By on August 30, 2019

Vanden Plas. It rolls off the tongue the same way as other luxury words, like Ferrero Rocher. And right now you’re thinking of chocolate, a Jaguar, and walnut tray tables.

But today’s Rare Ride has only one of those characteristics. Presenting the 1966 Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R.

The Princess series of cars were a luxury offering from British manufacturer Austin. Princess succeeded Austin’s upscale 28 Ranelagh model as the company’s flagship luxury car, with the very first examples produced in 1947. Standard cars wore Austin badges, but upscale models were moved from Austin’s assembly line over to the Vanden Plas coachworks. Vanden Plas was a subsidiary of British Motor that marketed its own brand of luxury cars based on various offerings from BMC.

The first-generation Princess was based on the Austin Sheerline large sedan. It went through three model series, remaining in production through 1956. The fourth and fifth Princesses used a slightly revised version of the then-discontinued Sheerline. The Austin name vanished from the car in 1957. Now known as the Princess IV, it found buyers through Morris and Austin dealerships. Unfortunately, the model was 6.5 times more expensive than the entry-level Austin A30 and quickly found itself priced out of the market.

With no demand, just 200 were built between 1956 and 1959.

Concurrently, Austin also built long-wheelbase Princess cars. Production spanned 1952 to 1968, with the automaker employing a 132-inch wheelbase instead of the 121 inches of a standard Princess. A long-wheelbase Princess from model year 1969 was the same car underneath as the one sold in 1952, using the same 4.0-liter overhead-valve six.

There was another Vanden Plas Princess, too. Based on the Austin A99 mid-size car, this Princess was produced from 1959 to 1968. Initially launched as the Princess 3-litre, it added Vanden Plas nomenclature after 1960. In 1964, BMC took this particular Princess upmarket. The standard 3.0-litre British Motor engine was replaced with a larger 4.0-litre engine from Rolls-Royce. This inline-six was aluminum — a short-stroke variant of the B-series Rolls engine. Weighing in at just 450 pounds, this lightweight powerplant put out 175 horsepower as equipped with twin carburetors. A full-size in Europe, overall length was just shy of 188 inches.

Vanden Plas increased the price a full 50 percent with the introduction of the larger engine, meaning its price was at par with a Jaguar Mark X. Vanden Plas didn’t have the global distribution of Jaguar though, so the 4 Litre R was unsuccessful. Today, the Princess 4 Litre R remains the only mass-produced vehicle from another manufacturer to utilize a Rolls-Royce engine.

After 1968, Vanden Plas became a branding exercise rather than its own line. The name eventually fell from use after it passed to Jaguar, which used it as a trim level through 2009. Today’s Rare Ride is located in the Netherlands, having spent most of its life in a museum. With 22,000 miles on the odometer, it’s in stunning original condition. Yours for $28,700, plus shipping.

[Images: seller]

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29 Comments on “Rare Rides: A Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R – Overwhelming Britishness From 1966...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Wins the Intake Manifold Envy contest, hands down, but it looks vaguely Soviet in origin to me.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      The air cleaner that looks like a refashioned muffler appears to be the same one as on the Jensen Healey roadster.

      • 0 avatar

        I am thinking two separate things about this car I really like:

        That it probably just has the smoothest engine of a car this size and era.

        And that both Rolls and Austin dealers didn’t want to service it. It’s beneath the Rolls mechanic and beyond the Austin one.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The rear mimics “fin tail “ Mercedes.

  • avatar
    craiger

    “Unfortunately, the model was 6.5 times more expensive than the entry-level Austin A30 and quickly found itself priced out of the market.”

    Quite the sticker shock for the typical Austin and Morris buyer.

    So basically this was the Austin Phaeton.

    • 0 avatar
      ghostwhowalksnz

      Sticker shock ?
      It would seem to be only made to order at that low rate, its intended market would be as funeral cars and official vehicles for such as Mayors and Chairmen of nationalised British industrys.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      The main reason for the high price is the horsepower tax, which based the HP of an engine on the width of the bore, rather than the actual HP.

      The standard 3.0L six was a very long stroke engine. The RR was intended only for export markets, where no such tax existed, so it had more normal proportions.

      The 33% purchase tax amplified the issue.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    “Today, the Princess 4 Litre R remains the only mass-produced vehicle from another manufacturer to utilize a Rolls-Royce engine.”

    168,176 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines were produced, the majority of them utilized in mass produced vehicles made by Avro, de Havilland, Hawker, Supermarine and North American.

    175 hp out of a 4 liter F-head engine seems pretty impressive. I’m not sure how they achieved a decently high compression ratio without producing an inefficient combustion chamber shape.

    • 0 avatar
      ghostwhowalksnz

      Planes are not vehicles , maybe you are thinking of the RR Meteor version of the Merlin, used as a tank engine. Production was mostly by Rover, who swapped the early British jet engine they were working on with Rolls for the Meteor. The V8 version, the Meteorite was used in trucks and such

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        “Planes are not vehicles ”

        Planes are vehicles.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        ghostwhowalksnz,

        “Planes are not vehicles”… are we sure?

        Note that ToddAtlasF1 did not say “motor vehicle”.

        Merriam-Webster includes “planes” in their definition of “vehicle”.

        NASA is spending a lot of effort on the Space Launch System (SLS) which “is an advanced launch *vehicle* that provides the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.”

