In 1973, Leyland Australia announced that all former Austin and Morris cars would be replaced by a sweeping range of new Leyland-badged cars.
The Morris Marina was treated to an Antipodean re-engineering effort, receiving the E4 and E6 engines and being relaunched as the Leyland Marina, but more ambitiously, BLMC wanted to compete with the locally produced Ford Falcon, Holden Kingswood and Chrysler Valiant.
All the ingredients… half baked
THE P76 was conceived by Leyland Australia, and from the beginning, was designed explicitly for their market alone. The optimism felt by the company during the late 1960s allowed for this kind of forward planning, as BMC had always performed pretty well in the Australian market. Following the formation of BLMC in the UK, there was a real sense of optimism for the future, which quickly rubbed off onto the foreign divisions. In Australia especially, this was particularly evident, where sales success of BMC coupled with the financial muscle of Leyland International should have proved unstoppable.
The project that became the Leyland P76 began in the last years of BMC Australia. The idea that BMC Australia should produce cars of their own design rather than using or slightly modifying UK designs came out of a study conducted by the Advance Model Group of BMC Australia in 1967. The plan was to design and build a medium and a large car. The MD of BMC Australia and David Beech, Director of Development and Production, visited the UK in November 1968 seeking approval to go-ahead with their project.
While there, they were shown the plans for the Morris Marina, which they decided to use instead of going ahead with their own mid-sized car. The introduction of the Marina was given priority, and it was March of 1969 before design work began on the P76. It had been decided that the car would have an in-line engine and be rear wheel drive, and that the Australian company would undertake all the engineering work other than the sheet metal and press tool design.
P76: Italian and British design for Australia?
The P76 was officially commissioned in late 1968, and the main design work commenced in March 1969. Because of the desire to produce a car specifically tailored to the Australian market, it was Australian product planners that devised the make-up of the new car – although probably after seeing the ongoing work on Rover-Triumph’s upcoming large car. Does that mean this important new Australian car would incorporate the hardware being developed in Solihull and Canley?
A development budget of A$21m (about £8.5m), to which that included the cost of re-furbishing the Sydney production line probably forced the issue – and the Australians’ willingness to adopt the Marina almost unmodified would back up this assertion. There was no way that this was going to be a clean-sheet design at this funding level, and much existing Rover-Triumph hardware would need to be incorporated in order to make the P76 programme pay for itself.
It was would certainly be preferable strategy than starting afresh with a clean sheet of paper – but incorporated many of the advantages of doing so, such as tailoring the design for the rather specific demands of the Australian motorists. A more obviously adapted UK product didn’t always work well – the Kimberley for instance, did not have a large enough boot or engine to compete in the mainstream end of the market.
Harry Webster wielded much influence at BLMC, so it comes as no surprise to find that his favoured stylist, Michelotti, was entrusted with the P76 job – although that decision was probably only taken after the Australians agreed to it. And originally, Leyland Australia had originally planned to have Ital Design style the car, but Beech and Giorgietto Giugiaro did not get on with each other and, in February of 1970, Michelotti was commissioned to do the job instead – and the end result featured a light front- and rear-end restyled as penned by Beech.
BLMC kept Michelotti busy during these early years, and the P76 was one of many Leyland-badged projects he became involved with, although all of the others were cabs for commercial vehicles. Coming from the background of car design, which included the Herald, 2000 and 1300, chosing Michelotti was a prudent decision to make, as it seemed that his Triumph saloons travelled especially well. Of the P76 designs, it was the Force 7 Coupe that remained an untouched Michelotti design.
One question that has yet to be satisfactorily answered is whether the P76’s styling is related to any of the work that was ongoing in BL’s Specialist Division at the time. We already know that the P76 and SD1 share a lot of componentry under the skin, but it’s an easy conclusion to arrive at that the Michelotti-styled body of the P76 was closely related to one of the failed Michelotti-styled proposals for the Triumph Puma project – that ended up being passed over in favour of the Rover P10/SD1.
Development: the inside view
Interviewed in Motor magazine in 1973, David Beech, offered some fascinating insights into the P76 development programme: “The Australians like to change their cars often. We found we could sell a bloke two 1100s, even three, but there was no way in the world we could sell him four. We decided that if we were to take a fair profitable share of the market we needed to design and make our own cars. So we got a team together and planned two models to cover the market: model A and B. I was about to fly to England to talk over our plan with BMC when Leyland and BMC merged.
