Leyland P76 : Missed opportunity in the UK?

The P76 was thoroughly evaluated for sale in the UK, with a view to be sold under the Vanden Plas marque name, but after consideration, the plan was dropped as the gap between the Rover SD1 and the Jaguar XJ6 3.4 was far too narrow to justify the expense of local homologation.

P76s were spotted pounding the MIRA (Motor Industry Research Association) test track at Nuneaton – and it is reported that they stood up to the pavé better than any other BLMC car before. Reproduced below is a contemporary magazine article reporting the P76’s UK evaluation.

They’re changing cars in Buckingham Palace…

The P76 came really close to release in the UK. Roger Foy took a series of photos, including this one, for the UK promotional material. This shows a brochure shot being taken in the UK.
The P76 came really close to release in the UK. Roger Foy took a series of photos, including this one, for the UK promotional material. This shows a brochure shot being taken in the UK.

Leyland Australia hopes to sell more than 5000 Executive models of the P76 in Britain! The car has just been launched by a combined Leyland Australia-British Leyland team at a price close to $7000. While this price may sound excessive to Australians, it is close to the mark already established by other similar-sized imports such as the Australian Chrysler, Ford Falcon and Fairlane, Rambler and others. English motor writers regard it as a competitive product with these cars and other imports like the Opel Commodore and its European kin.

However, the surprising news is that Leyland representatives think the estate car (sorry, station wagon) will have an even more enthusiastic acceptance when it is introduced. The model is of course yet to be released in Australia.

Leyland P76 (10)
Another P76 shot in the UK. As you’ll note from Roger Foy’s image is the UK registration plate, and basic early specification.

The P76 was introduced to the British press as an international car – not an all-Australian car. Leyland spokesmen pointed out that the concept was entirely Australian, the mechanics were Australian and the body was virtually completely Italian. Leyland admitted that the first prototypes were clothed in Holden bodies, and that the first P76 prototype was actually assembled in the MG factory in Abingdon.

The car got an enthusiatic reception from the notably sardonic British press. Most categorised their likes and dislikes quite clearly:


  • Handling – most felt it handled better than average and justified Leyland’s claim for a European feel.
  • Brakes – good
  • Steering – power-equipped, quite good
  • Cruising capability – fine.
  • Performance – above average (V8).


  • Appearance – what appearance?
  • Boot room – why not share it with the interior?
  • Back seat – poor accommodation.
  • Ride – perhaps too firm.
  • Size – too big and unmanageable for Britain and Europe.

Leyland P76

But overall the reaction was far from hostile – from press and public. And orders were taken. Harold Dvoretsky, out intrepid correspondent, summarised his interpretation of British reactions coupled with his brief assessment of the car…

LA’s developement engineer Robert Fox did a great job of PR with the two cars he had available. Both had been snatched from the production line in Australia and sent here. Neither was up to the Executive mark, neither had power steering (though one set of power steering was fitted later), yet the press reports were gratifying. The day I was invited out turned out to be the first really wet day in London for nearly three weeks. The rain belted down in thunderstorm proprotions, non-stop!

The roads, with loads and loads of rubber on them, were at their worst. But the P76 was impressive. It is a big compact, but it also has the feel of a nice long-loper – just the job for the long-distance run to the South of France where it could be expected to cruise at around 100mph all day. Even in Britain you can cruise at 70mph for long distances on motorways.

And that boot? Pity they didn’t chop off a few inches to provide a little more room in the rear seat. I rode in the back for some of the way during my brief test. It felt a bit firmer than the average Yank or Aussie compact, but had none of the sick-making qualities of the former!

It seems British journos like the P76 even more than Australian journos. Wonder if Leyland Australia and British Leyland might consider getting together for UK manufacturing rights?

  • Article supplied by Michael Hickey, thanks to Norman Julian for permission to use Roger Foy’s images
P76 for the UK
Buckingham Palace provides a stately backdrop for Australia’s P76 by Leyland. Despite shocking weather conditions experienced at the official release, most British motoring journalists were impressed by the car.
Keith Adams


  1. No. This is one of those rare occassions where British Layland made the right decision. As stated in the first paragraph, the gap between the SD1 and XJ6 was too narrow and adding a seperate Vanden Plas model would have just added even more confusion to BL’s range. The very last thing it needed to do. Also this car would have arrived right at the zenith of the early 70s Fuel Crisis. Hard to see buyers flocking to a car so large and badly proportioned that it looks like its doing 10mpg standing still.

