Drive Story : Vanden Plas Princess

AROnline takes a rather special ADO16 for test – after a quick spin, Keith Adams feels the need to espouse the virtues of the Vanden Plas Princess. Yet again…

Vanden Plas 1300: Harriman’s Concorde?

The best of British: it is an oft-used cliché, but does anyone really use it in conjunction with anything remotely good these days? Some years ago, things were different. Britain led the world in many, many fields, and could still hold its head up high in the world of manufacturing.

Look at Concorde… A world-beating aeroplane that neither the Russians nor the Americans could get close to. It showed that, with some help from the French, the British could still build a passenger airliner, which was single-mindedly conceived to transport 150 executives across oceans in the shortest time possible. The fact that it was also achingly beautiful was merely co-incident; it was a machine built for a purpose…

So what does this have to do with a stubby 12-foot long BMC car of the 1960s? Well, like Concorde, the ADO16 was created by single-minded engineers, who envisaged a car that would transport a family of four in comfort, provide sure-footed handling for the driver and take up a minimum of road space, whilst remaining relatively cheap to run. Like Concorde, the ADO16 was the result of visionaries, and the inherent “rightness” of the design is the result.

Vanden Plas Princess: with a little help from the Italians

Notice the wide tyres? Alexander Boucke's Vanden Plas Princess has paid host to a raft of changes, one of which is the addition of 13-inch Allegro wheels with wide tyres to replace the standard 12-inch items.
Notice the wide tyres? Alexander Boucke’s Vanden Plas Princess has been host to a raft of changes, one of which is the addition of 13-inch Allegro wheels with wide tyres to replace the standard 12-inch items

Longbridge had a little help from the Italians but, given that this was in the styling department, nothing but good could come from such foreign cross-pollination. So, should the old cliché, ‘Best of British’, be applied to the BMC 1100/1300 (ADO16), as it should Concorde?

Perhaps the outcome is inevitable. After all, I found that the 1100 tested in the feature, ‘floating to revolution stood up remarkably well in modern traffic conditions, and could not help but agree with Alex Moulton’s comment that it was, ‘extraordinary’. Of course, this 1963 Morris 1100 had weak points, not least its less-than-powerful engine, compromised driving position and too-short gearing. Therefore, The idea of driving a later ADO16, with a larger engine and longer gearing seemed to be the only way forward.

The car I chose to try is one that has whetted my appetite since the moment I first heard about it. Belonging to AROnline Deputy Editor, Alexander Boucke, this Vanden Plas Princess 1300 has been subjected to a raft of well-considered modifications.

Slightly uprated from standard

For one, its engine has been mildly tuned to about 80bhp, thanks to some porting of the cylinder head, and has been allied to a gearbox sporting longer ratios to best make use of the extra poke. Nestling behind 13-inch Allegro wheels, an uprated braking system (taken from a Maxi) makes sure it stops as well as it goes, whilst the suspension has been treated to the addition of supplementary dampers in order to tame some of its Hydrolastic bounce. Mechanically, then, there was very little left to criticise.

Cosmetically, it was a similarly positive story: being a Vanden Plas, the interior is extremely nicely appointed, featuring leather seats, deep pile Wilton carpeting and expanses of highly lacquered wood. Externally, this ADO16 featured the full-depth Vanden Plas radiator grille and oodles of chrome plated brightwork. Finishing off the effect, a pair of racing wing mirrors and a sport steering wheel (taken from a Triumph 2500). All in all then, this ADO16 has it all…

So, the sum of the parts looks good: take one 1100 add more power, equipment and improved damping, and the result must surely be close to perfection…

Driving the Vanden Plas Princess

Ahead of the game: BMC cottoned on early to the idea of the luxury compact, and the Vanden Plas typified the company's methods. Thick, leather seats and a slab of wood for a dashboard. Again, it could have been vulgar, but thanks to Vanden Plas, it was (and is) the epitome of good taste.
Ahead of the game: BMC cottoned on early to the idea of the luxury compact, and the Vanden Plas typified the company’s methods. Thick, leather seats and a slab of wood for a dashboard. Again, it could have been vulgar but, thanks to Vanden Plas, it was (and is) the epitome of good taste

So the car looks good and, when you open the door, it smells good. All quality British cars of a certain age seem to have a variation of this smell; it seems to be a mixture of leather, Wilton and oil. Either way, it creates a welcoming ambience, which instils a feel-good factor. However, that warm fuzzy feeling is soon shocked out of the system when you sit in that big, padded seat and adopt the classic Issigonis driving position. Comfortable, it isn’t.

However, the driving position does not demand the driver to perform unreasonable contortions and, once you acclimatise to the undignified hunch, it seems perfectly reasonable. The Vanden Plas ergonomics are not brilliant, thanks to small and messily calibrated instruments, and a raft of auxiliary switches in a bank to the right. Alexander has taken the time to install a bank of auxiliary gauges, but sadly, in the short drive I was treated to, I never got the chance to really use any of them.

