Classic Car

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

The Austin Princess car is a large family car that was produced by the Austin Motor Company and British Leyland in the United Kingdom from 1975 to 1981. Known for its distinctive wedge-shaped design, the Austin Princess offered performance and luxury features that made it stand out from other family cars of the era.

Brief Background

Launched in 1975, the Austin Princess was created to replace the dated Austin 3-Litre as a premium model in the Austin lineup. Designed by Harris Mann, the wedge-shaped Princess was sleek and modern compared to boxy designs popular at the time. Two engine options were available, a 2.2-liter inline 6-cylinder petrol engine and a 2.2-liter inline 6-cylinder diesel engine, mated to a 4-speed manual or 3-speed automatic transmission.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Initial Reception

When new, the Austin Princess received positive reviews praising its powerful engines, sharp handling, and spacious, comfortable interior. Its striking wedge-design was considered very modern and aerodynamic. However, build quality issues would soon affect its reputation.

History of the Austin Princess Car

Development and Production

Development of the Princess began in the late 1960s under British Leyland, which had absorbed the Austin brand in 1968. Originally intended as a replacement for the aging Austin 3-Litre, the car took substantially longer than expected to come to market due to financial and labor issues. Production finally began in March 1975.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Growing Pains and Reputation Issues

Though innovative in its design and features, the Princess suffered from well-publicized build quality and reliability issues. These were largely attributed to ongoing labor unrest and low productivity at its Cowley production plant during the 1970s. Several recalls and improvements followed, but the damage was done.

Cancellation and Legacy

Despite improvements made later in its lifespan, the Princess’ reputation never fully recovered and sales remained disappointing. Production ended after a 6-year run in 1981 when the model was not replaced. Just over 224,000 Austin Princesses were built – far short of expectations but enough to leave an enduring, if controversial legacy.

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Features and Specifications of the Austin Princess Car

Engines and Transmission Options

The Princess was offered with a choice of 2.2-liter, fuel-injected straight 6-cylinder petrol engines or a 2.2-liter straight 6-cylinder diesel engine sourced from Mercedes-Benz. Engine power ranged from 72 to 125 horsepower. Buyers could choose between a 4-speed manual transmission or a 3-speed Borg Warner automatic.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Interior Luxuries

Inside, the Princess featured luxurious trim, ample cabin space, comfortable seating, and the latest amenities including electric windows, air conditioning, and a sophisticated stereo system. The interior wasn’t perfect though – ergonomic issues like the awkward handbrake placement drew criticism.

Advanced Hydrolastic Suspension

Unique at the time was the Hydrolastic suspension fitted on higher-end HL Princess models. This computer-controlled system provided superior ride quality and handling compared to conventional steel springs. However, it was prone to leaks and reliability issues which further damaged the Princess’ reputation.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Distinctive Styling

With its sharp, striking wedge shape designed by Harris Mann, the Princess looked modern compared to the boxy family cars sold by rivals in the mid-1970s. The low nose and pop-up headlights added to its futuristic style but compromised driver visibility and impacted aerodynamics.

Performance and Handling of the Austin Princess Car

Acceleration and Top Speed

Equipped with fuel-injected six-cylinder engines ranging from 72 to 125 horsepower, the Princess offered decent acceleration for a large 1970s family car. Contemporary road tests reported 0-60 times of around 13 seconds and a top speed of 100 to 110 mph depending on the engine. Performance was competitive with rivals of the era.

Handling and Braking

While not a sports sedan, road tests praised the Princess for relatively agile handling despite its size. The rear-wheel drive configuration with near perfect 50/50 weight distribution contributed to its well-balanced feel. While acceptable for normal driving, braking distances were long compared to more modern cars. Optional power-assisted brakes were recommended.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Hydrolastic Suspension System

Fitted to higher-spec Austin Princess HL models, the computer-controlled Hydrolastic suspension system gave superior ride quality and better handling compared to rival cars of the era equipped with conventional steel springs. This advanced system proved less reliable than hoped though.

Maintenance and Care for your Austin Princess Car

Potential Problem Areas

Given its reputation for subpar build quality and reliability issues when new, used Austin Princesses require thorough inspection and preventative maintenance to remain roadworthy. Key areas to monitor include the Hydrolastic suspension, cooling system, drivetrain, electronics and interior trim.

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Finding Parts and Mechanical Support

Due to low production volumes and the age of the cars finding spare parts can be difficult – check with owners clubs and specialty suppliers. Fortunately many components are shared with other BL-era cars. While most mechanics can service an Austin Princess, experts familiar with Hydrolastic systems are recommended.

