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Essay : Morris Marina – How well did it sell?

Now widely seen as a joke car by the general public, who misunderstood the market it was aimed at, the Morris Marina sold well in comparison with its British Leyland stablemates.

How successful was it, though, and how did it match up to expectations and its main competition? Ian Nicholls reveals all.


The car that could be king

Morris Marina (1)

The genesis of Project ADO28, or the Morris Marina to the rest of the world, was in 1967, a year when the taking of various illegal substances was in vogue. Some cynics might think the designers of the Marina were using them.

As this site’s British Motor Holdings story recounts, this was the year when BMH declared a £3.2m loss, car production slumped by 20.86% and the company came under close examination by the media, pundits and Government. Most significantly, the BMC 1100/1300 had been toppled from its perch as Britain’s favourite new car (temporarily, as it transpired) by the Ford Cortina Mk2, styled by Roy Haynes.

TOP 10 UK CAR SALES 1967

  1. Ford Cortina Mk2  – 165,300  – 14.89%
  2. BMC 1100/1300 – 131,382 – 11.89%
  3. Vauxhall Viva – 100,220 – 9.03%
  4. Mini – 82,436 – 7.42%
  5. Rootes Arrow range – 79,376 – 7.15%
  6. Ford Anglia – 55,735 – 5.02%
  7. Rootes Imp range – 40,858 – 3.68%
  8. Vauxhall Victor – 38,517 – 3.47%
  9. Ford Corsair – 35,993 – 3.24%
  10. Morris Minor – 34,565 – 3.11%

NOT RANKED

  • Triumph Herald/Vitesse – 33,084 – 2.97%
  • Triumph 1300 – 28,741 – 2.58%
  • BMC 1800 – 27,056 – 2.43%
  • Rover 2000 – 24,452 – 2.20%
  • Ford Zephyr/Zodiac Mk4 – 23,352 – 2.10%
  • Triumph 2000 – 17,042 – 1.53%

Imports 8.3%
Total Market 1,110,266 cars

The state of the nation

Ford Cortina was the car of the moment in 1967.

In 1967 everything seemed to be going Ford’s way – it made 619,418 vehicles, including 465,168 cars. BMH produced 693,964 vehicles to the year ending 30 July 1967, including 556,762 BMC cars and 25,047 Jaguars.

Despite the difficult economic conditions arising from the July 1966 credit squeeze, Ford of Great Britain just managed to make a pre-tax profit of £2.6 million. BMH was losing £4.60 per vehicle, while Ford earned a profit of £4.19 each, all in a depressed market. However, the most impressive part of this was the sales performance of the Ford Cortina Mk2. In 1967 Ford GB manufactured 249,861 Cortinas, of which 165,300 were sold in Britain and this meant an impressive 33.84% went for export. The previous best year had been 1965, when Ford produced 192,383 Mk1 Cortinas – in two years Cortina production had increased by 29.87%.

In 1967 Ford produced more Cortinas than any year of manufacture of the BMC 1100/1300, and it was not until 1969 that Mini production exceeded this total. To the pundits all this was evidence that Ford had got it right and BMC were wrong. Since 1945, the UK Government, pundits and the media had urged the British motor industry to manufacture a cheap, simple car that would sell en masse to world markets.

In the series ‘British Leyland – the grand illusion’, I argued that the Mini and 1100/1300 were those cars – but, in 1967, it seemed as if it was the Ford Cortina Mk2 was the car with international appeal, and one that was very profitable. The conventional engineering approach to passenger car design was also employed by Vauxhall, the British subsidiary of General Motors. In 1967 it produced 286,178 vehicles and made a pre-tax profit of £5.76m. 

This was a profit of £20.14 per vehicle, suggesting that in 1967 Vauxhall was even more efficient than Ford UK – and in a reasonably strong third position. Vauxhall was already sharing development costs with its sister company Opel and, in 1967, the Viva Mk2 was more popular car in the UK than the BMC Mini.

Marina marches into war…

The Marina caused quite a star in Paris in 1971. In October 1967 BMC poached the Cortina Mk2’s stylist, Roy Haynes, from Ford. This was a clear sign that BMC was thinking along the lines of developing its own repmobile, and soon after the official formation of British Leyland in May 1968, Roy Haynes was pushing for the development of a simple, profitable, rear wheel drive car to sell to fleet buyers.

He received a sympathetic hearing from BLMC Finance Director John Barber, who had been at Ford UK from 1955 to 1965. In launching the new Morris Marina in April 1971 British Leyland was simply carrying out what all the industry watchers at the time thought was a good idea.

At the Marina’s launch the Austin Morris Managing Director, George Turnbull, said: ‘We haven’t abandoned the Issigonis front wheel drive concept, but for the new car we gave simplicity, ease of maintenance and value for money, the top priority.

‘The engines are the well proven and reliable A- and B-Series BMC products, the gearbox and rear axle are developments of the tough Triumph Vitesse units and the front suspension is the simple but effective torsion bar layout used so successfully on the Morris Minor and Morris 1000. We think the family man looking for value for money with simple servicing will buy the Marina as will the big fleet owners. I am aiming for 10 per cent of the total market and I think I am going to get it.’ Ten per cent of the 1971 UK car market was 128,000 sales.

The media was also told that George Turnbull was looking for a weekly production of around 5000 Marinas by the end of 1971. At the same time the Austin Morris Sales Director, Filmer Paradise, told The Times of his hopes of selling 180,000 Marinas abroad in 1973 and about 125,000 in the UK, a combined production figure of 305,000 cars!

In the event, peak Morris Marina production was 201,724 in the 1972/73 financial year. BLMC Chairman Lord Stokes later said: ‘Before the Marina went into production I was assured that it was going to be quite reasonably costed, because we were going to be able to use a lot of the facilities available from the Morris Minor. Later on, I found that a lot of the machine tools they said they were going to use were so obsolete that we had to get new ones and we would have been better in retrospect to have designed a brand new car altogether.

‘But we were in such a hurry; we had to get something. We had nothing to sell. It was marvellous getting that Marina out on time. Although it didn’t really hit the markets, it did quite well.’ However, by the time the Marina reached the showrooms the Ford Cortina had evolved into the larger Mk3, Vauxhall had the Mk3 version of the Viva on sale and Rootes-Chrysler had the Avenger on the market. Ford had shown that a car for commercial travellers made sound business sense, and everyone copies a good idea.