To start up, you don’t so much turn the key and churn, a flick of the key is enough to prod it into life. Once started, the driver is greeted with that unique and instantly recognisable sound of a transmission-in-sump A-Series-engined car. The Mini makes exactly the same sound, as does the Austin Metro… and the Austin Allegro. Almost immediately, and without engaging gear, I find myself warming to this car. Good job really, because first gear is initially baulky, and it takes a drop into second before it goes back into first smoothly. Mind you, once underway, the gearchange is smooth and stress-free, and never again does it struggle going in…

Excellent performance delivered by A-Series

Photogenic, isn't it? The VP lettering in its number plate is no accident...
Photogenic, isn’t it? The VP lettering in its number plate is no accident…

Power delivery is very nice indeed. Once underway, it is immediately obvious that this ADO16 is more powerful than standard: it pulls cleanly from low revs but, as soon as 2000rpm is passed, you are into the torque zone. First is merely needed to get underway, second delivers instantaneous acceleration from walking pace, and third is really effective from 15mph onwards: that torque zone really allows the Princess to be driven quickly and firmly without any real effort.

Gearing is longer than standard, too… considerably taller than the 1100, and yet because of the power characteristics of this engine, it does not feel overgeared in the slightest. My immediate seat-of-the-pants impressions were that this car was closer in performance, feel and sound to a 1982 MG Metro 1300, rather than the 1962 Morris 1100. It was also a world apart from the last A-Series Allegro I had the misfortune to drive.

The long gearing also has the side benefit of allowing relatively peaceful motorway cruising. Whilst the 1100 was limited to a comfortable 55mph, thanks to its ultra-short top gear, the Princess quite happily sat at 70mph. Yes, the engine noise was a tad intrusive by modern standards but, for a car built in the 1960s, it was very impressive indeed – as was the feeling of stability and security. It tracked arrow straight along a heavily-cambered section of motorway and remained unaffected by truck turbulence when overtaking.

Planted and happy on the motorway

In profile, it is unusual for a short car to work really well; the ADO16 does, though. The larger wheels also give it a visual lift.
In profile, it is unusual for a short car to work really well; the ADO16 does, though. The larger wheels also give it a visual lift

Given that a comparable Ford Cortina or Vauxhall Viva had the tendency to be thrown across half a lane by the bow waves of trucks being overtaken, it is a very impressive achievement indeed. Indeed, the 1100 was light years ahead of the game back then, and driving this car reminds me yet again of the scale of BMC’s achievement. Motorways are not the ADO16’s strongest suit, though, and I was more keen to take it along the local test track – I mean the A509.

Thankfully, the Princess did not disappoint here. The steering, as delightful as ever, does not seem to have been corrupted by the wider tyres fitted. In fact, once under way, there is very little difference in weight, only an additional amount of feel. Considering that the original was hardly shy in telling the driver what it was doing, this makes for a very entertaining drive. Combined with the low-roll suspension, the communicative steering and throttle response offer up a three-channel sensory overload for the driver – on a twisty road, it almost feels alive.

Consider this: on a 60mph bend, you could place the Princess to within millimetres of where you wanted it. Just turn, aim and go. At sane on-road speeds and in the dry, there was not a trace of understeer, and certainly nothing to indicate the possibility of a lively rear end. Some people may call this boring. Trust me, it isn’t.

Even better on the B-roads

Still, terrific cornering was always going to be on the cards with this car: the magic ingredients were always there. A sterner test lay ahead when venturing onto less well surfaced local unclassifieds. Turning off the A509, I chose a demon little road, which offers a combination of undulations, adverse cambers, corners and abrasive surfaces, packaged together to form a perfect test for any car’s suspension set-up. To give an idea of context, a Rover 75 is just about on the ragged edge of body control on this stretch at 75mph. Lesser Citroëns can just about run up to about 70 if you’re brave, and anything less than accomplished in the suspension department (such as a Rover Sterling) would feel decidedly uncomfortable at 60.

How did the Princess do? Well, I decided not to really tax it, but at 60 (tough in some larger cars, remember), it felt composed and in control. The 60-degree bend, which plunges down and to the left after a long stretch of mixed-frequency undulations (just to unsettle the car even more) was comfortable and agreeably flat. All good news, and very, very impressive when viewed in the context of the car’s age. However, what really blew me away was how much the supplementary dampers worked for this car. On similar roads in an unmodified 1100, the car would be reasonably composed, but the Hydrolastic bounce would begin to prove tiring. In this car, that up-down motion was massively reduced, although not quite eradicated.

I was impressed nevertheless. Even more so, when Alexander, along for the ride, stated in his amusingly dry way that these dampers really were quite old and were almost certainly due for replacement – a testament to the advantages of interconnected suspension. Such complication may not be a necessity these days but, in the 1960s when the leaf spring ruled the roost, interconnected cars really did offer the common man a taste of true sophistication. And thankfully, the common man liked what he saw (and felt) and quite rightly bought these cars in bucket loads.

