A question that is often asked by Marina enthusiasts is why-oh-why did the Australian and South African versions of the car use the Maxi E-Series engine, instead of the B-Series, as used in the UK.
We posed this question to ex-Leyland Australia Operations manager, Merv Sheather and former Leyland Australia Parts Manager, Phil West. The answers were enlightening…
Leyland/Morris Marina: re-engineered for down under
The E-Series engine was conceived in 1965, to power BMC’s upcoming sub-1800 hatchback, the Austin Maxi (ADO14). Rather ambitiously, as well as being a technically advanced engine, sporting an overhead camshaft and siamesed bores (to the later consternation of Harry Webster), a new factory was built at Cofton Hackett to build it.
History has already related that the ADO14 – Maxi – failed, as did the Austin Allegro, and E-Series production never reached anticipated levels. However, the E-Series had the advantage of being compact and reasonably powerful and, given a more favourable set of conditions, it could have gone on to become the company’s mid-size engine of choice.
Sadly, it was not to be. In Australia, however, the E-Series was not only adopted in transverse front wheel drive form, but also in longitudinal rear wheel drive form! It was used in the short-lived Australian version of the Morris Marina, as well as (in six-cylinder form) in the Leyland P76 saloon.
So, why was the E-Series engine chosen?
Why, then, did the Australians use the E-Series for the Marina instead of the B-Series? After all, using the existing engine would have meant little local development work for the Australians. According the Merv Sheather, the main reason was economic: ‘The reason we adopted the E-series engine was really one of cost.
‘We required a new transfer line as the A- and B-Series machinery in the Unit Factory [where all the engines were assembled, hot run, and then sent to CAB 1 for assembly into the vehicles] was very worn and the MD and Board could not justify a costly refit.
‘Both A- and B-Series were not expected to meet Australian Design Rules, as the Australia Federal and State governments were closely tailoring our regs to USA (California) regulations, a little less but the smog/sunlight factors were fairly common to both countries, as concerned emissions. There were no comparisons with car volumes on road, just tail pipe outputs.’
A case of Australian expertise
Merv continued: ‘We had been very successful with exporting Mini Mokes with 1275cc (A-Series engines) to California, USA – they were twin packed for export, one a’top the other), with polystyrene under the wheels where they touched the top of the guards of the Moke underneath. This was very cost-effective for export, and won an export award. Canopies were made of vinyl in ‘Op-pop verve’ black and white like a tigers strips, and ‘Orange Bali’ which looked a bit like a fruit salad in colour, very effective.
‘This was really our experience with making the 1275 cc A-series comply with emissions, and it was looking very expensive with exhaust injection air pumps. There was a real need to redesign the cylinder head into a cross-flow alloy, something like the Abingdon competition 1275cc head.
‘With less cash being available with the coming P76 production, the A-series engine used in anything other than Mini/Moke Minivan was becoming real history.’ So effectively, rather than having to stomach the cost of putting the B-Series through the same procedure, the Australians took the ingenious step of using the newer engine…
Morris Marina was to get a new name
According to Phil West, the E-Series Marina was going to be renamed: ‘The local versions were to be called Cavalier and Cavana, the Leyland Australia paper parts catalogue actually had those names on the page headers in various sections of the catalogue as well as reference to the Marina name. As the Cavalier name was longer than Marina, the additional badge mounting hole was filled by a full stop rather than have the hole filled in at the factory when the Marina badge was fitted.’
The E-Series installation (right) was not unsuccessful – it was certainly smoother than the existing B-Series engine and, although BL was working hard on the cleaner O-Series engine, this would not see the light of day until 1978. The Leyland Marina did not have long to prove itself in Australia as production ceased with the closure of local assembly there in 1975. It did move to South Africa, where it remained in production…
Phil added: ‘Regarding the local use of the E-Series engines, the first model Marina had a sump guard fitted under the front lower apron panel to offer protection to the leading edge of the alloy sump. After the model was facelifted in 1974 and the E6 engine became an option (which was marketed as the Leyland Marina Red Six), the oil filter was moved from the engine sump to the left hand side of the block which then allowed for a re-shaping of the sump to improve clearance and the subsequent dropping of the sump guard fitment.’
