The Leyland P82 would have supplemented the P76 and Force 7, and would have provided an up-to-date replacement for the Leyland Marina.
Writing exclusively for www.austin-rover.co.uk, Industry expert JACK YAN fills in the blanks to reveal the cruel end to a promising Antipodean project…
Compact future lost
IN the mid-1960s, BMC Australia, keen to get a bigger slice of the six-cylinder market in Australia, had decided that the advanced Issigonis front-wheel-drive methods would not wash Down Under. Buyers were flocking to the Ford Falcon and the Holden, and Chrysler had made its foray with its Valiant. Sophistication was out in this rugged market: mechanical simplicity was in.
BMC proposed its Model A–Model B plan, which would see two complementary models. Model A would eventually become the Marina, while Model B the P76.
Designer Mark Cassarchis, who had tidied up the P76 after Michelotti in 1970, was one of the parties charged with styling the smaller car as the successor to the Marina in 1972. Bertone, Michelotti, Giugiaro, David Bache and Roman Rodhberg, Cassarchis’ predecessor, were the other candidates.
Choosing a stylist
Eventually, Giugiaro’s proposal was chosen by a Leyland Australia committee, but the decision was apparently overruled by David Beech — referred by some as ‘the father of the P76’ — who deemed Giugiaro too expensive and awarded the job to Michelotti (compact scheme pictured right). Wheels reported that Cassarchis did not formally know of his rejection until the Eighties.
The car was designed around engineers’ parameters, particularly of accommodation, which had been the P76 story. It would have similar interior room to the larger car, but with a sizeably smaller exterior. Project engineer Merve Sheather recalled to Wheels: “The P82 would have made maximum use of parts already made in Australia and would have paid for itself out of its sales in this country alone. There were to have been four models including a fastback (range detailed below). The design was commissioned by Leyland shortly before it stopped manufacturing.” The project did benefit from the company’s investigations into what rival manufacturers were up to. John Mackesy recalled in the same title, “… the P82 existed as a Marina shell on a different platform. My recollection is that the rear suspension was similar to Cortina, the front I don’t recall. I do recall that Leyland had an NSU Ro80 to study, and the P82 used the same ‘single-ended’ rack as the Ro80.”
With the Holden Torana bridging four-, six- and eight-cylinder markets, the P82’s attempt to begin with the E-series 1748cc engine rising to a new 3310cc V6 based on the P76’s V8 did not seem particularly extreme in the Australian context. By 1973, Ford had released its Cortina Six with the 3.3-litre engine from the Falcon. The 2622cc six-cylinder would have bridged the two engines.
Status report …
While the P82 Status Report only outlined these engine options, there was talk of the P76’s 4·4-litre alloy V8 being put into a range-topping two-door, two-seat ‘commuter coupé’ built on a shortened platform. Wheels reported that the under-bonnet space would be cramped and a new electric cooling fan would have been needed. The ‘Special Coupé’ would have required wider 6½ inch rims.
Other engines mooted were a fuel-injected version of the A-series (1.3 litres) and the E-series (1.5 litres).
The range would have seemed quite advanced for the anticipated 1977 launch, with rack and pinion steering, four-speed gearbox and a three-link rear suspension. Safety, too, would have been class-leading, the engineers dictating that the car could survive a 64 km/h crash. Productionisation would have allowed for a car ‘insensitive to build inaccuracies’.
The range would have begun with a two-door “compact” with a short wheelbase and a short nose, rivalling the Ford Escort and Toyota Corolla. While this hatchback, in the mould of the later BMW 3-series Compact, would never have been a true Honda Civic rival, being 400mm longer and over 200kg heavier, but it had greater headroom and was utilitarian — one of the tenets of the original rear-wheel-drive programme. Australian model choices were more limited in the ’seventies and the compact hatchback would not have been unwelcome, particularly as Chrysler, Ford and Holden had no direct equivalent in 1977 (Chrysler did have the Chrysler Valiant Lancer Celeste, née Mitsubishi).
Leyland had planned for a sporty model of the compact, joining a stripped-down model and an intermediate ‘good quality throughout’ hatchback.