TOP 10 UK CAR SALES 1970

  1. BLMC 1100/1300 – 132,965 – 12.35%
  2. Ford Cortina – 123,025 – 11.42%
  3. Ford Escort – 95,782 – 8.89%
  4. Mini – 80,740 – 7.50%
  5. Vauxhall Viva – 76,838 – 7.14%
  6. Hillman Avenger – 50,133 – 4.66%
  7. Rootes Arrow range – 43,111 – 4.00%
  8. Ford Capri – 38,340 – 3.56%
  9. BLMC 1800 – 29,000 – 2.69%
  10. Vauxhall Victor/Ventora – 27,930 – 2.59%

Not Ranked

  • Triumph 1300 21,261 1.97%
  • Triumph Herald/Vitesse 18,489 1.71%
  • Triumph 2000/2500 18,205 1.69%
  • Ford Zephyr/Zodiac Mk 4 14,477 1.34%
  • Ford Corsair 14,096 1.30%

Imports 14.3%
Total Market 1,076,865 cars

By the time the Morris Marina was launched, the popularity of the Ford Cortina had declined and the BMC 1100/1300 had resumed its place at the top of the sales chart. However, British Leyland axed ADO16 production at Cowley in order to free up space for the Marina instead of producing its new Cortina-beater at an underused plant elsewhere within the corporation.

In 1971 Longbridge produced 307,669 vehicles, mainly Minis and ADO16s, which was simply not enough, as the UK car market began to expand after flat lining for a decade. So how did the Morris Marina fare against the Ford Cortina?

1971 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina – 41,164 – 3.20%
  • Ford Cortina – 102,941 – 8.00%

1972 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina – 104,986 – 6.41%
  • Ford Cortina – 187,159 – 11.42%

A case of not enough expansion

In 1972, unemployment hit one million for the first time since WW2, prompting the Conservative Government of Edward Heath to re-inflate the economy in an effort to buy electoral support. The UK car market expanded by 27.38% in 1972, but in this boom period for sales, BLMC could only expand its car production by 3.32%.

Thus, although total BLMC car production was 916,218 – its best ever total – it had not risen in line with its rivals on the UK market. Ford GB managed to increase its total vehicle production by 37.84%, Rootes-Chrysler produced 0.68% less and Vauxhall produced, or should that be reduced, a whopping 15.5% less.

This reflected the turmoil Rootes, BLMC and Vauxhall were experiencing – and that might explain why imports increased by 21% in the same period. For decades the motor manufacturers had demanded from Government a large domestic car market in order to create a sound financial base from which they could expand into export markets. In 1972, with the exception of Ford of Great Britain, they resolutely failed to meet the challenge.

During 1972, 1,355,000 working days were lost through strike action  in the British motor industry, which although lower than the 3,100,000 days lost in 1971, was still bad enough. In 1972 Britain produced around 1,921,000 cars, which is still a record. To summarise, in 1972 the UK car market expanded by 27.38%, British car production by 10.27%.

1973 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina – 115,041 – 6.9%
  • Ford Cortina – 181,616 – 10.92%

The ‘Barber boom’ continued with UK car sales rising a further 1.45% to 1,661,639 units, a record that stood until 1979. During this period, Morris Marina production reached its intended target of 5000 units per week, but in a dramatically expanded market. Marina sales increased by 9.57%, while Cortina declined by 2.96%.

The gap between the two repmobiles seemed to be closing. This was the best ever year for the Marina, with 201,724 being manufactured in the 1972/73 financial year ending 30 September 1973. The Marina finished the year in second place behind the Ford Cortina in the UK sales chart. This was an increase of 29.46%. The success of the Marina masked the reality that production rates of all the other Austin Morris models were in decline, and demand for the new Austin Allegro failed to match expectations.

In 1972-73 British Leyland produced around 947,000 cars and 184,000 commercial vehicles, its best ever year. Total UK car production was 1,747,000, a decline of 9.05%. One of the criticisms of the ‘Barber boom’ was that it sucked in imports and, in 1973, a whopping 27.4% of all new cars were shipped in. On a more positive note, commercial vehicle production was up 1.9%, but so were the working days lost to strikes, to 2,082,000.

Political change sparks market fears

It was the last full year of the Heath-led Government, which since the introduction of the Industrial Relations Act 1971, had been on a collision course with the Trade Union Congress. This meeting of minds had been over the TUC’s refusal to acknowledge the new Act. The Industrial Relations Act 1971 was intended to stabilize industrial relations by forcing concentration of bargaining power and responsibility in the formal union leadership, using the courts.

The new law limited wildcat strikes and prohibited limitations on legitimate strikes. It also established the National Industrial Relations Court, which was empowered to grant injunctions as necessary to prevent injurious strikes and settle a variety of labour disputes. The Labour Party’s own divisions over ‘In Place of Strife’, conceived by Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle, had killed the bill, and cleared the air – the party joined the TUC in opposing the Industrial Relations Act 1971.

The Act was perceived as an attack on the working class and was as big an issue in dividing the country as the poll tax, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq later were. Protest strikes and other industrial action occurred and all this drama and unrest contributed towards the British motor industry’s inability to respond to a booming market.

This was also the year that Britain joined the Common Market, opening up a window of opportunity to sell more cars into a wider European market. The Austin Allegro was billed as British Leyland’s ‘car for Europe’, but, as recorded earlier, Filmer Paradise had boasted of selling 180,000 Morris Marinas in Europe in 1973.

Unfortunately, as British Leyland’s financial year and the calendar year used by the Society of Motor Manufacturers do not match up, we cannot arrive at an exact figure, but it appears that around 86,000 Marinas did find overseas buyers in 1973 – if production of the Morris Marina had ceased at the end of 1973, our views of it now might be very different.

And then the Energy Crisis

1974 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina – 81,444 – 6.41%
  • Ford Cortina – 131,243 – 10.34%

The British Leyland financial year ended on 30 September 1973. In October the Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli war broke out and OPEC punished the west for its support of Israel by raising the price of oil. The West’s easy economic ride since 1945 on the back of cheap oil prices came to an end.

In Britain, industrial action by the National Union of Mineworkers resulted in the Heath Government instigating a three day week in order to conserve electricity supplies from 1 January 1974. British industry had to work at 60% of capacity, which by British Leyland’s own admission, was not profitable. It was estimated the company was losing £3m per week.

