Vanden Plas Coachbuilders: The Vanden Plas Princess 4 litre R

The Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R

A brief history of the 4 litre R

by Martin Cannell and Craig Tiano

The Rolls-Royce engined Princess 4-Litre 'R' was the culmination of a deal, in the early 1960's, between B.M.C. and Rolls-Royce, to produce an upmarket executive car, using the 3,909cc Rolls-Royce F60 engine. Originally the intention had been for Rolls-Royce Ltd. to produce a Bentley car in larger quantities, and at a lower price, to satisfy the younger/executive market. The original development cars were assigned the prototype name of the Bentley Java, and an un-named Rolls-Royce variant was also considered.

Other projects, with B.M.C, such as the Bentley Bengal, the Rolls-Royce Rangoon and the sporting Bentley Alpha were also considered, however, they were all eventually dropped, but B.M.C. themselves then introduced the Princess 4-litre 'R', which retained the Rolls-Royce engine, and many features of the Bentley Java prototype. Approximately 7,000 cars were built between 1964 and 1968. They now have a strong cult following, and were indeed a very charismatic car, with a performance that could out run such cars as the Jaguar Mk.II. 3.4 Litre automatic, etc...

Some original buyers felt that the body style should have been re-designed more than it had been to announce the fact that this was the 'Rolls-Royce' engined version as distinct from the B.M.C. engine Princess 3-litre!! The only really noticable difference, at a casual glance, was the removal of the rear tail fins, which were a feature of the 3-Litre cars.

The primary market for the Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre R (as it became known) was the USA. Unfortunately, Rolls Royce/Bentley dealers were not interested in a "compact" car when they were building the brand names by selling large expensive models. BMC pushed the cars onto their existing dealer network, which included Jaguar, Triumph, MG, and Austin dealers. Jaguar dealers found the car a particularly difficult sell against the more luxurious Mark X/420G and not quite sporty enough to attract the Mark II/3.8S buyers. Triumph and MG dealers plainly had difficulty reaching the 4 litre R's affluent intended market, since their customers were very sports oriented. Austin dealers, those few remaining, were selling the outdated Princess IV (DS7) limousine and Minis. Most were about to be dropped as Austin exited the US marketplace. A very small number of dealers, primarily old line British car vendors who sold many brands in one location, ended up as the only foothold in the US marketplace. The fact that they sold nearly 4,500 cars is simply inconceivable given their small number, but they did it! when the car was discontinued, so was the meager support the dealer network had received. Many of these dealers moved on and never looked back.

The 4 litre R today is a breed apart. The car is a jewel of 1960's British workmanship. The Vanden Plas interiors are as comfortable today as any modern car. The performance and smoothness of the engine is unparalleled in any car of a similar vintage. The body style is, well, dowdy and boring, but so are all the Mercedes vehicles of the same vintage. Parts are obtainable. Spare parts cars are also obtainable, especially in the USA.

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Copyright 2000, Craig Tiano.