Vanden Plas originated in Belgium, although the name derives from the Dutch, and to be grammatically correct should be expressed Van der Plas. Today most people will connect Vanden Plas with the more up market Austin Rover Products, but in the past they were coach-builders for Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Alvis, Daimler and Lagonda and many more. It is said that up to 1939, no two bodies by Vanden Plas were identical.
The workshops of Vanden Plas started in 1870 making wheels, followed by axle units for carriages. In 1884 the business moved from Brussels to Antwerp where horse drawn carriages were produced, and with the increase in business another branch was opened in Brussels again in 1890. Work was exhibited at the World trade fairs. In 1900 having gained the highest award ever by a Belgium coach-builder, work flowed in from De Dion Bouton, Berlier, Germain, Packard and others producing vehicles at that time. By 1908, Vanden Plas had a workforce of 400 men producing 300 special bodies a year and this soon increased to over 750. In 1913 ‘The Times’ stated that ‘Vanden Plas bodied cars had an air of distinction lacking in many of the products around them’.
On the 13th March 1913 the first company of Vanden Plas (England) Limited was formed, building bodies under license from Vanden Plas in Belgium. This was followed with the forming of Vanden Plas (England) 1917 Limited, and finally Vanden Plas (England) 1923 Limited with the move of the coach-works to Kingsbury, London. In 1946 Vanden Plas became a subsidiary of Austin Motors. Built on Austins new six-cylinder chassis Vanden Plas produced the Austin A 120/135 Princess I Standard Wheelbase Saloon from 1947 to 1950, A 135 Princess II from 1950 to 1953 and the A 135 Princess III from 1953 to 1956. The first of the Austin Princess Limousines was exhibited at Earls Court in 1952 and the first two production models were purchased by her Majesty the Queen. For many years thereafter Vanden Plas cars formed part of the regular vehicles at the Royal Mews. In 1954 a long wheelbase Limousine was supplied to a Sheik, painted scarlet with all the bright metal parts plated in 22 carat gold. From 1955 the A 135 Princess Chassis was produced for specialist Ambulances and Hearses. 1956 saw the introduction of the Princess IV also known as the DS7.
In 1958 Vanden Plas produced a luxury version of the Austin A 105 saloon and on its replacement in 1959 by the Austin A 99 Westminster, the 3 Litre Princess was introduced, becoming Mark II in 1961. Her Majesty the Queen ordered a special Countryman version in 1963, later to be replaced by one based on the 4 Litre ‘R’. As from July 1960 the name ‘Austin’ was formally dropped from the title of Vanden Plas products which were thereafter marketed under the name of ‘Princess’ and in consequence, Vanden Plas were able from 1960 onwards to exhibit at the Shows not as coachwork specialists but as manufacturers. With the disappearance of the ‘A’ badge, its place was taken by a horizontally positioned coronet symbolising the marque.
A black coronet was used on the long wheelbase 4 litre Princess and a red coronet on the smaller Princess cars. In 1962, the late Fred Connolly, of the firm of famous curriers, asked Vanden Plas to prepare for him a special version of the recently announced Morris 1100. A prototype with special Vanden Plas front was exhibited at the 1963 London Motor Show and so much interest was shown that full scale production started in early 1964. The Vanden Plas Princess 1100 and later 1300 were extremely popular and sold well until production ceased in 1974 upon the demise of the 11/1300 model range. 1964 saw the introduction of the 3909cc Rolls-Royce powered Vanden Plas Princess 4 Litre ‘R’. When introduced this cost £1994 some £300 more than the 3 Litre which it replaced. Vanden Plas produced prototypes of both the Austin 1800 and the Austin 3 Litre but neither were marketed. 1968 saw the replacement for the Princess 4 Litre Limousine. This was the new Daimler DS420 based on the Jaguar 420G Chassis but painted and trimmed at Kingsbury by Vanden Plas.
1972 saw the introduction of the Daimler Double Six Vanden Plas Saloon and this was joined in 1975 by the 4.2 litre version. On 17th September 1974 the largest Press gathering ever at Kingsbury, was held to launch the Vanden Plas 1500 Saloon based upon the Austin Allegro. By that time the name ‘Princess’ had been removed from Vanden Plas by British Leyland to be used on their new 18/22 series of wedge shaped cars. Vanden Plas did in fact produce a prototype based on these and called the Vanden Plas Princess 2200. It was never put into full scale production. This prototype is housed at the Heritage Motor centre, Gaydon. With the rationalisation of the British Leyland empire, the Vanden Plas Factory at Kingsbury was closed in 1979. 1500 production was transferred to MG Abingdon until its closure in 1980 when manufacture ceased.
The Daimler models were transferred to Coventry. From 1980 the Vanden Plas name was added to the most expensive luxury versions of the Austin Metro, Maestro, Montego and Ambassador, as well as the Rover SD1 and 213/216 models. A short lived stretched limousine version of the Rover 75 saloon was the final U.K. sold vehicle to carry the Vanden Plas name. More recently the Vanden Plas name has been used on the most luxurious Jaguar X-type, S-type and XJ models sold in the U.S.A and Canada. However with the demise of these models and the introduction of the new Jaguar XF and XJ the Vanden Plas name has so far not re-appeared.