‘That set us back, because we had to get to know new people who really did not want to know our problems. They were too concerned at their own lack of new model programmes. However, we found that they were going ahead in double quick time with a new car, the Marina – and as this particular design was so near own concept we decided to make the Marina and cut our costs. That left Model B to do ourselves. At one stage we put a V8 engine into an Austin 1800 driving the front wheels, in order to achieve a big vehicle. And the result was fabulous but really not an economic proposition.’
The V8 Landcrab was built in prototype form, but its handling could not be tailored effectively. Following this foray into front wheel drive, the more usual front engine, rear wheel drive pretty much chose itself. In 1971, Leyland Australia announced that the new car was under way. Development took place in Australia and the UK in a joint operation and an engineering prototype was seen on may occasions pounding the MIRA test track at Nuneaton. Interestingly, the UK operation was headed by Roy Brocklehurst in one of his last programmes for MG before moving to Longbridge, and the overall competence of the chassis can be directly attributed to the man who spent so much time at MG in Abingdon.
Continuing, David recalled, ‘In designing the P76 we’ve given major consideration to accessibility, to make the mechanics’ job as easy as possible and to cut down maintenance costs to the owner. Our whole philosophy has been to use well established principles, simple assembly, and well proven parts and units that are easily obtainable. We have been able to cover the widest sector of the market with one body shell with alternative engines, transmissions and trim.
‘We’ve not gone for high top gear because Australian States and many of the areas to which we’ll be selling have 70mph limits. Instead we’ve gone for torque to give rapid acceleration in the lower speeds and good pulling power, while at the same time having a fairly high top gear for easy cruising. With our full P76 range we cover 60 per cent of the market, and with the Marina and Mini we’ve got blanket coverage in the cheapest way.
‘To improve our position we are putting the 2.6-litre straight-six into the Marina in September. And we’ve already designed a V6 based on three-quarters of the V8 so that we can build the two engines on a common line using many common parts to both. When we designed the V8 block we left room to extend it to 5-litres at a later stage. When this is done we’ll have a complete range of engines – 1500cc, 1750cc and 2600cc, all ohc using many common parts. Then the vee line – V6 and V8 series ranging from 3.3-litres to 5-litres.’
In the meantime, the fortunes of Leyland Australia had taken something of a downturn since the project’s instigation in 1969. Falling sales would provide much of the blame for this, and it soon became clear that the future success of Leyland Australia would lie directly at the door of the P76. By 1973, the company had lost Aus $15m (£8.6 million), all of it during the P76’s development programme, and so the company took on Aus $15m in Eurodollar loans to assist in funding the project.
David concluded, ‘With the P76 we are not offering the customer just another Holden, Falcon or Valiant, but a car that is comparable in size and performance to the American type with European standards regarding ride, handling and roadholding plus superior interior appointments. We at Leyland Australia decided that if we were to survive, and survive we will, we had to have a range of cars and also using common parts, engines designed for our market. And this we have started to do.’
A brief honeymoon…
When the P76 was launched on the 1st June 1973, the Leyland Australia had already accrued losses totalling Aus $30m, and it provided something of a grim backdrop to the car’s launch.
Be that as it may, Leyland Australia was confident that the P76 would bring home the bacon. Management in Australia had done their sums, and British approval for the project had been a formality – Michelotti (and Beech) had produced a stylish car, very much in tune with the times – and allied with a promising technical specification, they had every right to be confident.
The P76 was offered with a longitudinally mounted E6 engine, which had been expanded from 2227cc (as used in the Kimberley) to 2622cc. This expansion had been achieved by stroking the engine the same amount as it had been in the E4 version to create the 1748cc version out of the 1485cc original. Although power was up slightly to 121bhp, torque was increased usefully to 165lb/ft.
A larger engined version used the Rover V8 engine manual or automatic form. This version was available in 4416cc displacement, as opposed to the standard 3528cc used in Euopean and US Rovers. Quoted power for this version was 192bhp, and torque was a useful 285lb/ft. The larger engine one of the few elements of the abandoned P8 programme, scrapped in 1971, that had survived to fight another day. For Australians used to engines over 5-litres and 270-300bhp, the P76 might have seemed a little underpowered, but in V8 form it pretty much matched the performance of its larger-engined rivals.