  2. The P76 suited its home market but didn’t look like a design suitable to carry a VDP badge in the UK. It looked far too American, compared to BL’s other cars at the time. Interesting idea though…

  3. The styling really wasnt italian, michelloti was to have his name on it but the car strongly resembles a proposal put forward by leyland in house designer fellow by the name of rodham. The front and rear indicators and boot styling were done by a couple of engineers (sad to say) after michelloti gave up in disgust. The one thing that resembles a michelloti design like the triumph 2500 is the angle of the windscreen. The car looks good from side on, from the rear…but everything else its pretty much is a disaster. Thanks goodness its a superb and comfortable car to drive with great handling and power to weight ratio.

  4. Paul H…You are probably right about the marketing but in regards to fuel consumption you couldnt be more wrong. The P76 V8 regularly returns 20 to 25 mpg.
    Hilton D…”Looks too American” interesting comment for a car designed by an Italian – Michelotti. He also designed the Triumph 2000/2500 and BMW 3.0 but each to his own.
    Its strange I rarely hear anyone complaining of too much boot space.

  5. @3 Steve… I don’t mean it was a bad looking car – I actually like it, but obviously it bore no visual “family look” to the rest of BL’s range then. You could say the same about the Triumph Acclaim of course.

    Turning to the Triumph 2000/2500, I agree they were really attractive (and still are)

  6. I would describe it as somewhat ugly, especially the front end. That could have been dealt with in a mild facelift. The Cressida and Laurel are all-over bad taste, but much better detailed

  7. Very interesting! As a VDP I suppose it would have been sold via Austin and Morris dealers, giving them a top of the range model and therefore, in a sense, replacing the Austin 3-Litre. Whilst Leyland Australia continued to exist, that would have made a cheap, low-risk replacement. However, many Austin and Morris dealers were taking on Rover, Triumph and/or Jaguar by this time, so there was less of a need for it. And sales of the 3-Litre were such that it’s doubtful there would have been the demand, especially for a fairly bland model that was designed for a big country like Australia rather than for the UK market. Poor sales of the Lonsdale, Ford Ltd and a few other Australian products testify to this. If they were taking brochure shots they must have been close to market (ditto TR8 a few years later) so I wonder whether the impending demise of LA made BL pull put of launching it.

  8. Not sure about the P76 saloon though the 5-door Estate and 2-door Force 7V Coupe would have likely been the big sellers out of the P76 range.

    One positive that the P76 would bring to the table is that its engines such as the 2.6 E6, 4.4 Rover V8 and possible even the Rover V6 would likely find their way in powering other cars.

    Also, it could be argued that the Leyland P82 (as a Marina replacement for markets outside of Australia) was an even bigger missed opportunity compared to the P76, unless the P82 was somehow related to the Triumph SD1 and Triumph/Morris TM1.

  9. The biggest problem with it is that the design seems to lack cohesion. It is as if three separate committees designed the car, one for the front, one for the middle and one for the rear. It just doesn’t flow right. I suspect that is one of the reasons it did so poorly in it’s home market. Perhaps if it lacked the pronounced slant from the front to the base of the windshield it would have sold better.

    The large boot was a concession to the needs of the Australian market. Being such a large and undeveloped country, it was necessary to carry extra petrol on some journeys as there simply were not any petrol stations to fill up at. The car’s large proportions are also dictated by this large country dynamic. It is why Europeans don’t quite get American cars either. Most of them live in places without large swaths of undeveloped country to drive between and can’t fathom taking a multiple day long trip to get from one place to another on long, straight roads. Many Americans, such as myself, have migrated over a thousand miles from where they were born and so they have family 20-30 hours drive from where they live. While I may not wish to drive a large, inefficient vehicle, (I drive a 3 cylinder Suzuki) I can certainly see the appeal to those who do. It is far more comfortable to spend that time sitting on the automotive equivalent of a large, comfy couch.

  10. The P76s look great in the right colours and with mag wheels. Their main competition in Australia was the Holden HQ, the Ford Falcon XA and the Chrysler Valiant. Ive never driven a Chrysler or a P76, but I could well imagine that the P76 would probably have been the better car. Neither then Holden HQ or the Falcon at the time were best handling cars around – Styling wise though My pick would be the HQ Holden. Ive got a P76 engine in my shed – I have been considering putting it my defender 110 which currently has a 3.5 v8. I think a P76 station wagon would have been a great machine 🙂 also comments about the styling – there are shades of Rover P8 (Mitsubishi Sigma / Lancer about it. so I would say the UK office had something to do with it. alex

  11. P82 was a real missed opportunity as the much needed Dolomite replacement, and possibily Rover/Austin/Morris/whatever brand version. P76 maybe could lived as an estate and certainly as a coupé, but if P8 was scrapped being much more euro-minded developed, why on Earth britons and europeans could need such a car as the P76 saloon?

    For once BL did right.

