Thursday October 18, 2018
Some enthusiasts spend years of their life seeking a Bugatti, a Rolls-Royce or a Ferrari. Others dedicate their off-duty hours to the restoration of a Maserati or a Facel Vega. But Martin Nancekievill of Winchester is the proud owner of an even rarer form of automotive life – ‘the last ever Austin Ambassador’.
‘It is a “Oporto Red” Vanden Plas with a manual gearbox, and it was built on the 18th November 1983 and is the 43,427th to leave the production line.
The Ambassador was launched in March 1982 as the replacement for the Princess “Wedge” and sales officially ceased in spring 1984. There was a fifth door (at last), different frontal treatment and a modified fascia plus a new flagship model – the Ambassador Vanden Plas, aka the sort of car that Terry Scott could only dream of.
It was not just the electric front windows, the sliding roof, the central locking and all of the other standard fittings. It was not even the seats ‘upholstered in a most attractive dapple and crushed velour’, the front fog lamps or the ‘modern cast alloy wheels’ it was that sense of achievement and social success that could only be conferred by a “VP” coachline.
That said, the finish was not on a par with the earlier models; Martin reflects on how the plush the cabin of the Princess HLS appeared in comparison with the ‘”Government Department Waiting Room” look of the Ambassador VDP. A more elaborate fascia might have enhanced the overall showroom appeal, but the VDPS only received burr walnut trim for the door cappings and fascia ‘in August 1983 – just three months before the end of production!’.
Such a decision probably reflected a) a desire to ensure more sales for the last batch of cars and b) the almost permanent state of chaos within British Leyland. As for speed ‘the 100 bhp twin carburettor engine and the 4-speed gearbox produces sparkling performance’ and if 104 mph and 0-60 in 12.5 seconds does not appear to be especially “sparkling”, it was more than adequate for any self-respecting Ambassador driver. The fact that the dashboard featured not a rev counter but an “econometer” spoke volumes.
As Martin’s car was the last of the line, it was presented to the BL Collection which was then based at Studley Castle in Warwickshire. The Ambassador was run for about 11,000 miles, and it incurred slight accident damage which has been adequately repaired. The Austin then formed a part of the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust display at Gaydon, where it was on show until circa 2002 when it was sold in auction. The VDP then moved to Kent, where it lived in retirement – albeit outdoors. During this period ‘the rear windscreen and a side-window were smashed, allowing the ingress of the elements’.
The next stage in the narrative is that Kent scrapyard was contacted ‘and asked to take the Ambassador away’. Fortunately, the scrap man contacted ‘a friend who was interested in BL cars’, and this party, in turn, spoke with the Leyland Princess Enthusiasts’ Club who bought the car in early 2016. One of these joint-purchasers was Martin who eventually acquired the Austin outright ‘ I already owned the first Wedge, a 1974 Wolseley, so naturally, I was keen to have it accompanies by the last model!’
The VDP was MOTed just two months later, and Martin is highly impressed with it . ‘The hatchback really does make a difference and details such as the more refined electrical system make you realise this is a “1980s” design as opposed the Princess, which is a “1970s” product”. One oft-voiced complaint of 35 years ago was the lack of a six-cylinder engine option, unlike the Princess but. ‘I’ve been told that that it would not fit under the Ambassador ’s lower bonnet line’.
When the Ambassador Vanden Plas is taken to shows ‘some visitors might say “that’s a Princess”, but then others might refer to a Princess “an Ambassador”; I think the two are often confused in the public mind’. But those of a certain age – especially if we are John Shuttleworth fans – could never mistake the last of the Wedges for any other car. And it is thanks to the efforts of enthusiast such as Martin, that aspects of our motoring past that conjure so many memories are not just preserved but, equally importantly, enjoyed.
WITH THANKS TO:
THE LEYLAND PRINCESS ENTHUSIASTS’ CLUB -http://www.leylandprincess.co.uk/leylandprincess_index.htm