Blog : Bent-Eight Marinas

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Ian Elliott

The V8 Marina

In the recent thread about 2.0-litre Itals/Marinas, the subject of V8-engined Marinas was raised. If I have rambled about this in any previous AROnline submission, I apologise, but here goes: stuffing V8s into small, unsuspecting family cars is a long-practiced amusement of the hot-rodding fraternity and the more unlikely the starting point, the better the joke.

Hence all those Ford Perpendicular Pops with engines under the bulkhead and Jaguar IRS rear ends. How much more fun, though, if the car doesn’t look too obviously modified, i.e., a ‘Q-car’. These have sadly gone out of fashion – (one of these days I’ll write about the scruffy Anglia 105E with a Cortina 1500GT engine that I once greatly enjoyed) – but just imagine how a Marina would have been with the effortless punch of a Rover V8 under the bonnet. Actually, I don’t have to imagine it, because we once had such a beast on the Austin Morris promotions fleet. It started life in around 1974 as a project car for Custom Car magazine, and was built by Special Tuning at Abingdon.

Star trucking

It was a Marina Pick-up and originally rejoiced in the name of ‘Star-Trucker’, with an appropriate psychedelic paint job. I can’t put my hands on the exact details, but I’m sure it had an MGC rear axle and a Rover P6B 3500S gearbox (this was before the SD1 gearbox became available), together with mildly modified suspension, standard saloon front disc brakes and wide wheels.

When Custom Car had finished all its articles about the conversion process, the machine reverted to us, and it was repainted as a promotions vehicle, complete with patriotic red, white and blue ‘Drive the Flag’ livery. Rails were fitted around the loadbed so it could be used as a ‘victory wagon’ at various sporting events.

In those days, we used to support the Guild of Motoring Writers’ Test Days, held annually at suitable race tracks or similar venues, where scribes could road or track test a wide variety of different cars from all participating manufacturers in a day. We would often try to provide something out of the ordinary for these events, so what could be better than a V8 Marina Pick-up?

Taking it to the track

The event concerned was at Donington, and the rules were that each driver should complete no more than two laps. We’d checked this out, and were happy that the standard Marina front disc brakes could cope, as they just about cooled sufficiently between two-lap bursts. Unfortunately, the hot Marina was such fun that some drivers wanted more than two laps.

One in particular, Tony Curtis of Motor, did something like four laps on the trot and, not surprisingly, when he came back into the Paddock, he was a bit short of brakes, nudging one of the oil drums used to mark out the area. After we’d calmed him down, we removed the auxiliary lamps from the front spoiler to allow more air through to the brakes, and one of the Press Car Engineers drove me out on the track to see if this helped.

I’ve sat in the hot seat of many exciting cars, driven by experts, over the years, but this was really something else. Out on the track at the same time was a Jaguar XJ12, driven by a very accomplished wheelman from Browns Lane, and he was trying quite hard. To no avail, however, the Marina caught and passed him with almost contemptuous ease. We could see why no-one wanted to come in after two laps!

You had a very light but stiff bodyshell, tied down suspension and lots of grunt, what’s not to like?

Borrowing the beast

After this, I lost no time in arranging to borrow the beast for a weekend. Hoo boy! Since it was a pick-up, there were things to be taken to the local tip, and they got there a lot faster than usual. The livery was a bit of nuisance, because it made the car rather conspicuous (the police patrol car on the M42 spotted me on the slip road before I’d even joined the motorway, so no heroics there) which brings me back to the Q-car theme.

The handling was good, though it evidently needed some geometry tweaks to suit the wide tyres, as it tended to white-line too easily. But I’d have been very happy to have owned the device and developed it. It was eventually sold to one of the promotions lads, but I’ve no idea what became of it then.

Regarding the idea of modifying Marinas generally, they were just as good a basis as any number of contemporary cars. Given the huge budgets that Ford spent on making the Escort a top rally car, the Marina could have done just as well, but of course, Special Tuning had to operate on a budget of two-pence halfpenny – all the more credit that they did so well!

Several V8 Marinas were built for motorsport, and one Formula One team of the era even put together a serious proposal to series- build V8 Marina road cars as a commercial venture. And just think – with a good roll cage fitted, a Marina could cope with having pianos dropped on it!

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

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52 Comments

  1. Bonkers yet brilliant with the Rover V8 powered Marina. Always have a soft spot for big, powerful engines shoe horned into humble, everyday cars. 🙂

  2. This was the time of really big engines in small Australian cars: Holden Torana had a 5litre V8 in a car derived from the early Opel Ascona; and the Marina with a 2.6litre straight six

  3. Love the idea of big engines fitted to mundane family cars! My first memory was the launch of the Vaux Ventora, using the Victor FD body but with the Cresta’s straight 6 / 3.3 litre rather than the usual 1.6 & 2 litre.

