Waiting for the Ferry
This image has long interested me. I first saw it on the cover of the DVD No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese’s film about Bob Dylan. It was taken by Barry Feinstein on May 11, 1966 in the middle of Dylan’s World Tour. The previous night he had performed at the Colston Hall in Bristol, where he has been booed by those who did not appreciate his move from an acoustic to electric sound. Here he is waiting for the Aust – Beachley ferry to take him across the Severn estuary to Wales where he was booked to perform at the Capitol Theatre in Cardiff that night. They had to take the ferry as the Severn Bridge had not been finished then. You can just make out it’s unfinished form in the background. The ferry made its last 12 minute crossing the day before the Bridge opened on September 8th, four months later.
The First Princess
But what an odd car for Bob Dylan to be travelling in. No tour bus. Not a big Jag or a modern Ford but an old fashioned, staid, establishment Austin Princess. A luxurious limousine to be sure, but no Rolls Royce, Bentley or Daimler.
Princesses were the flagships of the Austin range from 1952 to 1978, though not always badged as Austins. Austin and Morris merged into the British Motor Corporation (BMC) in the fifties and the Austin badge was dropped so the car could be sold through Morris dealerships. They were coachbuilt by Vanden Plas for Austin and were sometimes known as Vanden Plas Princesses, sometimes simply as Princesses.
I read years ago that it had been lent to Dylan by the Rolling Stones. I thought this was even odder. Why did Dylan have to borrow a car and why would the Stones have an Austin Princess of all cars? I reasoned that by ‘Rolling Stones’ it meant their record label, but the Stones were signed to Decca in ’66 and Dylan to Columbia. Another mystery but someone somewhere will know.
Scorsese compiled his film from various sourses including earlier footage from D A Pennebaker’s 1965 film Don’t Look Back and Eat The Document, which followed Dylan on his 1966 tour. In Eat the Document we see the inside of the car too while they are driving along and as a big Dylan fan and car enthusiast I thought it would be very cool to find and buy that Princess. I naively had it in mind that perhaps nobody would recognise it and I would be able to buy it cheap and restore it. In fact I had an eBay alert in place for many years but I never found it. For some of the time I was searching for the wrong car anyway. As you can see from the photo below there is a version of the photo with a different registration number.
The real registration is 540 CYN but for the DVD cover the image was changed to 1235RD, a reference to the song Rainy Day Women # 12 and 35. (1235RD is in fact on a 2000 silver BMW 318i SE.)
The Second Princess
When I heard that the car had come up for auction in the States last year I was quite disappointed, but I now doubt that car is this car, so the search is still on. The car which sold in the States in August 2018 (see Mecum Auction) has the British registration OGY88E which means that it was registered between January and July 1967.
This may have been an Austin Princess used by Dylan, but it cannot be the one that crossed the Severn on the Aust Ferry. The Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (UK) will let you change the registration on a car but not to a number that would imply it was newer than it was. So it cannot be that 540 CYN (which dates from before 1963) became OGY88E.
The Auction website shows this image in its documentation for the car…
However, there is a another print from that film roll on Instagram and Pinterest that shows the registration from the Aust Ferry car, so I am inclined to believe the car sold in America is a different one.
The Third Princess
The auction blurb says it was owned by Pan American World Airways at London’s Heathrow Airport and used by Princess Anne, The Beatles, Bob Dylan and others. It probably was, but it is not our car.
I wonder whether this was a London Bridge thing – buying London Bridge and importing it into the States and then discovering you thought you’d bought Tower Bridge. A bridge is a bridge, a princess a princess.
The Fourth Princess
Mention of Princess Anne brings to mind another Princess and it’s not the one sold last year in Monterey, California for this one is in Sandringham House in Norfolk, England. A royal residence fit for a princess. Here they have the 1969 Austin Princess that the Queen’s only daughter was travelling in when Ian Ball attempted to kidnap her at gun point on March 20, 1974, shooting four people before being overcome by police and bystanders.
The Daily MIrror reported how Ball stopped the royal car by braking suddenly in front of it in his white Ford Escort but they misidentified the limousine, calling it a Daimler. That famous Princess whose rear window was shot out was repaired and can now be seen at Sandringham.
Image from Daily Mirror which calls the Princess a Daimler.
Image from The Smithsonian Magazine which calls the Princess a Rolls Royce.
The Fifth Princess
There’s no repairing this one though. It started off in pristine condition, but by the end of the filming of Blind Run, an episode of the British TV series The Professionals (series 2, episode 9) it was a very sorry state.
Let’s get back to Dylan. There’s a video on You Tube and other sites (bootleg footage from the film Eat the Document) showing Bob Dylan and John Lennon stoned in the back of a moving car. It was recorded on May 27th 1966, the last day of the tour and sometimes the car is described as a London Taxi. However, as we know from the reporting of the failed kidnap attempt on Princess Anne, the big old Austin was often mistaken for something else. The Lennon – Dylan car is a Princess alright and undoubtedly the same Princess that Dylan had been using on the tour. Here’s a snippet.
The Sixth Princess
That was not John Lennon’s only trip in a Princess. A few years later he bought his own and his Princess features in his 1972 film Imagine. However, this Princess was not a limousine but a hearse that Lennon had the rear stripped out of and airline seats installed. I wonder whether he remembered his earlier trip in a Princess with Dylan.
The Seventh Princess
Prior to the 1966 tour Dylan was commonly referred to as the King of Folk alongside Queen Joan Baez, but as he stands on the jetty waiting for the ferry he knows that he’s lost that crown now, not that he wanted to keep it. Now as he stands beside the crowned Austin Princess he waits, not for a new Queen, but for another Princess, the Severn Princess, the name of the Aust ferry.