Verdict: Perfection in a twelve-foot package?

Tried and tested: it would seem that most of the criticisms of the 1100 were answered with this car, although this particular 1275cc A-Series puts out around 80bhp thanks to some nifty head work.
Tried and tested: it would seem that most of the criticisms of the 1100 were answered with this car, although this particular 1275cc A-Series puts out around 80bhp thanks to some nifty head work

In a word: nearly.

In essence, the Vanden Plas Princess 1300 is a wonderful, wonderful car. There really is little to criticise it for: performance is acceptable, roadholding is excellent, ride is also good. Add in the reasonable accommodation for a family of four and its all-round daintiness, and you have yourself a very appealing package. Age does not seem to have wearied the style on bit either: still crisp and elegant, without a trace of flab or excess to its name. Imagine the effect of putting such a large grille on the front of any other car and you see what I mean.

It also possesses something that is very hard to define: charisma. It is obvious that the by-product of the genius that went into it is character in spade loads. You almost want to hug it because it makes you feel good. It even makes a sensible classic car because it is cheap to run and, although it has a reputation for voracious rust, any remaining examples with an MoT will most certainly have had these issues sorted. So a complete thumbs up, then? Yes, just about…

If this car were food – imagine it to be the finest steak cooked to perfection. Nice to look at, and better to smell and taste. Mouth after mouth of perfection until… until you come to the gristle… With this Princess, that flaw must rest with the driving position, which seemed even worse than the last 1100 I piloted. An aching knee after 30 minutes is not a good sign, but thanks to the hideously off-set pedals, it happened, and it took the shine off the drive.

Still, if that is the only criticism which one can make about a 40-year-old BMC design, then it is a very big achievement. Imagine if it had been a Vanden Plas 1500 I had driven; the story would have been very, very different. I would have chastised it for everything but the driving position. Greatest BMC ever? It’s up there…

With thanks to Alexander Boucke for the drive of his car…

Keith Adams
Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)


  1. I’ve been using this car as a way to commute to office for a few days recently – I’ve forgotten just how modern it feels! And there is the constant need to watch the speedo, otherwise the Princess would catch me out and lead to a series of tickets. It seems to me that a modernised ADO16 would really have made the Allegro a pointless exercise.

    • Thanks for supplying the car for this article Alex. The mods. you have done are excellent. The bigger wheels (amazing they fit without rubbing) to give it taller gearing, the Triumph steering wheel has made a lovely little car even better. Would love to see a YouTube video of the car. Peter in Tasmania Australia. I have an Austin 3 L, very rare in Aus.

      • When we originally bought the car about 30 years ago, it did even have an A-series bored and stroked to nearly 1600cc – and that was very powerful. So the bigger wheels, brakes and added damping made a lot of sense when the car was able to run significantly faster than 100mph. This engine did last about 25k miles and has been replaced with a ‘fast road’ A-series block. Everything else, cylinder head, exhaust and gearing has been kept.
        The only YouTube video that I have online is a drive in my own 3 litre from a couple of years ago. But thanks for the inspiration – maybe I will find the time. Currently the car is getting new bushings and joints fitted to the front.

  2. It’s now six years later, are the family ADO6’s ( this one and the auto) still running OK? How about an update ?

    • Would the automatic be able to take the larger diameter wheels/tyres or would it upset the automatic changes?

  3. One wonders how an Austin Apache / Victoria based Vanden Plas Princess would have looked, especially if it resembled a downsized version of the Vanden Plas Princess 1800 prototype.

  4. How’d you manage to get different transmission ratios for this car? I’d kill to get a better 4th ratio for the Wolseley. 1-4 is almost exactly the same as the ratios on my 86hp hyundai accent and swapping the ADO17 4th out for the equivalent LCII 5th would make a massive difference.
    I got the proper parts together for a long heimholtz intake for the Wolseley so will be installing that soon.
    Just wish I could find a better 4th replacement.

    • All that is needed is to change the drop gear, which is available in quite a number of different ratios. When ” longer gear ratio” was referred to what was really meant was ” longer final drive ratio”

      • That’s it. In this car the final drive is from a Mini Cooper S. This, together with the large wheels (and a re-calibrated speedo!) make it an excellent motorway cruiser with 80-85mph a good crusing speed without car or driver breaking into sweat.
        Most of the conversion was done back in the 70s, before the very tall final drive boxes from the last injection Minis were available.

        • Question is will those fit an 18/85 or are there some available that will? I think I understand what they are, they’re the gears in the casing between engine & clutch. I’ve seen pictures of someone rebuilding an 18/85 final drive and by all accounts it’s a nightmare.
          The engine is going to have to come out soon anyway and if I can get bits to make changes..
          The reason I’d prefer a cog change to the drop gears is 1-3 the performance is OK, but a underdrive 4th would solve the high rpm at motorway speeds & improve all round economy, since I’m in top most of the time, I know it’d make 3-4 a bit more of a stretch but as long as it’s sensible the engine is flexible enough.

