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 firstname.lastname@example.org