Vanden Plas Coach Builders

Vanden Plas originated in Belgium, although the name is derived from the Dutch, and should actually be pronounced as Van Der Plas. In 1870 the company started up with a workshop in Brussels making at first wheels but later on they started producing axle units for carriages. But in 1884 they decides to move to Antwerp where they earned a reputation making horse drawn carriages. Because of increased orders in 1890 another branch was opened back in Brussels. They exhibited their products at various trade fairs through out the world, and in 1900 received the highest award give to a Belgium coach-builder. This was a turning point and orders came rolling in from various European car manufactures. By the year 1908, Vanden Plas workforce had increased to about 400 producing around 300 special bodies a year. Production continued to increase year on year, so that by 1913 it had reached the figure of about 750. It was decided to set up a subsidiary in the UK, so in March 1913 Vanden Plas (England) Ltd was formed. Various changes were made over the years until in 1923 when its name became Vanden Plas (England) 1923 Limited and was based at Kingsbury London. All the major luxury motor manufactures, such as Bently Alvis and Logonda had coach built bodies by Vanden Plas.

Vanden Plas body on a Leyland 1923

The Austin Motor Company decided to purchase the company in 1946. So when the Austin Sheerline was announced it was available as a Princess with a coach built body by Vanden Plas. (see A125/135) Various body styles were produced on the Austin chassis including specialist Ambulances and Hearses. With any new model announcement made by Austin, a Vanden Plas version usually followed. Also they often made one off's for wealthy clients. Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II had numerous models with Vanden Plas bodies at the Palaces. So various luxury versions of the following, Austin A105 saloon, Austin A99 Westminster and the 3 Litre Princess were introduced.

page50_2 Vanden Plas 3 litre Princess

It was in 1964 that the Vanden Plas 4 litre R came out, this was based on the Princess 3 litre. body and suspension. The development of the car was a joint project with BMC and Rolls Royce in the early 60s.

page50_3 Vanden Plas 4 litre R __________________


Vanden Plas Princess 1300

In 1962 the Morris 1100 was announced, Fred Connolly the founder of the company that supplied leather to the motor industry commissioned Vanden Plas to make a special version. A prototype was exhibited at the 1963 London Show and aroused a lot of interest so it was put into full scale production by BMC management with deliveries starting in the winter. In 1968 the model received the 1300 cc engine and continued been made until May 1974. In the the preceding years various other motor manufactures in the Leyland Group had Vanden Plas versions produced.


Vanden Plas 1500

September 1974 saw the launched of the Vanden Plas 1500 Saloon based upon the Austin Allegro, it was not called a Princess as British Leyland had decided to use it on their new 18/22 series of wedge shaped cars. Sadly the Kingsbury site was closed in 1979 and production was transferred to the MG factory at Abingdon, which then closed in the following year.

From 1980 onwards 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.

page50_6 Trim Shop


The Godmother
She's spent 50 years with her 'family' at Vanden Plas . . .

Mrs-Sullivan A
Mrs V Sullivan

VANDEN PLAS folk have looked on Vi Sullivan as the head of their 'family' for much of her 50 years with the London car plant. 'When anyone has a problem they come to me with it,' she says.
All of which probably goes a long way towards explaining why Mrs Sullivan is known affectionately as the Godmother of the Kingsbury Road factory.
She's a jolly lady with an infectious personality who has become a living legend at Vanden Plas since she started there as a 14-year old secretary to Edwin Fox, who helped found the coach building firm.
Mrs Sullivan has been secretrary to every managing director since then. but curiously enough, she owes her half-century of unbroken service to fate.
She explined ‘Business was very bad at one time and I was on a week’s notice. Fortunately for me, the accountant for me, the accountant developed mumps and was off for six weeks. I was asked to stay on during which time things picked up.’
To mark her 50 years service, she has been presented with a clock by her boss managing director Bill Peel.
The Fox family also showed their appreciation with framed photographs of the Kingsbury Works past and present.

Glad Times

Mrs Sullivan admits that when she first joined Vanden Plas she ‘hated it’But bad times have become glad times, and now she says: ‘It hasn’t felt like 50 years and I don’t feel any older than the day I first started.’
Despite all those years in the car industry she has never learned to drive. ‘I’m far too nervous,’ explained the lady who’s come through many a change with a smile.
Mrs Sullivan lives only a stone’s throw from the works and when she retires next year she has no plans to put her feet up.
‘I’ve got a big garden and I’ll find something else to do. perhaps go to one of the local hospitals and help out there. I must be doing something all the time – I’m at my happiest when I’m working.

Article Leyland Cars Mirror December 1977