The long-forgotten princess

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The other day I came upon an advertisement for a car of which I had never previously heard or, if I had, I had forgotten it. It was the Princess, which was on sale in 1923. (Now, there would have been every reason to name a car ‘Princess’, especially if it had been in 1997.) So what was it?

Reference to Georgano/Baldwin provides only the barest of outlines. The advertisement tells us nothing very substantial, but assured prospective customers that this new light car “was British-built throughout and quite the most remarkable car on the market.” To endorse this extravagant claim the copy-writer referred to the Princess as being roomy, comfortable and very strongly built, with a fourseater body and springing which “gave a sense of floating usually found only in the most expensive cars”, and that it had “an engine of remarkable quietness, power and acceleration”. Also that the little car was “a wonderful hill-climber, built to give many years of good service.”

Yet the only technical information divulged which might attract buyers in that summer of 1923 was that your Princess would have a differential and come to you with a spare wheel, five tyres, electric lighting, hood, side-curtains, and speedometer. That is, if you were prepared to lay out £175 to The Streatham Engineering Co Ltd. At the time there were other cars costing less than £200, but few with four seats. The two-stroke Trojan was a direct competitor at exactly the same price; the Durant Light-4 and the Model-T Ford cost less to buy but more to tax, and the Austin 7 was emerging as a good but minute proposition at £165.

Delving about, I discovered more about the Princess. It had quarter-elliptic springs, which were surely less conducive to ‘floating’ than the Trojan’s hill cantilevers, nor would I have thought that an air-cooled veetwin engine would be “remarkably quiet”. It was concealed beneath a bonnet which could fool you into expecting four cylinders beneath it, as no cooling scoops protruded from it, and the dummy radiator had the look of a real cooler, even down to the dummy filler cap. The engine of the Princess was called a 9/20; I suspect that it was actually a 1100cc proprietary Blackburne unit. It drove by multi-plate clutch and shaft to a worm back axle, via a three-speed gearbox, and the skinniest tyres (650×65) were used. Ignition was by coil, which was less costly than a magneto, the body made do with a single door on the near side, and the electric lighting comprised a threelamp set with tiny headlamps on the front mudguards.

The company selling this Princess seemingly had the facilities to make such a simple car, as it was also offering aero-engined specials; but were any of these sold, or even made?

The premises where this luckless heir to the English light-car throne was to be made were at No 47 Streatham Hill. I used to know the area fairly well but cannot recall a garage there. In spite of a challenge to compare the car with any other costing up to £400 and a quick price reduction of £50 from the originally quoted £225, it was all over in a year.