In this text which is ostensibly a transcript of an authentic period review, the legendary motoring correspondent, Archie Vicar, hooks a gander at the Van Den Plas Princess 4-litre R.
[The article titled “All things considered” is thought to have appeared in the Evening Post-Echo (extra edition) on March 23, 1967. Douglas Land-Windermere is credited with the photography. Due to the exceptionally poor quality of the originals, stock photos have been used.]
There can be no doubt about it but BMC is certainly in the middle of a winning streak. The Riley Kestrel, Mini Moke, Wolseley 1100/1300, Morris 1800, MGC and Austin 1800 are all in their showrooms having been launched in the recent past. Furthermore, BMC has acquired the ever-problematic Jaguar and looks set to put that ever-leaky ship on an even keel in no time at all. So, it cannot be surprising that a car like the Van Den Plas Princess 4-litre R is part of BMC’s vigorously competent team.
In these increasingly competitive times, such a broad range of unique cars can only help BMC at home and abroad. So, what is it that the Van Den Plas Princess 4.0 Litre R brings to the market? I test-drove one to determine the car’s advantages.
(continued from page 22) the Shropshire Arms hotel’s very fine cellar.
So, it was out of the dining room and into the car! Everything has been thought-through on the Four Litre. Where to begin? Chief among the Van Den Plas’ strong points are its unique appearance, aided and abetted by the aristocratic and unusual grille and attractively composed paint combinations. The rear screen is appropriately angled and foglamps give the front valence a noble mien. Credit where it is due, the car’s fine form is attributed to one Mr Roland Fox who must surely be a name to watch.
The Princess is aimed directly at competitors from Humber and the over-priced vehicles from Jaguar Ltd such as the portly Mark X which, apart from its width has no redeeming features. The 4.0 Litre R also strikes at upstart Rover who sell their lugubrious and thirsty saloon, the 3.0 Litre. Only Ford’s very convincing Zodiac Mk III Executive seems to stand clear of the artillery BMC is launching into a tightly fought fray. (I will be reporting on developments on that front in a forthcoming 5-page special supplement “Ford Zodiac – It Is In The Stars”).
The handsome coachwork of the Princess can carry four adults in considerable comfort. In part this is due to the luxurious West of England headlining, Connolly leather-upholstered chairs and ample sound-proofing. Passengers enjoy spacious room for their legs too. However, there is more to the car than the fine paints, foglamps and sumptuous walnut trim.
The 4-litre R has an ingenious hypoid rear axle to provide better roadability. A three speed Borg-Warner gearbox allows smooth shifts between gears and reduces the tribulations of driving on congested roads. It is a Model 8, and the very best B-W have designed. For the suspension, Van Den Plas have opted for double-wishbones and “coil springs” with lever-arm dampers. I always feel more confident about a car fitted with these. An anti-sway bar can be found under the vehicle.
At the rear, a live Salisbury axle and semi-elliptic leaf springs control body movements (see inset, page 23). The Salisbury axle is designed for heavy-duty use and has the differential housing in-built with a cover on the rear. In other words, the assembly is composed of a cast iron centre element. The axle tubes are attached to this by a press-fit or by welding.
Interestingly, the differential centre is installed into the assembly through a special cover plate on the side of the axle assembly opposite to the drive pinion flange. The drive pinion has a specially rounded gear which is here used to drive an angle towards the crown gear. This has a flange to ensure its correct location and exemplifies the level of detail that BMC have gone into in order to produce a top-drawer motor car.
At the other end of the car, Van Den Plas deploy a Burman Hydrosteer cam and peg system, which it seems may very well be used in future Jaguars if my sources are as reliable as they have been and if there are future Jaguars. That will be an interesting development as it will address one of Jaguar Ltd’s cars’ many persistent problems, namely the steering feel. Because the Van Den Plas Princess 4.0 Litre R is a luxury motor-carriage, customers find Servo-assisted discs and drum brakes to ensure the safe modulation of the vehicle’s deceleration, assuming one remembers to press them soon enough upon entering a slightly tight corner after a long lunch.
Driving the car, one notices the comfortable seats, adjustable manually from inside the car. The steering wheel has a good diameter and makes short work of town driving. However, on the main roads one notices how very well it communicates the road to the driver and how well the vehicle responds to the smallest of inputs.
Graceful is the only word to describe the smooth progress of the Princess. The vehicle shows very little body roll on corners and nearly none in comparison with, say a Rolls-Royce. The vehicle easily accelerates to a decent cruising speed and performs more than adequately on a wide variety of roads and road surfaces, something ably demonstrated on the course of the 45 mile test carried out in Shrewsbury recently.
Quite simply, the diligence of Four Litre R is thought-provoking. The ability to consider every important point and to leave nothing out is the sign of a true professional. And this car is surely that – from its inventive suspension, to its commodious ashtray and on to its fresh and original exterior lines!
Overall, one must conclude that the Van Den Plas Princess 4.0 Litre R is a very comfortable, well-made and handsome vehicle, vastly better than the Humber Imperial. The ashtray is superb, placed in the centre of the dashboard. If you did not smoke, one would want to in order to enjoy this fine little detail. The Princess drives with the custard-smooth confidence of a veritable chancellor of the highway and has the style to match.
While BMC are playing their cards close to their chest, it is easy to see that with little further development, Van Den Plas soon will challenge Jaguar, Rover and Mercedes for the custom of Britain’s better-heeled customers. As to the others, they do not hold a candle to the Princess’s inimitable combination of keen pricing, discrete individuality and advanced yet proven technology such as the live Salisbury axle.
To read more of Archie Vicar’s much-loved period car reviews, click here