The body engineering was fascinating: in the interests of manufacturing economy, the amount of separate pressings was kept to a minimum, with a large number of small pressings being replaced by complex panels. Leyland Australia proudly claimed that the P76 actually used two pressings less than the Mini – economy indeed! The boot was also a huge 35cu/ft and, importantly, could hold a steel drum without difficulty (another alleged Australian design stipulation).
As related above, there were plans for a coupe version, named the Force 7, to be offered alongside the planned-for station wagon and ubiquitous Ute (pick-up truck). This range of cars never reached fruitition though, because Leyland pulled out of Australia in 1975 – before they made production. As has been widely reported, one of the Force 7 Coupes made it back to the UK, and the engineering of its hatchback rear end is reported to have been used during the development of the SD1 programme before falling into the ownership of BL Chairman, Lord Stokes.
The press were generally enthusiastic about the P76 and was crowned ‘Car of The Year’ by the highly respected Wheels magazine in 1973. Being a European design, it was well equipped, with power assisted front disc brakes (still optional on it`s locally designed rivals) and the nicety of concealed windscreen wipers (like the forthcoming Austin-Morris Princess). Demand rapidly exceeded supply at launch, but quality control problems and strikes at component suppliers (in the UK as well as Australia) reduced the number of cars sold. Does this story sound familiar?
The Leyland P76 was unfortunately very short lived (being taken out of production at the end of 1974), and this is because BLMC were forced to close the Leyland-Australia factory at Zetland, downsizing the operation significantly. This undertaking cost the company £15.7 million and was very much a last ditch attempt to keep the parent company afloat in the UK.
As an interesting footnote, John Mackesy (who worked on the project) recalls V6 development work: ‘Leyland fitted a Buick V6 to a P76, the same V6 that is the distant ancestor of the Holden V6. This engine was a 90 deg V6, with uneven firing order. The rationale behind this engine was that it could be built on the same line as the V8. It was apparently OK with an automatic, but caused gearbox rattle with a manual. There was a second Buick V6 shipped from the States in a 44 gal drum, but (as I recall) it never got used.
‘There were 18,007 P76 sedans built. Numbering started at 1001 and finished at 19007. (I had 19006.) There were also about 100 Force 7V constructed – most were incomplete. The decision was made to destroy all but nine. Including the prototype, that at the time was in England and is now in New Zealand, means there are only 10 survivors. There were also four station wagons but only three were completed. One was used to crash test the design, another was a road going test vehicle that was dismantled and destroyed and the incomplete wagon was also thought to be destroyed also.’
To date only one known genuine P76 wagon exists.
A pictures from the press pack that accompanied the P76’s launch. A fuller selection can be found at Stuart Brown’s P76 Website
List of colours the P76 was offered in:
Official Production Colours (Two brands of paint were used Dulux and Berger)
Crystal White (Dulux) or Chrystal White (Berger) (white)
Country Cream (beige)
Bold As Brass (yellow)
Oh Fudge (brown)
Nutmeg (metallic bronze)
Omega Navy (dark metallic blue)
Peel Me A Grape (metallic purple)
Aspen Green (dark metallic Green)
Spanish Olive (olive green)
NV Green (bright green)
Hairy Lime (light green)
Plum Loco (hot pink)
Corinthian Blue (aqua)
Am Eye Blue (sky blue)
Home On Th’ Orange (orange)
Dry Red (dark red)
Bitter Apricot (burnt orange)
Unofficial Factory Colours
Black Onyx (black) (built as undertaker’s vehicles)
Oceana Green (metallic green)
Coolabah Blue (grey blue)
Rumoured Colour (one built)
Rave Red (bright red)
Additional colours, only available in New Zealand
French Blue (light blue)
Pimento (deep red)
Anttique Parchment (beige)
Imperial Leather (dark brown)
Casino Blue (blue)
White (white) (only available in Force 7 models & a one off white sedan)
Antique Parchment was available with beige, dark brown, black or blue carpet. Lower door trims were carpeted to match the floor colour on Super and Executive models.
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
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