In February, British Leyland announced that output of Morris Marinas at Cowley would be cut to a maximum of 4250 a week because of labour and parts shortages and an expected drop in the home market but, while the three-day week continued, weekly output of the model would be cut to 2500. Prime Minister Edward Heath’s snap General Election to be held on 28 February 1974 resulted in the return of Harold Wilson’s Labour Party. The new Government repealed the Industrial Relations Act 1971, which some people thought would reduce the wave of strikes occurring up and down the land.

Despite all the chaos and division in class war-ridden Britain, the UK car market was still a respectable 1,268,655 – not the catastrophe everyone thought – only 1.3% less than 1971, and much better than any year in the 1960s. The mood of the time is revealed by the fact that BLMC sold 89,686 Minis in the UK in 1974 – more than the Marina. Clearly economy cars were now in vogue as the fuel price rises bit hard.

Marina sales begin to slide

It appears that overseas buyers took around 73,000 Marinas in 1974. Respectable enough, but nowhere near the 180,000 suggested by Filmer Paradise, who left British Leyland in 1974 alongside Harry Webster.

A lot had changed since the Morris Marina had been conceived in 1968 – back then, the concept of a mechanically simple car that would sell to fleet buyers and overseas, seen in the light of the success of the Ford Cortina Mk2, made a lot of sense. However, by 1974 the climate had changed. The Marina was made at Cowley – a plant constantly in the headlines for industrial action and low productivity – and, even when the cars were properly assembled by the workforce, they used components made by equally disgruntled workers employed by British Leyland’s ancillary suppliers.

Many of the problems with post-war British cars could be traced to poor quality components from outside suppliers. In Europe those seeking a simple basic car now had a new choice – something Japanese, something well-built and reliable. The wind of change was also affecting Ford of Great Britain. In 1974 it sold 131,243 Cortinas in Britain, but only built 139,917 cars here, a difference of only 8674 for export.

With Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community, trade tariffs between member states gradually disappeared. It also enabled the American-owned giants to merge their British operations with their European compatriots, share design expertise and make the same models in other plants. The constant labour disputes and resulting effect on the quality of its goods had led to Britain be labelled the ‘sick man of Europe.’

Ford found its UK factories infected by hard left groups at a time of slipping quality. Many UK fleet buyers did not want to buy Japanese cars, because of the legacy of WW2, but did not fancy a badly-built ‘Dagenham dustbin’ Cortina, a ‘chronic Cowley’ Marina, a ‘vile Vauxhall’ Viva or a ‘rubbish Ryton’ built Hillman Avenger.

The logical solution was to step up production in Ford’s European plants and import Escorts and Cortinas into Britain. It was a brilliant tactic, if British car workers would not do the job, then Ford would get someone else to do it instead. It also meant that Ford could continue to supply the UK market when its British plants were strikebound, thus maintaining market share – a luxury not seriously available to British Leyland.

British Leyland in crisis

1975 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina – 78,632 – 6.58%
  • Ford Cortina – 106,787 – 8.94%

In December 1974, British Leyland had run out of money and had asked the Labour Government of Harold Wilson to act as guarantor for a £50m loan. Trade and Industry Minister Tony Benn took the opportunity place the company under Government control by buying a majority shareholding ‘in the national interest’ – after the Ryder Report had rubber stamped his ideas for greater worker involvement.

Morris Marina production slumped further to 134,989 in 1974/75 as the energy crisis really hit UK car sales, which declined to 1,194,115. The Ryder Report demanded that British Leyland Limited, as it was now known, made £1.5m profit for every £1m injected by the taxpayer. However, in 1975, British Leyland lost 12% of its planned production due to industrial action and the expected profits failed to materialise.

Moreover, by December 1975, British Leyland had run out of money again and was drawing on £200m of Government funds intended for modernisation – simply to function on a day to day basis. The Morris Marina had only ever been intended as a rush released parts bin special, pending the more thorough development of a properly thought out replacement, known as the ADO77. British Leyland’s financial crisis prompted a rethink and, sometime in a period leading up to May 1976, the ADO77 was cancelled.

However, British Leyland had launched the 18-22/Princess in March 1975. Perhaps the resources devoted to this front wheel drive car should have been focused on a rear-wheel drive Marina replacement?

The UK’s recovery is not shared by the Marina

1976 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina 71,288 5.54%
  • Ford Cortina 126,238 9.81%

In 1976 UK car sales increased to 1,285,583. By May 1976, the ADO77 was dead in the water, as Leyland Cars decided to replace both the Allegro and Marina with the LC10/11 family of cars. The LC10 hatchback (Maestro) would replace the Allegro and the LC11 notchback (Montego) would replace the Marina.

It all made logical sense, but there was one problem. Having gained a foothold in the fleet car market, the stopgap Marina would be left to wither on the vine until 1984, when the LC11 (later renamed LM11) was launched.

Ford Cortina

Rival Ford had not been idle, though. In January 1976 the new Ford Taunus was introduced in continental Europe. This was basically a re-styled Cortina Mk3. Ford GB was able to continue selling the Mk3 in undiminished numbers in the UK until it was ready to launch the Taunus as the Dagenham-built, badge-engineered Cortina Mk4 (above), which went on sale at the end of September 1976.

Ford’s ability to continue to supply the UK market from its continental factories enabled it to wrest UK market leadership from British Leyland in 1976. Ford could also supply European markets hitherto the province of its UK subsidiary, with European-built cars.

Vauxhall Cavalier GL saloon: cleanly styled by Wayne Cherry.

General Motors had not been idle either. Announced in November 1975, and initially built in Belgium, the Vauxhall Cavalier Mk1 (above) was a restyled version of the German Opel Ascona A. The Ascona/Cavalier was built on what GM called the U-car platform and the Cavalier was originally intended to have its own bodywork.

In the end to keep costs down, a different nose, designed by Wayne Cherry, was the only obvious styling feature to set the Vauxhall apart. It was not until August 1977 that the first Cavalier emerged from a British factory.

The point of no return?