  5. The Vanden Plas Princess pioneered the concept of a small, affordable luxury car, offering the luxury of something like a Jaguar with the economy of an ADO16. Other manufacturers didn’t really catch on to this idea until the mid seventies, when Ford launched its wood and velour Escort Ghia, and downsizing following the energy crisis saw small, well equipped cars appear. However, none seemed to do it as well as the Vanden Plas Princess or even the much mocked 1500, awful on the outaide, but as beautiful as a Daimler Limousine on the inside.

    • Don’t forget Wolsley had made made an upmarket version of the Morris 8, with Viscount Nuffield owning one in his later years.

  6. Would buyers these days want/understand a car with wood, chrome and leather? – certainly be a change from boring charcoal grey interiors.
    Be interesting to compare the VDP with an MG 1300?
    BTW in 2012 the design was already at least 50 years old.

    • “Want/Understand” ….Some might Chris C. Gave a relative a lift in my now twenty year old Rover 620ti. She has a more modern French car ~ silver with dull grey plastic interior throughout. She was impressed with the 620ti’s genuine fake walnut trim liked it and said so…. 😉 A touch of class can make a difference in the grey sea of SUV sameness out there.

      Not all new cars are ditchwater grey. Parked alongside a woman in the local supermarket and got talking to her about her new Blue MG ZS as she loaded its huge hatch with shopping bags. Not only was she pleased with the car and the colour, she went onto say it was the best car she’s ever had. Previously bought Fords but did not do so this time. Apparently the equivalent Ford was about ten grand more.

      Always puzzled me that so many car colour choices are none vibrant colours now. Mostly various shades of grey up to and including black. White and blue BMWS popular choices locally. BMWs, mostly 3-Series, are bar far the most popular cars now I see locally on just every trip recently. There really is a lot of them.

      • The lack of colour options for interior leather is even worse than for paint, only the very high end like RR and Bentley seem to offer the variety of leather colours that VdP had. Even a top spec. Mercedes has poor leather options.
        I think the paint colour palette problem is a result of using water based paints rather than the multi-layer cellulose paints.

    • In their final guise the MG1300 (October 1968 to August 1971) produced 70bhp and 2 door only, the VDP1300 produced 65bhp and just 4 door.
      Th final Riley Kestrel manufactured from October 1968 to August 1969 was also 70bhp and was probably the VDP’s closest in house rival.
      The Austin/Morris 1300GT, 4 door 70bhp was the really big seller in the range from 1969 to 1974.

      • I always liked the Riley Kestrel’s. Having said that, my brother once owned a Morris 1300GT (H reg) and it was a really nippy good looking car with the vinyl roof and sporty wheel trims. I think these were more desirable than an MG 1300

        • That depends on your taste in, um, styling. The MG was usefully lighter, as it had the 2-door shell. But as my father found to hi cost, the radiator grille hit the car in front before the bumper did.

          • Don’t get me wrong, I liked the MG1100/1300 styling and the octagon badge, but think the A & M 1300 GT looked sporty and the performance was good for the time… and at reasonable cost

    • I did this in 1978 while learning to drive! My dad’s VDP was comfy but not over-wieldy, with the very large Bakelite wheel (2 spokes at half past eight and half past three – Alexander’s helm is not original). My brother’s MG was noticeably quicker and more wieldy, with a chunky thick leather rimmed steering wheel. But it was certainly noisier.

        • My brother’s MG was eventually treated to a 3.44 final drive from a Mini. It had a Kenlowe fan, so no shortage of power. He also fitted an engine steady bar to counter the block swinging fore and aft under torque reactions, but IIRC it made the bulkhead shake so he took it off.
          New topic: the ADO16 range was a hit in Bermuda, where cars over a certain length were not allowed. Vauxhall custom built Victor 101s for Bermuda with shorter front wings and bonnet! – hard to believe today.
          Another note – a friend of ours recalls using an 1100 estate as a company car – he worked for a TV rental company, whose signs covered the inside of the rear side windows. With the addition of curtains front and back, he could sleep in it on campsites.
          Brakes – IIRC the VDP was the only ADO16 with a brake servo as standard. The brakes were very sharp. The MG had no servo – the brakes were fine, and harder to lock up than the VDP.

          • @ Ken Strachan, British cars were a common sight across the English speaking part of the Carribean due to ties to the Empire. I do remember watching a news report in 1983 from Grenada, where the Americans had foiled a communist coup, and seeing a Hillman Hunter and an ADO16, which were dying out in the UK. Possibly these were the best cars most people in Grenada could aspire to and the hot climate meant rust wouldn’t be such an issue.

          • I remember seeing some newsreel footage of Uganda shot in the early 1970s which featured a battered looking Hillman Minx which would have been around 20 years old at the time.

