The cars : Morris Marina (ADO28) development story

Unashamedly created as Cowley’s Cortina, we tell the Morris Marina development story – how this car was intended to lead Morris – and, more importantly, British Leyland – into a new decade of lucrative Ford bashing…

However, it missed the bus in terms of size and engine range and, because there was no budget to replace it, the Marina remained in production for far too long…

The new convention from British Leyland

Morris Marina

Immediately after the BMC/Leyland Motors merger in January 1968, it became apparent to the BL Board that once the Austin Maxi and Mini Clubman were launched, there were no further BMC-conceived cars of significance in the pipeline.

Apart from the Issigonis 9X programme, nothing else seemed to be in development. Even before the Maxi was due to hit the roads in 1969, management knew it would not cut the mustard. The newly-formed British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) decided to plug a yawning chasm in its Austin-Morris range in order to counter dwindling production volumes.

The answer was obvious: the BMC 1100/1300 may have been Britain’s best-selling car, a darling of private motorists, but fleet buyers avoided it in large numbers, favouring the simplicity, perceived reliability and wide range of the Ford Cortina. BLMC needed a Cortina alternative or, at the very least, an Escort – and it needed one fast.

Leyland execs hunt for a new Cortina

An anonymous BLMC executive told The Times newspaper: ‘If only BMC had had a straight motor car coming along that would have given us an entree to fleet sales on the one hand and the ability to make a decent profit margin per unit on the other, we could have given the American-owned firms a real run for their money.’

It was all about priorities. Continued strong sales of the 1100/1300 allowed management to park the matter of its immediate replacement, figuring that getting a ‘Cortina beater’ onto the market was far more important. The Marketing Department, led by Filmer Paradise, agreed the plan wholeheartedly and the BLMC Board quickly rubber-stamped the project.

Harry Webster was charged with the task of rejuvenating the Austin Morris range and was given overall control of the programme, named ADO28. His initial plan was for a comprehensive re-body of the Morris Minor, because the new car needed to be tough and reliable – if BLMC couldn’t build a dependable car based on the Minor platform, what hope did it have?

New body, old components!

Harry Webster decided to use Morris Minor components clothed in a new body. Carefully developed, it was thought this package should have been easily developed into an effective Ford Escort rival.

There would need to be a 10-inch stretch of wheelbase, but with an anticipated engine range of 1100cc, 1300cc and 1500cc, a company car-friendly package could take shape. Webster felt confident enough at this early stage to approach the BL Board with the notion that ADO28 could be priced a £20 premium over the Escort.

Simple design shaped in very little time

The top team: (L to R) - Harry Webster, George Turnbull, Donald Stokes, Filmer Paradise and Richard Perry discuss the planned ADO28. (Picture: BMIHT)
The top team: (L to R) – Harry Webster, George Turnbull, Donald Stokes, Filmer Paradise and Richard Perry discuss the planned ADO28 (Picture: BMIHT)

In April 1968, Webster told BL’s Product Planners the Fiat 124 was the package to aim for with ADO28. Paradise looked into the demands of the fleet market and came up with an all-embracing specification – one which promised to tax Webster’s team.

With a nice and simple package already defined, it was comparatively easy to come up with a wide range of body styles, engine sizes and trim options. Putting even more pressure on Harry Webster, Donald Stokes already had it set in his own mind the ADO28 should be launched at the 1970 Earls Court Motor Show. This tight deadline led Webster to take many short cuts during ADO28’s development.

By May 1968, ADO28 was firming up, and the Product Planners backed up Webster’s original concept to face up to stiff competition in the 1100cc-1500cc rear-wheel-drive class. Unlike the technically-advanced ADO16, marketing decided compactness was not a key selling point in this market and, just like Ford, BLMC followed the philosophy of more metal for the money in creating the ADO28.

AD028: Marketing simplicity

The process of taking a GRP mould off the final, approved clay. The process inevitably destroys the clay, so if anything goes wrong you are truly stuffed, and it is back to square one! Once the grp mould is made, a grp facsimile of the clay surface is produced from that, so that a realistic representation of a real car can be made, perhaps even with interior - though in those days we tended to just board over the space below the glassline and stick top-end torsos and heads on it to simulate passengers - the interiors were then mocked up within purely interior bucks. More recently, from the 1980s on, with sophisticated five-axis millers to make moulds direct from CAD data, models of new cars have become much more sophisticated and realistic.(Picture: John Shepherd)
The process of taking a GRP mould off the final, approved clay. The process inevitably destroys the clay, so if anything goes wrong you are truly stuffed, and it is back to square one! Once the GRP mould is made, a GRP facsimile of the clay surface is produced from that, so that a realistic representation of a real car can be made, perhaps even with interior – though in those days we tended to just board over the space below the glassline and stick top-end torsos and heads on it to simulate passengers – the interiors were then mocked up within purely interior bucks. More recently, from the 1980s on, with sophisticated five-axis millers to make moulds direct from CAD data, models of new cars have become much more sophisticated and realistic (Picture: John Shepherd)

If at this stage, marketing of the ADO28 appeared a straightforward affair, engineering was even more so. That is not to say that Harry Webster did not have his work cut out with the new car. The ADO28 project was compromised by its tight production deadline, and that meant it would rely almost entirely on the BL parts-bin.

That may have been an appealing economy and the development programme was certainly accelerated as a result, but Webster’s team still had to resolve many problems associated with using the Morris Minor as a starting point for a new car:

The Morris Minor gearbox had no provision for a synchromesh on first gear, so after careful costing comparisons between redesigning the existing ‘box and the use of the Triumph 1300 unit, it was decided to go for the Triumph solution. This caused problems because production volumes at Longbridge needed to be raised, which meant re-development at the gearbox works.

  • Similar difficulties were encountered with other components due to the age of the donor car.
  • As Morris Minor sales dwindled over time, the production facilities at Cowley had been used for other purposes and could not be re-commissioned.
  • Brakes and front suspension were employed on the ADO28 after being modified, but the lever-arm damper arrangement inherited from the Minor was not an ideal solution and proved expensive to build.

Styling a smart new look

Roy Haynes' style emerged quickly, as a derivative but not unattractive saloon. It was created very much in the mould of the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva, and would also pre-empt the style of the visually similar Hillman Avenger. (Picture suppled by John Capon)
Roy Haynes’ style emerged quickly, as a derivative but not unattractive saloon. It was created very much in the mould of the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva, and would also pre-empt the style of the visually similar Hillman Avenger (Picture supplied by John Capon)
Marina Coupe alternative front styling. Note the MG wheel centre caps (Picture: John Shepherd)
Marina Coupe alternative front styling. Note the MG wheel centre caps (Picture: John Shepherd)

In July 1968, Webster asked chief stylist, Roy Haynes to look at the ADO28’s packaging and styling, and take stock of the design. He noted the target dimensions of the ADO28 should be slightly larger than its competitors (‘metal for money’), and that styling would play an important part of its overall desirability in relation to rivals.

Whereas the ADO17 and Maxi were designed to accommodate huge interiors, the ADO28 would tread a different path: it should be highly styled car. It should not be not too different from its current rivals, and fit in with trends. Because the ADO28 was being conceived as a stop-gap which was only intended to remain in production until 1976-1977, considerations of ‘future-proofing’ were of secondary importance.

As Haynes later stated: ‘Any attempt to create an image radically different from the competition will destroy the opportunities which can be created to effect an immediate transfer of loyalty from the competitive brands.’

Making the two-door a style leader

Haynes also felt that the two-door model should be a style leader aimed at the under 35s and that, rather than the usual practice of offering identical profiles for both two and four-door saloon versions, BL should offer something subtly different.

So Haynes cooked up the plan that the two-door version should be a sporting package with a coupe-style body. He also ensured the interior should move way from the traditional ambience of other BLMC products and move towards something more exciting. Haynes rapidly worked on two versions of the ADO28 and, within weeks, had completed his first models available in coupe and saloon versions.

The Haynes models were presented to the British Leyland Executive Policy Committee on 5 August 1968 alongside competition from the Italian design houses Pininfarina and Michelotti. Haynes’ dual proposals were given the nod by the BL big-wigs, subject to modifications. This was is an exceptional compliment to Haynes considering the strength of the opposition.

