Gambling Lady – Barbara Stanwyck’s 1967 Van Den Plas Princess 4-Litre R

There’s nothing quite as un-useful as an undocumented celebrity connection. My mother’s dog heard from the neighbor’s cat that the veterinarian said Barbara Stanwyck once owned this car. Do you really trust the cat, who you’ve seen trying to sneak into the bed when your wife’s in there one too many times, or the dog, who makes calculating looks every time you’re eating a steak? A one-time candidate for the RustyButTrusty fleet, a first-series Alfetta GT 1.8, was said to have been bought new by a US serviceman in Cambodia and then brought back to the states, but with no documentation, it’s hard to say how much of that was fabricated by a previous owner and then passed along by an unwitting current owner (and who was selling cars in Cambodia in 1975 anyways?). Anyhow, odd and unsubstantiated histories aside, check out this 1967 Van Den Plas Princess 4-Litre R for sale for $3500 in the hills of Palo Alto, CA.

1967 Van Den Plas Princess left rear

Though it’s an Austin product, this looks suspiciously similar to some Mercedes of the same period. It’s certainly a handsome car – notice the vestigial fins and tailpipes exiting through the exhaust, as well as the lack of any perforation. A quick look at the smog check history website (even though it’s no longer required to test) shows it last passed its test in 1997, so you know it was semi-roadworthy at that point. But 1997 is now 18 years ago, and while Palo Alto’s climate is mostly dry, there’s nothing to say the engine still turns. Much is made of the fact this car runs a Rolls Royce engine, but the truth is it was a engine designed for military use. That aside, a 4-liter twin carburetor straight 6 with 175bhp and all-aluminum construction was nothing to sneeze at in 1967 – the 4-liter OHV V6 made by Ford through 2000 only put out 160hp.

1967 Van Den Plas Princess right front

Slap a diagonal chrome strip across the grill and people will think you’re driving an early 1970s Volvo 164. Unfortunately, the seller couldn’t get it out of the carport enough to get full passenger side shots, so you’ll just have to hope it’s straight. It looks just as stately and elegant as any luxury car of its time – if anything, it’s a bit derivative, but that’s good if you don’t want to stand out.

1967 Van Den Plas Princess damage

Argh, what happened here? Looks like someone poled the car, but since there are pictures with the fender intact and with it bent, which is current? The listing makes no mention of any body damage. The only hint given anything’s wrong is “BEST TO BE MECHANIC”. Well, that’s generally true with anything less than a fully restored classic – you should at least have some idea of what goes on in the hot and greasy bits.

1967 Van Den Plas Princess interior

While no engine shot is provided, there are two interior shots, which are telling on a car with such a costly interior. Split leather seats suggest you’ll need to buy a hide or two to get things back into shape. Curiously, the condition of the seat squab is significantly better than the back. Another shot shows wood trim with failing varnish – perhaps your best bet is to find someone in England who’s parted theirs out due to body rust. So for the asked price, would you rather go with this interesting oddball British luxury car (all of the expense but none of the glory) or a contemporary Mercedes? The Mercedes is probably the easier path, but you won’t get Barbara’s name with that one, eh?


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6 Responses to “Gambling Lady – Barbara Stanwyck’s 1967 Van Den Plas Princess 4-Litre R”

  1. Tirefriar Says:

    Gotta love the photo with the seller’s shoe at the lower corner holding the driver’s door open. No mention of the car actually running but a suggestion that the next caretaker of this car should be a mechanic is a good indication that what you are looking at is a parts car or a rolling (I hope that brakes aren’t seized) project. Could be interesting. Surely, you will be the hit of the show at the next Queens English car gathering

    • Chris Keen Says:

      I’m sure it’s completely innocent, but am I the only one who thinks it’s a little Norman-Bates-y to start a listing with “must take care of my mother”?

  2. markB Says:

    I called the guy in July. He said he dinged the fender when he was rolling it around in the garage. I was thinking about it but parts are virtually impossible to come by. It is not the classes I-6 of RR/Bentley, nor is it even the military B60 engine, which has a following in the military vehicle world. The VDP owners club suggests about 4000 of them made it Stateside in the 60s. The guy sounded pretty straight up. He is retired, and admits that the Barbara Stanwick story is shaky, but sticks by it. Interesting but too far out there. There was a rust bucket in NY that went for maybe 1500 sometime last year. I’m thinking if you buy one you need 2 or 3 backup cars. I did read somewhere that true RR collectors consider these a nice addition to their fleet. No idea if that is true.

    • Chris Keen Says:

      That’s a surprising amount, I’d have thought (based on nothing but gut feel) that they made that many for the whole world. Yeah, back up car or connections in the UK certainly valuable for this one, but it’s probably a nice alternative to a more traditionally-styled British luxury car of the time.

  3. markB Says:

    I have this car now. It had (unbeknownst to me at purchase time) a frozen intake valve. One bent pushrod later and I have gotten it running by filling up the float bowls. Running gear all appears recoverable – it is mostly standard mid-60’s Austin hardware, excepting the engine. The Barbara Stanwyck connection is there, but remains difficult to prove. There’s a facebook page for the 4LR: >>> <<<

    • Chris Keen Says:

      Very cool – it’s always nice to hear when one of the feature cars gets a new home with someone who’s excited about having some fun with it. I trust you’ll be DNA testing anything you find in the car to substantiate the celebrity ownership 😀

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