  7. I agree that a modernised ADO16 would have rendered the Allegro a pointless exercise. I am also the owner of a similarly modified ADO16 for the last 24 years, many of them used as an everyday car. A more powerful engine and a higher final drive transform these cars. In LHD form even the driving position does not feel too bad, and you can rest your right foot on the side of the floor tunnel. I wonder though if Alexander could give us some more details on the brake system modifications using parts from the Maxi. Since the demise of the asbestos front pads, i was never totally happy with the brakes.

    • Indeed, driving LHD 1300s is much better from the seating position. RHD automatics are fine, but with the strong engine I tend to get cramps in the right foot from having to lift the foot always to a strange angle.
      The front brake calipers are actually from an Allegro, not a Maxi. But the difference is minor: The Allegro calipers are a like a slight improvement on the Maxi units, featuring metric brake pipe fittings… There is also a brake servo fitted. The rear drum brakes of Maxi and ADO 16 are actually the same diameter, so no use to change anything here.

      • Alexander : very interesting what you say about RHD automatics being alright, because that was precisely our experience which I related yesterday in a posting much lower down in this thread. I had not realsied that the manual’s position was that much different . Incidentally, I loved the AP automatic !

  8. What an absolutely wonderful account of the virtues of this version of the AD016. Whilst BMC mat have been previously slated for “badge engineering” they actually deserve far more credit. Sure, the Austin and Morris versions were pure badge engineered; and maybe there was little space or need for a Riley version. But starting from the top of the range the VDP was a beautifully executed design. Quality oozed from its crafted fitout. It looked very special and desirable as an affordable prestige small/med car.
    Next down the list came Wolesley, also associated with a quality interior, although a lesser measure and more of a deluxe ADO16.
    The MG represented a sporty performance version and while the early ones were disappointing performance, the later 1300’s with high performance engines and rev counters were what was expected of an MG.
    Finally, the Austin/Morris 1300GT represented a BMC product to counter the GT mania sweeping all manufacturers at that time. They were great!
    So, a fine family of distinct ADO16-derived models, each with their own unique formula. Was this a bad thing?? After all, they were the top-selling range in the UK for many years. No wonder the excellent Austin Maxi was a sales disaster with only one nameplate to distribute and a single trim level on identical 1500 or 1750 models. The later 1750HL was only a marginal improvement and certainly couldn’t qualify as a GT!
    Today’s comment on looking back at the VDP ADO16 brings back a warm affection for the complete package it represented, and praise for the BMC strategists who followed through without cost-cutting measures and delivered a car that truly met its target market.
    Thoroughly enjoyed this great piece of nostalgic journalism! Thanks.

  9. Give me a break! The Americans could not get close to a government subsidized modified fighter jet that carries 150 people? A money loser at best. What a bogus statement! The US space agency built stuff that landed astronauts on the moon! If we wanted to build a fuel wasting jet plane like the Concord we could have but it wouldn’t be economical then, would it? So far neither the UK or France have not conquered space. Eh?

    Look at Concorde… A world-beating aeroplane that neither the Russians nor the Americans could get close to. It showed that, with some help from the French, the British could still build a passenger airliner, which was single-mindedly conceived to transport 150 executives across oceans in the shortest time possible. The fact that it was also achingly beautiful was merely co-incident; it was a machine built for a purpose…

    • Some fighter …. some modifications ! I am struggling to identify the fighter that was modified . Of course , the Concorde was not a patch on the Boeing 2707 . Can anyone remind me what happened to that ???

      • The Boeing 2707 suffered a lot from being designed to be larger & fly faster than Concorde.

        This meant a much larger design effort, especially the use of advanced alloys to deal with the amount of air friction, which would melt the standard aluminium alloys Concorde was built with.

        This & many other issues meant that any significant design chance meant an almost complete redesign each time. Also being before the days of fly by wire it would have been hard to control if it was built.

        Even Boeing’s design team struggled to come up with a viable design, & with the American government not bankrolling the project they eventually threw in the towel.

  10. I have a soft spot for the VDP 1100/1300, my father owned a succession of them through the late 1960’s early 70’s. My job was to thoroughly valet them on a weekly basis.
    The fit and finish was in a class of their, Wilton carpet, Connolly leather, West Of England cloth roof lining and acres of burr walnut. The exta sound proofing was impressive. The downside, poor rust proofing and body design with subframes just like others in the ADO 16 range. So you could argue the quality was only a veneer.
    I can recall low mileage well maintained examples will collapsed sills and rotten inner wings at 4 years old.

  11. @ Neil B, most cars rusted 50 years ago and the VDP was no worse than its contemporaries, and most car owners expected to spend a fair sum on rust repairs come MOT time. However, you could forgive the VDP this for its beautiful interior, cossetting ride, absence of engine noise, 95 mph performance and styling.