Discontented rumblings

Testing at MIRA - chassis tuning concentrated the minds of development engineers.
Testing at MIRA – chassis tuning concentrated the minds of Development Engineers

By now, factions within Austin Morris were making it known they were unhappy with the precedence ADO28 was taking over the ADO16 replacement (on which work had recently started). One senior Pressed Steel Director wrote to Stokes voicing his concerns about how ADO28 would put BLMC on a collision course with the Americans.

The problem with that, he stated, was they did not have the resources to battle Ford and Vauxhall and there was no viable starting point from which to do so. He added building this rear-wheel-drive car would send out the wrong signals to customers and the implication was BLMC was abandoning front-wheel drive.

Stokes overruled these dissenters – his argument was simple: the Mini and 1100 were still selling strongly, but the middle ground was where BLMC was really struggling at the hands of the multi-nationals. If BLMC was to survive as a large-scale producer, then it would need to produce something with which to fight Ford and Vauxhall head-on. Producing something different (i.e. clever) had done BMC no good – one only had to look at the sales performance of the BMC 1800/2200 to see that.

Upgrading Cowley for the new car

As a Morris-badged car, it was logical to produce the AD028 at the Morris Works in Cowley. The problem was that the factory was in a poor state – it needed gutting. The Minor production line would never be able to cope with ADO28 planned volumes, so Cowley would receive a massive £40m investment programme.

Once the re-fit was completed, car bodies were assembled at Pressed Steel Fisher’s (PSF) Cowley body plant. This was linked to the car plant by a covered half-mile bridge, thereby saving the company the considerable cost of shipping them in from Swindon.

With ADO28 coming into focus, the marketing of the car was becoming more clearly defined and so a launch strategy was devised. Late in 1968, the plan was for the high image fastback version to be launched at the 1970 Motor Show, with the saloon following six months later. The entry price for the base model was projected to be £575.

Class contenders: growing up fast

The trouble with this plan was market research was now showing the greatest projected growth in the market was in the 1.2-litre to 2.0-litre class – some way beyond the ADO28. Not only this but, at the same time, BLMC became aware the Cortina Mk3 would also launch in 1970. More disastrously still, the new Ford was going to be altogether larger than the Cortina Mk2 – and this had been one of the ADO28’s benchmarks!

Despite these worries, the BLMC Board was happy to continue with the ADO28. The Board had, in any case, been moving away from pitching the car against the Escort and that meant ADO28 would need more engines to compete. The obvious answer was to upwardly extend because, as George Turnbull, Austin Morris Managing Director, said, ‘We thought we’d have a distinct marketing advantage if we could out-perform them’.

Harry Webster therefore ensured that the engine bay was enlarged to fit a wider range of engines. Gradually, in becoming a Cortina-rival, the ADO28 was getting more expensive and moving away from Webster’s original brief of a Ford Escort-rivalling 1100-1500cc saloon.

A matter of cost

That simple rear suspension set-up...
That simple rear suspension set-up…

By September 1968, John Barber was also raising concerns about the ADO28’s costings. From the beginning of the project, costs had not been properly laid down or controlled and no-one in the Product Planning Department actually knew whether the ADO28 would make a profit if it were sold at the planned price of £575.

Donald Stokes‘ response to this was that the overriding priority was to get the ADO28 into production readiness and the cost implications of it could be sorted out later. By the end of the year, Longbridge financiers were now reporting that rising costs in the development programme had eaten into the ADO28 profit potential.

In response to this, George Turnbull took the stance that a full recovery of overheads plus a corporate profit of £25 would be acceptable and that ADO28 would need to be modified in order to meet these goals. The target retail price for the basic two-door model must not be pushed above £580 in order to achieve these profit targets – Turnbull was very aware that the fleet market was an extremely price-sensitive area of the market.

Profit warnings…

By February 1969, the projections that were now coming out of Longbridge were that the ADO28 would return a negligible profit and so Turnbull insisted that more costs be taken out of the car, in preference to raising the price.

In fact, it was worse than that: the expectation was now that even at a starting price of £580, a loss would be made on every car sold. Product planners looked at this scenario and decided that the best plan of action was to raise the starting price of the ADO28 to £620 and make a modest profit on each car.

Cold comfort could be drawn from the fact that the Cortina Mk3 would come in at the same price point, but that did not take into account the fact that the new Ford would no doubt be impeccably costed for the company and no doubt larger and more appealing to the customer.

The alarm bells ring for Turnbull

It is fair to say that these cost implications alarmed Turnbull so much that, when he met with Production Engineers, the lowering of costs was now the number one priority – so much so that, in order to lower the production cost of the car, they identified the two-piece propshaft was an unnecessary extravagance and so, it had to go.

Cost-reduction programmes were now in place and every aspect of the ADO28 was under the microscope. Also in February 1969, Roy Haynes resigned from BLMC, and Harris Mann became the company’s senior stylist.

Speaking 1975, Harris Mann said of the ADO28’s design: ‘We created it as a nice easy step into the market place – nothing that would offend, something simple and honest, something that would sell straight away. I think it was successful in doing what it was planned for.’

Video: Morris Marina development

Part One:

Part Two:

Marketing the ADO28

At this point in the development programme, the proposed engine range was the 1300cc A-Series, and the upcoming E-Series engine in 1500cc and 1750GT forms. Marketing considerations were still high on the list and, at this point, much higher than the engineering of the car, which was coming along in a very straightforward way, even if the cost of the car was an issue.

Harry Webster’s initial ideas on naming the ADO28 was to give it a model number, (such as Morris 200, for instance) but most people in the company favoured a name instead. John Barber wanted Morris Monaco, the studio men wanted Morris Machete and other suggestions for ADO28 included the Morris Mamba, Maori, Matelo and Musketeer.

The final shortlist of Major, Mirage, Mistral and Marina emerged and Morris Marina was chosen as the car’s moniker even though it was what the Morris version of the ADO16 was called in Denmark.

Co-ordinating towards launch

At the end of 1969, the decision was made for all models to be launched simultaneously and to offer the car in 1300, 1800 and 1800GT forms, but with a wider range of trim options. Slimming-down the range of engines offered would cut production costs and also allow for a wider range of trim options, thereby offering a BLMC alternative to every model in the Cortina range.

The marketing men saw that the Marina would fit in with the rest of the BLMC range very nicely; filling the gap between the ADO16 (and its replacement) and the upcoming Princess, which was in the planning stages at the time. As envisaged at the beginning of the accelerated development programme, the Morris Marina would provide BLMC a perfect competitor in the fleet market and, if you were an optimist in the company at the time, the feeling was that the Marina offered nearly everything the Cortina did, but in a more compact package.

Product Planners saw that re-emergence of BLMC as a major player in the industry relied on the success of the Morris Marina and the company planned its future forecasts on the fact that they believed that it would take a nine per cent share of the UK market. The company certainly underestimated the stranglehold that Ford had on the British fleet market, but what was more laughable was that the Product Planners seriously believed that the Morris Marina would go on to take 11 per cent of the market by 1973-74 – at a time when the ADO67 Allegro would be on-stream too!

Testing to launch

The Marina caused quite a star in Paris in 1971.
The Marina caused quite a star in Paris in 1971

The result of the accelerated development programme was that, by the spring of 1970, pre-production prototypes were running on the roads and, by the end of the year, Marinas were rolling off the production line at Cowley. ADO28 was a rushed project but, as Andy (RAM) Smith, an Engineer who worked on the project, recalls – there were some fun times: ‘The first three Marina simulators were constructed by welding an elongated Morris Minor floorpan onto the underside of a Vauxhall Viva Mk2 bodyshell, and installing an A-Series engine and gearbox from a Spridget.

‘By the time I got there, these three simulators were probably past their useful development life, but used mainly as transport cars. One of them, known as ‘The Green Viva’ was fitted with good Cooper S motor, and we young men used to have great fun burning off the standard Vauxhall offering. It was a great car, and seemed to handle well, with not a lot of body roll. In fact, I think it rated among the more satisfying RWD cars in which I was fortunate enough to take a hand over subsequent years.’

Costs and profitability had successfully been kept down by the rationalization of the engine range and by more successful planning in the development programme. In the end, the profit figure of the Marina was £30-£40 higher than the ADO16 at the time of its launch and the planned production volumes were still being put at a rate of 5500 per week. The total cost of developing the Morris Marina was put at £21 million and, even though the car underwent a troubled gestation, starting out as an Escort rival but turning into a Cortina rival, the company was very confident of the Marina’s chances of success when it was launched at Cannes in April 1971.

