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Vanden Plas logo

Vanden Plas
is the name of a company of coachbuilders who produced bodies for specialist and up-market automobile manufacturers. Latterly the name became a top-end luxury model designation for cars from various subsidiaries of British Leyland and the Rover Group.

Belgium

It originated in Belgium in 1870 as Carrosserie Vanden Plas founded by Guillaume van den Plas and his three sons, Antoine, Henri and Willy, with bases in Antwerp and Brussels.

United Kingdom

The company first appeared in the United Kingdom in 1906 when Métallurgique cars were imported with Vanden Plas coachwork. In about 1910 Warwick Wright (now Peugeot dealers), a British motor retailer, purchased the United Kingdom rights to the Vanden Plas name and established Vanden Plas (England) Ltd.

Aircraft

During World War I the company became involved in aircraft production and was bought by Aircraft Manufacturing Company based at Hendon, London. In 1917 a new company, Vanden Plas (1917) Ltd., was formed. The company seems to have struggled to get back into coachbuilding and in 1922 went into receivership. The exclusive UK rights purchase seems also to have gone as in the early 1920s the Belgian firm was exhibiting at the London Motor Show alongside the British company.

Bentley

The rights to the name and the goodwill were purchased by the Fox brothers who moved the company from Hendon to Kingsbury and built on the contacts that had been made with Bentley. Between 1924 and 1931, when Bentley failed, Vanden Plas built the bodies for over 700 of their chassis.

In the 1930s the company became less dependent on one car maker and supplied coachwork to such as Alvis, Armstrong Siddeley, Bentley, Daimler, Lagonda and Rolls-Royce. The company also updated its production methods and took to making small batches of similar bodies.

With the outbreak of war in 1939 the company went back into aircraft work and coachbuilding stopped. During the War the company manufactured the wooden framework for the De Havilland Mosquito, one of the most successful aircraft of the Second World War. After the war the company continued its association with De Havilland and manufactured parts for the DH Vampire jet fighter.

Austin

With peace in 1945 the company looked to restart its old business, but a surprising new customer came along. Austin wanted to produce a large Rolls-Royce-size luxury car and approached Vanden Plas.

In 1946 Vanden Plas became a subsidiary of the Austin Motor Company and produced Austin's A135 Princess model.

From 1958 this also began to involve chassis assembly and the Austin (now BMC) board recognised Vanden Plas as a motor manufacturer in its own right. In 1958/59 Austin was dropped so the Princess could be sold by Nuffield dealers. In 1960 the Princess became the Vanden Plas Princess.

Badge Engineering

Also in 1957/8, Vanden Plas were asked by Leonard Lord to add luxury fittings to a batch of Austin A105 Westminster cars, beginning the practice of using the company's skills and name for badge engineered (and genuinely improved) luxury versions of many of the BMC (and later British Leyland (BL)) cars such as the 1100/1300 range and the Allegro (known as the Vanden Plas 1500 and 1700). The proposed Vanden Plas version of the Marina did not go into production.

Daimler

Production of the Vanden Plas Princess limousine stopped in 1968 when it was replaced by the Daimler DS420 Limousine (Jaguar had acquired Daimler in 1960) built by Vanden Plas on a lengthened Jaguar Mark X platform. The DS420 was produced at the Kingsbury Lane Vanden Plas factory until it closed in November 1979.

The overall holding company board decided in 1967 there was insufficient in the group advertising budget to cope with marketing the Daimler brand in North America as well as Jaguar. This decision was later changed but Vanden Plas is used in North America instead of Daimler on Jaguar's top luxury models. Ownership of the Vanden Plas name stayed with the Rover Group, and Jaguar was obliged to stop using it in the United Kingdom, though it continues to do so in America. Within the UK a Daimler Double-Six Vanden Plas became a Daimler Double Six.

The last UK market British car to bear the Vanden Plas name was the Rover 75.

China

The rights to the design of the Rover 75 cars and the MG Group (which had formerly been MG Rover) were purchased by a Chinese firm, Nanjing Automobile. Ford purchased the Rover name from the Rover Group's previous owner BMW to protect the Land Rover brand from Shanghai Automotive who wanted the Rover name for their 75-based car (Ford was at this time owner of Land Rover — and Jaguar). The Vanden Plas name (for outside North America) and many other Leyland names were purchased by Nanjing Automobile.

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