Essays : A tale of two Leyland P76s

Alan Firth tells how he acquired two of these large Ozzie saloons

For those that do not know me, I undertook a Rover Staff Apprenticeship from August 1959 ’til 1963, when I moved to the Pengam, Cardiff plant as a Quality Control Engineer. At Pengam we made P6 suspension and transmission units, including gearbox and axle, which were sent to Solihull by Rover’s own transport fleet. The trucks never travelled empty though, as they brought down Midlands-made spare parts to the Rover Spares distribution centre newly built next door.

I went to live in Australia in 1970 on the £10 immigration scheme of the time and, later on during my time living there, Leyland Australia began production of a car called the P76, part developed in UK and exclusively built in Australia as a competitor to the indigenous Ford, General Motors Holden and Chrysler models.

Leyland (formerly BMC) Australia produced unusual models such as a 1800 Land Crab Ute (pick-up). and the 1800/2200-based Tasman and Kimberley saloons, also a Nomad which was a 1100/1300 based hatchback but with the 1500cc E-Series engine which we had here in the Maxi.

In 1973 two of these P76s came over to BL International, Berkeley Square, London travelling on the same ship according to the Invoice and Bill of Lading.
One car went to BL at Longbridge and was registered in Birmingham as JOE 526L where it was used for engineering assessment, and trial of a power steering option and a manual gearbox. The car was also used for styling and trim options by Vanden Plas at Kingsbury, who were owned by BL, and this was apparently considered as a possible replacement for the Rover P5 saloon.

There was also a 2 door Coupe called a Force 7 and a Station Wagon in the P76 range – consideration was given to how these might fit into the Rover family if imported.
The London car was registered there (PLW 286L) and used for Dealer/Sales assessment over about one year.

After about 18 months the Leyland Australia Company had produced about 16,000 P76 cars and were about to launch the Force 7 having made about 60 or so of them when the UK accountants closed the Sydney Plant. Of the Force 7’s made, all but 10 were crushed as a decision was made that the company would get more for them than the full number. Sadly, that was not the case but those 10 are very collectable today. Sometime in 1975 both UK cars were sold off, the London one became lost in the mists of time but the Birmingham car was sold to an ex-Rover apprentice who had worked at Leyland Australia and had come back to the UK and worked at Triumph at Coventry. He later sold it to a Leyland Dealer in Salisbury who kept it for some years.

This car came onto eBay for sale just as I was browsing there and I arranged to see it in Farnborough where I bought it, with some spares, about three and a half years ago. I made contact with P76 Clubs in Australia and New Zealand for membership and spares information as there were some peculiar things about the car. Little did I know at that time but this was chassis no.1.

As further questions were asked and more information resulted regarding the history of the car, it was revealed that both cars sent here had been despatched without their Australian Compliance Plates (the equivalent of our VIN plates in Europe) and these had been brought over by a Liasion Engineer in 1973. A search with this person established that one of these plates had been left over here possibly whilst the car was at Rover, but the other had been taken back to Australia as the Engineer had no contact with the London car. About eighteen months ago a note was passed to me from the NZ Club’s records giving details of a person in Scotland who had purchased some parts for a car that was up there. This is about 25 year old info.

Donning my Sherlock Holmes hat, I followed up this lead and eventually made contact with a chap who had been the Workshop Manager of a Plant Hire Contractors, owned by 2 brothers, who had worked on the Leyland Bathgate plant site. The car from London had become the company car of one brother through his personal friendship with the local Leyland Dealer. The story from my contact was that, when the brother was due for a replacement company car, he liked the P76 so much that he kept it for himself and the company bought him another company car anyway.

Some years later, the brother became ill and sadly died. The rest of the family respected that it had been his personal property and it was left parked in the workshop. When I had made contact and had explained my interest, I was led to understand that the family might discuss this amongst themselves and they would be in touch.

Forward now to November 2010 when I am on the RSR stand at the NEC Classic Car Show and my mobile ‘phone rings – I am told that arrangements could be made for me to view the car. Now, I live in Devon, and I was going to catch the 6pm train home that evening, but as I could see the car the next day some 20 miles from Edinburgh then that was where I decided to go instead. Next surprise came from Lyn Thomas, standing by me, who picked out the P76 part of the call. ‘Do you know anything about them?”, he asked, ‘as I think I have something off one on my desk at home, a plate or something?” I gave him the details of the Chassis No. and thought no more of it.

