RAC Cars News


What Makes A Classic?

By raccars Published

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The organisers of the Brooklands Autumn Classic Breakfast meet may find themselves having to reconsider their definition of a classic, after receiving criticism for rejecting a 1978 Leyland Princess. Classic car enthusiasts have proposed a boycott of the event via the Leyland Princess Facebook fan page.

The drama began when the owner of the Princess in question drove 70 miles in his 36 year old car to the Sunday 26 October Autumn Classic Breakfast meeting at the Brooklands Museum and motor racing circuit in Weybridge, Surrey. On arrival, he was informed that his Princess would need to be parked in the visitors' car park as it did not qualify as a classic for the purposes of the event.

However on the same day, there were a number of younger cars at the event, including some with, arguably, a far more dubious claim upon the 'classic' designation. John Kingsford, the owner of the controversial Princess, also regularly visits classic car shows in an MGF Abingdon from 1998, and saw a number of other MGFs at Brooklands on the day in question, all younger than his Princess. Similarly, there was a Porsche 911 from 1996, a Mercedes SL from 1999 and any number of other cars from after 1973.

Leyland Princess fans are distinctly unamused by the incident, calling it 'disgraceful' and suggesting a boycott of Brooklands events unless an apology is issued. A debate has ensued on what determines a car's classic status - should it be defined by its age, rarity or numbers remaining on the road.

The British Leyland built Princess was in production from 1975 to1981. Its front wheel drive layout was unusual for the time, but gave it a distinct advantage over competitors in terms of cabin space. Princess was in fact more than a model name and became a distinct marque from British Leyland. The car is sometimes referred to as the Austin Princess, which is how it was marketed in New Zealand.

With controversial, wedge shaped styling, the Princess qualified as a saloon despite giving the appearance of a hatchback. Let down by rather stodgy performance, the Princess did win praise for its comfortable and roomy cabin, reassuring road holding and quiet ride.

After some considerable initial success, the Princess was plagued by reliability and build quality issues that saw sales tail off dramatically. Nearly 225,000 units were produced, of which less than 500 are believed to still be on the road today.

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