Ah, the dear old Morris Marina, yet another BL clunker that strikes a nostalgic chord in my heart. Yes folks, it’s birthday time again as British Leyland’s answer to the Cortina MkIII hits the ripe old age of 45 this week.
Launched on 27 April 1971, the range of two- and four-door saloons hit the marketplace – in record time from drawing board to showroom. Despite its faults (and, boy, were there plenty of them too) it rarely dipped out of the UK sales Top 10 throughout its nine-year lifecycle, after which it was replaced with the Ital. Early models suffered from truly shocking roadholding, especially 1.8-litre versions, but subsequent models were nipped, tucked and tweaked to bring the laughable roll and oversteer to a more manageable level.
Despite the parlous state of affairs within BL and the state bailout of 1975, the Marina 2 became a fairly decent machine. This was thanks to the combination of standard anti-roll bars on all but van and estate models, some nice colour schemes and a new dashboard and fascia. Showroom appeal from these revised models kept the car alive and it faired reasonably well in the fleet market. Its utterly conventional engineering made servicing and repairs laughably simple. The only major re-engineering project came in the form of a new 1700cc O-series engine to replace the Stone Age 1798cc B-Series unit.
The revised Marina 2 came in 1975 – much better attention to engineering, equipment
and showroom appeal. These two are the Marina Specials offered in 1.3 or 1.8 saloon forms
As we all know, the Marina had more Achilles’ Heels than the recent London marathon. These mainly revolved around the archaic front suspension, weak gearboxes and the usual 1970’s gremlin – the Sheffield tin worm. However, in well kept running order there was very little to cause them to break down – even the newer O-Series power unit had a complexity even more simple than a knife and fork. Fast forward to the present day and we get the feeling that time does indeed heal old wounds – that musical whine from second gear tickles my nostalgia bone more than any other BL car of the same era.
‘I literally sold hundreds of Marinas from 1974 through to 1981 and, even though it’s fair to say the UK competition was little better than Morris in terms of outright quality, they, you and I weren’t paying for the cock ups of Ford, Rootes or Vauxhall via our Income Tax unlike British Leyland. In my opinion, this is why they rightly or wrongly took so much stick as a company,’ Bill Douglas (a now-retired former Sales Manager at a BL dealership)
Was the Marina as bad as the reputation it quickly gained? Well, no, not really. The competition such as the Alpine/Solara and Cortina et al suffered their own fair share of rust, strikes and strife. However, I mentioned this to a retired Volkswagen Dealer Principal I know very well. He sold BL throughout the 1970s and he quickly retorted that it was true – other brands were no better really, but the British public wasn’t paying through their taxes for Ford or Chrysler’s mistakes.
Anyway, that was all a very long time ago, so raise your glasses aloft to the birthday girl… our old friend, Marina!
- 1971 Production commences in the newly-refitted Cowley facility in Oxford
- 1972 Five-door estate launched
- 1975 Marina 2 launched with major improvements to the brakes, steering, suspension and fascia
- 1978 Revised Marina 2 with improved quality, aggressive pricing and a new 1.7-litre OHC engine option
- 1980 Deleted and replaced with the Marina-based Morris Ital – two-door body no longer offered
The Marina’s last major revamp came in 1978. The 1.7-litre engine was introduced along with a
revised fascia which featured illuminated switchgear and controls. Build quality and refinement
were greatly improved as was the driving position thanks to revised seat cushions
and repositioning of the pedals