I left the show and travelled north and, after taking in a B&B, I arrived at Bathgate station at lunchtime on the Sunday, and was met by a cheerful chap who was obviously delighted at the prospect of taking me to see the car. En route he said he no longer worked there but had a close tie with the family. We arrived at the workshop, he unlocked the door and we went in to find the car exactly as he had described it and as shown in some photos he had sent to me, taken and dated 2002.

I spoke to one member of the family and my new-found best friend then took me to his home to meet his wife and very new baby – after a cuppa he took me to Edinburgh, where I stayed overnight and caught the train home. There were all sorts of thoughts in my mind. How was the car still there after 25 years? What if it had been passed in for scrap? What a shame if it had been lost forever!

Imagine, then, my surprise when I arrived home to find an email from Lyn Thomas stating that the plate he had was the original un-fitted new one for my first car and not only that but his generosity extended to say that I should have it to put in its place on the car.

The next stage of P76 – UK history continues when, seven months after I visited Scotland to see the second car, I had contact from the family who invited me to make an offer for the car. This I followed up and arranged to collect the car using a Freelander diesel and trailer – a total mileage of 1100 in a return overnight taking 12 hrs, not exceeding 55mph with two drivers and a number of meal stops.

After a safe return, I sent details to the Australian and NZ Clubs.  I had met the Engineer who came over here when the cars first arrived when I was last in Australia in 2010, so I sent him the details of the Scotland car and he replied in the same vein as Lyn – he still had the second plate and again this was sent over. Both cars are now at my Devon home, together, as they were on the ship leaving Sydney in May 1973.

Lyn Thomas adds

Having joined Rover’s Research Section in 1959, initially working on Noise and Vibration studies, in the mid-1960s I became involved with the rapidly-growing automotive safety legislation, first from the USA then in Europe and other markets. In the 1970s, I managed a group of BL engineers each dedicated to model groups responsible for organising testing, witnessing and producing reports to confirm vehicle compliance in order to achieve type approvals.

In around 1973, I was given the Australian Compliance plate for a P76. Our first job was to gather available test data from Australian sources to establish what would be needed for any potential European sales that were under consideration. When it became clear that the project had died, I just kept the plate as a piece of interesting junk through several years of office/job moves until my retirement in 1995. At some point it joined my memorabilia at home and lay dormant until that chance overheard remark at the NEC. What serendipity that not only should ‘my’ plate find its way back to the original car, but that an Engineer in Australia had likewise kept the plate for the second car.

Truly a Tale of Two Plates!

David Adams adds

I drove a blue Force 7… with white leather upholstery.

Going to near Shipston onside roads to Ebrington the track was the same width as the road, which did nothing for the ride. I had to show the car to the Customs and Excise in the service showroom. When I released the bonnet it burst open on gas struts and very nearly hit the Inspector.

The next problem was the Australians had not put a VIN plate on it anywhere. Driving it – accelerating, all the gauges went to the right and, on braking, they all went to the left. It went like a drunk rocket. I cannot believe it had its ride and handling fixed. There were supposed to be two more languishing in customs for ages because somebody in the London office was too scared to admit they had arrived after the project was cancelled…

  • (Originally published in Freewheel, the Rover Sport Register’s club magazine, thanks to Ian Elliott)


Keith Adams


  1. Amazing story, I saw a green P76 in a museum in Sydney – its funny how small a world we live in when things come together like that!

  2. It is hard to understand how they didn’t bring the production lines over here, they would of made a good motorway cruiser in the Granada mould, good for European sales. Also Jack Regan would of looked a lot better behind a V8. You would have taken notice of one of these behind you with Jam butty paint work and blue lights too.

  3. I have fond memories of the P76, being one of the first people in New Zealand to drive it as I was working for the New Zealand Motor Corporation at the time.As far as I can remember, this was before it was announced to the general public in NZ. I too went out to New Zealand on the £10 assisted passage. I spent 4 years out there and came back to the UK because of family.
    I would be really interested to see these P76`s again so if Alan Firth would like to email me that would be great. I, too live in Devon.