1977 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina – 66,083 – 4.99%
  • Ford Cortina – 120,601 – 9.11%

In a car market of 1,323,524 units, imports rose to 45.4%, a big rise over 1976. This was the year when British Leyland reached the point of no return, as detailed in this sites’ ‘British Leyland – the grand illusion’. To make matters worse for BL, Ford strengthened its UK market leadership by launching the Ford Fiesta, which impacted on Mini sales, falling by 25%.

1978 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina 82,638 5.19%
  • Ford Cortina 139,204 8.74%

The British economy was booming as UK car sales were 1,591,941, but 49.3% of these were imports, many from the American-owned giants. In September BL announced the Morris Marina 2 with the new overhead cam 1.7 litre O-series engine. Sales briefly rallied, but by and large the car remained the same. In an expanding market and without the strikes that had crippled it in 1977, British Leyland actually manufactured fewer cars in 1978 – 611,625, compared to 651,069 in 1977.

The poor performance of BL Cars at the volume end of the company fleet market was revealed in a survey published by the magazine, Company Secretary’s Review. It showed that BL came only third among manufacturers supplying cars for company representatives. Among the 858 companies covered, Ford had a 63% share of salesmen’s cars, with the Cortina the most popular model. Chrysler came second with 15%. BL took only 12%, three quarters of which were Morris Marinas. The Labour Government’s incomes policy set a limit of 5% for pay rises in 1978/79 to combat inflation, a policy that had produced results and had stabilised the economy after years of trauma. However, the Trade Unions Congress soundly rejected this and advocated a wage rise free-for-all.

Confrontation loomed. The Prime Minister, James Callaghan, surprised everybody by not calling an autumn General Election, arguing that the economy would further improve by the spring of 1979 – and the Labour Party would achieve a comfortable victory in the polls. Ford then offered their workforce the 5% pay rise permitted by the Government and was strikebound for two months from 22 September. Ford settled on 17%, and then the tanker drivers went into dispute.

This was the beginning of the game-changing ‘Winter of Discontent’, which saw Britain dramatically veer away from what seemed the inevitable path to socialism and a very different course indeed. Despite what should have been a crippling dispute, Ford was able to maintain their commanding lead in the UK market thanks to imports from the continent.

1979 UK SALES MARKET SHARE

  • Morris Marina 62,410 3.63%
  • Ford Cortina 193,784 11.29%

In the final year of the 1970s, new UK car sales soared to a record 1,716,275, but imports now accounted for 56.3% of the market. In September 1979 it was calculated that, at the existing rate of penetration, the foreign car manufacturers would have the whole of the UK market within eight years, 1987. During 1979 BL made 503,767 cars and lost £30m.

Back in the 1960/61 financial year, BMC had made 510,318 cars and a profit of £16.6m. This was when the Mini was only two years old and before the Morris 1100 appeared. So many hopes had been raised in the intervening years and it had all come to nought.

So how did the Morris Marina perform?

Morris Marina

Total production in the decade was 1,135,343. UK sales were 703,686 and so around 431,657 were exported, some 38%. It certainly sold better than the outgoing Farina saloons, of which 794,613 were built between 1958 and 1971.

However, the Marina never came close to its sales expectations, competing in an overcrowded market against the American-owned giants, which could feed UK demand from their continental factories, their strike-bound British plants becoming increasingly superfluous and marginalized.

British Leyland’s venture into the lucrative fleet market is also a story of how the shop stewards’ strike-happy behaviour was ultimately self destructive. The strikes lost sales and revenue, which in return resulted in the budget for new model development being slashed, and the Marina’s replacement, the ADO77 was one of the casualties.

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63 Comments on "Essay : Morris Marina – How well did it sell?"

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  1. Graham says:

    To me the big mistake was not building the Marina (although it did take too much investment for what could only be a short life), but the decision to end ADO16 production at Cowley when they could sell every ADO16 they could make yet they had the 1800 and Maxi both running at 20% of their potential volume.

    Surely they could have put them on a single line (need they need the 1800 once they had the Triumph 2000 / Rover P6 in the family) and so released capacity for Marina / ADO16.

    With hindsight you would not have done the Marina, because the Barber Boom meant you could have sold all the ADO16 instead to the more profitable private market. But then in fairness they would not have known that when the car was signed off in the depressed market of the late 60’s.

  2. Jonathan Carling jonathan carling says:

    Surprised to hear they were starting on it in 67 – I thought the Marina was rushed through after the takeover.

    Was it a success? They’d have been much worse off without it.

  3. Neil B says:

    Basically the Marina was an out dated shed when launched in the early summer of ’71. I recall the bad press it received from Autocar, Motor, Car magazine, Daily papers and TV. The 1.8 and particularly the 1.8TC being panned for dangerous understeer. I recall it was necessary to withdraw the TC version to modify the front suspension. The usual problem of BL introducing a new model before it was properly developed. Leaving the buyers to complete the job.
    Consequently the model is seen as flawed product with ancient Morris Minor front suspension. Inevitably sales fall short of expectations. Factor in the Union and quality problems and it’s fate is sealed.
    Compared to the vast and at the time desirable Cortina range (even Jackie Stewart drove one) the Marina was another boring Morris.
    Had the ADO16 survived longer, Marina sales would have been even lower. The even more appalling Allegro made the Marina the least worse BL choice.

  4. Paul H says:

    In BL terms the Marina was a roaring success, even though it was wrong footed by Ford who moved the whole market up a notch with the Cortina Mk2/Corsair combining Mk3 in 1970. This left the Marina, like many BL/AR/Rover products before and since caught in marketing no-mans land. (how did that happen when the Marina was styled by ex Ford man Roy Haynes who must have known what Ford where up to?) The Marina would not be considered such a joke if it had been replaced sometime between 1975 and 1977 by a proper Cortina/Cavalier challenger. The parts bin was there. O Series Engine, SD1/TR7 suspension and running gear, it could have been cobbled together as quickly as the Marina was. Would have made far better use of development funds rather than the endless investment in blind alley super Mini projects that finally produced the low profit Metro in 1980.

  5. Chris C says:

    Blimey, I can still remember Raymond Baxter reviewing the new Marina and pointing out the recycled Morris Minor suspension….

    One of the crudest things I remember about Marinas was opening the fuel filler flap and seeing the road beneath…

    Do the export figures include CKD/overseas assembly?