    • Glenn, I know what you mean about rust on cars 50 years ago but the ADO16 was a real serious rot box. I spent my youth trying to keep on top of their rust. Sill’s front wings, inner front wings especially and f/r subframes being particularly vulnerable. The fact it was a VDP version made no difference to their corrosion resistance. By comparison the contemporary 1800/2200 and Maxi had little in the way of corrosion problems. Even my early 70’s Minis were more corrosion resistant than the 70’s ADO 16’s
      A VDP 1300 max 65bhp for a manual version would never reach 95mph. The most I managed was an indicated 90mph out of my old mans and believe me I was trying! That was one up, me weighing 9 stone and a year old car at 10k miles. A late MG1300 2 door 70 bhp would just do 95mph. The VDP was a really heavy car with all the sound proofing and quality fixtures effectively blunting the performance.
      Lovely cars though. Thornfalcon Classics in Somerset have a genuine 1970 VDP 1300 18k genuine miles at £12950, tempting.

      • The big issue with ADO16s was the subframe, the sills and the wings. Interestingly, the Allegro was a lot better rustproofed and seemingly most Vanden Plas 1500s have survived. However, the VDP Princess was a much better looking car.

        • The ADO16 VDP was definitely a lovely looking car and still looks good today, whereas the VDP 1500 will always be ugly. I recall at it’s launch in 1974 the press christening it “the pigs ear” as in you can’t make a silk purse out of one. The name stuck.
          Keeping up the tradition my old man purchased a new VDP 1500 in1976, it didn’t rust, it leaked. It took 3 attempts and 3 sets of Wilton carpets before it was fixed. He sold it after 3 years, yet it was still around in the late 80’s and looking in good condition too.

      • The difference in corrosion resistance between ADO16 and Maxi/Landcrab is true. The last Austin/Morris Mk3 were particularly bad. My father’s last new 1300 already had quite some visible rust when new in 1974 (obviously being stored for nearly a year at the time). This Mk3 just managed to live on until 1986 with quite a lot of effort on the body work.

      • I beg to differ on the performance issue. I got an indicated 96 mph out of a 1967 VDP 1100. It’s out there somewhere – I re-shelled it in 1974 JNB 669F. I should never have sold . ..

        • They were quite swift cars in either 1100 ot 1300 form and had extra sound deadening to make motorway journeys quieter. 96 mph for a small car in 1967 is very impressive, Graham, considering you could still buy a Morris Minor that would struggle above 70 mph. Always liked these cars as they created a new market for smaller luxury cars that didn’t really grow until the seventies when the energy crisis saw buyers downsize and demand the same level of luxury as a bigger car in a car like an Escort. Always said the Mark 2 Escort Ghia in metallic gold with a vinyl roof and the wood and velour interior always looked a peach.

        • According to DVLA JNB 669F was a VDP 1275 and it was last taxed on 23 February 1989. Many immaculate examples were exported to Japan. A speedometer reading 96mph was likely very optimistic, downhill with a gale behind it etc.

    • So that just leaves ADO16’s off-set pedals and the lack of aftermarket air-con by clooraire / etc.

      While the A-Series used in this Vaden Plas Princess 1300 was a very good engine for its time, one can only imagine how viable production versions of the 1390-1596cc A-Series would have transformed ADO16 in general (and other A-Series cars) had engine development drifted in a different direction during its conception.

      A 70 hp MG 1300 GT / Austin 1300 GT would have become an 88 hp model in 1600 form, while a 1600 version of the 80 hp tuned engine in the Vanden Plas Princess mentioned in this article would have had 100 hp (with a 1600 version of the planned MG-badged Austin Victoria featuring a 83 hp twin-carb 1275cc engine putting out around 104 hp). Well within the standard 1275cc A-Series’s reputed 120-130 hp power limit and basically making the much heavier 1.6 B-Series redundant.

      • Austin offered air conditioning as an option on the AD106 Austin America, it shoehorned into the engine bay, just.

        • Just leaves the off-set pedals and larger engines, while the unbuilt ADO22 was probably going to receive E-Series engines, it would be interesting to see whether ADO22 would have remedied the former.

  12. It’s now nearly 50 years since we had an 1100, but strangely enough neither my wife nor I found it uncomfortable or strange to drive. We are both moderately tall i.e 6 feet and 5 feet 11 and had no problems. What perhaps takes some getting used to is the push pull steering action rather than rotation of the wheel

  13. I have been following your comments for quite a few years now Nate and find them interesting, what is your back ground?.

    • Am not someone involved in the motoring industry as such, just one who has come to appreciate various aspects of the British Motor Industry (and British Industry in general) or more specifically that its decline was not a complete inevitability.

      Like to look at things from largely a what-if / alternate history POV, since management and unions aside BMC / etc did have designers and engineers at a similar level of competence to those outside of Britain capable of potentially world class products.

      Also like to uncover various tidbits of information on the development of projects, experimental prototypes and more via books, other sources, etc (including parallels to other products) to add further plausibility to the above.