There would been two four-door sedans on the long wheelbase platform, with a “basic nose” and a “super nose” with quad headlamps. The coupé would have had the latter, and a two-door van the former.
The sedan would have been 4343mm in length, the same length as the Renault 12, and 47mm shorter than the Holden Torana Six. In 1977, the closest car size-wise was the Fiat 132 (wheelbase 2553mm, compared with P82’s 2540mm; height 1384mm versus 1383). Width-wise, P82 would have been among the leaders: 1670mm compared with the Fiat’s 1645 and the Cortina’s 1702mm. Trim levels would have been the equivalent of the P76’s Deluxe, Super and Executive.
Built in large numbers
The coupé was influenced by the Fiat 124 Coupé: both were 1670 mm wide and 1340 mm high. P82 would have been shorter: 4086 mm compared with 4172. The shorter wheelbase measured 2410mm (the Fiat was at 2419mm). Wheels puts the P82 as considerably heavier, at 1077kg over the Fiat’s 996kg.
The P82 Status Report estimated that an annual volume of 25,000 would be needed for the project to be profitable, which necessitated the “modular” approach to additional models.
Looking at the models in 2005, Michelotti’s are probably the most pleasing. They are well proportioned and have an air of the Triumph Dolomite reskin once planned for 1980. The compact resembles the 1980 Opel Kadett and Vauxhall Astra, while the sedan has some hints of the Fiat 132. Cassarchis’ offerings included a very svelte coupé, but the other variants translated slightly more poorly. The sedan has shades of the Holden Torana and Opel Ascona, while the hatchback appears somewhat like a Chrysler Sunbeam on steroids.
The programme continued apace, though it met some resistance at British Leyland, who could not understand why Australia could not accept the British models.
A sad end…
When Leyland Australia collapsed and local manufacture ceased, the quarter-scale models were built, and a prototype running a new V6 engine had been built. It was October 1974 and the project had been canned. According to Merve Sheather, Barry Anderson had this to say about the fate of the P82 in Wheels: “When the Plant closed in October 1974, the V6 engine was put into the boot of the P82 prototype, and both were flown to England. I delivered the V6 to Rover – they thought it might be suitable for the Land Rover – and the P82 was taken to Longbridge. I did have one demonstration drive with Charles Griffin and some others but, in the chaos of time it made no impact.”
Like so many cars during those dark days, the P82 remains a “what could have been”. It probably would have sold reasonably well, giving Leyland Australia a strong, domestically developed range in 1977. The Mini would probably have led the range, followed by P82, and a refreshed, revised P76. The coupé would have been without peers, fighting outgoing versions of the Torana Hatch. Buyers of mid-sized P82s could have graduated to P76s in time; or indeed, the reverse could have happened, with the fuel crisis turning people away from the larger models.
It may have made life easier for the Holden Commodore that débuted in 1978, making the larger Ford Falcon of 1979 seem out of place.
While this is all a moot discussion, developments back in the UK may have seen the end of P82 and P76 anyway. Cost-cutting in the UK could have seen to Leyland Australia’s demise in any case.
As it happened, the Triumph Dolomite appeared in Australian showrooms in 1975, in a sector where premium P82s would have resided. British management, who felt Australia should not have its own models, got its way in the lean days. By the early ’eighties, Jaguar and Land Rover aside, British Leyland was present in Australia with the Rover SD1 and the Honda-based Rover Quintet.
The model line-up was to comprise:
2-door compact – SWB
4-door sedan – basic nose treatment – LWB
4-door sedan – super nose treatment – LWB
2-door coupe – super nose treatment – SWB
2-door Van – basic nose treatment – LWB
The engine line up was to be:
1748cc 4-cylinder E-Series
2622cc 6-cylinder E-Series
3300cc V6-based on P76, V8
(Although he does not mention the slant 2.2-litre four, half a V8 block that was produced and hot-run by Kjel Erikson.)
Jack Yan, LL B, BCA (Hons.), MCA, jackyan.com, CEO, Jack Yan & Associates, jya.net, and Lucire LLC, www.lucire.net.
His sites: Beyond-branding, his book, Typography and Branding, www.natcoll.co.nz/tab.html
Uncredited pictures taken from WHEELS magazine, March 1983.