Blog : British Leyland – Chronicle of a car crash

Keith Adams

Leyland Marina, South African style. Marque confusion?
Leyland Marina, South African style. Marque confusion?

I’ve just returned from a wonderful week offline. After what has been a crazy eight months of 2012, travelling all over the world (and I am certainly not complaining!) it was good to head up to a remote loch in Scotland, climb into a ill-equipped log-cabin, and enjoy life without wi-fi, 3G or mobile signal for seven days…

Before I left, I made sure I had plenty of reading material. But this time, I simply bought and downloaded some books and installed them onto my Kindle and iPad the night before I left, having decided I needed to join the 21st century. I won’t bore you with the selection of titles I took with me (you’d never believe me), other than one book that I seriously recommend you all buy if you get the chance. ‘British Leyland: Chronicle of a Car Crash‘ is a brilliant book that concentrates on the period in time when our nationally owned car producer ‘enjoyed’ almost consistent decline.

From its creation in 1968 ’til its re-naming to ‘BL Ltd’ in 1978, our ‘Leyland’ was a matter of national concern. We’ve been through the heartbreaking decline of an industry plenty of times on this site – it’s detailed in The Whole Story, as well as contained in its entirety in our archive section, but what makes this book so good is that it’s chronologically arranged, and weaves the multiple facets of our story into a single, and very readable, whole.

As well as the product story, ‘Car Crash’ goes into great detail about the industrial strife, political intrigue and managerial upheavals that make this whole soap opera so complex – and so damned impossible to make any one person, event or car totally culpable.

One nice touch is that as well as the UK story, there’s a pair of detailed chapters devoted to the parallel tales of Australia and the USA, detailing the development and ultimate destruction of the marque in those territories.

The book really is capable of standing alongside Leyland Papers or The Truth About The Cars and fills an all-important gap in the BL-aficionado’s bookshelf. If there’s one criticism you’d level at it – and there is just one – and that there’s no first-hand recollection from any of the players who were there. It’s all from contemporary accounts. But as that leaves the author, Chris Cowin, to plough on with the story as it happened – no additional colour required.

Download the eBook or buy it in paperback form from Amazon.

Keith Adams


  1. It might be a South African production Marina, but the grille centre with horizontal bars & square block style Leyland logo is what was used in Australia for the Super & TC models from 1972 to 1974. I understand that quite a few components were sent from Zetland in Sydney to both NZ and SA

  2. What was the obsession in the 70’s of putting the model name on the bonnett. Both BL and Chrysler did it with their cars.

  3. Yes daveh. When I first saw the picture I thought it was a Hillman Hunter, I didn’t realise how alike they are from the fron (especially with this grille arrangement.)

  4. @daveh In the sixties, Ford had model badging on the front. In fact, they didn’t bother with “Ford”.
    The Triumph Herald began life with “Herald” on the bonnet, and later changed to “Triumph”.
    And the Rover went back to it too, with the 75 etc being woven into the longship on the grille.

  5. I’ve already got the book . A lot of the info is culled from the ‘In The Times’ section of the old forum .
    Any chance it can be re-activated as I want to add more info ?

  6. I have a couple of Aussie brochures for the Marina, quite a few differences, apart from the obvious ‘6’ engine, lot’s of trim differences, hubcaps, dash vents and a huge Leyland roundel on the stock BL steering wheel.

  7. That is of course a four cylinder E Series powered Marina, an engine which underwent a very expensive re-engineering exercise and one never used in European Marinas…

    • I lived out there for nearly 20 year’s. The Austin Marina was launched out there from 74 with 1.3 and 1.8 TC engines. In 77.they introduced the 1.7 and 2.6 straight 6 engines and the 1.8 was deleted.
      On the 1.7 E engine the front styling changed with a front end not seen in UK. I know this because we had one 1.7.
      A neighbour had the 6 model. Sounded terrific. My dad also had a Marina 1.3 Bakkie / pick up. It had the round speedo (morris 1000). I think 78 model.

  8. Ordered my book for the holiday reading sessions in the USA next week. One thing about Marinas: why the back-to-front wipers? Can anyone answer that?

  9. I thought it was a really good read, and I agreed with much of the analysis. For example, were they right not to progress with the 9x? Cowin argues that it would have cost more to produce than they could have sold it for. Smaller than the mini, it would have been perceived as a smaller car than the 127 or R5, but would have sold for a similar price to make a profit – or for a lower price at a loss. The same criticism is laid at Issigonis’s Mini and was a key factor in the demise of BMC. Having taken over that company, the Leyland management team would not want that situation repeated. Thoroughly recommend this book, and I agree with keith that it sits next to Turner’s leyland Papers (and of course, AROnline) as essential reading for anyone interested in the history of BL

  10. Actually the Ford badging on the front of their cars, rather than the model name, was an early seventies thing, with the FORD name in metal letters across the front of the bonnet. Kind of gave their cars presence, particularly the Capri and the Granada, as it announced, get your tinny, uselss Marina out of my face, when one appeared in the rear view mirror of your Marina 1300 Super circa 1973.

  11. Just got this book and its informative as it is eye-opening,even Bloody sunday troubles caused the company pain!cant put it down!

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