  4. Oh that burnt orange p76 looks fantastic. I was ten years old when I saw my first p76, and have wanted one ever since . Had a frend in aussie that had the e series 2.6 and that car went amazingly well . They are so the 1970s and were more than a match for the americans Ford/GM Chrysler but of course the were perchieved as being British and Australia has always wanted to be American and anti British . There was a lot of politics involved, in the end the Australian government payed Britsh Leyland 20 million to shut down there Zetland plant. To this day , The Leyland P76 has the highest australian input into design and engineering than any other vehicle developed in that country , it was an Australian product, even had a boomerang shaped steering wheel. One day I will own one of these much maligned cars.

    • Hi Mike There are some lovely p76 cars available for sale in NZ Contact the NZ P76 Leyland club. you can google the NZ website.

  5. I am not a great fan of the styling of these cars but styling is subjective and, as I was 3 in 1973 and living in the UK, I doubt I was part of the target market for these cars!

    What I don’t understand is why a P5B replacement was not done with either one of these or a rebodies XJ6. BL politics I guess.

  6. A very enjoyable and interesting story. During the Queen’s Silver Jubilee’s State Opening of Parliament, November 1977, I saw a mid-blue metallic P76 in a non-ordinary (dealership’s / car retailer’s) showroom (BL International, Berkeley Square?) in central London. From the outside you looked right into the car’s front.
    What Mike writes: “There was a lot of politics involved, in the end the Australian government paid British Leyland 20 million to shut down their Zetland plant” is extremely remarkable. Does anybody have more information on this?
    As for Australian BL cars, 1987 Mr Truman was very kind, helpful and forthcoming and allowed me views in various documents in Austin-Rover’s library in Longbridge. Likewise Mr Ron Switzer from Jaguar-Rover Australia was so kind to send me a brochure of the Austin X6 Tasman Kimberley after I phoned him when I was in Sydney, March 1988. If anybody knows these gentlemen, please send them my friendliest regards. The same goes for Mr Alan Lemon from Cliftonville, Thanet who brought in his Wolseley 11/55 from South Africa. If somebody knows him by coincidence and he is still alive, please send him my regards. Marius van Boven.

  7. Great story with a happy ending – so far. It srikes me that the P76 would have been a good alternative to the Aussie Ford’s, Holden’s & Chryslers of that era. Yes it does bear a resemblance to Datsun & Toyota’s big saloons of the 70s too. Such a pity that Leyland Australia was closed down.

  8. Great story Alan. The 2 cars couldn’t be in better hands. To us here in Australia these 2 cars are of very significant historical importance. The metallic blue one seen by Marius was probably a very rare Targa Florio Limited Edition model that we know was privately exported to the UK The Leyland P76 Clubs of Australia continue to be available for assistance.

  9. Thanks a lot for your comment Steve. It was definitely not a Targa Florio though. It was neither white, nor orange, nor the sort of dark blue found on many Targa Florios pictured. The remarkable thing was that it was parked in a more posh than ordinary showroom in central London and looked brand new. It is almost 35 years ago, but if it were BL International, Berkeley Square indeed, why would they exhibit a car that was not for sale in the UK and out of production?

  10. @ 8 AndrewP i think the stlying was probably intended to take on the Holden / Ford / Chryslers directly in Australia (aka Little America) dont also forget it was the 70’s! have a look at the link I posted above and you will see they sometimes look kind of ok 🙂 alex

  11. the link I posted seems to be broken / not allowed. try google P76 and select images, some great pictures including a family having a picnic – in the boot! and the (44 gallon) oil drum. alex

