The car known in the UK as the Morris Marina was sold as the Austin Marina in a number of overseas markets, including the US, Canada and – for a short time – South Africa.
Here’s some of what we know about the Austin Marina, thanks to the continuing investigations of celebrated BL historian, Chris Cowin.
Austin Marina in Canada
The Morris Marina was marketed in North America as the Austin Marina, commencing in 1972 (spring Canada/autumn USA). Initially, it looked similar to the European-spec model, but with the arrival of heavier, impact-absorbing bumpers in 1974, the North American models adopted an altogether more clumsy look. The model was withdrawn from the US market after 1975, so Canada became the only country on the other side of the Atlantic to receive the Marina.
Why was it called Austin and not Morris? In the USA, Morris had faded away in the 1960s and Austin was better known. In Canada historically Austin had been even better known and, while the Mini remained available (as an Austin), the Marina continued to play a role in the 1970s as a ‘bread and butter’ car for dealerships and British Leyland. This helped balance the seasonality of sports car sales which formed the bulk of the business. One gets the impression most sales were of the rather better trimmed sedan.
Only Canada received the Austin Marina Coupé with such a basic price leader specification, as in the USA during 1972-75 the Coupé was marketed and badged as the GT, although still single carburettor and mechanically identical to the 1.8 Sedan. In 1972, Canadians were initially offered not two but three Marina models (1.8 Deluxe Coupé, 1.8 GT Coupé, 1.8 Super Deluxe Sedan) but during the Mk II phase of 1975-78, the offer had been reduced to a 1.8 Coupé and 1.8 Sedan.
Upgrading to Marina MkII specification
When Canada received the Austin Marina MkII, it incorporated changes seen on the Marina 2 in the UK. Aside from the Nader-spec bumpers, it also received the ‘curvy’ dashboard that divided opinions so much. This version was introduced in late 1975. Unlike the original (1972-75) North American Austin Marina (below), the Austin Marina MkII (top, and orange Coupé below) was only available in Canada, and is easily identified by uprated interior and ‘Austin’ badge inset into the grille. As seen here, Canadians during 1975-78 were offered a quite basic Coupé (below) which would have been a price leader for the model, and the better-trimmed Sedan model.
They were both mechanically identical, powered by the 1.8-litre B-Series engine and (as had always been the case in Canada) fitted with cold climate equipment. The vinyl roof pictured on some cars was not fitted to all. In the model’s brochure, luxuries denied buyers of the Coupé model included the full wheelcovers of the sedan and also its AM/FM radio. Automatic transmission was an option on both models.
Sales of the Marina in Canada were modest, at less than 4000 annually in the MkII period, so not many of the Austin Marina MkII cars would have been built. Some probably remained in the UK, and were sold to employees of British Leyland due to one problem or another. Certainly, it was not unknown in the 1970s and ’80s to spot North American specification Marinas near Cowley and elsewhere in the UK. Marina estate models were never marketed in North America, nor were the commercial van and pick-up versions.
The Austin Marina was withdrawn from Canada in 1978 partly because the 1.8-litre B-Series engine was replaced in production by the 1.7-litre O-Series unit and that had not been ‘Federalised’ (1300 models were never offered in North America). All Marinas for North America were manufactured in full at Cowley.