  6. Spyder says:

    In my opinion the Marina should be hailed as the BL success of the 70s rather than the BL joke. For a car developed in two years on almost no budget using only parts from obsolete models its success was phenomenal. Despite its aged underpinnings it outsold the Viva, Avenger and Hunter. In the Leyland range only the Mini could beat it on sales and I doubt any other Austin/Morris product of the 70s was more profitable.

    I believe it could have been even more successful and competitive for longer had it been based on fwd ADO16 and Maxi mechanicals. By making the Marina rwd did not make it any more reliable- unreliability in BL cars came from poor manufacture, not from any deficiency in their design.

    An identically styled fwd Marina with 1.3 A series and 1.5 and 1.75 E-series OHC engines and 5-speed gearbox would have given Leyland an ideal competitor against modern European models like the Renault 12, Peugeot 304, VW Passat and even Lancia Beta.

  7. jeremy says:

    So the answer to the Mk 2 Cortina which has been in production for a while is to introduce a . . . Mk 2 Cortina with a 1948 suspension and engines from the early 50’s . . . . then look in horror when Ford replace the Mk 2 with the Mk 3 with coil springs all round, a located back axle and a pair of OHC engines. Sure Ford did their bit to help – with springs that were too soft and interiors that fell to bits but eventually improved things.

    I owned a 1.8 and my brother had a TC – both purchased when far from new and the fact that they were considerably cheaper than the equivalent Cortina was an important factor in their choice. Having read the contemporary road tests I can only say that they were very kind to what was a truly awful thing. Had anyone from the factory actually driven one during the design stage?

    My memories of the thing? – Frightening myself when braking on a mild curve, finding that it handled better with the front tyres harder than the back despite the prohibition in the handbook, noise, radio-controlled steering, a bright green light for the rear window that made seeing forwards at night difficult, driving from Southampton to Malvern and back in 1st and top when the gearbox expired, burning its valves out, enormous oil and fuel consumption, back doors that were difficult for passengers to get in and out from and an enormous boot with a lid that wasn’t big enough to get large objects through.

    I did have a good drive in one – curiously the TC with a large trailer and a Renault 4 on the back. It steered beautifully – so presumably the poor steering when solo was due to the weight distribution being wrong . . .

    What did I replace it with? – a late version Mk 3 Cortina 2000GT – which had a very stiff suspension – and was a fine car apart from its rust . . .

  8. Greg Kean says:

    When Leyland’s Australian plant was closed a Marina with McPherson strut front suspension was sent to the UK. It also had the almost complete alloy V6 in the boot, both developed in Aus. BL could have spent less money completing it or the well on the way P82 than it spent on facelifting the Marina. The Aus Marina already had the 1750 and 1500 E Series fitted which made for much better performance. Once again if only…….

  9. Rob Bird says:

    To me the triumph gearbox was the main problem,most people would not notice the bad handling and the styling was spot on.
    Unlike the mark one was the mark two Cortina realy a thing of beauty.

  10. Ian Nicholls says:

    Quote
    ‘jonathan carling says:
    June 17, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    Surprised to hear they were starting on it in 67 – I thought the Marina was rushed through after the takeover.’

    Just to clarify. Marina design work started in 1968, but the obsession with the Ford Cortina Mk2 by the media and pundits in 1967 was a driving factor. By the time the Marina was launched the Japanese were producing simple, reliable RWD cars and the big European manufacturers were designing higher technology FWD cars.

  11. Glenn Aylett says:

    Not a good car, but not a total disaster as it was the company’s biggest selling car in 1973 and probably without the Marina, British Leyland could have fared even worse. I really think a Marina with better handling, Maxi engines and a five speed gearbox could have been a decent alternative to a Cortina.
    My family owned an eight year old 1.8 Super for a few months in 1982 as we needed a cheap car for a while. For all it had some rust and was rattly inside, it never failed to start, performed quite well on long journeys and never broke down. Yes we were glad to get something more modern, though the Chrysler/ Talbots we favoured at the time relied on elderly technology as well, but the Marina served us well and you could see why the first generation models had become popular bangers around 1982-83.

  12. Glenn Aylett says:

    Perhaps an even bigger flop was the Maxi. It doesn’t even figure in the top ten of 1970 and this more advanced design of car, a fwd hatchback with a five speed gearbox, which was revolutionary for 1970, barely troubled the top ten in the early seventies. Indeed the 1970 top ten shows the often derided Vauxhall Victor/ Ventora in ninth place. However, I’d much rather have chosen this handsome car, which went very well in two litre overdriven form and had simple engineering, over the gawky and complicated Maxi, whose early gearbox was a nightmare.

  13. Richard16378 says:

    The Maxi had some nice mechanical features apart from the gearbox.

    In some ways the styling seemed to let it down, being almost the opposite to what Ford were doing, with a plain styling with advanced running gear, rather than the other way round.

    The similar sized Renault 16 managed to have a foot in both camps, having a sharp style & some interesting mechanical engineering, even if Renault were sticking with the north-south engine layout.

    A mid life-facelift would have been good for the Maxi, but BL were stuck in a vicious circle of not having the money to do a proper restyle, so had to stick with the same basic design for 12 years.

  14. Hilton D says:

    Looking at the photos here, it’s no wonder that Ford were so successful in the late 60s & 70s. Even the Cortina MK2 looks more modern than the newer Marina range. The white MKIV Cortina GL still appeals to me and the Cavalier MK1 looks neat too. I always preferred the MK1 Cav to later versions…. OK they were RWD but most cars were then.

  15. Glenn Aylett says:

    @ Richard 16378, British Leyland was smashed in the late seventies that the Marina, or its unloved Ital offspring, had to live on until 1984. Imagine if Ford was still making the Mark 3 Cortina as late as then, it would have been laughed off the market, but as Ford was a huge multinational with factories across Europe, it could just update its models every few years and shift production where it wanted.
    That said, I had a German teacher at school who should logically have bought German, as he always praised German efficiency, whose personal transport was a Morris Marina 1.8 HL and an Ital 1.7 HL. His main reason for buying them were they were British, a lot cheaper to buy than German cars and easy to maintain.

  16. Marinast says:

    I’d argue that the Marina was not the disaster it has been made out to be and in sales terms nowhere near a disaster as the Maestro and Montego that came afterwards. Coupled with Edwards swinging cuts in production facilities, this effectivly reduced BL from a major player in 1979 to a bit player by the mid 1980s.

