SOTW: Austin Ambassador and Princess

If we had offered you, the committed PHer, either one of these two beauties 15 years ago, you would have probably laughed in our face. Hard and loud. You still might be tempted to today. But at some point recently these cars hit a tipping point, where frankly crap has somehow become improbably cool.

We're not quite sure how or why this is. Perhaps it's because, of more than a quarter of a million Princesses and Ambassadors that were built, only a few hundred survive today. Or perhaps it's because of that God-awful phrase 'retro cool'. Whatever the reason, we like 'em, in all their naff, flawed glory. We hope you do too.


The Princess:
Here's a deeply odd fact about the Austin Princess that I didn't know until I found this Tahiti Blue one nestling on the internet (yours for £995): it isn't actually an Austin Princess.

Apparently, when the car was unleashed upon the public back in the summer of 1975, it was known as an Austin, Morris or Wolseley 18-22 series. By September that year, the Wolseley marque had been unceremoniously dumped, and Austin and Morris were effectively unified.


So what did BL, a company groaning under the weight of innumerable brands, do? Why it left its Princess without any badge at all, of course.

Thus, while you may technically talk about an Austin 18-22, or simply a 'Princess', there is no 'Austin Princess'. Unless you're talking about the chunky saloons of the 50s and 60s. Which we are most emphatically not.

But despite its brandless label, a parent company that was slowly disintegrating, and a reputation (whether well deserved or not) for quality and reliability issues, the Princess actually had quite a lot going for it.


Its wedgy looks enclosed a spacious package, helped by a transverse engine layout and front-wheel drive. Hydragas suspension, meanwhile, ensured Citroen-esque ride quality. Being the 2.2-litre straight-six version, this particular car would have originally scorched to 60mph in 13.5secs, on the way to a 104mph top speed.

Of course it shouldn't only be the searing performance that gets your juices flowing for this Shed, because it's got an MOT all the way until April 2012, has been owned by a car club member for the past three years, and has only amassed 69,000 miles in its 33-year life.

Tempted to say 'hello, Princess'? We know you must be, and if you're not, surely the only thing holding you back is the absence of a convenient and practical hatch, an issue solved by...

...The Austin Ambassador:


In 1982, while waiting desperately for the new Montego to arrive (that wouldn't happen until 1984), BL indulged in a thorough makeover of the Princess to create the Ambassador, slapping on a proper hatchback and carrying over only the front door skins.

The Ambassador also bore the odd distinction of being the only British Leyland model to be built solely in right-hand-drive form (we know, we're full of facts today).

This particular car is the top-end Vanden Plas model, which means you get the 2.0-litre twin-carb engine (you're impressed, we can see), crushed velour seats, velour headlining (Ambassador, with this velour you're really spoiling us), deep-pile carpet, tilt and slide/steel sunroof, chrome inset bumpers, alloy wheels, front fog lamps, rear head restraints and a radio/stereo cassette player.


With all that equipment, £1k ono sounds like a bargain. And with 41,000 miles on the clock, there's (probably) plenty of life in the old girl yet...

Princess advert reproduced below

1978 Austin Princess 2200 HL For Sale
£995

This is the rare Princess series 1 model in Tahiti blue (non-metallic) with dark blue cloth interior, good condition 2 inside and out. Automatic transmission, power steering. MoT until April 2012, taxed September 2011. Present owner for 3 years (club member)

Ambassador advert reproduced below

1983 Austin Ambassador Vanden Plas For Sale
£1,000 ono

Very nice car. No mot although has no faults that I know of. I have owned it for a couple of years but I am moving south and it can't come with me.

I have now got a full MOT on the car



 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (281) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Morningside 14 May 2012

    Someone came round with a 1995 Toyota Camrey and it honestly looked like it was from the early to mid 1980s. Plastic, plastic and more plastic! Oh and dull but bulletproof.

    I agree about the Marina. The Maxi was OK I suppose but I did not like the steering wheel driving position. Also the gearbox was a nightmare.
    I also liked the Princess and it seemed like a good all round largish car.

    As for foreign stuff at the time they either rusted badly (Strada, X19 etc) failed on the electrics or (at the time) some Japanese parts were very expensive or hard to get.

    Even Fords were bad on rust. I remember the Escorts seemed to have the dreaded tinworm within about 2 years or so old.

  • Gary C 14 May 2012

    LuS1fer said:
    The Marina was ancient when it was launched - the Ital was a bad joke that my ex mother-in-law bought.

    Never really liked the Maxi and don't know anyone who bought one. However, my father bought the revised Princess 2200HLS and it was a very nice car indeed and far, far nicer than the 1977 Toyota Cressida it replaced. I never really understood the hate for the Princess or the later Ambassador. They weren't great in a PH sense but the hydragas was very wafty and the interior space was peerless. I know there were issues with Princess 1 but the 2 with the O-Series engines were much better.

    I actually disagree that the Montego, Maestro and Metro were better - they were better dynamically but the interiors were worse (the Citroen BX was a much better car) and BL went all bland trying to compete with the Golf and Jetta. The Metro was far worse than the Mini...enough said.
    Humm. Metro did not have the mini's aura, but was a more comfortable, faster, more spacious car. Pity they used the hydragas, while it was trumpeted as the best thing since sliced bread, it was too bouncy at the rear on the MG model.

    The maestro handled quite well in MG form (good in the snow). The monty no go was ok but I dont have enough experience to comment ( though the talking dash model was novel)

    We made good cars, sat back on our laurels and produced poor insipid, 'grandad' cars. By the time we noticed, it was much too late.

    Maybe its time the Uk should start again !

  • J4CKO 14 May 2012

    How was the Metro worse than the Mini ? everyone loves the Mini and there are some rose tinted specs, for most people a Metro had better suspension, more room, better visibility, more versative being a hatch. The engines and transmissions were pretty much the same, the Mini handled well mainly as it had very little suspension, they were easily upset by bumps mid corner and as standard they werent the handling legend people think they are. Think half the issue in the Mini versus Metro thing was like the Fiat 500 and 126, cute wins the day.

  • LuS1fer 14 May 2012

    Gary C said:
    The Ital was a good example. BL thought getting a ital design makeover on a marina was a good idea. You cant argue with the fact that BL cars did not improve fast enough whereas jap car improved every 1 to 2 years.

    BL made some awful cars. Princess, marina, maxi being from the period when they were at their worst. Montego, maesto, metro were much better, but not good enough keep up with the rapidly improving japs.
    The Marina was ancient when it was launched - the Ital was a bad joke that my ex mother-in-law bought.

    Never really liked the Maxi and don't know anyone who bought one. However, my father bought the revised Princess 2200HLS and it was a very nice car indeed and far, far nicer than the 1977 Toyota Cressida it replaced. I never really understood the hate for the Princess or the later Ambassador. They weren't great in a PH sense but the hydragas was very wafty and the interior space was peerless. I know there were issues with Princess 1 but the 2 with the O-Series engines were much better.

    I actually disagree that the Montego, Maestro and Metro were better - they were better dynamically but the interiors were worse (the Citroen BX was a much better car) and BL went all bland trying to compete with the Golf and Jetta. The Metro was far worse than the Mini...enough said.

  • Gary C 14 May 2012

    At thw time when a marina was a possible choice of car for me, I had a chevette smile

    Don't laugh too loud.

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