Unveiled in Cannes

When the Morris Marina was shown to the press, it was almost immediately obvious that this was a simple car and one that could be described as a parts-bin special. There was not a great deal for the press to get excited about, but it was a new car, and the first product launched by BLMC.

The range of engines was unremarkable – the A-Series version was lifted straight from the 1275cc version of the MG Midget with only minor alterations to the sump and manifold. The 1798cc B-Series version installed in the Marina was similarly adapted from the MGB.

The suspension was equally unremarkable but, unlike the ADO17 and the Maxi which had been mildly criticised by the press, the styling was judged as a success. The wide range of trim permutations and three choices of power units (1.3-, 1.8-litre single carb, and twin-carb) allowed the range to cover the market well.

At the launch: Morris targets C-segment sales

The actual public launch day of the new Morris Marina was 27 April 1971 and sales chief Filmer Paradise was quoted as saying: ‘As a group we are uniquely placed to cover every conceivable customer requirement in the dominant C-class sector of the market. The ingenious way in which today’s car has been designed to complement rather than compete with the best-selling 1100/1300 range will allow the two sales networks to work far better as a team.’

In a pep talk to Austin Morris dealers he was also recorded as warning them: ‘ in the coming 12 months there will be absolutely no place in the Austin Morris division or in your own organization for apologists. This car will move on plan to the head of the United Kingdom sales league.’

‘The ingenious way in which today’s car has been designed to complement rather than compete with the best selling 1100/1300 range.’ – Filmer Paradise

David Benson of the Daily Express interviewed George Turnbull, the Managing Director of British Leyland’s Austin Morris division, who told him: ‘We haven’t abandoned the Issigonis front-wheel-drive concept, but for the new car we gave simplicity, ease of maintenance and value for money, the top priority. The engines are the well proven and reliable A- and B-Series BMC products, the gearbox and rear axle are developments of the tough Triumph Vitesse units and the front suspension is the simple but effective torsion bar layout used so successfully on the Morris Minor and Morris 1000.

‘We think the family man looking for value for money with simple servicing will buy the Marina as will the big fleet owners. I am aiming for 10 per cent of the total market and I think I am going to get it.’

Not going for the premium vote

Morris Marina development story. Marina's interior was conceived as a workman-like place to be - apt, considering the market it was aimed for. The 1300 Super version pictured here, was sparsely equipped, but class competitive, nonetheless.
Marina’s interior was conceived as a workman-like place to be – apt, considering the market it was aimed for. The 1300 Super version pictured here, was sparsely equipped, but class competitive, nonetheless

Interestingly, the two-door Marina was never marketed as a premium-priced car by the company – the youthful buyers angle quietly being dropped by the company. In all fairness to BLMC, it could have sold the car as a sporting coupe model and made some extra money on the car for all the market cared.

But maybe the fact that the fastback version shared its front doors with the four-door version belied its cut-price roots and discouraged BLMC from adopting such a strategy. The driving experience offered by the Marina was as unremarkable as the specification implied – one could pretty much write a road test report of the car without having sat behind the wheel at all.

Initial road test reports were fairly kind to the car, mindful of the car’s technical shortcomings and it is fair to say that the 1800TC version possessed a certain potential, offering similar performance than the MGB and a slightly higher top speed of 100mph.

The practical and stylishly executed estate version followed the saloon and coupe model onto the marketplace in 1973. Alongside the Allegro and Mini Clubman, the Marina estate ensured that BLMC maintained a significant presence in this area of the market.
The practical and stylishly executed estate version followed the saloon and coupe model onto the marketplace in 1973. Alongside the Allegro and Mini Clubman, the Marina estate ensured that BLMC maintained a significant presence in this area of the market

On the road – all was not good

However, because of the Marina’s rushed development programme, the early pre-production 1.8-litre models were handed over to the press with a serious design flaw, which meant that the car suffered from almost terminal understeer. Jeff Daniels, writing in his book, BL: The Truth About The Cars, recorded that he and Doug Nye had shared a car which landed them on the opposite side of the road following any sharp curves taken at speed.

Disturbed by this fact, Daniels, the then Technical Editor at Autocar, compared notes with his opposite number at Motor magazine and found that his colleague had also suffered the same problems when driving the 1800 version. Daniels and Charles Bulmer, the Editor of Motor magazine, travelled up to Longbridge to see Harry Webster in order to lay the facts on the table: the Marina suffered from a dangerous amount of understeer and, unless the car was modified, they would have to publish what would effectively be a warning in their upcoming road tests.

Initially, Webster maintained the problem was not so bad but, having been brow-beaten by Daniels and Bulmer, then stated that he had already prepared modified versions of the Marina with front anti-roll bars which, due to time constraints, he could not install on the press cars shown in Cannes.

Early suspension fixes

Webster promised that, although time was short, no production 1800s would be sold in unmodified form (the 1300 versions were lighter at the front-end, so the problem was nowhere as bad). Armed with this knowledge, Autocar and Motor both published their Marina road tests, which spoke in terms of normal levels of understeer.

But this episode did demonstrate just how much pressure Webster was working under in order to get the Marina into production on time and in budget. However, according to Andy Smith, the truth was rather different.

He said: ‘The addition of a front anti-roll bar would have increased the tendency to understeer. The item that was engineered in a heck of a hurry, in order to bring some degree of sense to the handling, was a revised lower trunnion on the front suspension at the link between lower arm and swivel. This was designed by Dick Hodges at ‘Design Analysis’ ably assisted by my fellow graduate, Andy Weston.’

So what were the modifications, and why?

The purpose of the modification was twofold:

  • To introduce a little negative camber to the front wheels at the normal unladen condition.
  • To lower the position of the lower arm, so as to develop more negative camber as the roadwheel traveled into bump, as it does in cornering conditions.

As Andy summed up: ‘It was successful in its quest, and I think they worked quite well at the time.’

At launch, BLMC was well aware of the car’s shortcomings but, as the Marina was only designed as a stop-gap, this was not too much of a problem – sales were acceptable and the Marina was winning new customers for the company. The problem, of course, was that, while the Marina may have been winning new sales, ADO16 buyers were deserting in droves.

The two-prong Allegro-Marina attack on the small-medium market conceived by Donald Stokes may have seemed like a good idea at the time but customers were not inclined to buy them and the reason for that was quite obvious: the Marina may have had fleet-appeal (though not enough to win many sales from Ford), but certainly did not have masses of private buyer appeal.

Morris Marina development story: Strong sales at the start

At launch, the Cowley works was producing 1000 Marinas a week from one production line, and Austin Morris planned to phase in a second line by the end of 1971, with a weekly production target of 5000 cars per week. One of the conditions of Cowley building the Marina was the acceptance by the workforce of the abolition of piecework and its replacement by Measured Day Work.

British Leyland management believed that piecework was a major cause of industrial disputes and its abolition would produce greater harmony in its plants. Cowley had a dreadful record for disputes – from January to October 1970, there were 347 disputes including some very lengthy stoppages. Measured Day Work was finally accepted by the workforce on 18 January 1971 after George Turnbull threatened to take away ADO28 from the plant, and BLMC looked forward to uninterrupted Marina production.

‘No one will look at the Marina and turn a somersault in sheer excitement but, as a value for money package, it is exactly what we in the trade have been asking Lord Stokes to provide. If we cannot sell this we might as well pack it all in.’ – a Morris dealer

In The Times of 29 April 1971, Filmer Paradise further outlined his hopes for the new car. ‘So that the men who drive fleet cars will tell the men who buy fleet cars that they want the new Morris. My attitude was linked to the philosophy that this car should be seen as a clear value for money package. We were aiming to take sales from the Cortina, Escort, Avenger and, to some extent, the Viva. In fact, we reckoned that half our sales would be what I call ‘conquests.’

Justifying the Marina’s simple package

When questioned as to why BLMC had shunned front-wheel drive for the new car, he commented, ‘But it was our job to give the fleet operators what they wanted, not tell them what they wanted… We looked at what we were good at and known for, strong, quality and reliable engineering, and tried to match it with something we were not so well known for, good looks. We feel we have combined both these qualities in the Marina.’