  17. Darren says:

    When one considers the Cortina mk3 replaced both the Cortina mk2 and Corsair, it’s sales performance is really rather poor- in that in no year did it anywhere near equal the combined performance of it’s forebears in 1967 (200,000 units)
    What’s more in 1970 the new (2yr old ) Escort only managed 2/3 the sales of the much older (8 yr old) BMC 1100/1300.
    In a nutshell Ford’s performance in the early 1970’s was ok but nothing spectacular.

  18. MM says:

    I think the Marina was the correct decision, it went on to sell in decent numbers, note from the AR account, how even a well-understood contemporary vehicle was a source of difficulty to their development teams, imagine the financial disaster a more complicated vehicle could have been to the company.

  19. 406v6 406v6 says:

    Excellent article. What about sales in USA & Canada and Australia ? The Austin Marina was disastrous in north America but it still contributed to the export figures for a few years while it was built in Australia with E series 4 and 6 cylinder engines.

    • Syke says:

      My (then) sister’s boyfriend (now brother-in-law)had a new Austin Marina (as they called it in the states) for four years. Disastrous? No, the Yugo was disastrous. The Marina came with a level of quality control that rivaled the Yugo, and only didn’t get slagged for it because it sold in such small numbers that the car didn’t matter.

      When it first arrived the initial reviews were lukewarm, at best. Most reviewers comments were on the line of “I suppose it’ll make BL some money, but you’d think the company that invented the Mini could do better than this.”

  20. Adrian says:

    It was a shame that the Maestro & Montego weren’t launched in 1970, as they would have been perceived as being more modern than the Marina was at that time.

  21. Richard16378 says:

    Or even the Metro, a supermini was one thing BL seriously lacked in the 1970s.

  22. daveh says:

    The Marina was a car of its time, which is now viewed as rubbish by people who look in hindsight.

    The problem was although BL used the Triumph Gearbox, they kept the antiquated Minor suspension which was its terrible mistake. Trouble was what did they have to use in its place? Not a lot! Austin & Morris RWD cars were ancient, while Triump and Rover had expensive solutions.

    It were a bad car for its time, it just hung on to long. Those on here looking with hindsight stating BL were wrong to make the Marina RWD are forgetting what the issue in the UK was at the time – Fleet buyers – who took up a large quantity of the market and were looking for simplicity. FWD was seen at the time by Fleet buyers as some sort of wizardary and to complex! How times have changed.

  23. Cliff says:

    It’s interesting how the Mk3 Cortina is now held up as ‘a marvelous thing’ when it was panned by the critics when launched for poor quality and for being far too heavy. The saving grace was its styling, especially in GXL and GT guises with the twin headlamps, coachlines and contrasting rear panel.

  24. Kev says:

    What everybody here ignores is that ADO28 was only supposed to be a short term stop-gap until ADO77 replaced it. However, with SD1 costs spiralling, ADO77 was cancelled. We simply didn’t have the money to do both. The result was that ADO28 had to struggle on into ADO73 and ADO73 1980 F/L. Eventually, SD1 loses were written off, and the Metro/Maestro/Montego became possible. Unfortunately, by then the damage had been done. The business was broke. The volume cars division had been sacrificed for the glory of Solihull – the SD1 disaster.

  25. T.Martin says:

    I had several marina s and a few itals, all very reliable and good workhorses-ok the handling wasn t great and they rusted, but they sold in adequate numbers. When I sold on my first marina, ody 791k a teal blue 1.3 coupe, the phone rang off the hook, even after it had been sold- consumers knew it was cheap to maintain, reliable and wouldn t cost a fortune to buy. TC went very well in fine tune, seeing off a number of performance models in the early 80 s. Underated car really for the time.

    • Kev says:

      The TC could be a bit of a handful…..but we actually built some coupes with SP250 V8s from the Dart. The idea was that it would give us a car to compete with the Capri. At least a couple ended up as departmental runabouts – I put one backwards of a roundabout on a wet road in about 1980 (on the way back to PSF from MG). Frightened the hell out of me!

  26. Adrian says:

    The Marina wasn’t a great car, but was still probably better than the 1990 Ford Escort..

    • alex scott alex scott says:

      the Marina was not better than the escort. the marina handling was nothing better than a massey ferguson. in fact I would say even the fergie was better.

  27. Graham says:

    It’s clear with the environment and information they had that the Marina was the logical decision in the late 60’s.

    In terms of environment not only did you have Ford following through with the Mk2 Cortina but you had Roots very effectively wrapping their existing components into the Hillman Hunter, a car which at its launch was measurable better product than the Mk2 Cortina despite so many heritage components. Of course Vauxhall had access to simple but fresh Opel product which could be very effectively adapted to the UK taste and they would have been aware of Chryslers heavy investment in Roots giving plans to replace the Hunter with two new from the ground up Cortina (Avenger) and Consul (what became the 180) competitors.

    Looking at themselves you could see that while they blundered into the market with the 1800, that their dealers would be pointing at the Hunter and asking why they could not have the same. Then as the end of the decade approached they would be painfully aware of how the Maxi was drifting into becoming another marketing disaster and conscious that their American rivals all had fresh product in the pipeline.

    Unfortunately when they came to start the project it appears that in the rush to get the concept study done and the confusion that followed the merger, incorrect and incomplete information was used. The Marina assumption was based around underutilised capacity for the Morris 1000 front suspension tooling, track and back axle along with B Series engine. The reality was that this equipment and tooling was at the end of its life and needed renewing, in addition it is also possible that there was an overestimation of the production capacity for gearboxes at Canley, although I suspect this was not the case as I am sure Harry Webster would have had good understanding of this limitation, It was simply the best box of that size they had.

    The problem was that this need for all this renewal significantly pushed up investment costs for the Marina (and also required the allocation of the ADO16 track at Cowley, although I suspect they did not imagine the ADO16 demand would hold up so well in the early 70’s) which ended greater than the Allegro which was a core product and not some stop gap car with a shelf life of just 4 years, while something better could be sorted out. Given that half of those Marina sales were almost certainly would have bought a Morris badged ADO16 had the car not been dropped from Nuffield dealerships, you can see that whilst still a sales success in numbers sold in its early years, in reality it could never have hoped to be the “cash cow” the company needed.

    The question then is, had they understood these issues what could have been done instead, given the need to deliver a car to market in such a short time?