    I’ve seen a show photo of a Viva SL90 (HB) which was retro fitted with a Carlton 2 litre motor. From the exterior it just looked like the normal Viva – wolf in sheeps clothing?

    • Only as a prototype. The biggest motor a production Centura (180 in drag)received was the 4.3 litre Hemi six. That was big enough…..

  4. Hmm interesting….I reakon I cold find a whole marina for $50..and ive already got a 3.9 v8 and gearbox sitting in my shed 🙂 I cant help thinking that the Marina coupe might eb a good starting point. there was a sunbeam rapier here a while back that some ford or chevy v8 in it. havent seen it for years, probably stil around somewhere thuogh. oh year there also a Morris Minor Van with the ford V8 in Stratford 🙂 I guess most poeple have taken to fitting toyata twin cam engines or rotary engines in order to hot cars up. but a v8 just sounds better. Alex

  5. Sounds like an ideal suicide car, the Marina handled like a shot Girraffe with 1275cc plant

    But that custom job? man, thats one Cowley Cow I would love to have a blat about in.

    I`ll bet them spark plugs are a laugh to get at!

    Bugger it though, I’d have one!

  6. The Marina was always the best looking car BL produced and with a big V8 it would be the super stud of the 70’s…just needed a handlebar moustache and medallion! Great stuff

  7. the idea of a V8 Marina does scare me. The standard car had borderline dangerous handling, so I hope this had a major rebuild. Standard discs? Were they stupid?

  8. I remember seeing a Marina pick-up avec a Rover V8 engine at an autojumble at Alexandra Palace one year sometime in the 70’s. It was extremely well converted, and the engine was so well suited to the under bonnet space that it gave the impression that it could very well have grown there !!! It was,I was told, built by BL, as a fast responce spare parts carrier, I know that as an impressionable early 20’s chap, with a Wolseley Hornet with a 1098cc engine,I thought that it was magic!

  9. Yes indeed Australia was king as far as shoehorning large engines into tiny cars. Holden Torana (Ford Cortina sized) had an engine range from 1.9l 4cyl to a 5ltr V8, ford australia fitted the 200 and 250ci (3.3 and 4.1ltr) Falcon engines to mk3 and mk4 Cortinas (and transits), Chrysler Australia fitted their HEMI 245 and 265ci (4.0 and 4.3ltr into European Chrysler 2ltr bodies (called Chrysler Centura in Oz and fitted with stillborn Humber Hawk front) and of course the Leyland Marina 6 with the 2.6ltr E series engine with horrendous oversteer.

  10. @Jonathon, I believe that Leyland Australia were experimenting with cutting the V8 block down. The Aussie spec V8 was bored out to 4 litres, so one would assume that the v6 was approximately 3 litres.

    Very little is actually known about them as they never saw the light of day thanks to the factory shutting down.

    I could imagine a v6 Marina coupe with an MG badge on it would have been a great 70’s Capri killer though.

    • The Aussie spec V8 was 4.4 litre so the V6 would have been 3.3 Litre. They built a few 5 litre versions of the V8 for F5000 and (I think) some sort of small truck.

      Why they didn’t call the 4 door P76 a “Triumph 4400” and the two door an “MG” do not know.

  11. Right- I’ve got a tidy marina coupe in my shed at the moment. Give me 12 months.
    KEITH- HOLD ME TO THIS and you can have the story for AROnline:)

  12. In answer to various queries above – The Formula One team is one that no longer exists, but I’d like to get more of the story together for a future blog before saying!
    The V8 Pick-up didn’t understeer, quite the opposite, in fact! By way of advice to anyone building a replica, I’d advise starting with Marina Estate front and rear springs, as I’ve said before, they give 100% handling improvement with little effort. (I ran a 1.8 Marina Estate for two years in the 1970s and never had any problems with staying on the island – it was a good tool apart from the Triumph gearbox and the lever arm front dampers – I found both an absolute doddle to change, however). It isn’t rocket science to sort out handling anyway. It’s just that the bean-counters wouldn’t allow the production cars to be properly fettled. The V8 doesn’t weigh any more than a 1.8 B Series, the trick is to get it as low and as far back as possible, even re-shaping the bulkhead if you are really serious. You’ll note from the photo that there is a remote oil-filter mounting. Regarding the front brakes, standard Marina discs were Ok for moderately fast road use – it was only in the ‘balls-out’ situation of track use that the fluid boiled.