By 5 May 1971, BLMC management was boasting that it had sold 20,000 Marinas in a week. But the good news was not to last as Cowley’s reputation as perhaps the most militant plant in the British Leyland empire re-asserted itself, even with the demise of piecework. On 12 May 1971, 80 maintenance fitters went on strike, halting Marina production.

They returned to work after five days, only to walk out again after two hours. Although the dispute was resolved, by 4 June 1971, Marina production was again at a standstill after another 147 maintenance men also walked out. Two weeks later, The Times was reporting that orders for the Marina amounted to 60,000, but only 12,000 to 14,000 cars had actually been produced at the strike-ridden Cowley plant.

Waiting lists and delays

On 25 June 1971 The Times reported: ‘British Leyland has told its 1800 Morris distributors and dealers to ease the sales pressure on the new Marina during the next six weeks while it reduces the backlog of orders to more manageable proportions.

‘The company fears that customers faced with delivery quotations of four or five months will go elsewhere for their new car. Mr Filmer Paradise, Sales Director of the group’s Austin Morris division, said last night: “We are not pushing for additional Marina business at this time.” He said the present production was about 2000 a week, and should be increased to 3000 before August.’

In the spring of 1972, a pay claim by workers in the neighbouring body plant resulted in a go-slow and an overtime ban, then a sit-in and then a two-week strike which cost BLMC about £10m in lost production. By now weekly Marina production had been raised to 4000 per week. An estate version of the Marina was announced in October 1972.

Climbing to number two in the charts

During 1973, the Marina managed to become Britain’s second best-selling car after the Ford Cortina. Despite this, the disputes at Cowley continued to disrupt Marina production over issues involving work study engineers, drivers, plant attendants, paint sprayers, a hoist, tyre-fitters and outside disputes at major suppliers such as Rubery Owen and Adwest also stopped car output.

January to March 1974 saw the imposition of the Three-Day Week, but at least BLMC had the consolation that its rivals in the fleet car market were also afflicted.

During 1974, disruption at Cowley seemed to move up a gear as speculation in the press mounted as to the true state of British Leyland’s finances. By July 1974, Marina production was now reported as 4250 per week – still short of the planned 5000 – but respectable enough.

Heading to crisis, programmes cancelled

As BLMC plunged deeper and deeper into crisis in 1974, work was started on the planned ADO77 Marina replacement. Because sales of the Morris Marina had never lived up to the heady expectations of it made during its development, the decision was made that the new car should follow the Cortina upmarket into the 2.0-litre class.

Once BLMC ran out of money and the Government bailed it out, the Morris Marina was put under close scrutiny by management. Allegro and Marina most definitely were not earning their keep and were not making nearly enough money to fund the development of the ADO77 – and, anyway, not only did the new car sit uncomfortably close in terms of size to the soon-to-appear 18-22 Series, or Princess as it would later become known, but it practically mirrored the work that was going on over in Solihull on the Triumph SD2 Dolomite replacement.

Needless to say, the ADO77 was dropped, which meant that the Marina was now on its own, for better or for worse. As it was, sales of the Marina continued to hold up well during the 1970s, generally holding third or fourth in the UK sales charts, but it did not disguise the fact that marketing-led development was no substitute for genuine product development and, as time went on, the Marina’s shortcomings were becoming increasingly evident.

Limited development follows Government bailout

As far as the development story of the Marina went, there was little more to tell: nothing much happened until 1975, when the lightly-revised Series 2 version appeared, sporting a different range of trim designations and a revised dashboard. This was known as the ADO73, and had intended to be larger facelift than it ended up being – but the Marina’s styling was the least of its problems.

Motor magazine’s 1978 road test of the 1.8 HL concluded with this summary: ‘Overall a disappointing car whose impressive performance is completely overshadowed by excessive noise levels. The top-of-the-range Marina… does not live up to Leyland’s “Executive express” tag. Dated suspension gives crude handling characteristics and mediocre roadholding. Moderately comfortable, but driving position poor. A dated car that is way behind its competitors.’

ADO77 was to have been BLMC's answer to the Ford Cortina Mark III, but unfortunately, the money ran out to develop the concept much further than this. This meant the Marina was forced to soldier on long after its sell-by date.
ADO77 was to have been BLMC’s answer to the Ford Cortina Mk3, but unfortunately, the money ran out to develop the concept much further than this. This meant the Marina was forced to soldier on long after its sell-by date

The Marina’s rivals were becoming increasingly sophisticated and, now that the ADO77 was no more, the original car had nothing in its portfolio with which to fight the likes of the Cortina Mk4 and the new Opel-engineered Vauxhall Cavalier.

New developments

Development on the Marina was in the pipeline, but it was very much on a shoestring. In time for the 1978 NEC Motor Show, Austin Morris announced the long-awaited O-Series engine and the first recipient for this OHC power unit was to be the Princess followed by the Morris Marina.

The O-Series engine was initially conceived as an OHC version of the venerable B-Series engine, but soon developed into an entirely new engine, sharing no parts with its long-lived predecessor. The oddly sized 1698cc engine eventually appeared on the market as an engine that was desperately in need of further development, seriously lacking refinement.

That is not to say that it was not an improvement over the original, it was certainly more economical and produced enough power. Some cosmetic improvements were also incorporated into the design, with new bumpers and a black plastic chin-spoiler, but the effect did not disguise the fact that the Marina was now ageing badly.

Not loved by the road testers

As What Car? magazine reported after its road test of the 1.7HL version in 1979 for its 1980 Car of the Year issue, ‘…the car showed evidence that some thought had gone into changes, but frankly not enough.

‘The new O-Series OHC engine that now powers the bigger cars is a good deal better than its predecessor, but alongside other OHC units, is harsh, noisy and generally unrefined, though high gearing means motorway cruising is relatively peaceful. But the biggest complaint against the new car is the retention of its semi-elliptic rear suspension giving the car a terrible ride.’

The O-Series engine was not the last development of the by then terminally-aged Marina: the new decade heralded the arrival of a new name and face: Ital.


The Marina was designed to take the Cortina head on and, to do so, it needed to possess a similar set of qualities. The Cortina possessed a conventional mechanical layout, so the Marina was given one. The Cortina had conventionally handsome styling, so the Marina did as well. In every department the Cortina shone, the Marina was designed to as well.

In the end, the Marina arrived on the marketplace just two and a half years after the project was started, and proves that there were many determined people within the company at the time. The fact that it competed at all was a miracle in itself but, in the end, the Marina didn’t just compete, it sold pretty well.

Total production in the decade was 1,135,343. UK sales were 703,686 and so around 431,657 were exported, some 38 per cent. It certainly sold better than the outgoing Farina saloons, of which 794,613 were built between 1958 and 1971. However, the Marina never came close to its sales expectations, competing in an overcrowded market against the American-owned giants, which could feed UK demand from their continental factories, their strike-bound British plants becoming increasingly superfluous and marginalised.

Compared with the class of ’71, it was no dynamic leader, but it was also not terribly bad either. There were early life concerns regarding handling, but these were soon put right… In reality, the Marina’s only crime was that it lived too long, and wasn’t replaced in 1976/77 by the ADO77 or Triumph SD2.

Morris Marina development story

Keith Adams


  1. I like the GRP picture maybe if it was made from that on the first place many owners would have missed out on body filler moments when the panels rotted off.

  2. Handling concentrated the mind?i owned a few of these dogs and the handling paralysed me with terror on a corner at 40 mph,filmer paradise must have been on smack when he claimed it had to look better than the capri!

  3. Spotted an Ital Estate on the way to work earlier this week.Didn’t look overly cherished but just seemed like an everyday car as though it was nineteen eighty something.How many of these are left on the road?

  4. Deluxe and Super (and a unique 1.8TC model) not quite “a wide range and trim permutations”. Fascinating article though.

  5. An interesting article bringing back childhood memories of those cars. Although the concept for that time was without question reasonable the car itself was of poor quality and made the impression of being developed in a hurry. The Marina was not a suitable replacement for the Oxford, not competitive with the Cortina or even Minx/Hunter and contributed – to be fair to a less extent but nevertheless – to the downfall of the British car industry together with Maxi and Allegro which, in their turn were not suitable replacements for Austin/Morris 1800 or 1100/1300.
    All in all, a typical British bodge up.