Cleaning and Detailing Tips

When washing, use mild soap and avoid high-pressure hoses near sensors and seals on Princess HL models with Hydrolastic suspension. Use high-quality polish and wax to maintain the vibrant finish of these cars. Avoid too-abrasive compounds. Pay special attention to chrome and glass which are vulnerable to pitting and etching over time on older cars kept outdoors.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Buying a Used Austin Princess Car: What to Look For

Setting a Budget

Due to their rarity, used Austin Princess prices vary widely from just a few thousand dollars for non-runners to $15,000+ for restored examples. Setting a firm budget and limiting your search to verified, mechanically-sound cars is highly recommended. Be prepared to pay a premium for rare and uniquely-optioned models.

Research Common Issues

Spend time researching what to look for when buying a used Princess. Recurring issues to inspect for include oil leaks from worn engine seals and gaskets, corrosion around the windshield and rear window, electrical faults from deteriorated wiring insulation, issues with engine cooling system components, and fluid leaks from the Hydrolastic suspension on applicable models.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Pre-Purchase Inspection

Given the well-documented build quality concerns, a pre-purchase inspection by a specialist familiar with the Princess is strongly advised before purchase. This investment upfront could potentially save thousands by identifying problems early. Be prepared to walk away from cars with signs of neglect or substantive mechanical issues that would prove too costly to remedy.

Modifications and Upgrades for the Austin Princess Car

Engine Tuning and Performance Mods

Owners seeking more power have successfully adapted turbochargers, performance camshafts, exhaust headers, and electronic fuel injection from other cars to increase Princess engine output. Lightweight flywheels, uprated springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars can sharpen handling. However, suitability depends greatly on intended usage so consult experts first.

Transmission and Differential Upgrades

The original 4-speed manual gearbox and rear differential assemblies can be retained for moderate power increases but eventually succumb to added stress. Owners planning significant engine modifications should consider 5-speed transmission swaps and uprated limited slip differentials from donor cars to handle the extra load.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Brakes, Suspension, and Drivetrain Refurbishment

Given the scarcity of spare parts, restoration experts often recommended fully rebuilding and refurbishing the entire mechanical package including the engine, transmission, rear axle, brakes, steering system, and suspension during an Austin Princess restoration project rather than replacing individual components in isolation. This comprehensive approach helps return the drivetrain to like-new condition.

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Famous Owners of the Austin Princess Car

British Royalty

In the 1970s and 1980s Austin Princesses were often seen driven by members of the British royal family including Queen Elizabeth II. Their visibility in the royal motorcade added to the model’s prestige despite some infamous breakdown incidents that made the news.

Celebrity Ownership

The Princess also had its share of celebrity owners. Welsh singer Tom Jones was a notable fan and drove an early production example finished in metallic gold. Comedian Benny Hill also owned a silver Princess HL automatic configured with the Hydrolastic suspension system and other luxury options of the era.

Government Officials

During its heyday, the Austin Princess could also be spotted transporting top-ranking British government ministers and officials in both diesel and gasoline variants. These high-profile owners and their unfortunate public breakdowns only magnified the poor reliability reputation of the Princess among the public though.

The Future of the Austin Princess Car

Surviving Examples

Due to low production volumes and inherent issues with rust and component degradation over time, the number of surviving Austin Princess cars has dwindled significantly from the 220,000+ originally built. Finding a roadworthy example today takes effort and persistence.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Collector Interest

Despite its controversial history, the Austin Princess has gradually earned more appreciation from car collectors as a prime example of ambitious – if not wholly successful – British Leyland engineering in the turmoil-laden 1970s. Mint restored and exceptionally-preserved original examples are beginning to command higher prices at auction.

Preservation Efforts

Thanks to a handful of active owners clubs and online forums, remaining roadworthy Austin Princesses are more likely to remain so through shared technical advice and improved availability of suitable replacement parts. These niche communities help preserve the legacy of these rare British cars.

Conclusion: Why the Austin Princess is a Classic

The Austin Princess occupies an intriguing place in British automotive history as an audacious, radically-styled sedan packed with engineering innovations that unfortunately gained equal notoriety for its disappointing build quality and reliability issues when new.

Discover the History and Features of the Iconic Austin Princess Car

Yet for all its struggles, the Princess pioneered features like computer-controlled hydrolastic suspension technology subsequently adopted by other automakers. Fast forward 40+ years and the striking wedge-shaped sedan rightfully merits classic status – admired for its ambition and significance despite its divisive reputation at the time. For bold 1970s automotive design and engineering, few cars capture the era quite like the Austin Princess.

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