1982 Rover - Austin Princess 2 HL 2.0 O-series petrol
Clever, refreshingly different, full of character, but only average abilities and numerous pitfalls
Only 'broke down' once: electric fuel pump in the tank failed.
Power steering developed slackness.
Front brakes tended to be uneven.
One automatic transmission failed after a rebuild.
I rebuilt this car, changing it from manual to automatic.
The styling was always controversial and enjoyable. Most describe it as 'ugly'. Not many would notice the smoothed-out creaselines and soft curves more typical of late model cars. Another feature unheard-of in this age bracket is the bonnet trailing edge sweeping up over the wipers. Even the rear lights have a crisp elegance, although the very 70s trim on these cars (the inside of a vinyl cover sported purple vinyl leftovers) has dated the basic shape.
The engine was thrashy and noisy, and not very powerful compared with other two-litre cars.
Reliability was good, and servicing was easy (e.g. pouring oil in, changing filters, setting ignition timing).
There were a number of squeaks and rattles. The entire fascia was 'suspended', meaning it would shake up and down with the engine idling. There were draughts from the cold-air vents in the centre of the dashboard, torturous on long trips. Water leaks into the interior were very common.
The automatic transmission was smooth but lazy, and very fuel-inefficient. Fuel consumption was an average of 22mpg. Top speed was only about 140km/h.
More importantly, the suspension was quirky and not very safe. The stability at high speeds is poor compared with other cars of this age. The ride quality is very stiff and bouncy, usually because the Hydragas units have lost their gas springs. Hydragas is NOT the same as Hydrolastic; the latter uses rubber springs. When the Hydragas goes 'down' in a Princess (or Allegro) it is because the gas spring has leaked away. Pumping in more water (special green fluid) restores the ride height, BUT the pressure (and therefore the pressure of the gas springs) will be higher. This makes the suspension harder, reduces its compliance (because of the rising rate of the gas springs) and therefore upsets the ride quality and roadholding.
That technical lesson should have highlighted the flaws of a conceptually superior system. The remaining steering problems arise from very light power steering (with little 'feel') and totally inadequate front wheel geometry. This causes great tyre squeal even at low cornering speeds; not helped by the wide (175 or 185) tyres on narrow (4.5") rims. This persists even if expensive tyres are used, and sets a big limit on the cornering grip, even more so in wet conditions.
There is good interior space, but limited headroom and 'footroom'. Trim is of a rather low standard. It can be 'tailored' with DIY care but is still fundamentally 'cheap' in its design.
Electrics are comprehensive but depend on only eight fuses. This restricts reliability and quality, e.g. light output is low.
Some aspects of these cars are very thoroughly engineered; for example the cooling system, brakes, and the gas struts supporting the bonnet. As was said at the time, there is "a great car trying to get out".
In many ways they were underrated cars. I don't wish to 'bash' their reputation, which deserves to be better than some other BL models like the Allegro and the Maxi. However I would caution those attracted by the on-paper specs to try the car for real first, and compare with other cars of the same age.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No
Review Date: 12th October, 2001
23rd Sep 2002, 17:17
I have a Princess myself, I just LOVE that quirky wedge shape, but have had enormous problems with reliability. Firstly the power steering pump just fell off the engine, for no apparent good reason (the bracket just shattered)
Next the fuel pump stopped pumping on uphill climbs, leaving me in some rather uncompromising positions halfway up hills. Then the suspension developed a rather serious leak, leaving the car rather lop sided. It is definitely a car full of character and innovation, but my oh my, what a headache! I would like to re engineer mine with a newer power plant and get rid of that god awful suspension system and then I would have a truly fun car.
25th Feb 2003, 10:08
Fabulous review! If only all reviews could be written so well! TOP MARKS!!! I could picture the car in my mind just reading this, great descriptions and obviously someone who knows their princess!
22nd Apr 2004, 04:05
I have had a couple of princesses over the years, both bought when they were well and truly in the banger stage and with no value once the MOT ran out. I thought they were nowhere near as bad as they were made out to be. 2000 HLS model was a great car with armrests in the front seats, a superb motorway car, but would have been better with a 5th gear. comfy, pretty reliable although I had a displacer pop once. 30mpg average, I'd have another, but 1700 version underpowered.
17th Dec 2006, 14:20
Lovely to read about the Princess. Mine has proven entirely trouble free and utterly reliable even though she is 26 years old. Spacious, stylish, comfortable and cheap to run. You can't go wrong.
17th Dec 2010, 03:50
Leyland had pretty much sorted these cars out by the time the Princess 2 came along. There really wasn't much that went wrong with them then, although of course the damage had been done and the word was that they were dogs.
Early models were shocking, with driveshaft problems, engine mounts failing, etc etc.
As a point of interest, has anybody ever put a six cylinder E series in a Maxi?