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

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







P.H. O'meter

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Comments (281) Join the discussion on the forum

  • BadgerBill 05 Aug 2011


    Just when you think all hope is gone...

    Two quality(?) sheds for the price of one. Wasn't it originally designed to have pop-up lights too?

    I'd love to run the jrg ambassador as a daily smoker.

    Good work fellas.


  • B'stard Child 05 Aug 2011

    Good lord!!!

    That's all......


  • stropley 05 Aug 2011

    Good sentimental shedding! I used to love the way these waved their bums in the air when doing a hill start.

  • paulrussell 05 Aug 2011

    I may tell my dad about the Pricess as he had one, and claims it's the most comfortable car he's ever owned.

  • 0a 05 Aug 2011

    Ha ha ha!!

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