  12. Good Story Alan, thank you for sharing it with us.
    I too was a 10 Pound Pom, and arrived in Australia in September of 1973 at the ripe ols age of 3 yers old!
    Cant get a Flight that Cheap Today I bet! ha ha
    Since then I was forcefully returned to the UK, by Mum when my Parents seperated and at the age of 16 did my Apprenticeship with Rover UK, working at “Lex Mead” Dealership and first Qualifying as a Mechanic Technician, then changing to Parts Department and Qualifying in this Trade, scared to get my hands Dirty I guess! ha ha (no, the Pay is better in Parts!!!)
    I then had a change of Heart and worked for the Ambulance Service in Bradford West Yorkshire (WYMAS) before returning to Australia to the Sun & Surf!
    Before my Parents split, my Dad had a P76 V8 as our Family car, in 1982 / 83 and I always Loved it. And always wanted to buy 1 for myself when I had the money.
    Since returning to OZ, I have owned 5 P76’s, 1 starred in McLeouds Daughters in 2008 and the other on Today Tonight, a Current Affairs TV Show in Adelaide.
    I was formerly a member (Secretary & Co-Editor) of the SA P76 Club, who put the P76 Birdwood Museum Display together, which as above, depicts the Oil drum in the Boot of a P76. To the left of that immage is the Very Car from McLeouds Daughters!!!
    I am now in NSW, about 2 hours Drive north of Sydney and still own the Country Cream P76 that was on Today Tonight TV show! This car has an unusual Chassis Plate, with a “X” in it, which some belive denotes EXPERIMENTAL, would you or anyone in Leyland Circles be able to Confirm or Deny this???
    I am now in the Hunter P76 Club, and we are Growing Stronger and Stronger as people realise the potential of these Rare Cars!
    Darren Holt

  13. Hi Alan, its great that your 2 UK press release cars are re united again. There was another UK based car which was a bitter apricot deluxe 6 cylinder (E6 2.6) car that was there as well which on last communication over a decade ago was in the UK owned by a gentleman named Owain Williams who had a collection of other American sized cars. The cars look fantastic in the colour press shots and I just realized that I have 2 P76’s which are co incidentally the same colours as your pair. There was also an Am eye blue car in the Netherlands which in more recent pictures been restored and painted a shade very close to Omega navy, still with the blue bench seat. It is a v8 3 speed manual combination. I look forward to seeing you at the next P76 national meeting but I cant attend the next meeting in canberra as it clashes with the Jensen National meeting which is in my state and I am helping organise as well. I hope your CV8 is doing well?
    Cheers Nick Hobart Tasmania.

  14. Hi again Alan.
    I have just been informed that the national P76 meeting next year will be in Camberra ACT and will be at or around 26 June 2013 which is the40th anniversery of the national release date. It will be held at the Lakeside Hotel which also was the place where Leyland booked out the place for the aussie motoring writers.
    Regards Nick Kounelis

  15. Hi Nick,
    There is a Navy Targa currently here in UK, in Cheshire.
    Previous owner also owned the Dark Blue Force 7, which is
    now resident in Harewa, New Zealand. The only one in NZ.
    The Bitter Apricot six cyl. was sold by Owain Williams some
    years ago to a chap in the Midlands, with whom I have had contact, but he has since sold it on and has no record of the current owner.
    I have a photo of a blue Super or Exec. taken in Somerset by
    a friend who saw it in a field just off the M5 motorway,and
    he went to the next junction and back to photo it. It was on Australian Plates, not UK registered.
    I also have details of a UK registered Brown Super which was sold to an anonymous buyer and which has not surfaced.
    My Country Cream Super was owned by a Leyland Dealership
    in Yeovil, and he had family in Australia, and used to take
    UK Leyland cars over to them and bring P76’s back to UK.
    He owned a Yellow super at the same time as my CC car but cannot remember what happened to it. He is now in his 80’s.
    I will post any news as it happens.
    Best regards Alan

    • Hi Alan,
      I recall you tracked me down several years back. How are you? Well I hope.
      You may know already, but I brought the yellow car back to the UK from Oz in 75. I bought the car new as an employee purchase while in the Experimental at leyland Australia. I supervised the building of it personally on the line and had a number of body strengthening parts added which had been spec’d for the world cup rally car some months earlier. The car was also a world cup replica in other ways, seats, springs, lighting etc.
      I toured Australia in the car before shipping it to the UK. And came close to writing it off in Queensland! A whole story on its own.
      Wonderful memories. Best wishes. bob