According to the Australian magazine Unique Cars, ‘after the P76 V8 cleaned up the 1973 Wheels CoTY, it emerged that the Marina Red Six was a short-term curtain raiser for a new Leyland P82 range. The P82 was already underway following a 1972 revival of the 1968 plans to build a smaller rear-drive range on two wheelbases that would cover everything from a Corolla to a Torana 6, as well as a sporty Celica coupe rival.
‘This might explain why the Australian re-style of the Marina from late-1973 carried a hint of Toyota Corolla around the front. It would also explain why a six-cylinder Marina coupe replaced the 1750 version even if its sedan doors still looked too short.’
Issues with the E-Series in service
Phil continued: ‘We used to have oil pressure problems with the first series, the sump-mounted oil filter tended to blow the rubber sealing ring due to excessive oil pressure. A modification kit was made available which had a revised dual sealing ring oil filter, a modified adaptor plate and revised specification relief valve. The revised oil filter was to only be fitted to those vehicles with the mod-kit, this new filter being painted a bright yellow instead of the standard grey or black.’
According to Phil, the six-cylinder Morris Marina Red Six (above, pictured in South African Austin Marina form) was an interesting drive. ‘The Marina Red Six actually went like the clappers in a straight line, in manual form they were fitted with an Australian Borg Warner three-speed floor shift.
‘With so much torque in a light body you didn’t need four-speeds. We had some issues with a couple of the six cylinder models under warranty where I worked. One vehicle continually broke the mounting plate or nose cone off the Lucas Australia starter motor, it appeared there may have been an alignment or machining problem on one particular vehicle. From memory a modified housing was finally produced which fixed the problem.’
Memories of an E-Series Marina
‘I actually owned a brand new 1750cc manual Super Deluxe Coupe, this was a good reliable car, finally sold it after 11 years or so as we had a small family and the 2-door body was a struggle with kids etc. At the time of purchase (1972) I really wanted to get the TC model which was a 1750 coupe with twin HS6 SU carbs, higher compression, classy (for the day) alloy wheels, genuine wood rim alloy spoked steering wheel, chrome framed opening rear quarter windows, tacho, rear body garnish etc but at the time the insurance premiums were a killer.
‘A few months afterwards the insurance premium was reduced to the same as lesser models in the range, so I damn well missed out on the TC. Where I worked we had a TC automatic demo vehicle, so I managed to give it a bit of a hammering around some of the back streets while running a delivery. Just grab the keys off one of the sales guys and tell them I had to go somewhere urgently on a delivery and come back after a while with the tyres scrubbed a bit moreâ€¦’
Leyland/Morris Marina timeline
1972: The Marina was launched in Australia in April 1972, and was originally sold as a Morris. Launched originally in 1500 and 1750cc forms, and by the end of the year, 9398 examples had found new homes.
1973: The Morris Marina was rebadged to become the Leyland Marina, as all cars by the firm were now sold this way in Australia. The front end was lightly redesigned at the same time, and the car was marketed strongly as a domestically-produced car. Sales topped 10,000 for the year.
Towards the end of 1973, Leyland Australia launched the 2.6-litre six-cylinder version and called it the Morris Marina Red Six.
1974: Production of the Leyland Marina ceased at the Zetland factory, due to the company’s financial problems. These would end up proving insurmountable, and as a consequence, the Leyland Marina, along with the Leyland P76 dropped off the Australian price lists in the early months of 1975 as dealer stocks dried up.
1975: Tooling for the Leyland Marina was shifted to South Africa, where the company ended up launching the car as the Austin Marina late that year. It shipped about 210 machine tools from Australia to South Africa, and set up an E-Series four- and six-cylinder overhead camshaft engine production line. It announced that it was able to produce 24,000 Marinas a year. Alas, total car sales in 1976 were 9846, spread over Mini, Apache the Marina, Triumph 2000, known locally as the Chicane, and the Jaguar 4.2.
Although the Marina had been sold in South Africa since 1972, these earlier cars were made from CKD kits shipped in from the UK, as opposed to the later cars, which were fully-built up in South Africa at its Blackheath factory. Just like the Australian version, the post-1975 Austin Marina was powered by a mix of E4 and E6 engines.