Wednesday November 8, 2017
‘A comfortable ride, is nicely flexible in the gears, well equipped and spacious’ - that was the opinion of Car magazine when it tested a certain Wedge-shaped car opposite a Citroen CX2000 and a BMW 518.
As for Motor Sport, their tester thought it was ‘the finest car to come out of British Leyland (BL) since the XJ6, with a general performance, finish and specification worthy of a higher price.
Remarkable value for money, in fact.
It is a car the British motor industry should be proud of.
It is so often forgotten that when BL’s 18-22 range debuted in March 1975, it was very warmly greeted by the motoring press as an interesting and well-planned alternative to the Ford Granada 2000 and even the Triumph 2500S.
And, if such positive reviews were not enough of an inducement to visit your local dealership, there was the television advertising campaign. Just imagine watching Peter Clark’s Complaint’s Box on Southern TV and during the commercial break hearing the stentorian tones of Patrick Allen (who else?) announce ‘the biggest news since the Mini’.
Project ADO17 dated back to 1970 when the recently formed British Leyland Motor Corporation was planning a replacement for the ‘Landcrab’ range.
The coachwork, courtesy of Harris Mann, was distinctive and, in my humble view, rather elegant; a hatchback rear door was rejected; one probable reason was the fear of the new model clashing with the Maxi and the initial engine choices were the four-cylinder 1.8-litre O series and the six-cylinder 2.2 litre E series.
The suspension was via Hydragas which when combined with low tyre pressure resulted in a ride quality befitting a much more expensive car.
One clever touch was the driver’s seat that could be adjusted through ‘240 positions and power steering was standard on the 2200 versions.
The 18-22 was originally badged as an Austin, a Morris or a Wolseley, in order to satisfy the still fully integrated dealership network.
The first two were sold in L or HL guise and could be distinguished by their trapezium-shaped headlamps or quad lights respectively while the last-named was the indisputable flagship of the range, from the illuminated radiator badge to its vinyl roof.
Inside, two cigar lighters, velour trim, tinted glass, and even a radio created an ambience of luxury akin to that of the living room of your average Bond villain.
Meanwhile, a fleet of its Morris and Austin stablemates served as official transport for Wimbledon contestants in the summer of that year.
By September 1975, the separate badges were replaced by a new ‘Princess’ brand, a development which very sadly also saw the end of the Wolseley marque.
The range-topper was now the HLS but this highly promising car was already suffering from the reliability issues, which created image problems that were to plague it for the next seven years.
By 1978 the Princess 2 received some cosmetic changes while the O series plant replaced by a 1.7 OHC unit, as befitting a car that was not for Mr. Average. Alas, the ‘Wedge’ never lived up to its sales potential but if you were an Austin-Morris dealer-principal who had performed exceptionally well, the 1980 Club 100 was your reward.
A very special edition HLS with duotone paint, electric windows and an electric sunroof was certainly incentive to sell more Allegros and Maxis.
The Princess was replaced by the Ambassador in early 1982 and over the past few years, leylandprincess.co.uk has done sterling work in altering the public perception and dispelling quite a few myths, about this rather misunderstood car.
My fondest memory of the Wedge of its association with two master comedy actors and not the predictable choice of Terry Scott and June Whitfield either…