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When Rolls met BMC; CLASSIC CARS with IAN JOHNSON This week: Vanden Plas Princess.

Byline: IAN JOHNSON

WHEN two cultures meet, the outcome can sometimes end in tears.

Such was the case in the 1960s, when Rolls-Royce and the British Motor Corporation put their heads together to produce an even more upmarket version of the already successful Vanden Plas Princess.

The 3.0-litre Princess was based on the Austin A110 Westminster and the Vanden Plas treatment resulted in one of the most impressive cars of its era.

Quite why BMC wanted to improve on it never made sense to me but the company, in an expansionist mood, embarked on a project which gave the Princess a minor restyle and a 4.0-litre Rolls-Royce engine in 1964.

The straight-six RR engine fitted perfectly under the BMC bonnet and externally, the body sported clipped tail fins, more upright front and rear screens, a stiffened bodyshell to improve handling and smaller 13in wheels.

On paper the car, dubbed 4-Litre R, had got the lot. Inside was the full Vanden Plas drawing room interior with Connolly leather seats, plus lavish use of walnut veneer on the dashboard, door cappings and picnic tables.

On the road, a claimed 175bhp whisked the car along at a brisk pace.

The seven-bearing Rolls-Royce engine gave an easy 100mph, via a standard Borg Warner Model 8 automatic transmission and some road testers of the time coaxed it to top 112mph flat-out. 0-60mph was an impressive 12.7 seconds.

So what went wrong? Firstly even for the 1960s fuel consumption was an alarming 14mpg and the alteration of an already good design endowed an overlight power steering which lacked precision and feel.

The 4-Litre R was obviously out to protect luxury sales from the likes of Mercedes and Humber, but the model just did not catch on.

I remember driving one and although the power was impressive, it just did not have the feel of the standard Princess.

It was envisaged that the Vanden Plas works at Kingsbury would be turning out 100 cars a week, but production never rose above 60 and BMC were left with a stockpile of cars.

The 4-Litre R bowed out in 1968, with sales of just 6,555 cars.

The lesson here was to leave an already good design alone.

BMC chairman Sir Leonard Lord had one as his chauffeur-driven car in 1964 with the number plate BMC1, but had to change the registration after being constantly harangued by BMC customers complaining about their cars.

A single 4-Litre R estate was made for the Queen.

CAPTION(S):

REGAL LOOKS - The Princess was based on the Austin A110 Westminster
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 13, 2009
Words:430
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