  6. i bought a TC in 1978 for fifty quid which had failed mot,i spent £200 getting it throo mot then went on holiday in never missed a beat,i sold it for £350 a year later,now i regret that!! iloved that motor despite its wierd handling,

  7. In criticising the Marina its easy to forget that it was the only BL era Car (Allegro/Maxi/Marina/Princess etc) that achieved anything like its intended sales targets. It was nearly always hovering in the top 3 just behind the Cortina and Escort. For a hastily concieved parts bin car that remained in production for 13 years thats not bad going.

  8. Well, apart from the rust and the fact that it was assembled by a resentful workforce (no doubt sulking between strikes), the Marina was potentially a decent car- but why oh why didn’t they give the bloody thing McPhersons on the front at least? It didn’t have to handle like it was on rails, just needed to be a match for the Escort, Avenger, Cortina, et al, and McPhersons would have cost very little extra to design in.

    It would probably have made a successful rally car to boot- Escorts 1 and 2 were by no means sophisticated, yet both are still used to this day by club rally drivers.

    My family had an early 1.3 Super (with the wavy line wheel embellishers), and although I was very young, and traffic speeds were considerably lower than today, I don’t recall any dodgy moments with it as a result of its famously inept handling.

  9. @10, ive overturned one,and been through a couple of gardens in the others!they were sheds when i had them way back then,they were ok apart from that-at least you could fix them roadside.I absolutely agree they should have had macphersons but im not sure when the patent owned by ford ran out.

  10. From what I’ve gleaned from the web, a patent lasts between 14 and 20 years- so given the first MacPherson strut-equipped vehicle came out in ’49, it should have expired before the Marina came out- so it would have been feasible to have developed the car with that suspension method in mind.

  11. Anyone know why they bothered to re-design the door handle for the Ital? After all, the original design continued for several years on different models, whilst the Ital one wasn’t used on anything else!

  12. Pity the ADO77 didn’t see light of day, that photo above showed some promise in the vague style of Cortina MKIV.

    The ITAL only looked slightly better than the Marina at the back (light clusters). At the front it looked a clumsy facelift and hardly a “new” car. My opinion anyway…

  13. Indeed by the early 70s many cars where using McPherson strut uprights including the Hunter, Avenger and BLs own Toledo/Dolomite. Given BL actually had to invest heavily to put Morris Minor suspension back into volume production for the Marina, you would have thought increasing Dolomite strut volumes would have made far more sense. After all the Marina and Dolomite shared the same gearbox and rear axle.

    • Yes indeed, thats the most bizzare thing about the development of the Marina, they already had a much more competent car in production!

      BMC and Leyland merged so it was obvious that the first thing the new company/mess needed to do was fight the Cortina.
      Most Cortinas were 1300 or 1600cc units in the early-mid 1970’s and Henry made a packet out of them.

      Leyland had the 1300FWD/Toledo/Dolomite, BMC had the most efficient 1300 (1275) engine around.

      Surely it would have cost a whole heap less to give a Toledo curved side glass to improve the internal space, reduce the front and rear styling and drop the A-series into it!
      Then spend the spare cash on a properly developed alloy gearbox.
      Nah, lets spend £40 million giving a Morris Minor a set of shoulderpads and chance the old Truimph gearbox in it.
      I don’t think the general public would have been too concerned about such a Triumph/BMC hybrid rather than a BMC derived thing.
      Lets merge two companies and not merge or rationalize our products.

      If BL has spent the money wasted on the Allegro and Marina alone, never mind the money also blown on the Maxi, if they had spent the cash on new machine tools to produce a range of rationalized Triumph-Morris products and developed the 1100/1300 then I doubt things would have been so bad by 1974.

      Nuffield should have thrown their lot in with Ford in the 1950’s and just let Austin eventually come up with the Mini ans 1100.

    • The Dolomite/Toledo is double wishbone. Doesn’t look like it as the coilover connects to the upper wishbone so looks a little like a strut when you peer through the wheelwell.

  14. …………or could the Marina not have been re-engineered to take the McPherson struts developed for the TR7/SD1 as part of its 1975 facelift. Would have only needed some new inner wing pressings to accommodate them. Volkswagen re-engineered the Beetle in the early 70s to take McPherson struts.

  15. I had one of these loaned to me. A 1.3 HL, with 520/13 crossply tyres on. If it was wet, it wouldn’t accelerate, it would go straight on at every corner, it leaked.. It sort the cold wet embrace of a ditch or tree stump at every junction.

    It was frankly the scariest piece of junk I think I ever drove. Quite what BL were thinking….

    It didn’t even have the roadholding ability of a moggy thou on slicks…

  16. My dad owned one. It was commodious inside (which we needed) and cheap to run (which we needed even more). We paid £295 for it – low mileage but had had a dodgy respray and was in that disgusting purple colour that was popular in ’74. We spent 3 weeks sanding it down and had it resprayed in signal red by a friend and it looked great. I remember that it did 32 mpg – which was a lot better than the 20 mpg that we got from our aging Triumph 2000 – but wasn’t nearly as much fun to drive.

    The handling was utterly dire and it was marginally safe only because it lost grip at such ridiculously low speeds, especially in the wet. You never knew which end was going to let go first and whether you would get terminal understeer or rear axle tramp oversteer. On several occasions I managed to get both simultaneously going round a motorway junction near our home. I also recall one occasion when, between two larger vehicles, it got a “tank slapper” on at 60 mph. That was scary.

    I was, however, reliable (A-series 1275 with Dolomite transmission was not a bad combination). The boot was huge and oddly it did not rust in any significant areas. We sold it 6 years later for £150 which was not too bad really. But I would never, ever, want another.

  17. If only Austin and Morris were separated and became part of different companies (BMC in the case of Austin, Leyland in the case of Morris).

    The reason? Based on reading Morris Minor: the World’s Supreme Small Car, it appears that the mechanicals from the Minor could have potentially formed the basis of simpler more conventional RWD Escort/Cortina-rivals much earlier in the mid/late-60s when the mechanicals were not completely obsolete compared to the real-life Marina that ended up sitting in-between the Escort and Cortina as well as facing an in-house rival in the Allegro.

    What would have possibly aided Morris in developing the Escort/Cortina-rivals is an earlier version of Roy
    Haynes idea of using a common floor pan shared between models using the Morris Minor as the basis, albeit featuring 998-1275 A-Series / 1622(or 1489cc)-2433cc B-Series engines. Which with Austin out of the picture as an in-house rival, would have given Morris much more cash to develop newer models.

    Additionally, if the transformation of the Hillman Avenger into the Talbot Sunbeam is any indication, Morris could have even produced an early/mid-70s stop-gap Supermini (also derived from Minor mechanicals with either RWD or FWD via the FWD Minor prototype) to sit beneath the early/mid-70s replacements for Morris’s Escort/Cortina-rivals.

    Given that the Marina was considered outdated when it was launched, would an earlier-developed mid/late-60s Marina split into serious Escort/Cortina-rivals, powered by similar A/B-Series engines and properly replaced in the early/mid-70s have been better received than the original?

  18. For all the motoring press hated it, the Marina was British Leyland’s biggest success of the seventies and over a million were sold. Yes it didn’t handle well, build quality was slack and it was very outdated by the end of the decade, but it was a simple, cheap and fairly reliable car that did the job.

  19. Super website, fascinating reading. As a schoolboy in the 1970s and a young aspiring man in the 80s i often wondered what was going on at BL. Here is the behind the scenes report….
    About the Marina. My Dad used to subscribe to Motoring Which? They were very thorough when testing cars and always published a list of faults on delivery of the test cars. Every single time the list for BL car was three to four times as long as for competitors. Typically a competitor would have 10 – 15 faults, whereas the Marina and others would have 30 to 40 noted faults. These faults where anything from the trivial to the serious, tyre pressures, oil levels and worse. BL never seemed to improve. Appalling. Dad, being Swedish, stuck to Volvo, PV444, 240, 740 and S80. The only bad Volvo was the 265 with the French V6. It was a expensive piece of rubbish. Dad often looked at these Which test reports and really did think about going native, but the facts spoke for themselves.

  20. Presumably the Marina was launched with the B series engine instead of the E to get it to market quicker. However seeing that the car used the differential & back axle off the Triumph Vitesse, why wasn’t the highly effective Rotoflex suspension used instead? It would have made handling a lot better.

