Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Berkeley Street Sighting - 1956 Austin A135 Princess Limousine

Oh, sure, it looks like a Rolls-Royce. It has the upright Parthenon grille, the Spirit of Ecstasy, the general proportions of a classic British luxury car.
But look closer. The grille is indeed a Rolls unit, probably from a Silver Cloud. The rest of it is an Austin A135 Princess DM4 limousine. As with a number of British cars, dating the exact year and even the exact model name is difficult because so few visual changes were made over the production run. These limos were built from 1952 to 1968, yet are exceedingly rare with only 200 made. What did change, was the name. If pre-1957, it's an Austin Princess. If late 1957-1960, it's a Princess IV. If post-1960, it's a Vanden Plas Princess.

My guess on the model year comes from the license plate. Not being an expert on UK plates I had to search around for information. I found a 1959 Princess limousine online with the six-digit plate 822 MUP, suggesting it's newer than the 665 COO on this car. Assuming that the plates are completely original and that the letter characters serve the same purpose as the letter characters on California license plates, the car might be approximately a 1955 model. But the UK has its own significance for letters, corresponding to the area where the vehicle was first registered. If it follows that strategy the CO indicates the Cardiff area in Wales and the third O is random. Update: says the original registration came from Essex, northeast of London, but the year is not given. The plates are made by Bluemels Bros. Ltd., which has an interesting story of its own. Bluemels had a whole line of number plates produced with different colors, typefaces and styles. This car appears to have the "Pyramoid" style of 3-1/2" characters in satin silver on a beveled plate. Characters are affixed with small lock washers or waterproof adhesive. If anyone has a more accurate date for the manufacture of this car, by all means please let me know.

The body on this car is in a sorry state. The rear wheels are all wrong, the fender skirts are gone due to the fat rear tires and several panels and the bumpers are damaged. The once-luxurious back seat area looked like a meth lab. It pains me to see a rare car like this, with no doubt an interesting history, fall into such disrepair. The California plates are from the 1980s and match the original UK plate numbers, so the car might have been imported around that time. Apparently it used to be a common practice, particularly in California, for limo companies to put Rolls-Royce grilles on these cars and market them as a real Rolls for a higher rental fee from unwitting clients. A Princess is typically much cheaper to buy than a Rolls-Royce and companies that rent the real thing look down on the Princess-based imitators with great disdain! Who knows how many happy wedded couples this car might have carried in its day? It needs preservation before it attends its own funeral.

Photographed July 2013

Thanks to Terry Hastings for kindly informing me that this car is somewhere in the 1956-1963 range, identifiable by a thin, chrome C-pillar between the rear doors and the quarter windows.


  1. The number placed before the letters confirms this is a 1950's to '63 plate, and the double OO tells us the vehicle was registered in Chelmsford, unfortunately the vehicle has been outside the UK so long it no longer registers on the official DVLA website :-

    Interestingly the OO sequence appeared on a string of works Ford Racing and Rally cars in the late 60's.

    1. I was hoping you'd chime in on this post. I'm well familiar with that DVLA website! Thanks for the information about the numberplate; I'm still baffled by the numbering strategies employed pre-'63 around the UK no matter how much research I did.

  2. Hi.. Some more info and a date on the registration number.. (it's the second and third letter that identify the region - the first letter is just sequential).
    OO was not Chelmsford as stated by the person above.. (They maybe erroneously checked out the post-1974 computerised database issue of registrations, for which Chelmsford did indeed issue OO regs).
    Before 1974 OO was issued by Essex County Council.
    Anyway, to my main point... COO, with numbers first, was issued Feb-March 1963.

  3. Here's the link to the full list of British regional codes with dates of issue up to about 1972.
    Where it shows two different dates for the 3-letter codes, the first one is letter followed by numbers, and the later one is numbers followed by letters, which used in denser populated areas where they'd used up all the letter-first combinations available.
    There were no set dates for these changes, some cities ended up issuing numbers-first combinations from the early 1950s, where many rural areas never ran out of the original letters-first combinations.
    Over 1963/64 the new 'suffix letter' scheme was rolled out (compulsory from Jan '65) , all plates from then until 1983 followed a standard 3-letters / sequential number (1-999)/ year letter format.

    Hope that's helpful!

    1. Thanks a lot for the information! I've been waiting for a European car enthusiast to show up and educate me on old English steel. So do you think this car is probably a 1963 Vanden Plas Princess?

  4. Hi. Good blog, i'm follow you in Venezuela.
    Some of this car come to my country during the 50's by the hand o the oil barons from Shell in the occidental city of Maracaibo. The model you display was common in these days; A-135 Princess Limousine with a in line six ohv engine with 3.993cc.of displacement and 138 bhp,the rigth year is 1955 model, and the low cost series. The car of the fotograph lost the whell hider in the back whells. nice car at last, a survivor. The front grille isn'for the car obviously.

  5. You trash talk the current images you received of the car but do you know the owners story?

    1. I don't, unfortunately. Do you have info on it? I haven't been to that part of Berkeley in years and haven't seen the car since I took the photos.