1976 Leyland Princess HL 1.8 from UK and Ireland


Despite the problems, it left me with a smile


Cracked head.

Serious overheating problem, resulting in most of my coolant ending up on the road.

Choke lock never worked (had to hold it open with clothes pegs), and remove each clothes peg as the engine warmed up.

Cold starting problem (never rectified) - had to bump start it.

Hot starting problem (never rectified) - had to bump start it.

In effect, whenever I wanted to go anywhere, I had to make sure I was on a convenient gradient. The same for filling up with petrol... trying to find a petrol station on a hill was a right pain.

Drivers door window would retract at a 45 degree angle after winding down about two thirds of the way. In the end, I never actually saw the window again... it disappeared somewhere into the depths of the door. Still nobody stole it!!

Despite being powered by an engine of reasonable size (sort of), it had all the acceleration of the Ark Royal. Fastest I ever had out of her was 85mph downhill... terrifying.

Drivers seat collapsed with me sitting in it at the time. Fortunately, I wasn't moving, the result of which would have been interesting.

Radio could only pick up Radio Four (not good when you are in your twenties and like rock music!) Installed a Goodmans car stereo (packed up), installed another Goodmans stereo (a replacement for the first... fell to bits after two weeks). Installed a Saisho (what happened to them?) car stereo (devoured my tape and packed up).

Rear window demister never worked.

Heater (a contradiction in terms), never actually blew heat, only cold air. Great in the winter!

Headlights were sealed beam units, so gave off as much light as a candle - result: I fitted a pair of incredibly powerful (but not exactly legal) spotlights to the front.

Took it through the car wash, and the brushes took the vinyl off both c-pillars.

General Comments:

Moaning about it aside, it was given to me, so never cost me anything to buy. I'd previously had a 1100 (we are talking back in the mid-80's), which although technically it was my first car, due to numerous problems, I only drove it twice. I therefore consider the Princess to have been my first 'real' car.

One of the big headaches of owning one of these things, was that damned stupid Hydragas suspension. Like Citroen and their hydro-pneumatic suspension, BL seemed to think that this would be a good idea when in effect, it was over complicated, often went wrong, and had to be constantly pumped up with air. God help you if you sprang a leak somewhere in the system. Conventional springs would have been much simpler.

Masses of room inside, but a pig to negotiate into tight areas...no power steering (at least not on the HL, unless it was an optional extra). It was hard work. No need for airbags or crumple zones in these things. If anything hit you, you had a fair chance of survival (that's how it felt when driving anyway).

In the end, I admitted defeat and decided to scrap the car (for £25). Bought a Renault 9.

Despite the fact mine was a '76 model, so therefore one of the early Princess 'wedges', it was on an 'S' plate (apparently, it had spent its first two years on Jersey).

The Princess should have been a hatchback from the start, but this obvious idea escaped the boys in the British Leyland design studios. The inclusion of a hatchback was finally built into the equally as bad, Austin Ambassador some years later. By that time the competition had stolen the march, and BL's past was already haunting them.

It summarised everything about British Leyland at that time. Unreliable, over complicated, awful build quality, quirky, but able to withstand all the ravages of war.

Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? No

Review Date: 2nd November, 2006

26th Nov 2007, 07:02

I drive a Princess from 1980. It has proven to be completely reliable.

It starts first time, every time, is very comfortable and economical (for its size and weight).

It also passed it's last MOT without any problems!

Did I somehow manage to get the only one that worked?

18th Jan 2008, 11:00

I had one given to me, a 1979 2.0 HLS, it was rotten as a pear, but totally reliable for the 10 months I had it (until the mot ran out and I scrapped it) had great seats too, with armrests in the front.

18th Jan 2008, 11:49

I've had four BL cars (two 1300s and two Princesses) with hydragas suspension, and I didn't think the system was any less reliable than a conventional setup, provided it was looked after.

A very common bodge is to use mains water to refill the system, rather than hydraulic fluid. This is probably the root cause of most problems.

26th Dec 2008, 17:09

I own very last Princess 2.0 HLS, very comfortable car, I also have an 1978 2.2 HL auto, also vert comfortable and smooth, shame BL didn't mate a 5 speed box to the range. I did have an Ambassador 2.0 Vanden Plas, that was a very nice car, the car that the Princess should have been with the tailgate. The Princess was a well designed car for the the time.

5th Feb 2011, 21:02

I had a 1982 Prinny 1700 HL years ago. It was, I guess, about ten years old when I bought it. It actually wasn't a bad car - very comfortable and basically reliable. Not a bad car to drive either, with a well struck balance of driver appeal and supreme comfort - far better than Citroen's oleopnuematic system. There was a good car in there somewhere, but confused marketing, glaring omissions (wot, no hatchback) and shoddy build quality ultimately put paid to its deserved success. And now for a confession - I was one of the few who thought it was a good looking car, still think so today...