitted and some models had a five speed ttansmission.

    • Exactly – Cars are an irrational, emotive purchase whilst this review is being very logical (and perhaps a little biased!) – When these cars where on sale the Granada had an image that the Princess could only dream of. Same went for all Fords. The Escort was an unrefined horse and cart compared to an Allegro or any of the other European FWD offerings, but everyone associated with Roger Clark blasting though forests so in the UK at least it sold more than all its competitors combined. If anything the man in the street was even more image conscious than he is today.

  63. Can understand the rationale of the Princess’s size by BL being in anticipation for a further upsizing of the Cortina during the 70s that never occurred (the same appearing to be the case for the Renault 20/30), however it was basically the same size as the Lancia Gamma that reached production around the same time instead of being one with similar dimensions and weight to the Lancia Beta, Simca Alpine/Solara and Peugeot 305.

    The company would have been better off developing the Princess into two cars at the expense of the Marina and Maxi instead of pitching it into the void between the D/E-Segments, similar to what Lancia were attempting with the Beta and Gamma (that shared suspension elements with the Beta).

  64. Fascinating article and reminds de me of co temporary road tests when I can a young boy in the 70s. But can someone enlighten me of something the road test reminded me of at the time…. just how bewildering was it to fold the rear seats of the Renault 20/30? I seen to recall w ru road test at the time telling us it was so difficult but no one actually said why……

    • I should really proof read my posts before actually sending them haha

      Fascinating article and reminds me of contemporary road tests when I was a young boy in the 70s. But can someone enlighten me of something the road test reminded me of at the time…. just how bewildering was it to fold the rear seats of the Renault 20/30? I seem to recall every road test at the time telling us it was so difficult but no one actually said why……

      • I don’t know for sure, but if it was anything like the R16 it involved hanging the rear seat back from the grab handles overhead. It was a long time ago but I’m sure I remember my Dad doing it once, and never again, when he ran a R16.It was something of a palaver.

    • Was it like the 16? In which case it was odd (albeit for a reason) – the squab folded as normal but the backrest hinged up and was suspended from the grab handles

  65. The Renault 20 is one of those forgotten cars from the late seventies and early eighties, like the smaller Renault 14. The 20 majored on its impressive interior space and large boot, comfortable seats, distinctive styling and smooth ride, but was let down by its poor rust protection and quality issues. I suppose of the three cars tested if you wanted a car that was generally reliable and well protected against rust, the German Granada would win, although by 1980 the Princess was far more reliable than early models and wasn’t a bad ruster.

  66. Renault seemed to be a company that produced deserved hits like the 5 and 18, alongside poor selling and not very good cars like the 14 and 20. It’s odd the 18 was mostly seen as a dependable, well made car that was often in the top ten best sellers, but the 20 was slated for its poor rust protection and poor build quality. I wonder if it was different factories and poorer quality control to blame.

  67. So Terry & June beats Bodie & Doyle and Reagan & Carter. Not sure your thrusting 70s middle manager would have seen it quite that way!

  68. I’ve never been a fan of entry level executive cars with relatively small engines as they always were the sort of car people bought just to say they had a certain make of car. The Mercedes 200 was the sort of car that came to mind, the cheapest Mercedes you could buy in the early eighties, but the one with the least standard equipment and a sluggish engine with four speed transmission. I’d have probably bought a year old 230 E for the same money, which was better equipped, the owner had probably specified some options like electric windows and a radio/cassette, and the 2.3 injection engine with a five speed transmission would make driving far more pleasurable.

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