      Additionally of the view such knowledge to be capable of gradually changing people’s perceptions of the British Motor Industry for the better (even more so if widely disseminated on the net, etc), a few of the many examples being of the Allegro and Harris Mann’s original sketch comes to mind along with a hatchback originally being considered for the ADO20 Clubman.

      • This website and contributions like this certainly have changed my rather lazy perceptions of the British car industry. It also piques my interest in counterfactual scenarios for the industry – not just about lost opportunities for individual models but for the way in which entire organisations were merged and dragged each other down into oblivion. I started off here and have now also become very interested (and frankly, horrified) at the (self?) destruction of the aerospace industry in the UK.

        • I recommend reading Plane Speaking by the late Bill Gunston for some interesting stories about the air industry.

          While every chapter is interesting, some will make you laugh but some will make you hot under the collar.

        • Steve Koerner’s The Strange Death of the British Motorcycle Industry is also an interesting read, it along with Karl Ludvigsen’s Battle for the Beetle made me realise the UK automotive and motorcycle industry’s could have taken advantage of the war reparations of technology, intellectual property, tooling, etc then they actually did without crippling Germany’s post-war recovery.

          For example the 918cc Morris SV / Wolseley OHV was said to be a chinese copy of the Ford Sidevalve engine. Ford of Germany via the Ford Taunus G93A had plans to enlarge the Ford Sidevalve engine to a 1498cc SV prior to WW2, which eventually reached production albeit in OHV form with the post-war Ford Taunus P1 and later enlarged to 1698-1758cc in the Ford Taunus P3 until mid/late-1964.

          Morris themselves prior to merging with Austin to form BMC only planned to fit the 918cc Wolseley OHV to the Minor in 950-980cc form, though could have fitted the engine into the Minor much earlier were it not for the old fashioned attitudes of William Morris.

          Combined with tuning by Atla (whose OHV conversion of the 918cc Morris SV put out 38-49 hp) along with work by Harry Weslake later on and such a properly developed Wolseley OHV could have served Morris later BMC very well in the Minor and other cars, at least until the mid/late-1960s and perhaps even slotted between the A-Series and B-Series engines in 1398-1598cc forms.

  14. The 1476cc side valve engine used in the Oxford had an OHC version for the Wolsley counterparts, which would have been nice to continue into the BMC era as an alternative for the B series, but the Nuffield engines seemed to the ones phased out.

    • In Jon Pressnell’s Morris: The Cars and the Company, it is said the 1476cc SV / OHC and 2215cc OHC engines were essentially an early precursor to what eventually became the OHV C-Series engine.

      Apparently a 1100cc OHC version was considered for use in an MG Minor variant at one point, though fail to see how it would compare well with the Wolseley OHV. The 2215cc 6-cylinder was also considered to be enlarged to 3.25-4-litres for a Morris / Wolseley challenger to the Austin Sheerline, which would partly explain the excess weight of the C-Series in latter years. It is also said the Morris Oxford was tested with a 1750cc OHV engine at one point, which is interesting because a 4-cylinder version of the 2.6 C-Series would feature a very similar displacement.

      William Morris was said to be influenced by the success of the 1948 Holden into dropping his pre-war notions of Morris cars being SV-only, envisioning an OHV version of the post-war Morris Six MS being Nuffield’s answer to the Holden.

      In a way the Nuffield Group could have potentially rationalised their diverse range of engines down to around 2-3 in the immediate post-war period from the Wolseley OHV, Nuffield 4/6-cylinder (albeit in OHV form the outset) and the XP (which would eventually be replaced by either one of the two other engines in tuned form for use in MGs). The Wolseley OHV could have remained in production a bit longer had it appeared earlier in the Minor instead of being under development for use in the latter only as BMC was being formed.

      • The Morris Oxford 1476cc engine had nothing in common with the OHC engine except the dimensions , which were dictated by the transfer machinery sizes. The OHC engine in both 4 and 6 cylinder form was in fact quite unusual in that the camshaft drive was at the back of the block (IIRC rather similar to the venerable AC engine ) . There is absolutely no similarity to the later C seties engine which was very conventional

        • Here is the relevant quote from page 227 in Jon Pressnell’s book on the possible relationship between the 2.2 OHC and 2.6-2.9 OHV C-Series.

          “The expensive-to-produce ohc engine was not only poorly cooled – despite a revised cylinder head introduced in 1952 – bur was notoriously prone to burning out its exhaust valves, a problem made worse by the low-quality fuels and oils of the time. Valves lasted 15,000 miles if you were lucky, 5000 miles if you were unlucky. The police, heavy Wolseley users – in both senses of the word – had replacement heads built up ready to be installed on their 6/80s at the slightest hint of trouble.

          Stellite hardening pushed valve life up to maybe 25,000 miles, but Nuffield never adopted this process. The problem was inherent in the means of valve actuation, which prevented the valve from rotating as it opened and closed, and in despair Morris Engines began to develop a related pushrod unit.”

          • Thanks, there is probably much more to the story though it appears a link does exist between the two engines.

