The cars : Leyland Marina development story

A question that is often asked by Marina enthusiasts is why-oh-why did the Australian version of the car use the Maxi E-Series engine, instead of the B-Series, as used in the UK.

We posed this question to ex-Leyland Australia Operations Manager, Merv Sheather, and former Leyland Australia Parts Manager, Phil West. The answers were enlightening…

Antipodean curiosity

This Marina 1750 is actually a South African-spec model, but as this was built from Australian tooling, it was in effect, the same car...
This Marina 1750 is actually a South African-spec model, but as this was built from Australian tooling, it was in effect, the same car…

The E-Series engine was conceived in 1965, to power BMC’s upcoming sub-1800 hatchback, the ADO14. Rather ambitiously, as well as being a technically advanced engine, sporting an overhead camshaft and siamesed bores (to the later consternation of Harry Webster), a new factory was built at Cofton Hackett to build it. History has already related that the ADO14 – Maxi – failed, as did the Allegro, and E-Series production never reached anticipated levels.

However, the E-Series had the advantage of being compact and reasonably powerful and, given a more favourable set of conditions, it could have gone on to become the company’s mid-size engine of choice. Sadly, it was not to be. However, in Australia the E-Series was not only adopted in transverse front-wheel-drive form, but also in longitudinal rear-wheel-drive form! It was used in the short-lived Leyland Marina, as well as (in six-cylinder form) in the P76 saloon.

Why, then, did the Australians use the E-Series for the Marina instead of the B-Series? After all, using the existing engine would have meant little local development work for the Australians. According the Merve Sheather, the main reason was economic: ‘The reason we adopted the E-Series engine was really one of cost. We required a new transfer line as the ‘A’ and ‘B’ series machinery in the Unit Factory [where all the engines were assembled, hot run, and then sent to CAB 1 for assembly into the vehicles] was very worn and the MD and Board could not justify a costly refit. Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ series were not expected to meet Australian Design Rules, as the Australia Federal and State Governments were closely tailoring our regs to USA (California) regulations, a little less but the smog/sunlight factors were fairly common to both countries, as concerned emissions. There were no comparisons with car volumes on road, just tail pipe outputs.

‘We had been very successful with exporting Mokes with 1275cc (A-Series engines) to California, USA – they were twin packed for export, one a’top the other), with polystyrene under the wheels where they touched the top of the guards of the Moke underneath. This was very cost effective for export, and won an export award. Canopies were made of vinyl in ‘Op-pop verve’ black and white like a tiger’s strips, and ‘Orange Bali’ which looked a bit like a fruit salad in colour, very effective.”

‘This was really our experience with making the 1275 cc A-Series comply with emissions, and it was looking very expensive with exhaust injection air pumps. There was a real need to redesign the cylinder head into a cross-flow alloy, something like the Abingdon competition 1275 cc head. With less cash being available with the coming P76 production, the A-Series engine used in anything other than Mini/Moke Minivan was becoming real history.’ So effectively, rather than having to stomach the cost of putting the B-Series through the same procedure, the Australians took the ingenious step of using the newer engine…

According to Phil West, the E-Series Marina was going to be renamed: ‘The local versions were to be called Cavalier and Cavana, the Leyland Australia paper parts catalogue actually had those names on the page headers in various sections of the catalogue as well as reference to the Marina name. As the Cavalier name was longer than Marina, the additional badge mounting hole was filled by a full stop rather than have the hole filled in at the factory when the Marina badge was fitted.’

The E-Series installation was not unsuccessful – it was certainly smoother than the existing B-Series and, although BL were working hard on the cleaner O-Series engine, this would not see the light of day until 1978. The Leyland Marina did not have long to prove itself in Australia as production ceased with the closure of local assembly there in 1975. It did move to South Africa, where it remained in production…

Phil added: ‘Regarding the local use of the E-Series engines, the first model Marina had a sump guard fitted under the front lower apron panel to offer protection to the leading edge of the alloy sump. After the model was facelifted in 1974 and the E6 engine became an option (which was marketed as the Leyland Marina Red Six, sounds a bit corny I know), the oil filter was moved from the engine sump to the left hand side of the block which then allowed for a re-shaping of the sump to improve clearance and the subsequent dropping of the sump guard fitment.

‘We used to have oil pressure problems with the first series, the sump-mounted oil filter tended to blow the rubber sealing ring due to excessive oil pressure. A modification kit was made available which had a revised dual sealing ring oil filter, a modified adaptor plate and revised specification relief valve. The revised oil filter was to only be fitted to those vehicles with the mod-kit, this new filter being painted a bright yellow instead of the standard grey or black.’