  21. No E series engine No Rotoflex, No McPherson strut. The problem is if they made the car better then would it have been better than the Dolomite? We can’t have that now can we?

  22. @24 you may be onto something there, The Marina was Triumph Man Harry Webster’s Love child and perish the thought if it turned out the better car! . I can sort of see why (but not agree with) the reasoning behind Moggy Thou suspension as The vintage Moggy had quite a cult following as production trickled into the early 1970s, Building a larger version would in theory appeal to all those loyal customers. However as stated before, even suggesting to build a new car for The 1970s to take on the mighty Cortina using 1940s suspension should have been sacked, Including Mr Stokes for giving His Blessing… Another thought was as they realised the huge costs involved in getting that vintage suspension back up to mass production, why wasn’t the idea scrapped?

    Another point is that the Triumph FWD1300/1500 hull was converted to RWD by 1970, not sure of the reasoning behind spending ££M on the 5 year old design (though apparently expensive and complicated to make FWD set up) which was still sold alongside the rear wheel drive soon to be named Dolomite’s for a while, They could have saved money and kept the 1300/1500 powering the front wheels (could even rationalised further and used A or E series lumps …if only the Maxi gearbox worked properly? and The E was probably too tall? ) The Marina could of been developed as a Triumph. They could of even kept the rear cart springs for the Marina version but using the Dolomite type for the upmarket one… Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

  23. Uninspiring to drive, not very exciting to look at and very unfashionable, but also a cheap car to own, fairly reliable and sold well. People knock the Marina, but if it was so bad, how come it was Britain’s second best selling car in 1973 and sold over a million in the seventies. Also I think compared with the Allegro and Princess, it was far more reliable and was a popular cheap used car well into the eighties.

  24. @24 “No E series engine No Rotoflex, No McPherson strut. The problem is if they made the car better then would it have been better than the Dolomite? We can’t have that now can we?”

    You are having a giraffe! The Marina was not even in the same league as a Dolomite despite using most of the Dolly’s transmission. I have extensive experience of driving both and can tell you without any doubt which was the better (just a small clue, it wasn’t made by Morris!)

    With better suspension the Marina might have managed a credible fight against the Escort & Cortina brigade, especially the larger engined versions, but it always lacked a 2.0 litre option.

    BTW, the RWD Triumph was sold for a short wile as a 1500TC before becoming the Dolomite. You could also buy the [RWD] Toledo, which was smaller and more basic inside. The FWD Triumph 1500 became the Dolomite (same body, different transmission), the 1300 FWD was turned into the Toledo. The Toledo was later sold as a “Dolomite 1300/1500” but only had a single carb engine whereas the proper Dolomites were all twin carb in 1500/1850/2000 CC sizes. Note that the 1500 [FWD, TC & Dolomite] are easily identified by twin headlights. The smaller brethren have only single.

    The 1300 bodyshell was shorter, especially in the boot area. The 1500TC only got the basic interior (no rev counter) whilst all Dolomites got a more upmarket interior with rev counter. Dolomites also all had twin headlights, Toledos single ones. Late model ‘Toledo-mites’ retained the shorter body shell and single headlights.

    In contrast, the Marina interior was distinguished by acres of grey plastic and a tiny instrument binnacle, or 3 dials if you got a “GT”. You could adjust Dolomite seats for rake and cushion height and angle. Not something that ever graced a Marina.

    Please don’t get me started on build quality. Triumph were streets ahead in this respect. I known because I’ve had oily hands working on both.

    As for the rear suspension, well the Marina set up induced axle tramp at the slightest opportunity with the soft rear springs being wound up very easily. The Dolly was better controlled with control rods either side of the diff. Marina front suspension was the laughable trunnion and lever arm damper set-up, Dolomite had twin wishbones.

    Sure, the Marina could have been a better car than the Dolly but then if my uncle had boobs he’d be my auntie

  25. I’ve read Jon Pressnell’s “Morris: The Cars and The Company” recently.

    On the Marina, it’s a tale of woe. You might find yourseld banging your head on brick wall when you read the following.

    Pressnell on BMC before the 1968 Leyland takeover:
    “The truth of the matter was that for BMC the game was up. The company was rotten to the core. Stokes himself was tempted to walk away, once he had discovered the degree of decay in what was supposed to be a national flagship. The company was run on the basis of what might be termed ‘Management by Agreeable Luncheon’, whereby alcohol-infused decisions were taken in the senior drawing room by Harriman and Issigonis and then relayed to the minions outside.”

    Of course, by this time Roy Haynes is doing his stuff at Pressed Steel conceiving his platform-sharing thing.

    Haynes: “I said to Harry Barber, the MD of Pressed Steel that we were going to undercut the Cortina in every respect. This was when the MkII’s body-in-white weighed less than 500lb and cost less than £100. Barber said they’d never built a car like that. The best they’d managed was the Hillman Hunter and that was way above £100 and weighed nearly half as much again.”

    Then came the Leyland takeover and the new management going into a panic over the Maxi. One management recruit from Ford, John Bacchus, said “I have never driven such a load of garbage in my life.” An engineer pleaded with George Turnbull to stop production until the gear change could be improved.

    Eric Lord (Stalag Oxford’s Works Manager) “pressed for a reversion to tried and tested mechanicals. I wrote a paper about the Maxi saying ‘For Goodness sake would we please stop working from a clean sheet of paper. Let’s learn from our mistakes on the cars we’re making and learn from these – let’s put a new dress on them. I pleaded that the Morris Minor should have a new dress, but remain basically the same, while we had a chance to catch our breath. It was a reliable car, it didn’t cost a great deal to assemble, and warranty costs were low.’”

    “John Bacchus was one of those who could see the appeal of such a scheme. ‘There was a desperate need for a fleet-market car…Casting around, there it was – the Morris Minor. It had a fairly stable structure, rack-and-pinion steering – and a conventional leaf-spring rear suspension, of course, but so had Cortinas and a lot of other cars. What we needed was a quick and dirty programme. So why not just drop a new bodyshell on the Minor? Bingo! It would only have to live for 4-5 years [that’s four to five years, not 45] anyway…’

    “So it was that under BL the idea of a ‘New Minor’ gathered momentum, with the target – notwithstanding Roy Haynes – being less the Cortina than the Escort and the Viva.”
    Later, an embattled Haynes left BL tired of trying to convince the new regime of the ingenuity of his master-plan: “the tragedy of my life.”

    From a passage entitled “The Prostitution of Engineering”: “In terms of mechanicals it was envisaged as using the 1100cc and, 1300cc A-series engine and the 1500cc E-series Maxi unit with the gearbox being [that] in the 1970 Triumph Toledo. The rest of the running gear would be Morris Minor and here was the first major mis-step” – the adoption of the Minor’s “expensive and inefficient” IFS, “whose failings could have easily have been palliated by the use of telescopic dampers and a conventional upper arm.”

    “With lever arm dampers you have no noise insulation from the road and once you’ve put them on, you’re restricted to one supplier.

    “They were just a nightmare. I can’t think for the life of me why they carried over the lever-arm damper. We should have done better. We were carrying over too much Morris Minor stuff.”

    The reason the E-series was junked: “the E-series was axed from the programme…because the Cofton Hackett facility was would not be able to produce the engine in sufficient numbers.”

    Pressnell says this is hard to believe given the Maxi’s poor sales performance. Another reason for not adopting the E is the unit not having been homologated to meet US emissions regs. (Although we know that the actual reason the E wasn’t adopted because Longbridge engineer Joe Greatorex got all territorial and refused to countenance an E series engined Marina.)

    And so the “heavy and old-fashioned” B-series was adopted.

    Problem: “the transmission tunnel was laid out for the ’58.5mm’ Triumph gearbox, and the B-series transmission would not fit. The Triumph unit thus had to remain. This was in the full knowledge that this rehash of a gearbox that had started life in the 1953 Standard Eight was simply not strong enough to withstand the torque of the B-series engine. The second consequence of installing the B-series was that the antiquated Minor suspension couldn’t cope.”

