Leyland P76 : Missed opportunity in the UK?
The P76 was thoroughly evaluated for sale in the UK, with a view to be sold under the Vanden Plas marque name, but after consideration, the plan was dropped as the gap between the Rover SD1 and the Jaguar XJ6 3.4 was far too narrow to justify the expense of local homologation.
P76s were spotted pounding the MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) test track at Nuneaton – and it is reported that they stood up to the pavé better than any other BLMC car before. Reproduced below is a contemporary magazine article reporting the P76’s UK evaluation.
They’re changing cars in Buckingham Palace…
Leyland Australia hopes to sell more than 5000 Executive models of the P76 in Britain! The car has just been launched by a combined Leyland Australia-British Leyland team at a price close to $7000. While this price may sound excessive to Australians, it is close to the mark already established by other similar-sized imports such as the Australian Chrysler, Ford Falcon and Fairlane, Rambler and others. English motor writers regard it as a competitive product with these cars and other imports like the Opel Commodore and its European kin.
However, the surprising news is that Leyland representatives think the estate car (sorry, station wagon) will have an even more enthusiastic acceptance when it is introduced. The model is of course yet to be released in Australia.
The P76 was introduced to the British press as an international car – not an all-Australian car. Leyland spokesmen pointed out that the concept was entirely Australian, the mechanics were Australian and the body was virtually completely Italian. Leyland admitted that the first prototypes were clothed in Holden bodies, and that the first P76 prototype was actually assembled in the MG factory in Abingdon.
The car got an enthusiatic reception from the notably sardonic British press. Most categorised their likes and dislikes quite clearly:
- Handling – most felt it handled better than average and justified Leyland’s claim for a European feel.
- Brakes – good
- Steering – power-equipped, quite good
- Cruising capability – fine.
- Performance – above average (V8).
- Appearance – what appearance?
- Boot room – why not share it with the interior?
- Back seat – poor accommodation.
- Ride – perhaps too firm.
- Size – too big and unmanageable for Britain and Europe.
But overall the reaction was far from hostile – from press and public. And orders were taken. Harold Dvoretsky, out intrepid correspondent, summarised his interpretation of British reactions coupled with his brief assessment of the car…
LA’s developement engineer Robert Fox did a great job of PR with the two cars he had available. Both had been snatched from the production line in Australia and sent here. Neither was up to the Executive mark, neither had power steering (though one set of power steering was fitted later), yet the press reports were gratifying. The day I was invited out turned out to be the first really wet day in London for nearly three weeks. The rain belted down in thunderstorm proprotions, non-stop!
The roads, with loads and loads of rubber on them, were at their worst. But the P76 was impressive. It is a big compact, but it also has the feel of a nice long-loper – just the job for the long-distance run to the South of France where it could be expected to cruise at around 100mph all day. Even in Britain you can cruise at 70mph for long distances on motorways.
And that boot? Pity they didn’t chop off a few inches to provide a little more room in the rear seat. I rode in the back for some of the way during my brief test. It felt a bit firmer than the average Yank or Aussie compact, but had none of the sick-making qualities of the former!
It seems British journos like the P76 even more than Australian journos. Wonder if Leyland Australia and British Leyland might consider getting together for UK manufacturing rights?
- Article supplied by Michael Hickey, thanks to Norman Julian for permission to use Roger Foy’s images