  13. I’d say that the Q car lives on amongst the VAG crowd.. I was reading about an Audi TT 225 engine being grated into a Skoda Felica the other day..

    And in some ways the instant power gains from a decent remap of a Pumpe Düse VAG diesel follows the same line of thought as well.. i.e. Stock looking Fabia’s running around with 140bhp where they original had 100bhp… Not really in the same league though.

    I’ve seen the VR6 in most of the small VAG cars now.. And the 1.8t gets about a bit as well.

  14. @markosity1973 the Aussie Rover leyland v8 (P76) was 4.4 litres :-).
    and yes I agree with the others the handling on the marinas was disasterous. but presumably could be improved.

  15. Some of the Chrysler engines that ended up in Australia were a little insane. The Hyperpak version was one of them – the larger of the two slant six engines, the 225, could be had with this option – and most of the parts that made up the hyperpak kit are now being remanufactured.

    I am amazed no-one has yet mentioned the P76 and the Force 7 cars developed from them.

    An old boss of mine had a V8 flat head hotrod – which was great up to 50mph – after that hoverflies and the occasional bumblebee slamming into your face could leave interesting fractures. Ford Model A based I think.

    He got rid of that for a two tone pastel pink over white, yes really, Ford Consul. That fairly rapidly ended up customised with a matt black paint job and the tail lights from a Volvo Amazon if I remember rightly.

  16. I think March F1 put one of their V12 F1 engines into a Marina for a rally in Iceland – it took off over a major yump and came down with two V6’s. Anyone remember the CAR Project Marina estate? The one with the upside down 1.3 grille?

  17. Dont forget the South African Ford Perana. A Mk1 Capri with 302ci 5lt V8 shoehorned in – factory fitted. Very popular in historic tarmac rallying these days

  18. I remember the John Hemsley World Cup Car. It turned up at a promotional / historic car display that I put together at the Sutton Park stage of the RAC Rally in 1974 – with support from Birmingham dealer P J Evans (I think). Has it survived?

  19. I remember seeing a V8 Marina Pick-up at an MGCC event at Silverstone in the late ’70s. At that time, I had a 1974 1275cc Marina Saloon, amd yes they did understeer, but that was mostly due to the 145×13″ Goodyear G800 “Custom Rib” tyres, as I seem to think they were called. But after a change to 165-70×13 Uniroyal Rallye 180, a vast improvement was obtained. I also bought a copy of the book “Tuning the Marina” from BL Special tuning, and added Spax telescopics to the front and the rear springs were changed to FAM2044 which increased the spring rate from 113 lb/in to 130 lb/in and incresed the number of leaves to six from two, preventing spring breakages. The initial camber on the spring was less, so it brought the ride hight back to normal unlike the people who fitted the estate springs. A set of anti-tramp bars and the car was very different. I autotested it for three years and was always close to Midget times.

  20. I still have my 1800 Mk 1 Marina Estate with a Janspeed conversion – it could hold an RS2000 in most conditions – in the dry. Much derided by those who didn’t drive them – they were a really good, economical and IMHO stunning looking car.

  21. My last 216 Cabby was fitted with the entire Tomcat Turbo hardware, including some tweaks on the dump valve, big bore exhaust, K&N induction kit with bright blue Samco pipes!!! A screamer… My ’96 Golf Avantgarde has plenty space under the bonnet to fit any VR6 in VW range…But true enough, nowadays, it’s the PC wizard that will provide more Hoomph to any car.

  22. Re the Australian Marina, Leyland Australia were developing a 3.3 litre V6 based on 3/4’s of the P76 V8, I have heard that they actually had P82 prototypes running in modified Marina bodyshells fitted out with McPherson strut front, and 4 link coil rear suspension, this design being similar to the P76 specification. The V6 engine would have shared a large number of components and tooling with the V8 range.
    At the time it was popular in Australia to accept 6 or 8 cylinder engines, resulting in outstanding performance in a compact body. As for the Torana V8 models, while the body styling resembled the Opel Ascona, they were totally different to the German vehicle. It wasn’t until 1978 when Holden released the Holden Commodore were they to use a modified Opel vehicle as the starting point for a new model range.

