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While you could say that almost every classic is a little unusual, rare, out-of-the-ordinary, or has some other outstanding attribute – which is what makes a classic in the first place – every now and then here at ViaRETRO, we stumble across a genuine rarity, such as the Auto Union 1000SP Coupé we featured a couple of weeks ago. But then, the price of admission is usually accordingly.

This week’s Prime Find is all of these things, and yet not outrageously priced. It isn’t particularly exotic, super-fast, or stylish. But instead it is both rare, coachbuilt, and luxurious. Yet, what makes it really interesting is its history. We all know that a car’s provenance can have a significant bearing on its value. A famous owner, or a motor sport pedigree, can elevate a relatively ordinary car to special status.

While our Prime Find this week is a staid, traditionally “British” – some might even say boring – car, there are two things about it that make it rather exceptional.

One is its very low mileage – a mere 8,500 miles or 13,680km, and believed genuine too. The other is its history, for this 1967 Vanden Plas Princess R was used by none other than Harold Wilson, Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain for two separate stints – the first between 1964 and 1968, the second from 1970 to 1974. It was during the latter period that Wilson used this car, and it’s believed possible that his successors as Prime Minister, Edward Heath and James Callaghan might also have used the VP Princess R.

As ViaRETRO readers will know, Vanden Plas was originally a Belgian coachbuilder which established a base in the UK in 1913 – eventually becoming Vanden Plas (England) Limited in 1923 – specialising in building bodies for Bentley cars. Over time, the company built bodies for a wide variety of British manufacturers, before becoming a subsidiary of the Austin Motor Company in 1946, from which point it began producing bodies for the Princess range of cars. From the 1960’s onwards, Vanden Plas essentially became a luxury trim level on a wide variety of standard saloons from the British Leyland range, from cars as small as the Metro to the huge Daimler DS420 limousine.

A car with the Vanden Plas badge on it was likely to be very comfortable indeed – deep leather seats, walnut fascia, and drop-down walnut picnic trays built into the back seats, among other refinements. This Princess R, based originally on the Pininfarina-designed Austin A99 Westminster (very apt, in the case of this particular car), has all these upmarket accoutrements.

Perhaps most importantly, this version of the Princess has an all-aluminium 4-litre, 175 bhp engine from none other than Rolls Royce. Besides the obvious marketing advantages for British Leyland in such a link, it also gave the big saloon not only a decent turn of speed, reaching a maximum of 112mph / 180km/h, but also real refinement to match its luxuriousness.

Just over 6,500 were built, and this black example was originally registered to the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works on 2nd October 1967. Harold Wilson was believed to have used it during the early 1970’s. The Ministry sold the car in 1978, and it was kept in storage for many years before being sparingly used again from 2010 onwards, adding approximately 2,000 miles to its very low total. Here are some pictures of the Vanden Plas as it stands now:

Pictures of the actual Princess R which is up for auction are courtesy of Coys, Classic and Sports Car Ltd. and the Huddersfield Examiner.

It was available through Huddersfield-based dealer Classic and Sports Car Ltd back in 2015 – for our international readers, Huddersfield is in the North Eastern county of Yorkshire, and was Wilson’s home town – for £25,000, and has now come up for auction through Coys at the forthcoming London Classic Show on February 19th, with an estimate of just £15 – 20,000 currently equating to EUR 17,100 – 22,850. It was described by the dealer as being “in beautiful condition and incredibly original”, while the woodwork “is original and presents superbly”. As always, caveat emptor applies, but whoever buys it will have what Coys are calling “a superb piece of political and motoring history”.

For more information and an opportunity to put this rare piece of British history on your drive, you’ll want this link to the auction: 1967 Vanden Plas Princess R

 

 

With our Saturday instalment of Prime Find of the Week, we’re offering our services to the classic car community, by passing on our favourite classic car for sale from the week that passed. This top-tip might help a first-time-buyer to own his first classic, or it could even be the perfect motivation for a multiple-classic-car-owner to expand his garage with something different. We’ll let us inspire by anything from a cheap project to a stunning concours exotic, and hope that you will do the same.
Just remember – Any Classic is Better than No Classic! We obviously invite our readers to help prospective buyers with your views and maybe even experiences of any given model we feature. Further to that, if you stumble across a classic which you feel we ought to feature as Prime Find of the Week, then please send us a link to primefindoftheweek@viaretro.co.uk

7 Responses

  1. Anders Bilidt

    While the design is handsome enough, it’s also absurdly conservative. But I guess Tony summed all that up when saying that it’s neither, exotic, super-fast nor stylish. But while the design doesn’t have much effect on my pulse, it is in other ways quite an intriguing car. For starters, a Rolls-Royce engine in what is essentially an Austin – a brand closer associated with its many successful budget cars for the people, such as the Mini, A30, the ADO16 and many more. Has there ever been another car which had links to two such extreme ends of the market? And secondly there is of course the history of this particular Princess R.
    It’s probably not a car I will be adding to my garage anytime soon, but I can very easily see why and how it appeals to others…

    Reply
  2. Søren Navntoft

    I really like it. There is a kind of morphology over the car. From some angles it is a Mercedes, from another Fiat 2300. From the side you recognize hints of RR Silver Shadow. You can even find traces of Rover in the front.

    The price of all that is a car with a mixed identity and a lack of purity, but again, I like it.

    Is left hand drive an option?

    Reply
  3. Tony Wawryk

    @soren-navntoft while I largely agree with @anders-bilidt that I wouldn’t buy one, I can see the appeal, especially of this one, with its low mileage and history.
    Regarding LHD availability, I expected there to be none, but plugging “Vanden Plas Princess R in left hand drive” (I know, subtle, hey?) into Google, I was led to a couple of auction websites offering LHD versions of the car, and in one of those adverts, from where the attached photo comes, was this piece of information:-
    “A total of 6,555 cars were produced and it is my understanding that only1,200 with left hand drive made it to the USA”. @yrhmblhst, have you come across any on your travels? Whether any made it to Europe isn’t mentioned, and I haven’t found any further info on that.
    Equally interesting was this:- ” The Princess is the only civilian car to be powered by a Rolls Royce engine other than Rolls Royce and Bentley.”

    So that staid, upright and very dignified English body clothes a car that starts to get even more interesting…

    Reply
  4. Tony Wawryk

    One more piece of trivia about the Princess R – it seems that a handful of estate (or Countryman) versions were built, two of which were run by the Queen in the 1960’s.

    Reply
  5. Anders Bilidt

    Now if I could only find a Countryman, that might very well swing me to invest in such a charmingly conservative British creature after all…

    Reply
  6. David Yorke

    Whilst similar Austin Westminsters were used as Works rally service/ support/chase cars, i’m not 100% sure but I think that some may have been Vanden Plas Rs. Rumour also has it that the engine was not dissimilar to that of the Austin Champ, again rumoured by schoolboys at the time to be able to run on peanut putter.

    Reply
  7. Dave Leadbetter

    David, you’re completely correct, BMC did use them as service barges; Peter Browning’s excellent book “The Works Minis” makes reference to this in Chapter 11, Anatomy of a Monte which details planning and execution for the 1968 event. They used three Princess R service cars (JBL 494D, NBL 128E and JBL 492D), one Wolseley (GBL 610C), an A60 van (MJB 442E) and one of the BMC works transporters. It’s not recorded if the Princesses were saloons or Countrymen, but I’d counterintuitively assume saloons as I think the estates were extremely rare.

    Reply

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