  16. Hi Alan.
    I was in correspondence some years ago by the engineer who bought his yellow P76 over with him to the UK from Aus and then bought your cream car after its time with VDP. He was the one that fitted the 4 speed manual box to it and did some rallying with it in the UK. His name was Robert Wild and he worked at Zetland in 1974 and was moved to Rover when they were offering the redundancies. Last Time I met him he was working wit Boeing in Seattle. He actullay come over to he p76 meeting in Qld in about 03/2004 where I met him. The yellow car was walked down the line and had all the same body welding/re inforcing that Evan Greens white world cup rally car had. He crashed it in australia and the car has (if its still around), kerbside damage under the sills and floor pan where it landed roughly in a spoon drain a 120KPH speed. The yellow car also had black paint outs as the same design of the rear of the world cup rally car and had the pressings of the boot lid painted black as well and black “c” pillar vents and a black tape stripe on the sides. The spec of the car was a factory air executive in the same manner as the Green Bryson car the theory that the A/c pressurised the cabin in dusty conditions and that an auto changed to a 4 speed is much easier car to build than start with a non air car and convert it to factory air later.
    Cheers Nick
    PS I should be able to make it to Canberra for the 40th anniversary of the launch of the P76 on 26th June 2013. We would all very much like to see you there if you can make it!

    • Nick,
      Having rambled on to Alan above I’ve now found your posting. What excellent recall of details you have!
      Hope you are well.
      I’m in the uK now and still working. I had a business in FNQ for a while.
      Was it really 2004 when we met up in Coolangatta or close by? What a nice time that was, and a great spot.
      Wishing you all the best! bob

  17. To those with an interest in the article above by Alan Firth which I’ve just enjoyed reading.
    I’m the person who bought JOE 526L in 1975 while working at the Leyland Triumph plant in Coventry.
    I’m blown away to learn that it was car number 1!
    While in my possession, I converted the car to a manual (4-speed Borg Warner) gearbox having brought the required factory parts into the UK with another P76. Another story.
    Later I would be chastised by the Triumph plant’s garage manager who had sold me the car on condition that I scrap it for parts. Which I had no intention of doing. The car’s body was soon reconditioned by ‘Uncle John’ the sheet metal wizard in the Canley factory experimental. And painted by myself and friend Alan Gow. We then took it on competitive hillclimbs with some success.
    Wonderful to be re-aquainted with the car.

    • Thank you Bob and Alan. It’s nice to see this story on these very underrated cars.
      Back in 1970/2 I worked at Rover Solihull, having previously worked at Triumph’s Gearbox Plant in Radford. At Solihull I was responsible, amongst other things, for all parts for Land-Rover, Range Rover and P5 going from the various Production Stores to the Parts Distribution Centre in Cardiff.
      One day, in early 1972 I think, I was waiting outside the plant with others from the factory, for my bus. This – to our eyes – huge white car came up Lode lane and turned left into the plant. We were all astounded and to a man, agreed that, if it was one of ours, we’d never be able to sell it, because it was so big. It was only after I moved to Melbourne in mid-1972 and bought a new P76 V8 soon after its release the following year did I realise that it was a P76 that I’d seen outside the Rover plant.
      Bob, the car that you had must have been built as a Deluxe, which came as standard with a three-on-the-tree manual ‘box. The Super came standard with four-on-the-floor. Mine was a basic V8 Deluxe, with bench seating and rubber floor mats, of course; the serial number was 4438, if I remember correctly.
      Yes, the car had indeed got a boomerang-shaped steering wheel spoke and it also had a quite sharp rim, pointing towards the driver, which cut into the hands somewhat. This is why almost every P76 still around has either a steering wheel glove on it, or a replacement wheel. I was told at the time by one of Leyland’s people that this came about due to a typo on the initial spec sheet for the tooling; allegedly, the typist (remember them?) mixed up the words convex and concave…
      Mine also had the fairly common habit of either flooding the carby – most P76 have a stained inlet manifold to testify – or dying from fuel starvation, both caused by the fuel float sticking fully up or down. The cure was a new needle-valve from Bendix Corp.
      The car pulled like a train – it didn’t even know the caravan was there – and was a great long-distance tourer. It would easily hold a 302 Falcon Hardtop to 60 mph, at which point the difference in gearing became a factor.
      Unfortunately, because I had an elderly relative come to stay with me in Melbourne for an extended period, I needed to have a car with air-con, so I swapped the P76 for a new XC 4.1 Falcon; wasn’t that a retrogressive move!
      Chris Weeks, Geraldton, WA.

  18. I just spent an enjoyable few minutes revisiting the dialogue surrounding my two P76s which I had in the UK during 1975.
    It’s been said before, I know, but the P76 was a major achievement by Leyland Australia and I can say that their engineering culture and ability was amongst the best I’ve seen.

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