        Is there an “vehicle” exception for rockets as opposed to other aircraft? Wait, is a “rocket” an “aircraft”?

        This Venn diagram for “vehicle” must be pretty interesting.

        I for one am glad that a 737-800 is capable of transporting passengers and cargo “on land” as well as in the air. There is an awful lot of pavement at Hartsfield-Jackson. I don’t think the rubber tires are superfluous.

        Bonus: According to Oxford, a Tesla is not a “car”, a “motor vehicle” or an “automobile”.

        Extra bonus: Most of my punctuation placement above is incorrect – depending on who you ask… or whom.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          I’ve only ever been on 2 vehicle types; water based, both self-propelled, and chemically propelled; land based, 2 and 4 wheel, self-propelled and chemically propelled. I’ve never been on an air based vehicle.

          Side note about who versus whom: whom can be used when speaking about a person when the pronouns him or her can be substituted in for the name of the person. Who can be used when the pronouns he or she would fit.

          Whom did you about the carshow? I asked him about it last week.

          Who came in first at the race on Saturday? She came first.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Volvo went full copy-and-paste on this front end when they designed the 164.

    Anyway, I’ve seen these with whitewall tires and they look a lot better with them.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I like the subtle two tone paint scheme .

    An _f_ head engine ? blech .

    -Nate

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “With no demand, just 200 were built between 1956 and 1959.”

    Well, gee, who wants to buy a car called “Princess”? It was too much for even the British who are all about things royal ;-)

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Back in 1967, my Godfather (from whom I got my love of British cars) was in the market for his next British Saloon. I was privileged to be invited along on the test ride of the 4.0 litre Princess. I was 12 at the time. We drove to the Little Neck Parkway in Queens, New York because it was the le worst road in the vicinity (by the way, it’s the same road featured in the old SNL bit about the Moyel performing a bris in the back of the Royal Deluxe II).

    It was a nice car for the time, but was underwhelming for the price. My Godfather eventually acquired a Rover 3500 which I remember fondly.

    • 0 avatar

      Nice memory! I didn’t figure they would have even tried to sell this special luxury version here.

    • 0 avatar
      downunder

      Is that the P6 bodied Three Thousand Five or the SD1 Rover 3500? I too have fond memories of the P6. After buying a 3.3l TE Ford Cortina and lamenting its build (and dealer) quality I drove away with a Rover, I know, young, single and no clue! I admired it’s handling, cabin with real wood veneer, it’s engineering. I also loathed it’s British engineering quirks and the cost of trying to maintain it downunder. I’d still have one, now I am married, children have gone away, I am still will have enough money to try to keep it on the road!

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        downunder – It was the earlier P6 body car. It’s big claim to fame was the Icelert temperature sensor mounted on the front bumper. I got to drive the car when I acquired my driving license a few years later. Did you have the 3500 or the 2000?

        Both my Godfather and Godmother were like second parents to me. They had no children, so they treated us as their own. They had an MG Magnette saloon which I spent a great deal of time in in both the US and in Denmark and Norway. That wonderful wood and leather thing that the English did so well got into my blood. To this day I fantasize about Rolls Royce Silver Shadows, Bentley Mulsannes, Jaguar Mark IIs and the like.

        The closest I got was my old Triumph GT6+, which I still miss.

        • 0 avatar
          Gedrven

          It may’ve been a particularly good specimen, but I was quite surprised at the quality of a 72 MGB interior I once worked on. Wood and leather indeed, and it felt… substantial. If there’s one thing the British car industry has done well, it’s interiors. Got into my blood too.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    When did the Princess name start being applied to 1 litre economy cars?

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    I always chuckle when I see Vanden Plas. If my Flemish is correct, it literally means From the Place. “You know… it’s that thing… from the place… where those people… make that stuff… you know?”

  • avatar
    Gedrven

    Duplicate post.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    Back in the 60s, one of my uncles bought a new Princess R to replace an Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire. It proved very troublesome and he wrote strongly worded letters to Austin, telling them what he thought about it.

  • avatar
    thornmark

    I guess only a real man would drive a Princess.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Might have helped to show a pic of the ancient Austin Princess prior to 1964. It was solidly early ’50s limo with an Austin truck 4.0 liter engine for motivation.

    This Princess R was one of the most useless exercises BMC came up with. The Roller FB60 F-head engine was mainly a disaster, and made you wonder what they were thinking – 7.8 to 1 CR in 1964 – how modern is that? The new aluminum V8 in the 1960 Rolls at least had a copy GM combustion chamber and valve layout.

    Of course, in typical fashion, there are a few Brits who keep these things running for some unknown reason, but hey, it’s a hobby, so kudos to the enthusiasts for sticking it out.

    You can read all sorts of revisionist BS about this engine being marvelous from Google links, but frankly the 3 liter detuned Austin Healey engine fitted to the regular Westminster version of the car, while a heavy cast iron brute, was a far more reliable lump.

    This was a car that promised much and delivered little, a bit of a con marketing exercise to appeal to people whose eyes cross when Rolls-Royce is mentioned. A white elephant. A quote from an authoritative source sums this brute up:

    “Total production of the Vanden Plas Princess 4 litre R was 6,555, including one estate car for HM The Queen, who is said to have greatly preferred her Vauxhall Crestas.”

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