  23. Hilton D, I once saw one of the super-rare Viva HB Crayford convertibles (only 7 built) fitted with a 2.8 Cologne V6. That was scary enough (47 to 135 bhp); but the REALLY scary bit was that it was rumoured to be two Viva convertibles welded together! Talk about a death trap!
    I once drove a 2300 HB Viva GT with a Piper cam and Spax all round, a wonderful device. Also saw an FD Ventora at Loton Park hillclimb with a very neat Rover V8 conversion – speed and style, as they used to say of Peter Revson. Would love to have a thrash in a V8 Firenza, though I would imagine it lunches its front ball joints about once per lap…

  24. In the U.S.A. small car V8 conversions were also popular. Conversion companies or dealers like “Baldwin Motion” would offer V8 Vegas with as much as 454 cubic inches of big block Chevy V8. A number of these survive as drag racers and I sometimes see V8 Vegas at the dragstrip not far from my home. Pinto V8 conversions were not uncommon either as a survey of old back issues of HotRod, CarCraft and Popular HotRodding magazines would illustrate.

  25. In the early ’80s in NZ, Graham Park built and raced a Marina with a mid-mounted turbo 4.4l V8 (from a Leyland P76).

  26. My favourite q car was my dad’s mate at Dagenham. He had taken a Mk1 Fiesta Van, removed the engine and fitted to the rear of the engine a Rover V8 out of a crashed SDI. He had covereted it to run the back wheels. U had to be careful when you pulled away from the lights as the back end you to slip and slide away (still had the normal skinny tyres) and the front end could lift up! But my old man said it was funny seeing people’s faces when this little fiesta left them for dead at the lights.

  27. Just to ad to the period pics and a little more to the Marina V8 story.

    The first pic here is of the 1974 World Cup Rally Marina – on the rally itself. It was built by the UK BL Special Tuning Team (aka Works Dept.).

    The second pic is of the rally cars sister, also built by UK BL Special Tuning, they built it for the televised Rallycross competitions on ITV. It was tested once and then sidelined and sold on to a Brit who took it with him to Australia and hillclimbed it once. It was sold on again to an Australian guy who raced it for several years, beating all the other main competitors at one time or another.

    Here it is in the rain in a pretty lurid livery.

    Chris

  28. Very interesting to see my pick up on the web!! I have owned TOA104N since 1979 and can’t start to tell you how much fun it is to own and drive, it still resides in Wales and is about to undergo a complete restoration. I’m sure i remember Ian Elliott when i worked at Longbridge in Sales Ops?

  29. i saw this v8 pickup at BL special tuning dept at abingdon in the mid 70’s.I was there with my brother who was collecting a race prepared complete rear axle(at a cost of £325) for his highly modified Marina TC saloon.The colour of it was metallic light grey with small silver stars allover it.I remember noticing it had metal bars attached to each rear axle u bolts running forward under the body to just behind the seats with a rubber buffer at the front end touching the floor.These were anti tramp bars.Tuned Marinas suffered from rear axle tramp.When we were there we asked if we could have a look around the workshops but we were refused because they were working on something special,not long after the Triumph TR8 was launched.

  30. Cool as!!!!!!!……:-) remember when I was young boy in the back of my dads marina with wide wheels that were bold as f@@k 🙂

  31. A recurring theme in items about Leyland Australia is the 4.4 Litre development of the Rover V8 and the V6 version that was being developed as the lights were going out all over Zetland.

    The Rover V8 began life as the Buick 215, an all-aluminium engine introduced in 1960 for the 1961 US model year (it was on their drawing boards in the late 1950’s). As this motor was relatively expensive to produce GM created an iron block V6 version. Early V6 prototypes were made by removing two pistons and amending the plumbing of V8s.

    This V6 was used by Kaiser Jeep as well as Buick. There was a turbo version that powered Indy 500 winning race cars. Eventually the Buick V6 turned up in Australian Holden Commodores which, to this day, are powered by a development of that motor.

    So, it is quite conceivable that Leyland’s Heath Robinson development approach could have produced a very potent V6, which would have fitted under the bonnet of Marinas, and would have made a very nice MG. Leyland Australia built a few 5 litre versions of the V8 to power a successful Formula 5000 car.

    Mention has also been made of the Australian practice of squeezing big motors into little cars. This was mainly to win the annual Bathurst 500/1000.

    In the mid 1970s Motor manual, one of our monthly car magazines, printed an April Fools article lampooning the annual rumour mill relating to which engine was going to be shoehorned into what body. Among other things, they printed (doctored) pictures of VW beetles that had been converted to front engine, rear wheel drive to accept Auto Union V16s that had recently been unearthed in a Berlin Bunker.

    And Marina’s might fly too……….

  32. I must be a boring old bugger, who wants to work on that V8 Marina. It looks like you would have to lift the engine off the mounts just to change the sparkplugs. Maybe this would be more practical if the front suspension was converted to struts, at least the engine would have a few extra centimeter to flex on its mounts.

    TOO BIG, and TOO SMALL

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