Tuesday October 17, 2017
Virtually anyone who has read the history of the British Leyland Empire and enjoyed Keith Adams’ indiscernible website AROnline, will have their own favourite car that was destined never to enter full production.
For some, it will be the Austin Ant, an ADO16-based 4x4 light utility, or the sharp-looking MG EX234, while others will bitterly regret that the mid-engine Rover P6BS never entered production.
Then we have an Austin Metro with a separate boot, the Michelotti-styled Triumph Fury, the 4-Litre ‘Rolls-Healey’, the Jaguar Mk. X with the Daimler Majestic-Major’s 4.5 litre V8, the Octagon-badged Mini…the list of projects that never reached fruition is indeed lengthy.
Some of these prototypes were inevitably destroyed but a handful survived, including an ultra-desirable Vanden Plas interpretation of the BMC ‘Landcrab’ that will be gracing the Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show, with Discovery, from the 10th - 12th November.
The original Austin 1800 of 1964 was subsequently offered as a Morris from 1966 onwards and a Wolseley in the following year but the British Motor Corporation also considered other versions such as panel van and a facelift with ‘three-box’ coachwork.
In terms of alternative badging, an MG was never on the cards but management did evaluate the potential of a Riley derivative, in addition to assessing some creations of the Vanden Plas works at Kingsbury.
One of the main challenges facing anyone considering modifying the 1800s body is that the Issigonis lines are so idiosyncratic but AOB 823K was rather cleverly based on the X6 series Austin Kimberley and Tasman.
These were the six-cylinder versions of the Landcrabs that were built in British Leyland’s Australian manufacturing plants between 1970 and 1972 - and they sported modified styling that proved to blend rather well with the square radiator grille.
Sadly, the VDP was never to enter production but it at least escaped a scrapyard fate, serving as a works’ runabout for a while.
It now resides in Scotland – a unique car that will be one of the undoubted stars of the Vanden Plas Owners’ Club stand.
A major fascination of the Vanden Plas 1800 prototype is considering an alternative BL history, one in which the 1972 London Motor Show saw the debut of a new flagship to the Mk. III Landcrab range.
Would a VDP model have clashed with the Wolseley Six or would it have an enhanced level of standard equipment to complement its prestige image?
Could it have plausibly been a front wheel drive alternative to the Rover PB6 2000 or the Triumph 2000 Mk. II – thereby creating more in-house British Leyland rivalry – or even a UK-built alternative to the Citroen DS19 or Audi 100 C1.
And still the questions form. By 1972 the Wolseley-badged version was only available with the 2.2-litre six-cylinder E-series engine rather than the 1.8-litre B-series plant so it is highly likely that the Vanden Plas would have followed suit.
Perhaps such an offbeat but attractive luxury car might have tempted more than a few business types away from their Ford Granada GXLs?
In short, a trip to the display of the VPOC is clearly essential in order to appreciate one of BL’s great ‘might have beens’ -and to experience a priceless classic in the elegant metal.