THE front page of Memories 445 featured the opening cavalcade on Sedgefield’s A177 bypass on June 2, 1969. But what was the municipal vehicle, registration 999 JUP, that carried Alderman Bob Middlewood of Durham County Council?

“It is an Austin Princess, probably bodied by Vanden Plas,” said Stuart Macdonald of High Etherley. “It was a large vehicle weighing almost 2 tons and 16ft 9ins long.”

Andrew Raine explained: “Vanden Plas was an old established firm of coachbuilders which was taken over by Austin in 1946.  Austin wanted to build a model to compete at the upper end of the market for chauffeur driven cars, for people like diplomats, company chairmen, council officials, funeral directors etc, so they bought Vanden Plas to build one. Various iterations of this model were built between 1947 and 1968, although the registration number is a 1960 issue from Durham.  

“It was a very luxurious hand-built vehicle, with lots of wood, leather, and carpet inside, competing with Rolls Royce and Bentley at a much lower cost.”
Peter Daniels said: “This model is pre-1955, as it has a bar in the windscreen due to the fact that it was only in that year that the technique of producing curved safety glass was perfected – prior to that, curved windscreens were not possible. 

Oliver Smith said the vehicle had a four litre engine with seven seats, and was probably a Mk VI, built between 1956 and 1958. His father was an agent for Austin in Willington, selling and repairing their cars, and he also had a fleet of Princesses which undertakers could hire for funerals.

“He bought them at various times at Government surplus vehicle sales at Ruddington near Nottingham,” said Oliver. “They had all been used for VIP transport in various countries so some were left hand drive which he converted to right hand drive.  

“One of them was the first car I drove. It had automatic transmission and air conditioning, which was quite novel in those days in the UK, and the paperwork showed it had been stationed at the British Embassy in Colombo, which is now the capital of Sri Lanka.”

Peter Daniels added: “The police car behind is an Austin 1100 panda car. Their hydrolastic suspension was unique, having hydraulic dampers diagonally linked between front and back. It was really good...until it sprang a leak!”
Honourable mentions also to Mark Cooper, David Knowles, John Waddleton and loads of other car spotters.