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British Leyland Princess 18/22

Published: 4th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

British Leyland Princess 18/22
British Leyland Princess 18/22
British Leyland Princess 18/22
British Leyland Princess 18/22
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The swish and stylish new family saloon from BL that was not the thin end of the wedge!

One car, three makes – it couldn’t last. and it didn’t!

Back in the good old days, it wouldn’t be a ‘proper’ new car launch from British Leyland if the ‘finished’ product didn’t leave unanswered questions and missed opportunities, and the 18-22 Series was no exception. Launched in spring 1975, as the new advanced and more stylish take on the old Landcrab, the 18-22 was another of British Leyland’s ‘if only cars’. Designed by Harris Mann, who also penned the Allegro and the TR7, the 18-22 was a futuristic- looking saloon that was a world away from the usual frumpy front-wheel drive offerings care of the West Midlands. Also, it went almost as good as it looked. ADO 71 was supposed to have taken all the best bits from past and present BL efforts, blending them into one appealing and fairly affordable package for Mr Average. For example, the power steering was Jaguar, the Hydragas suspension Allegro-sourced, with the front axle Maxi-derived, while the rear axle was a mix of 1800 and Allegro. Powering the newcomer was the tried and tested 1800 B-Series, along with the Aussie-designated six pot, that originated from the Maxi’s overhead camshaft engine. In an age of bulky looking Victors and old-hat Cortinas, the new 18-22 looked like a four-door Ferrari in comparison, while the ride was not that far short of a Jag’s (if it had slightly worn dampers, that is).Clearly, the typical travelling salesperson had never had it so good, especially when BL boasted that the driving position had no less than 240 different positions – brilliant if you could spare the time to get it just right. The press fairly raved about the new saloon. “Much ADO about something” is how Practical Motorist summed up the car, also praising the design for its ease of DIY maintenance, the 73 square feet of undersealing employed (even if it did little good) and the lack of sub frames, which in the usual BL tradition always rotted away. Was Ford worried? Probably not because BL usually cocked things up. And it did by doing something the Blue Oval would never have contemplated – selling the car under three different badges! Yes, that’s right, from its March launch you could have the 18-22 in Austin, Morris and Wolseley forms, the latter pair having uglier grilles to house conventional headlamps unlike the Austin. What were those Brummie bosses thinking about? By October, a major facelift just months after launch saw three competing models come together u n d e r a c ommo n Princess banner! Another BL blooper was not offering the car as a hatchback, something the shape sorely lended itself to. It made the capacious boot a chore to use, through its woefully small bootlid. Common sense saw a reworked fi ve-door body, albeit almost a decade later, in the form of the ‘new’ Ambassador range.

In the right gear?

Work this one out if you can; by the time the 18-22 was introduced, the Maxi’s ohc engine was now well-proven and, in 1750 form, on par with the old B-Series engine power-wise. Also, it used a fi ve-speed gearbox for touring – modern thinking back then. Yet, while the owner of a Maxi costing £2207 in 1976 had the luxury of a restful added cog, along with an equally ‘happy’ Allegro 1750 HL motorist (£2312) equipped with the same hardware, the Princess driver was reaching for the ear plugs yet had paid £2520 for the privilege, which incidentally was more expensive than a big Ford Consul.Not even the larger six-cylinder 2200 ranges offered it as an option. This was a shame because the motorway showed the 18-22 (Princess) up in its best light, being supremely restful, comfortable and, thanks to its slippery shape, frugal. Indeed, the 2200HLS at £3294 was a viable, if rougher, alternative to an entry-model XJ6 costing over £2000 extra. “When you open the door, it looks like the money and is sure to satisfy the requirements of buyers …” remarked the critical Car magazine in 1975. The Princess did get the new engines it deserved in 1978, when the Princess 2 was introduced with the O Series unit - albeit still with just four-speeds. Shared by the Ital (old Marina) they were 1700cc or 2000cc but, as one magazine remarked, these units were “the only ohc engines with ohv tappet noise!” The far more awkward looking facelifted Ambassador dethroned the Princess in the early 1980s, before itself being replaced by the Maestro/Montego.

Right royal bargain

By the time most of us got behind the wheel of an 18-22, Princess or even Ambassador, they were second-hand – and, thanks to woeful reliability (engines letting go, suspensions collapsing, rust, build…), they became dirt cheap family transport – and exceedingly good ones too. That old B-Series may have been ancient, but it still performed lustily and in real time wasn’t that much slower than the silky smooth 2200 unit. Handling and road holding was deemed above average for its day and long hauls were almost something to relish, especially if you stepped out of a much more cruder and cramped Cortina. The ‘Wedge’, as they collectively became known, was miles better than a Marina or an Allegro. Some 313,000 were made, the rarest being the Wolseley, of which just 3800 were produced. Sometimes you see them displayed at car shows, usually tucked away out of sight with the Allegros. And yet this was a car that Longbridge had no reason to be ashamed of.

When The Car Was The Star

Leaving asides the very obvious choice of ‘Terry & June’ we also have Jim Hacker’s official Princess in the early episodes of ‘Yes Minister’, it is often forgetten that the ‘Wedge’ made several appearances in the 1977 season of ‘The Professionals’ and that very early 18-22s in both white Austin 1800L and black Morris 1800L forms played major roles in the second series of iconic ‘The Sweeney’. Police Wedges also appear in the 1976 ‘Sweeney’ spin-off fi lm and, as transport for the corrupt Inspector Parker, in ‘The Long Good Friday’ - but the prize for the most offbeat Princess screen role has to go to the hearse blown up in ‘Father Ted’...

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