Back in 1974/74 Leyland Australia were on the cusp of some exciting new developments. WHEELS magazine managed to get wind of them (from an insider?) and printed its summary of upcoming events.
Article reproduced from WHEELS, November 1973
INFORMATION on Leyland’s Model A is marked Top Secret. Its very existence is barely acknowledged and it is mentioned only in quiet whispers as the great hope for the compact six market. But WHEELS has penetrated the security barriers surrounding Model A to bring you a comprehensive and accurate report on this totally new model, which is due for release in 1975. Model A began as a twin project with P76 back in 1968. When Leyland Australia discovered the parent company planned to build a conventional car of the approximate size and specification it wanted, this car – the Marina – was substituted as a relatively short-term model to enable work to progress on the bigger, and at that time, more important P76. But work never really stopped on the Australian Model A. And now that advanced engineering on the P76 has concluded the design team is working on Model A.
In size and concept Model A is closely related to the Cortina TC. And it will come with a wide range of engines to make it fully competitive with both the Cortina and the all-new LH Torana. Already the styling mock-ups have been approved and engineering prototype testing is about to begin. Projected size of Model A – and these figures come from sources within the heart of Leyland – is for an overall length of 13ft 10in. with a wheelbase of 100in. Front track is going to be 54.5in. and rear track 56.5in. Overall height is only 49in. on the Coupé – it will probably be about 52in. on the four-door sedans – and ground clearance has been set at 7in. Shoulder room is 52in. with a minimum of 35in. headroom. We weren’t able to obtain a figure for width but taking shoulder room and the tracks into account, it should be around 68in. The overall weight target on Model A has been set at 2,700lb. These are the dimensions which have been approved by British Leyland for Australia’s Model A but if the current trend to slightly bigger compact sixes continues, Leyland has conceived the car so that the wheelbase can be extended as far as 106in. if necessary. In this regard the actual wheelbase, length and width of the LH Torana are vitally important because it is this car, which is going to set the size pattern for the entire compact six market.
If the new Torana has a wheelbase of more than 102in. it seems likely Leyland will lengthen Model A to maintain a competitive size. As a comparative guide the present Torana Six has a 100in. wheelbase and the Cortina 101.5in, while the current Marina – a slightly smaller car overall – has a wheelbase of 96in. Base engine on the Model A project is the 1750 OHC four from the present Marina, then comes a 3.0-litre V6 and, if necessary – in other words, if the 253 V8 version of the new LH Torana really goes on the marketplace – the 4.4-litre alloy V8 from P76 will be slotted in.
The new V6 is simply the alloy V8 with two cylinders lopped off and the stroke shortened slightly to give the 3.0-litre capacity. The idea for the V6 comes from GM, who did an identical engine fiddle in late 1961 when it introduced a V6 for its intermediate-sized Buick Special. The Buick V6 was literally a cast iron version of the Buick alloy V8 with two less cylinders. And remember, it’s this Buick V8 which formed the basis for the Leyland V8. In fact, Leyland Australia has been using the Buick V6 for its development testing for Model A. The company bought an old Buick Special V6 and now has three additional engines undergoing proving in prototypes of Model A. If you keep an eagle eye open around Leyland’s manufacturing plant at Zetland, NSW, you will occasionally see the old Buick running around the factory perimeter on a small test track. The big difference between Leyland’s V6 and the old Buick V6 engine, which was dropped in 1967 (but was also used for a time in American Jeeps), is that the local unit will use an alloy block so the V8 and V6 engines can be built on the same manufacturing line, using the same piston bore. A different crankshaft has to be fitted, of course, so there is no problem in shortening the stroke. Rumours suggesting the new V6 engine will appear in the P76 and in the current Marina have been discounted. The Marina is due to get the present Leyland straight six in late November this year and will use this engine – together with the 1750 four – until the end of its model cycle.
P76, in a heavily face-lifted form, will ultimately get the V6 but not before 1975. It will make do with the straight six and alloy V8 until then. It’s not only the V6 engine that will be new on Model A. Leyland is developing a highly modified version of the P76’s suspension for the new car. No more torsion bars and leaf springs, as on Marina, but MacPherson struts up front and a four-link coil system at the rear. Rack and pinion steering will be retained. Braking is expected to be a disc/drum combination. But it is the styling and body layout which is revolutionary.
Leyland plans to introduce a four door sedan with a fifth, hatchback door at the rear, rather like the Renault 16. This will be a first among local sedans although the P76 Coupé, which is going to have a similar third door design, will precede it on a Coupé. It’s the Coupé which is really going to set the styling pace. The concept of the Coupé, which has been approved by British Leyland, features a two-door body with a third rear door which lifts out two inches and then up, taking the rear window, part of the B-pillar and the rear side window with it, to reveal a large boot and the rear seat. An integral roll-bar is incorporated in the roofline. The roll bar, as our illustrations show, is used in the styling and begins as a sweeping line at the front of the car and runs to the B-pillar where it rises up over the roof.
Forward of the cabin the general styling treatment is a development of the P76 theme with a wide bonnet sweeping away from four headlights and a small grille. But instead of being virtually flat, as on P76, the Model A bonnet has a lower centre section with a raised area on either side for the headlights. Windscreen wipers are hidden from view under the rear of the bonnet as on P76.
Leyland Australia styling chief, Mark Cassarchis, is pushing for a development of this coupé theme – and it is even more extreme. This car still features the sweeping roll-bar but instead of running up and over on the B-pillar it is part of the C-pillar. A unique side window is the major difference. On Cassarchis’ design the rear window runs from below the waist line of the door and sweeps up and over into the roof. As a styling feature the rear side window is quite separate to the other sections of the upper cabin. The hatchback rear door theme is continued, although it is more conventional and restricted to the tail without taking the C-pillar as part of the door. Inside, the dashboard is a modern- day version of the Holden FJ’s, with a large circular speedometer in front of the driver and small dials set around the speedo and recessed into heavy padding. Leyland is experimenting with a fibre-optics system which works rather like a mini-TV screen in projecting the information from the actual instruments onto the instrument lenses in front. Model A does create one problem for Leyland. It leaves the bottom end of the market to the Japanese cars. Model A is definitely a larger car and out of the small car bracket. So Leyland is considering assembling the new Allegro – which replaces the old 1100/1300 range in England – in Australia.
The Allegro is one size smaller than Model A and slots neatly between the Mini and Model A. But it is a front-wheel-drive design and uses a sophisticated suspension set-up, and we can only wonder at the wisdom of Leyland Australia becoming involved in a technically complicated car again. The long-term answer would appear to be the totally new Mini which is in the British Leyland pipeline. This new car, which isn’t expected to he seen on the roads until at least 1975, will follow the current international trend to the three-door concept as on Honda Civic, Renault 6 and the Fiat 127. It will be about 11ft long with more room, new engines and even greater versatility.
This would give Leyland a three-model line by the end of 1975; the larger Mini replacement, Model A and P76 with variations on each and employing a wide variety of common components which is the secret to a profitable operation in Australia.
Article kindly supplied by Michael Hickey