Driving the Princess
6/6/2012 7:32:00 AM
Recently I was given the opportunity to drive an extremely rare car in the U.S., a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess, rebadged for the U.S. market as the MG 1100 Princess. About 150 were imported to the United States between 1964 and 1967.
The car is a reworked version of the Morris 1100 which is the big brother of the original Morris Mini. Vanden Plas coachworks added some fancy touches, including the toothy grill, fog lamps, leather seats and oak trim on the interior. The wheelbase is only 93 inches, but the interior can seat four pretty well, and its far from being claustrophobic on the inside. Depending on the market, the car was in different forms of trim and was rebadged as a Morris, MG, Austin, and BMC among other names. The 1100 series was the best selling car in England during the 1960's and early 1970's.
It could have given the VW Beetle a run for it's money overseas, however, British cars were known for certain reliability problems including the infamous Lucas electrical system (The Prince of Darkness).
The car is a bit low to the ground, but not all that bad, once you get in. Turning the key on the wood grain dashboard (next to the neat toggle switches that many British cars were known for) brings the 67 cubic inch engine to life with 55 horsepower thanks to dual side-draft carburetors. The large steering wheel compensates for the lack of power steering. Manual brakes also need a heavy foot, and the four speed manual transmission has rather large throws and to put it into reverse, it seems I have to move the tall gearshift lever halfway into the passenger side. But it's an honest car to drive and keeps up with local traffic. The engine can do highways speeds and its low center of gravity keeps the car planted to the ground, thanks to "Hydrolastic" suspension.
The 1100 series was the first (after the Mini) to have a transverse mounted engine for a front wheel drive car. But there is no radiator behind the grill. It was placed on the driver's side fender area, as the fan blade was still attached to the engine. It wasn't until Fiat's 128 in 1969 that used an electric fan so that the radiator could be placed in its traditional position.
The Princess stopped coming to these shores in early 1967, to be replaced by the less expensive, but still smartly trimmed Austin America, which also had a larger 1300 cc engine and optional automatic transmission.
Many thanks to the Eggleston and Markley families for allowing me to drive such a rare car.
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