    In looking for an answer we should remember that while Cowley and Longbridge were working hard on bringing the Marina into existence from what they could find in the parts bin, Canley and Solihull were also busy using the Triumph parts bin to produce their own cheap simple small family car which became the Toledo / Dolomite. The Triumph cars underpinnings in terms of track and wheelbase are in fact marginally greater than the Marina even if the end product is a little more compact. On top of this Triumph had the new Slant 4 engine ready for production, which could have had its production capacity expanded instead of the renewal of the B series tooling which then led to the dimensionally flawed O series etc.

    The end result could have been a Marina sized car with a much better driving experience from its Triumph derived chassis and a 1.3 A series supplemented not by the arthritic B series but potentially 1.6 and 2 litre Slant 4’s. I think such a car would have fared well in the market up to 76 and until 1980 with a good re-skin to rid it of the short lived Coke Bottle look (just look at the Chevette and Sunbeam to see what could be done).

    We should also remember that the Mk3 Cortina was not a runaway success that the Mk1,2 and 4 were because it did upsize itself out of the 1300 fleet market which left a gap between the Escort and Cortina that both the Avenger and Marina could and should had exploited had they been able to deliver the volumes. As one of the Chrysler UK design team said to me when recently discussing the Avenger “Chrysler planned to sell millions of Avengers in the early 70’s with good reason as the car was absolutely what the booming UK market wanted, however they did not plan for their UK workforces unwillingness to make them.”

  28. Glenn Aylett says:

    No one has mentioned another unpretentious car that lasted the entire decade and was a simple rwd design, the Vauxhall Viva HC. This could be had in two door and four door saloon and estate form, was quite spacious, cheap to run, reasonably reliable for the era and unlike previous Vauxhalls, didn’t rust badly. Also in 1800 cc Magnum form, were powerful and refined cruisers which could outrun most Cortinas.
    Indeed the 1256 cc Viva engine proved to be a durable unit that powered basic Mark One Cavaliers, the Chevette and Bedford HA and was in production as late as 1984.

  29. Paul H says:

    @Darren. Cortina sales in 1970 where depressed due to the Mk2 to Mk3 model change, slow ramp up of Mk3 production and a 3 month strike at the end of the year. Its amazing they managed to sell that many! – Look at 1972 figures with Cortina back at nearly 190,000 sales. Also from the early 70s on the Cortina market was fragmenting. During the 60s it virtually had the market to itself. In the 70s the Minx/Hunter, Marina, Cavalier and Japanese imports all competed for business.

  30. Glenn Aylett says:

    In 1970 imports only accounted for 10 pc of sales, the Japanese had only just come onto the market and European cars were viewed as crude with bizarre engineering. By 1979 imports took a record 55 pc of the market, the British car industry seemed to be in terminal decline and Datsun was as well known a brand as Ford.

  31. maestrowoff says:

    The RWD Marina was an entirely correct decision, the dismal failure of the 1800 and Maxi showed cleared how the BMC Issigonis formula didn’t work in the market place for larger cars than ADO16.
    Of course it was a horrible parts bin mashup under the skin, but if replaced in 1975 by ADO77 (a far better use of resources than the Princess which just like landcrab wasn’t what the market wanted) it would have done its job.
    It seems amazing in retrospect that ADO16 sales could be crippled by reducing its capacity, but then I guess there was a still a separate mindset within each bit of the organisation?

  32. Glenn Aylett says:

    Never has so much hatred been lavished on what was a reasonable enough car for its time than the Marina. If it was so awful, how come it was the third best selling car in 1973, used examples always sold well as they were cheap and reasonably reliable workhorses, and it became a popular banger in the eighties? Compared with a dangerous piece of expensive tat like the Lancia Beta, whose engines had the nasty habit of falling out through rust after ow years, the Marina was like a Mercedes. Indeed all mainstream Italian cars of this time were rust ridden, unreliable heaps that cost a fortune to maintain.

    • Simon Slaves says:

      Saying that the Marina was a Mercedes compared to a modern Lancia Beta – FWD, transverse engine, powerful and stylish – is telling some kind of a joke. Rust was a 70’s plague, common in every car. My unreliable Beta has celebrated her 40 years a month ago, and totally unexpensive to maintain, as I can tell you as a 10 years owner.

  33. Paul H says:

    Not sure if this is picked up above, but given the Marina was a Harry Webster car and that at the same time Triumph was re-engineering the 1500/Dolomite for RWD with proper early 70s spec McPhersons and coil sprung rear, why did he go past this to create a lash-up from bits of old Minor? BL could have been at the fore-front of platform sharing and produced a much better car, probably for less money.

  34. Richard16378 says:

    I did wonder if a single model could have replaced the Marina & Dolomite in the mid 1970s, with Triumph being used for the high spec models, & Morris for the “cooking” ones.

    • Kev says:

      That was what ADO77 was intended to be – a common platform for Austin/Morris and Triumph products. There was also a study to include an MG variant (MG28). Sadly the costs of SD1 spiralled to such an extent that ADO77 became unaffordable. This left us to do what we could with Marina – a car that was never meant to be more than a stop gap – and aging Triumph and MG ranges. We did the best we could with the money we had, hence Marina 2 (with the moulded dash assy). But we had no money for a revised Triumph, all we could do was Bounty – the Acclaim. An MG sports car was just a step to far. What money we had went to Metro. That’s why many ex Cowley, Canley, and Longbridge engineers don’t share the worship of all things Spen King shaped.

      • maestrowoff says:

        I can understand dropping luxury low volume projects (MGs, Lynx etc) if things were desperate but the Marina replacement was part of the bread and butter of the range, a high volume product that could have made a profit for the company.

      • Nate says:

        Where can more info be found on the MG28 and Triumph variant (assuming the latter is not related to TM1)?

        Was MG28 intended to be a MGB replacement or merely a sporty (coupe?) version of ADO77?

  35. Richard16378 says:

    OK I see.

  36. Adrian says:

    They should have kept the Morris brand for vans & lorries and the Austin brand for taxis..

  37. Nate says:

    Always thought that the Marina belonged in the 1960s given its Minor componentry (and heavy B-Series engine) that in better circumstances would have been conceived much earlier as a rival to the mk1/2 Cortina.

    The Marina would have been better off being based on a LWB platform derived from the Triumph Dolomite platform / componentry?