  12. Gavin Farmer has written an excellent and well researched book called ” Leyland p76: Anything But Average a history of a uniquely australian motor car” Ilinga books 2008. In chapter 5: styling he gives a comprehensive run down on the styling development of the p76.
    I recommend this book its outstanding. The in house stylist I mentioned was in fact Romand Rodbergh. Michelloti’s concept drawings included some beautiful examples reminiscent of BMW as was the great design by Barry Anderson. Unfortunately these designs were not followed they beefed up the boot size,so the whole side of the car had to be taller making it “slabby” and difficult to flow to the front. Thats why blackouts on the sills on super and exec make it look better. They failed to “tail in” the rear (and front) by narrowing, left it straight back, which messed up the front and rear quarter view. Indicators were vertical lines which jarred and looked out of place. Guards were flared accentuating the cars width to its detriment and making the tyres seem too narrow for the car, you can only rectify this by filling the guards with wide tyres as many have dome and they result is good even though the wheels and tyres are then too heavy for the suspension. Bottom line its not a sleek jag but its aussie and we love it!

  13. Just as well it wasn’t introduced to the UK as it would have flopped for the reasons already described. Too big and ugly, mainly, even if it was well engineered. There are hints in the styling of Vauxhall PC Cresta and that car had gone from the UK market by 1973, never to be replaced. Remember also that the Chrysler imports of the Australian Valiant as a big Humber replacement failed miserably to sell as well.

  14. Would it not have made more sense to sell as a big Morris to sit above the Marina using the O and E6 series engines. It would have made a conventional car to fight the big Fords.

  15. Awkward proportions, a fussy front end, combined with a body that was too large for UK roads would have killed this ugly behemoth before it was born. The SD1 was much more British…

  16. Styling was certainly a problem. As a car-crazy Aussie teenager when the P76 came out, I couldn’t believe anyone would build such an amateurish-looking car. I lived in Melbourne, and while you saw them on the road, they weren’t good sellers.

    “Wheels” had an article by local stylist David Bentley where he redesigned the P76. By tapering the nose and tail, adding some curvature to the bonnet, and simplifying the nose and tail treatments he came up with a much better-looking car. Basically, there wasn’t much wrong with it that couldn’t be fixed at the first facelift. But why didn’t they get it right in the first place?

    Too big? Jaguars and Mercedes were bigger, but I guess it would have clashed head on with Rover. That would have been a bad move!

  17. Tidy up the front grille and it would’ve been a looker.

    Internally competed with the SD1 and XJ. Too many big cars at a time of rationalisation.

    If they wanted to keep Triumph it could’ve been sold as such. Twin headlights but given a Triumph T-grille

    Though offer a 2.0 engine for fleets at the time.

  18. #20: Hmmm! the only tidying up that could have made it look better would have been executed by a crusher. There have been very , very few cars which looked wrong which have gone on to have a successful sales career . And the thought of a 2 litre engine lugging what looked like a canal barge along ??? The disaster for Ford which was the V4 Zephyr comes to mind

  19. There could have been a market for the P76 in South Africa, where the Australian-sourced Ford Fairmont, Chevrolet Kommando (Holden Kingswood) and Chrysler Valiant were sold, but I don’t know if Leyland SA (Leykor) ever considered it.

  20. I’m surprised that BL never considered making the P76 as a Triumph it could have replaced the 2-5/2500 in both saloon & estate forms, plus the Force7 to replace the Stag. Ford had introduced the 3litre Grenada Ghia in salonn & coupe models at about the same time, surely it wouldn’t have cost that much to adapt it for UK usage, with the large boot and powerful six & eight cylinder engines it could have been a reasonable choice for police and taxi use. I’ve always considered the whole P76 programme possibly Leylands greatest missed opportunity so much achieved but it all came to naught

    • By this time, Canley was being consigned to the scrap heap – because of the internal politics of the company. There was never any chance of the Triumph badge being revived. It was just to much of a threat to Solihull.

  21. The p76 was great idea but at the wrong time… 2 years earlier… Or indeed 2 years later and the story may very well have been different … ESPECIALLY had they put the Force 7 a 2 door coupe hatchback into full production. That was a greet looking car.. Leyland Australia for some bizarre reason crushed all but 9 of these that came off the production line.

    Go to google images and check the Force 7 out. Did it influence design for the SD1? Who can say? Compare profiles of both cars.

  22. I read somewhere the hatch from the Force 7 is interchangeable with the SD1. Agree with the consensus here, I don’t think P76 would fly in the UK, even with a facelift. I think the big missed opportunity was the Nomad, the V6 version of the Rover V8 and P82 being rolled into a common program for a Marina/Dolomite replacement.

    • That’s exactly what ADO77 was. The SD1 disaster meant that we just didn’t have the money to do it though. It staggered on for a while as TM2, but it eventually died a death too. With it went the last chance of a new medium car for 10 years.

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