AUSTIN PRINCESS REVIEW

This classic Austin Princess 'wedge' hasn’t had the best image, but should you ignore the naysayers and buy one?

 

There are plenty of people that will turn their nose up when the Austin Princess is mentioned, and they might even resort to jokes about 1970s sitcom characters, but that would be to do this underrated slice of wedgery a disservice.  In fact, give one a try and you’ll soon discover why they have such a dedicated following, not least because of the spacious and airy cabin that makes it such a useful daily driver.  Passengers are exceptionally well catered for with plenty of head and elbow room, and the seats are comfortable too, so long-distance journeys are no bother.  And if it wasn’t for the fact that Austin chose to equip the sharply-styled model with a bootlid with a rather shallow opening, rather than a hatchback – an issue corrected with the follow-up Ambassador – the Princess would have scored maximum points for practicality as well.  As it is, if you opt for one with the wood-trimmed interior there’s an extra helping of luxury that certainly makes it feel a cut above contemporary offerings when it comes to interior ambience. 

But what’s it like on the road?  Well, pretty good actually especially when fitted with the smooth, six-cylinder E-Series engine  - combined with the 3-speed automatic transmission it makes for particularly relaxing progress, although it’s not great for economy where you’ll struggle to achieve mid-20s mpg.  The four-cylinder units are better in this respect, and are still quite sprightly with the 95bhp, 2.0-litre model capable of 60mph in a respectable 13 seconds or so.  The only downside is the manual transmission which was never especially slick and can suffer from an obstructive first gear making progress in traffic a bit of a pain. They all stop well though, thanks to powerful four-piston brake calipers on the front and only the non-assisted steering can let the down side, proving overly heavy when parking.  Power steering is definitely worth having.  But what all Princess models offer is a great ride thanks to the use of Hydragas suspension, and while sharp ruts can intrude, there’s little body roll to contend with. 

 

VITAL STATISTICS

Austin Princess 2000

Engine           1994cc/4-cyl/OHV

Power            95bhp@4900rpm

Torque          113lb ft@3400

Top speed    101mph

0-60mph        13.1secs

Economy      30mpg

Gearbox        4-speed manual 

 

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK

It’ll come as no surprise that corrosion can attack the Princess with some enthusiasm, and there are various spots to examine.  Start by examining the valance behind the front number plate, and the bottom of the wings, and ensure the A-pillars are free of bubbling.  The rear of the sills where they meet the wheel-arches also need checking along with the door bottoms – the rear doors seem worse affected for some reason – and check the extremities of the boot lid, particularly the reverse of the lower edge.  Bear in mind that all panels are rare, especially doors, boot lids, and front wings which almost impossible to find, so grab good ones while you can.

The floorpan doesn’t seem to suffer from serious rust but is worth checking just in case, particularly around the front foot-wells as a leaking screen can soak the carpets.  Indeed, the windscreen is another rare part along with the rubbers so check the condition of the glass carefully.  A vinyl roof could be hiding rot so watch for tell-tale bubbling beneath, and check the condition of exterior trim and fittings as both these and chromework are getting increasingly hard to source. 

ENGINE

Depending on age and model the Princess was fitted ‘B’, ‘E’, or O-Series engines and there’s a decent parts supply.  A re-build is a DIY task too, but it pays to watch for the usual signs of neglect including excessive oil leakage from perished gaskets, exhaust smoke, and signs of overheating.  Rattling valvegear is easy to sort but remember that 0-Series units require regular cambelt replacement, so check when this was last done.  Poor running will likely be ignition or fuel systems past their best, but they aren’t costly or difficult to overhaul.  Most will run on unleaded without problem too, but it’s an added bonus if the cylinder head has already been converted.

GEARBOX

It’s common to find a manual gearbox suffering from an obstructive first gear, and if it’s particularly troublesome it could be the clutch master or slave cylinder on its way out, and again parts can be scarce.  A slight whine from the ‘box is normal too but it shouldn’t be excessive.  The 3-speed automatic was a Borg Warner 35 unit, and a popular choice instead of the notchy manual, and while never silky smooth it pays to check that gear changes aren’t too lumpy, and that the fluid doesn’t look like tar.

BRAKES

The brakes should be trouble-free, although it’s worth checking the pipework for corrosion.  Leaking rear wheel cylinders are cheap and easy to replace, and new front calipers are available or they can be overhauled with a repair kit.  The manual steering shouldn’t give much bother, although it was heavy, and seizing balljoints will make this worse.  Many preferred the power-assisted option but it’s prone to leaks so check around the pipe unions, pump, and the steering rack itself.  Alloy wheels were fitted to some variants, and you’ll struggle to find replacements – budget around £70 per wheel for refurbishment if they’re not too far gone.

SUSPENSION

The Hydragas suspension system isn’t fundamentally troublesome but the pipework will need checking and it’s very hard to source replacement displacer units.  Check the ride height carefully, and while a re-gas may be all that’s required don’t assume that’s the case whatever the vendor might say.  It’ll be pointless if the displacer diaphragm has failed, but the clubs can usually advise on the best way to find a replacement.

INTERIOR

Once again it’s the rarity of parts that affects the cabin, with door panels and seats especially scarce.  Check condition carefully then, looking for damaged trim and sagging seat bases and headlining.  Watch for cracks in the dashboard plastics or wood veneer, and lift the front carpets if possible as perished screen rubbers leads to water ingress.  Lastly, age may have taken its toll on wiring and connectors so ensure all the electrics function correctly. 

OUR VERDICT

With low prices and distinctive styling the Princess is an attractive proposition, while the spacious and comfortable cabin is a further plus.  But corrosion and the scarcity of many parts means a modicum of caution is needed.  We’d certainly be tempted by this useable British classic, and buying one now means you’ll get to enjoy the 40thbirthday celebrations.

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