    • Kev says:

      The Dolomite body wasn’t suitable for much at all. It was borderline in crash by the mid/late 70’s, and in torsion it wasn’t suitable at all. That’s why the platform was due to be replaced by ADO77.

      • Nate says:

        Where does ADO77 fit in with regards to the Dolomite replacement as was under the impression that SD2 (later TM1 once both projects were merged) was intended to serve that role?

        Or is the “£Triumph” ADO77 variant referring somehow to Bobcat or another little-known project / study?

  38. drae says:

    One thing that occured to me is that BLM did in fact make a RWD hydrolastic sprung car in the 3 ltr. So there is no reason why the Marina should not have been hydrolastic sprumg. In spite of what S King claims, It appears that hydrolastic was actually cheepr than conventional springing. Judging by the quality of the 3 ltr suspension, this would have given the marina vastly superior ride, road holding and damping to either the marina or most of its competitors. Admitedly if they sill used the B series it might have still oversteered but certainly not the same extent, and the steering was actually pretty direct and well weighted in the standard car.

    Add in using 1500, 1750 E series engines and perhaps 2lt 2,2 ltr straight six engines and I think were starting to look at quite and appealing piece of metal. Even the standard car with the E series engines sounds intreging. Anyone know if the lower weight improved the handling of S african and Australian cars?

    • Bryan says:

      I’m restoring a 1750 TC Coupe. Handles better than the 1800, with about 20kg less weight up front. Would have benefited from the sway bars the Mk2 got.

      When Leyland Australia shoehorned the E6 into the Marina, they made a raft of changes to the suspension to improve the handling. No sway bars, but rolls less than the earlier cars. E6 + 3-speed Borg Warner manual weighs about the same as 1800 + 4-speed.

  39. MM says:

    In the Marina story, where does Issigonis fit in the script?
    Was it the situation of Issigonis being sidelined?
    Could the company risk another 1800 or Maxi from his drawing board?

    • Tony Evans says:

      I think that BL got pretty fed up with Issy producing expensive designs that did not earn money for the company and were often technically more complex to produce than competitors’ designs. The company was struggling financially and there wasn’t the money available to produce another Issigonis engineering marvel – hence the parts bin raid. IMHO, hydragas was no better than a good conventional coil spring setup and a darn sight more troublesome when it went wrong. I still have the scars from removing failed and rusty hydragas units back in the 1980s!

  40. alex scott says:

    BL had more cars to offer than Ford, so how did BL’S market share look overall – it would have been optimistic for them to think they could take away a large part of the fords overall market share. I suspect also that if the road handling performance was even marginally better than it was then these cars would have sold well. the truth is they were one of the worst drives ever, alex

  41. alex scott says:

    the 3 model lineup picture above is tidy though. It shows what is missing from the MG6 range. alex

    • Kev says:

      That “3 model lineup picture” is incomplete. There were actually five derivatives….it’s missing the van and pick-up!

  42. Adrian says:

    The answer to the question in this essay’s title is probably “Suprisingly well, all things considered”.

  43. david says:

    I had a silver fox Mk 3 cortina with a crossflow 1600 engine .The pain came off pretty well all of them in this colour.Also I recall alot of problems with Ford overhead cams.

  44. Richard16378 says:

    I heard the Pinto units needed a regular oil change to keep the flow to the OHC running smoothly, certainly compared to the OHV Kents.

    Some fleet managers didn’t realise this & found out to their cost.

    The same people who thought the Allegro’s wheel barings needed the same torque settings as the ADO 16’s.

  45. Tony Evans says:

    That the Marina sold in the numbers it did is a testament to two things:

    1) The loyalty of BL customers; and;
    2) The poor quality of the opposition

    Yes, it was a simple car to fix but so dynamically flawed that it was actually worse on the road then the car it derived from – the venerable Morris 1000.

  46. Glenn Aylett says:

    The Mark 3 Cortina seemed to undergo somekind of revival as a seventies icon due to Life on Mars, but unless you got a top of the range one like the 1600 GXL or the very nice 2000 GT or 2000 E models, it was an austere, drab car and also the large body meant if it had a 1300 or 1600 OHV engine, it didn’t go and was thirsty. As many people hated these cars as loved them at the time, probably the haters consisted of sales reps in coal mine cabin 1300 Ls and the lovers were their bosses in two litre models.

    • Jamie says:

      Oh, not so sure about that. Maybe the bargain basement Cortina’s interior was sparce but it was a lot better than the Marina.
      It was easy to go to your local Ford dealer or even scrappy and pick up the nice bits and spec up your Cortina, doing this with a Marina just meant it was slightly more bearable to sit in the cabin.

  47. Glenn Aylett says:

    The Mark Four Cortina really hurt the Marina’s sales. The Marina’s engines only went as far as an ageing 1.8, while the Cortina offered a very refined and powerful Cologne V6 as its top model. It was clear the Marina couldn’t compete as its 1.3 models were sluggish and the 1.8, while fairly powerful, couldn’t compete with 2 and 2.3 litre Cortinas on performance and refinement. Also Ghia models came with quality fittings like wooden dashboards and velour seats that the Marina HL lacked.

  48. Jamie says:

    It is almost unfair to compare the Cortina to the Marina. The chassis was new for the Mk3 and the OHC engines (despite having cam trouble at first) were far more refined than anything under the bonnet of a Marina, add to that the solid 4 type B speed gearboxes and you had to offer better than BL were doing.

    I also cannot imagine what the engineering department was thinking by employing torsion bar suspension with lever arm shocks and trunnions from the Minor, basically the Marina is a Minor but with a B series in at the upper end.

    A mate of mine had a couple of Marinas and we used to nip down to the coast etc, and the whole car(s) always felt like it would take off (or shake itself to pieces) at speeds over 60 mph, and braking at such speed was equally scare inducing.

    All that wasted development money, killing projects off and still not improving the models you were offering. Just like the British bike industry, wait for someone else to come along with a better product and still refuse to get your act together.

  49. Glenn Aylett says:

    Anyone own a 2 litre Ital? I reckon these would have been quite interesting cars at high speed with the Marina handling ans 2 litre performance.
    Actually the 2 litre came a bit late and should really have gone into the Marina in 1978. All it needed was some improvements to the handling and it would have at last been able to take on a two litre Cortina.

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