    [Except in an earlier chapter Pressnell recounts the story of the Morris Major Elite in Australia: a long wheelbase Minor with 1622cc B-series engine described by one BMC Australia old-hand as’ the best thing we ever made ‘]

    Pressnell describes BL’s engineering resources as “shockingly deficient” in comparison to Ford and its continental competitors and that what resources the company did have were spread too thin when it decided to split the mid-size market by developing the Marina and Allegro, but that “across the corporation there were men of talent and ability.”

    “This sort of fiasco should not have happened. Part of the reason was that BMC engineers wedded to front-wheel-drive were asked to create the cut-price Marina against their will.”

    Ron Nicholls lamented that there was a lack of communication between the new-recruits from Ford and the old-hands. The Marina, “sort of lost its way, and the engineering was prostituted to keep the costs down. It ended up totally underbraked; the wheel bearings weren’t up to the job. The whole thing was totally inadequate…Had it been just a 1300 it would have worked. Not that brilliantly, but it would have worked.”

    On component-sharing within the BL empire: “Had the new car been based on Toledo underpinnings…then it would have had modern strut front suspension, a coil-sprung rear axle –and a design with a development future. But with everyone fighting their own corner that was never going to happen.”

    “Ray Bates recalls a commonalisation committee of senior engineers from each company, and of which he was secretary. ‘’We never achieved anything. They always wanted to support their own design areas. If we commonalised a few plain washers that’s probably all we did.’”

    Success: the body-in-white weighed less than 500lb and cost less than £100 to make.

    Failure: “the body leaked like a sieve, there was trouble with half shafts breaking, and the gearbox made at Longbridge was a nightmare…

    “After analysing warranty costs on the Marina gearbox by engine type [John Bacchus] discovered a fault incidence on the 1.8 TC of 108% – meaning that on average every car had at least one fault on its gearbox. On the 1.3 the figure was 33% , which was hardly more reassuring

    “. ..quality control was sufficiently lax that one London dealer received a car with a disc brake on one side and a drum brake on the other.”

    The American view: “…it was a real piece of junk.”

    The Australian view: shoehorning the E6 into the car and the engineering it required took resources away from making the P76 the car it should have been. “It was the worst car we ever made.”

    The Aussie E6 Marina: “…the structural strength of the Marina body was bloody dreadful…the body required extensive strengthening…scuttle shake [was so bad] that we actually had to shave the front tyres after assembly to make them dead round.”

    In 1972 BL decided that maybe they needed another crack at it. Getting rid of the lever arm damper, adopting the Toledo rear end – “in other words what the car should have been in the first place.”

    They even played around with Hydragas units – presumably only on the rear. (“’Having done the Marina, the next thing was to put it right with ADO77,” observes Ray Bates.’”) Then it was decided that a new car was needed with the new suspension, the 66mm transmission, and the O-series. This became the ADO77, in development at the same time as SD2. And then it was decided to merge the LT77 and SD2.

    Just so frustratingly dumb. Just so dumb.

    A couple of things. I think when folk say the Marina was damned by using “40s suspension” is misguided. There’s not much new under the sun and you don’t hear people say, “I have no idea why BMW persists with 1920s suspension on its 3-series” because that’s when the MacPherson strut was first posited by a Fiat engineer.

    And the inference that the Minor-type front suspension couldn’t live somehow with the weight of the hefty B-series engine doesn’t stack up either as the Riley 1.5/Wolseley 1500/Austin Lancer/Morris Major were all Minor based and all equipped with the B-series. Nobody complained of excessive understeer – and you will remember the opinion of the former BMC Australia engineer of the Morris Major Elite.

    Why they got the Marina so cataclysmically wrong eludes me.

    • Have read a bit about Joe Greatorex and his reputed detrimental role* at BMC/BL as a territorial jobsworth in a number of respects that would come back to haunt the company, yet there is very little information about the guy with some information having him down as a Longbridge engineer while 1959 Who’s Who in the Motor Industry: Companies in the Graces Guide as him as Chief Buyer under J. A. Greatorex,

      Also heard a claim of people using Greatorex name as code for Alec Issigonis because of the similar role he played in flat out dismissing similar feasible yet cost-effective ideas.

      * – Whether it was saying no to plans to rationalise on the 1275cc A-Series block and convert it to OHC in the late-60s (and again in the mid/late-70s), followed by a similar investigation on the B-Series or canning the idea of using the E-Series in the Marina.

  26. @28 That is a fantastic insight to how the Marina turned out the way it did, But when I mention 1940s suspension I should just state “Lever Arm”. Also there is a lot of talk about The Marina was the only product to make money during the Dark Years, However £40 m to get it in the show room ? How many years before it paid back its investment… and with that costly and unique suspension very little profit if any, probably why it sailed on almost neglected. I don’t have a problem with the harmless for its time Marina, but I just cannot fathom the reasoning behind its underpinnings, It just appears to be another item that was just meshed together and “It will have to do”.

  27. @ 29 What seems so bizarre is that a year after the car’s launch they were developing the car as it should have been. They did, of course, get rid of the lever arm damper in 1982 just two years before the Ital went out of production. Only ten years too late, but you can’t have everything.

    In May 1973 BL produced three cars all of which had a 96″ wheelbase, the Toledo/Dolomite, Marina, and the FWD Allegro.
    They truly were off their heads, and you have to wonder if with the Toledo/Dolomite in the range if (as has already been mentioned) the Marina was actually needed, but then what about all those folk who wanted an estate, van, pick-up, or a weird coupe?

    But blowing £40 on a stop-gap: seems crazy now, doesn’t it?

  28. @30 didn’t know they replaced the Lever Arm Suspension on the 1982 Ital, Have just looked it up on Wikipedia that state “Finally, in September 1982, a revised Ital range was introduced. The L and 2.0 litre models were dropped and the HL and HLS were replaced by the SL and SLX models. Front suspension was changed to telescopic front dampers across the range and parabolic rear springs ” But did it make any significant difference? Did it handle as well as The Green Viva’s as stated above…

    Also the “same wheel base” shared with the existing Toledo/Dolomite, Aggro and Marina. what a striking observation !, Coincidence perhaps or strange oversight by Mr Webster? 3 different chariots all absorbing £M’s, . And to think BMC got a lot of stick for the 1800/Maxi.

    Looking at the overall picture at the time of what needed to be replaced/launched/updated soon, The1100, Marina, Triumph 1300. perhaps one vehicle to replace the lot ? . Somehow the 4 door saloon version of The Austin 1100 “Victoria” springs to mind I think it came after the Marina launch but.. It was something that could of worked ! They just needed to make it cheaper and of course a Hatch for the 1100 etc and visibly different, not sharing any outer panels or doors, bit like what VW have done, The Passat and Skoda Octavia are on the Golf Platform, infact I think it holds the World Record of number of cars from one platform ) but this is of course Badge engineering so hated by Mr Stokes.

    Of course this is just my daft and flawed ideas of trying to save money from a now defunked company which made some decisions over 40 years ago !.

    One final thought as stated in the text “a starting price of £580, a loss would be made on every car sold. Product planners looked at this scenario and decided that the best plan of action was to raise the starting price of the ADO28 to £620 and make a modest profit on each car”.

    Looking through The A-Z of Cars 1970s and 1980s it lists the Total sales for The Marina /Ital.

    Marina 1.3/1.8 1971-78 1.3 515,888

    1.8 293,724

    1.8 TC/GT/HL/Special 80,987

    Marina 2 1.3/1,7 59,107

    Diesel 3,870

    Total Marina 953.576

    Ital 126,000

    Total inc Marina 1079.576.

    Not sure how accurate The A-Z figures are but you don’t need to be an accountant here, Even if it sold 2Million and it cost only 5Million to Develop, It would never pay back that Investment let alone the alleged £40M investment…This probably lost more money than The Maxi/1800 and 3 Litre put together. Any bets that The Allegro (£3M to Develop?) made more money or should that be less of a loss?

  29. Does anyone know what the performance specifications (hp, etc) were for the Marina 1800 ST variants by Leyland Special Tuning?

    Though have read the Special Tuning versions of the Marina 1.8 and Princess 1.8 featured superior 0-60 acceleration compared with existing Marina / Princess 1.8 models by as much as 3.5 + seconds, am unable to find out what hp they were putting out though assuming the figures are around 104-120 hp.

