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Vanden Plas Princess 4L R

Vanden Plas Princess 4L R Published: 31st Aug 2017 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

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A Rolls for commoners that’s fit for a king – and for pennies!

I saw an old bmc saloon with rolls grille, what is it?

From what you describe, that’s the poor man’s Rolls-Royce, the Vanden Plas Princess and there was a fairly solid connection between the two brands after the Princess, initially fitted with a six-cylinder engine (that was also shared with the Austin- Healey) was fitted with an Rolls- Royce engine (albeit not the Silver Cloud one) to become the 4-Litre R which was produced until 1968.

Is it a hybrid?

Sort of. Back in 1964, the British Motor Corporation would have liked prospective owners to believe that the Vanden Plas Princess 4-Litre R was a miniature Rolls-Royce, in size, stature and price, which was not quite the case. In essence, this luxury saloon is a combination of a modified Austin A110 Westminster body (hardly spartan itself) fitted with a cultured Crewe engine and a classy cabin trimmed by in-house coachbuilder Vanden Plas of Kingsbury. Values have been increasing in recent years as its combination of Pininfarina’s most attractive styling for BMC with a decadently luxurious interior has come to be appreciated for its very real virtues, as opposed to 1960’s social pretentions.

What’s the car’s background?

Vanden Plas, often known as VDP, were acquired by Austin in 1946 and 11 years later Leonard Lord, the president of the BMC, ordered a specially trimmed version of the A105 Westminster, the outfit’s main Zodiac/Cresta rival. He was so impressed by the end result that he ordered the ‘A105 Vanden Plas’ into small-scale production and in 1959 this was replaced by the Princess 3-Litre. This was the flagship of the new ‘Big Farina’ line-up, ranking above the Austin A99 Westminster and the police inspectors’ favourite, the Wolseley 6/99.

The early models were sold as a ‘Princess 3-Litre’ but from 1960 they were formally known as a ‘Vanden Plas Princess 3-Litre’. By 1962 the British Motor Corporation and Rolls- Royce had been staging talks about future co-operation on engineering matters and eventually, Crewe’s six-cylinder FB60 plant was offered for use by BMC. The Princess 3-Litre was succeeded by the new Vanden Plas Princess 4-Litre R in late 1964 and a considerable amount of work was undertaken to differentiate the new car from its predecessor. There were no longer any tail fins, a more upright rear windshield which complemented a new roof line and a new cross member to accommodate the weight of the alloy 175bhp 3909cc engine. The fact that the R débuted at the same time as the Austin 1800 gives quite an insight into the sheer diversity of BMC’s line-up at that time.

Was it worth the additional £sd?

The 4-Litre R cost £1994 6s 3d when it was new; more than £500 more than its predecessor. To justify this increase, the 3-Litre’s already high level of equipment was made even more lavish with a separate heater for the rear passengers, power assisted steering and threespeed Borg Warner Model 8 automatic transmission (there was no manual box option) as standard.

Extra sound deadening cocooned the occupants from the rigours of 1960’s Britain and, of course, there was the new engine. The bodies were sent from the Cowley plant to north-west London for extensive retrimming while the ‘R’ stood for either ‘Rolls’ or ‘Royal’, according to which dealer you listened to. The fact that the VDP’s price was a shade under £2000 was crucial for UK sales as from 1961 tax relief on company cars had been restricted to those costing under this sum.

An early road test by Autocar concluded that “Even if the origin of the engine were not disclosed, the refinement of the car justifies its conclusion in the price £2000 category” and it could be that the branding did not help its chances. BMC had high hopes for the Princess 4-Litre R in the Stateside marketplace but these did not materialise and production ceased in early 1968, after just 6555 cars were built; there were also strong rumours of the Princess being stockpiled. In retrospect, losing the ‘R’ suffix, using Austin rather than Vanden Plas badging and reducing the price by £100 might have tempted more executive motorists towards a very agreeable motor car.

What are these cars like to drive?

The Vanden Plas was designed well before the OPEC 70’s fuel crisis and this is reflected in a thirst for petrol in the 13mpg to 17mpg range! As with all the ‘Big Farina’ range, the 4-Litre R has zero claims to being a sports saloon, despite a none too shabby 175bhp on tap and some drivers may find the Hyrdrosteer assistance makes the steering over light. However, its top speed of nearly 110mph is very respectable, the R soon became a very adept motorway cruiser. Furthermore, the workmanship on the cabin is exquisite, from the wool headlining to the folding tables for the back-seat passengers.

BMC offered only one version of the 4-Litre R although a sliding glass division was a listed extra and a shooting brake was built for HM The Queen, no less. A bench front seat and ‘Normalair’ air conditioning was available although these were rarely found on the Princess. A heated rear window and Selectaride adjustable rear dampers were more commonly specified options though.

How about the earlier one?

It lacks the smoothness of the Rolls engine, naturally, and with a more than 60bhp deficit is a lot slower (0-60mph 17.9sec against the Cooper S matching 12.7sec) but is an equally fine cruiser and boasts similar levels of luxury. There were almost double the number produced and so you’ll find one easier. Autos were optional so there’s also a fourspeed manual with overdrive on this one and lifeless power steering wasn’t available until 1962. And yes, you can easily update the engine to Big Healey spec to make a bit of a goer and handler, too…

Give me some real world prices

Austin’s VP provide a champagne lifestyle on beer money, it really does. Prefect Princess can be had below ten grand with good ones, say, £5000. If you fancy a challenge, projects can be had from around £1000 or even less, although given parts rarity etc, you’ll never make a king’s ransom on one. Buy the best you can is our advice. In general, the R commands only a grand or so above the 3-Litre although it’s better to own one of these, fit for a king, than a ratty R.

What’s the catch?

In common with so many of its contemporaries, the Princess should be carefully inspected for corrosion, especially around the inner wings, front cross member, around the rear outriggers, door bottoms and the wheel arches. It is not unknown for the VDP’s steering box to suffer from excessive play while the suspension bushes are prone to collapsing and the shock absorbers are not renowned for their longevity.

An engine that’s been neglected may suffer from ‘little end’ wear, worn valve gear and piston slap; constant knocking sounds are not good news. A further problem is overheating and may be a symptom of the alloy unit suffering from internal corrosion but parts supply isn’t bad; the earlier ‘Austin’ engine is well served by Healey specialists, naturally.

With regard to the cabin, restoring a tired hide and timber to its former glory will not be an inexpensive process. Excellent spares support and general advice are provided by two owners’ clubs and

Is it a classic?

Listen, everyone has their own idea of what constitutes a classic but many enthusiasts and experts do indeed see the 4-Litre R as a very collectable vehicle for the future. When they were new, the Vanden Plas suffered from an ill-defined image and the attentions of banger racers during the 1970s and 1980s did not assist their survival rate. Today, they are widely respected as a handsome well-appointed big saloon with a sense of quiet dignity.


Classic Motoring

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