According to Phil, the six-cylinder Marina was an interesting drive. ‘The Marina Six actually went like the clappers in a straight line, in manual form they were fitted with an Australian Borg Warner three-speed floor shift. With so much torque in a light body you didn’t need four-speeds. We had some issues with a couple of the six-cylinder models under warranty where I worked. One vehicle continually broke the mounting plate or nose cone off the Lucas Australia starter motor, it appeared there may have been an alignment or machining problem on one particular vehicle. From memory a modified housing was finally produced which fixed the problem.

‘I actually owned a brand new 1750cc manual Super Deluxe Coupe, this was a good reliable car, finally sold it after 11 years or so as we had a small family and the 2-door body was a struggle with kids etc. At the time of purchase (1972), I really wanted to get the TC model which was a 1750 coupe with twin HS6 SU carbs, higher compression, classy (for the day) alloy wheels, genuine wood rim alloy spoked steering wheel, chrome framed opening rear ¼ windows, tacho, rear body garnish etc. but at the time the insurance premiums were a killer.

‘A few months afterwards the insurance premium was reduced to the same as lesser models in the range, so I damn well missed out on the TC. Where I worked we had a TC automatic demo vehicle, so I managed to give it a bit of a hammering around some of the back streets while running a delivery. Just grab the keys off one of the sales guys and tell them I had to go somewhere urgently on a delivery and come back after a while with the tyres scrubbed a bit more…’

Keith Adams


  1. I had an E- Series powered Marina for a short while. I can certainly agree that it used to go like hell!!

  2. My first car was a 1973 1750 E Series TC Coupe. The first thing that needed to be done was get rid of that diabolical lever arm suspension at the front. Apart from being unreliable (it had a reputation for collapsing at about 50k), it had a tendency to “rock” the car dangerously at high speed. Thankfully Pedder’s had a front telescopic conversion kit with thick anti-sway bars front and rear and modified rear shock mounts so the rear shocks sat less horizontally. It was like a different car, the handling was so improved. Port the head, extractors and an MG exhaust, and it went like it should have. Pity the strange sized doors on the coupe looked odd…they should have been a few inches longer…

  3. I had an Australian 1750 Marina saloon and it was very good. Mine appeared to have a standard aftermarket kit of front telescopic shocks and suspension adjustment which handled much better.

    As for the 6 cylinder Marina – rumour had it that the 6 cylinder had so much power for the body that the Borg Warner 4 speed gearbox was blanked off from first gear – so it became a 3 speed! Why not just change the diff ratio? I guess Leyland may have been committed to production of the standard diff, and with just 3 speeds, it was more than adequate to take off in “second gear”.

      • No gear was ‘blanked off’ on the B-W 3-speed – it effectively had a second gear in-between 2nd and 3rd on a 4-speed gearbox. The same specific 3-speed Borg-Warner gearbox was also used in the Australian six-cylinder Leyland P76 and rival Ford 3.3-litre Cortinas (2.92:1 diff) and 4.1-litre Cortinas (2.76:1), as well as Falcons in the 1970s.

        As far as acceleration was concerned, the Marina had the same stump-pulling ratio as that of a 2.0-litre Cortina, at 3.7 to 1. Therefore it comfortably matched its rival 3.3-litre Cortina on acceleration, but was revving higher than either of the Ford Cortina sixes on Australian freeways and long-distance travel across the country.

  4. Peering through horn rimmed bi-foculs via clouds of pipe smoke and beard hair I guess the BL product planners that where blowing millions converting the pigs ear B series into er the pigs O series couldn’t see what their colonial out-post was achieving with an existing range of engines. You couldn’t make it up!.

    • I’m sure the Ausies could have made the E series a crossflow mitigating those porting issues and the existing suspension upgrade kits suggest it wouldn’t have taken that much to make the Marina a decent car.

  5. At least the Aussies had the luxury of a proper RHD wipers on their versions.
    I met a Kiwi who had owned a 1750 E-series Marina saloon, he said it was a good enough car for the time – though he really liked the Rover P6 he replaced it with, it’s collapsing rear suspension notwithstanding…

  6. A mate and I used to donup BMC cars in the late 70’s as they ere cheap to buy. We did a Marina red six and it was suprising. If you uprated the front suspension which wore badly in standard form and un banked first gear it went handled and drove well none of its contemporaries could touch it.

  7. I am currently doing up an E series 6 cylinder Marina. It has the suspension upgrade, except – the shockers and bottom mount have been removed. I would really love a photo of the bottom mount so I can make one up…

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