  30. Two instances showing why the Marina sold so well…

    1) Mate of mine’s Dad bought a Marina and it soon developed a rear axle fault. Dealer said there was a long wait for spare parts so he traded it in for another new Marina even though he had only had the first one for a matter of weeks.
    2) Sales rep for Llanelli Radiators (BL subsidiary) once told me that at one stage she was being asked to change her company Marina every three weeks.

  31. Nice article that brings back a lot of very happy childhood memories. My Dad had a ’74 1.3 Mk1 saloon in a burgundy colour followed by a ’78 1.8 Mk2 estate in Sandglow. The estate seemed so big back then used to love travelling in the boot (despite the ridged rubber covered floor) when cousins or friends came along. Health and Safety? Pah!The estate used to tow our 5 berth Sprite Musketeer caravan and I vividly remember Dad being pleased that it was averaging 24 mpg towing.
    My Nanny had at least 3 Marinas and 1 Ital. She used to buy a brand new one every 2 years and clearly had a soft spot for them. After the Ital she switched allegiance to Renaults!Happy memories of childhood trips in Marinas.

  32. Nice article that brings back a lot of very happy childhood memories. My Dad had a ’74 1.3 Mk1 saloon in a burgundy colour followed by a ’78 1.8 Mk2 estate in Sandglow. The estate seemed so big back then used to love travelling in the boot (despite the ridged rubber covered floor) when cousins or friends came along. Health and Safety? Pah!The estate used to tow our 5 berth Sprite Musketeer caravan and I vividly remember Dad being pleased that it was averaging 24 mpg towing.
    My Nanny had at least 3 Marinas and 1 Ital. She used to buy a brand new one every 2 years and clearly had a soft spot for them. After the Ital she switched allegiance to Renaults!

  33. My Dad got a bluey green 1.8 Super 4 door in 1972, replaced a 1967 Cambridge. Dad loved the large boot and the little “luxury’s like reclining seats and electric washers! He loaded us a family of 5 plus luggage on family holidays mostly to Inverness and beyond (ah the old A9) complete with roof rack. Not surprisingly a rear spring cracked in Edinburgh, and his AA Recovery membership was used. I well recall sticking to the patterned vinyl seats (blue) which were not just very hot or cold, but sticky and left a pattern on bare short trousered legs! I had some driving lessons in it and yes it was lively…. Years later he got a Marina 2 but was so disappointed by the problems with the car and the trashy local dealer, he did the unthinkable and bought a Datsun never to buy British again

  34. The sad thing is the Ital of 1980 addressed most of the problems of the Marina that should have been addressed in the mid seventies: a new 1.3 engine that was far more economical and powerful and refined than the A series, better handling, and better suspension. While the Marina did the job and wasn’t too unreliable, it was a poor car to drive and had poor engines.

  35. Back in 1979 I worked as a trainee Reprographic technician (posh title for fixing photo-copiers) and the small company had two Marinas for our use. Both 1973 models, one was a 1.3 saloon the other a 1.3 coupe.
    One day I was tasked with having to drive the saloon from Southampton to Wembley, London to pick up some stock. The trip there along the M3 was ok but once I got into London and near to Wembley the traffic started to build up (then as now) and that’s when things started to get slightly interesting. Crawling along in start/stop traffic I could feel the clutch getting quite spongy and the gear change increasingly difficult. Sure enough, on some busy, un-remembered Wembley high street the clutch slave cylinder let go. The car shot forward as the clutch engaged and I just about managed to brake, missing the car in front by minimal distance. The car had stalled and I was now stranded amongst the traffic with no way of selecting gear. With cars beeping their horns behind me and the vehicles in front now moving off, I had to think quick to try and get off the road and parked somewhere so I engaged 1st, turned the key and lurching forward the engine started. I managed to creep along like this and luckily found a space to pull over into. I then had to find a phone box, call the supplier I was going to and he kindly came out and towed me, via the North Circular to a back street garage he knew to get the thing fixed.
    Before this happened I quite liked the look of the Marina, especially the 1.8 TC but this episode did sour my outlook on them and I stayed well away from ever owning one myself.

    • Had that recently with a Kia Rio courtesy car. I ended up with 3rd gear only because I couldn’t get anything else but managed to nurse it home. Either one of the seals or the hydraulic pipe had split and the “magic smoke” slowly leaked out over about 3 miles.
      That said the Kia 1.4 16v engine is very nice but there’s something odd. If you don’t use 5th at non motorway speeds you get *much* better mpg? Like 20-30 miles per tank better… Works out at 3mpg improvement using the middle three ratios (1st would be better off fitted into a landrover low range box and fifth is unnecessary/harmful to mpg at lower speeds).

  36. The Marina was intended to compete against conservatively engineered cars like the Cortina and Hillman Hunter, and featured none of the advanced technology you’d find on an Austin Maxi. It did its job, running the Cortina close for best selling new car in 1973 and outselling the Hillman Hunter, but was a complete bore of a car, and by the late seventies, the market was moving on, as there were vastly better cars around. Mind you, come the eighties and you’d see plenty K and L reg Marinas doing the rounds as cheap family cars as the reliability wasn’t too bad and they were very easy to maintain.

  37. While for it’s faults the Marina sold reasonably well on the home market, a lot of the projected export sales were taken by Japanese models with similar basic engineering but better build quality.

    The range managed to overlap with both the Hillman Avenger & Hunter, I tend to think the Marina more of an Avenger competitor as they were closer in style & lifespan.

  38. The Marina wasn’t attractive on many continental European markets as, like the Cortina, buyers weren’t keen on the unsophisticated rwd set up, and French buyers would shudder at the crude suspension and sloppy handling. I think the Marina was closest to the Hillman Hunter, a plain Jane saloon with simple mechanicals that later ended up as a budget car assembled in Ireland, although in 1725 form, the Hunter was a better car to drive.

  39. While the estate is pictured there is no mention of the van and pickup derivatives – were they part of the original plan and how did their market shares stack up?

  40. BL where wrong footed by Ford who launched the larger MK3 Cortina – Yet they had hired Roy Haynes from Ford who led on Marina styling and packaging! Surely he must have known where Ford were going with the Cortina? Given that he left BL in a hurry around the time the Marina launched, you do wonder if he was a Ford plant!

  41. Understeer on the 1800 TC… and how! Back in about 1976 I had a Mark 2 Escort Popular as a company car – basic, as I was a new employee but a 1.3 as the job often involved towing boats. Actually that was a brilliant combination as the light 2-door shell combined with a virtually stripped out interior and the 1.3 gave quite a lively car.
    A good friend had an 1800TC Marina Coupe as his company car (in between spells in the dealers replacing yet another back axle) and our route home from the sailing club was a typical Essex-coast road of short straights and 90° bends around the saltings.
    We left the club at the same time one day. Escort gets away first (company cars always revved higher than family-owned ones) with Marine on its bumper. Escort dives round the first 90°, friend has disapeared from rear view mirror. By the end of the next straight the Marina is almost back, but is last seen in the mirror in a state of plough understeer.
    End of next straight… yes you’ve guessed it.
    And so it went on until we hit the dual carriageway, when having an MGB engine in a Morris Marina actually made some kind of sense.
    Friend admitted to being totally unable to keep up and quite concerned by the Marina’s almost dangerous handling. He insisted that his next company car was a Cortina – and yes, we tried it and that could keep up!

  42. You want a road that would be interesting in a 1.8 Marina and has barely changed since the seventies, the A595/A5092 from Silecroft to Greenodd. This is a mixture of sharp bends, narrow lanes, gradients and oncoming vehicles in the middle of the road that is a test even for modern cars and would be scary in a Marina TC.

    • I can guess Michael is talking about the delightful road from Burnham to South Woodham, Thorpe Le Soken to Dovercourt or Bradwell to Maldon?

  43. On Sunday July 7th 2024 loads of cars from the Marina and Ital owners club congregated at Holt station for the North Norfolk Railways Vintage transport day.
    It was great to see so many cars there. Just a pity about the weather, but the artisan ice cream from the 1963 VW ice cream van was fantastic!

  44. @ Ian Nicholls, you need to go to Princes St Gardens in Edinburgh where there’s a 1969 BMC J4 being used as an ice cream van. This would look more the part at any BMC/ Leyland gathering.
    While I never cared for the Marina, always liked the Ital in 1.3 form as it was actually a good car for its size and good, honest transport. Always loved that ribbed velour that was used on seats on the HLS and SLX versions.

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