            Additionally Jon Pressnell’s does mention there being much component commonalty between the Minor, Oxford MO / Six MS as well as the 4/50 and 6/80 including between the Oxford MO SV and 4/50 OHC engines. Even if the extent of that commonality is up for debate.

            On page 245-246 regarding the Series II Oxford is the following quote on an 1750cc OHV version of the 1.5 SV engine (bare in mind a 4-cylinder version of the 2639cc C-Series would displace around 1759cc).

            “Had the merger not happened, the Oxford would of course have retained a Nuffield, gearbox and back axle, and evident suggests that the power unit would have been an overhead-valve version of the MO’s side-valve unit, possibly of 1750cc. Jack Daniels remembered this engine being installed in an Oxford – in all likelihood an Mo rather than a Series II – and its virtues being vigorously demonstrated by Charles Griffin, who was no mean driver.

            “Charlie had a 1750cc version, I think, of that ohv engine put into an Oxford, and he was trying it out, and he was saying what a good job it made of the car. I can accurately recall that in that car we went five-up to the Frankfurt Motor Show… Charlie drove it on the autobahns, and he was actually scaring people off. He was sitting right on the back of Mercedes-Benzes, and they were giving way. We were doing about a ton – an enjoyable ride, that was!””

  15. I did wonder what a 4 cylinder version of the C series wasn’t made, but with the B series being bored out to almost the same capacity it wasn’t really needed I guess.

    • Had the 4-cylinder C-Series been made it is probably a given it would have eventually been largely replaced by the B-Series, though the former could have still occupied the 1.8-2.0-litre segment (for the MG Magnette, Wolseley 4/44 and 15/50, Riley version of previous two under RMG moniker, MGA, etc) from the mid-1950s to 1960s (leaving a reliable version of the 1.6 B-Series Twin-Cam to be used in an MG version of the Riley 1.5 / Wolseley 1500) until the latter grew to similar displacements. A 2-litre OHV B-Series prototype engine put out 106 hp, while 2-litre B-OHC prototype engines put out around 112-115 hp so it would have been interesting to compare the B-Series engines to the experimental C-Series 4-cylinder engines (along with compare the B-Series 6-cylinders with the C-Series units).

      Intrigued by a 1.8-2.0 4-cylinder version of Gerald Palmer’s unrealised Twin-Cam C-Series 6-cylinder engine, along with OHC and similar developments considered for the C-Series 6-cylinder including Downton tuning (e.g. MGC, Austin 3-litre, etc) as well as had the revised engine met its weight reduction targets (since a theoretical 4-cylinder C-Series version with similar weight reduction would have only been 11-24kg heavier compared to the 156kg 1.8 B-Series). In better circumstances assume a role could have been found for the 4-cylinder C-Series.

      On page 87-88 of MG: The Untold Story by David Knowles is the following alternative engine option (after the V4/V6 project):

      “A Second option, which Don Hayter recalls was favoured by many at Abingdon, was a 2-litre four, created by cutting a cylinder from each end of the C-Series six. With production at Abingdon soaring (over 50,000 cars would be built in 1959 – a record output for the plant), the design team clearly felt that production volumes could justify this special engine.

      Hayter recalls that he drew up the definitive EX214/ADO23 prototype body lines to accommodate this unit. However, enthusiasm for it was largely confined to Abingdon, and the economics of another unique MG engine made BMC agreement unlikely, so the four-cylinder C-Series was abandoned, too.”

      While the mentions a credible reason why the 2-litre C-Series 4-cylinder was not pursued, it is worth mentioning that had the C-Series 4-cylinder appeared in the early/mid-1950s alongside its larger 6-cylinder sibling it would have been easy to justify. Also seem to recalling reading of experimental versions of the 1.5 (or 1.6) B-Series only being capable of up to 1.7 at the time prior to growing up to 1.8 for the MGB (and still having unrealised scope for 2-litres).

  16. Surprised the Leyland Princess didn’t get a Vanden Plas option, as this car deserved the Vanden Plas treatment, being an upmarket product and being limousine like inside. A Vanden Plas Princess, using the 2 litre O and 2.2 E6 mated to a three speed automatic transmission, and featuring a wood and leather interior, could have been a success. Also when production finished at Kingsbury, it could have continued alongside the Daimler Limousine in Coventry.

  17. I still think the MG1300 was the best of the ADO16 range, particularly if you bought one with blue and white paint and leather seats. It was rarer than an Austin 1300 GT, which added to its appeal.

  18. The ADO16 was a decent enough car for the sixties, but by the seventies was becoming old fashioned, even if it was one of the best cars in its class to drive and the Vanden Plas was unique as something like an Avenger GLS couldn’t come close for quality fittings. Oddly enough, it was conservatively engineered rwd cars like the Hillman Avenger that were mounting the challenge to the ADO16, and the growing affluence of the times saw buyers wanting bigger cars with more performance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.