Advert of the Week: The new Morris Ital

Oh, we love this one. When the Morris Ital roared onto our screens at its June 1980 launch, BL put out this terrific advert to celebrate the fact. Okay, so we now know that it was little more than a warmed-over Marina, powered by the upcoming Metro’s A-Plus engine, and styled by Harris Mann, but with the Ital Design connection in its production engineering was so exciting from a marketing sense, that the marketing department leaped on it with relish…

So, what was going to be called the Morris Marina Ital, became the Ital, and the advertising made much of it – steaming out of what was implied to be Ital Design’s studio (with a lovely Maserati Merak parked outside), and impressing us with the fact it could out-accelerate a Mercedes-Benz 200 (so can my sofa). This was cool stuff in 1980.

After all, it was designed in Italy, and built in Britain.

Cynics might sneer now, but they shouldn’t. This is brilliant advertising, and a great example of making the most of a limited repertoire. Some would say it’s over-promising, but who cares? It sold cars…


Keith Adams


  1. Gentil
    Point of information – the diesel engine used in Marinas for Portugal and Malaysia was the Austin Morris B-Series unit as used in their van ranges – it had nothing to do with Perkins. If anyone has a car with a Perkins engine, then it must have been a swopper.
    Incidentally, it was Michael Edwardes himself who suggested that we should be less cautious and drop the Marina name from the original ‘Marina Ital’ moniker. He took the view that it was sufficiently different from the Marina to get away with it. He was right too – it carried on selling pretty well all things considered. I doubt if any other car maker ever got as much value out of a paltry £5M facelift!

    • Ian Elliot.
      Thanks for clarifying, i was given a totally different information about the Diesel engines that equipped the marina.

    • You’re not wrong about the £5m Ian. But I’d nominate the Discovery £30m development budget as the best value ever! Hope you are well.

    • Having been a passenger in a Marina 1.8 fending off an Escort GT, not necessarily speeded up. Itals weren’t heavy, so they had plenty of grip; it just came and went rather unpredictably! I would rather ‘earole a Marina than the heavy and vaguely steered Omega…

  2. I can remember buying Car magazine in 1982, when the Ital range was reduced in size, and considering the 1.3 SL to be quite good value at £3995( about 12 k in today’s money). This was a car priced against basic 1.3 Cavaliers and Sierras for about £ 600 less and had the same amount of equipment as an L model( radio, clock, lighter, reclining seats), which would cost even more. Also 94 mph and 40 mpg were excellent for the time as the car had quite a light body and the A plus engines was created for economy and performance.

  3. I had an A reg Ital 1.3 SL as my first car, it was fine. It had a mysterious rot hole in the top of one front wing at only 7 years old but no rot anywhere else. Yes, it was seriously outclassed by sierras and cavaliers, but the A+ engine was a huge improvement. it would do a genuine 40 mpg quite easily, more if you were careful. I think I had to change one front trunnion but nothing else went wrong with it. a decent honest car.

  4. A clever (and cynical!) advert… Surely the headline that it was styled in Turin by Ital design is a complete lie though 🙂

    • ITAL were contracted to redesign and engineer the (extensive) body changes. The job they did was hopeless – the ADO28 and 73 drawings using decimal inch dimensions were completely beyond them. The entire job was redone at PSF Cowley, mostly by 3rd and 4th year apprentices – the only body engineering resource available.

  5. I had 2 of them-a 1.7 Hl in red on an X reg and a 1.3 sl estate in beige. Loved the 1.7 and although faster than a 1.8 Marina, it didn’t feel it. I remember the o series ital being very wooden and restrictive on power compared with the1.8 Marina s I had in the past. The 1.3 was a little underpowered for the estate body I always felt. My neighbour had a gold 1.3 saloon parked in his drive-which looked really nice. There were quite a few about at one point and I think BL sold 155 000 of them in three and a half years. Not bad figures for a stop gap till Montego arrived.

  6. What I couldn’t get my head around with the Ital, was after the production switched to Longbridge, they introduced telescopic front dampers. This really does take the policy of ‘continuous development’ the the hilt.

  7. The Ital depreciated quickly which meant they were cheaper used than their rivals from Ford and Vauxhall. In 1.7 litre form, which gave the car 100 mph performance and better refinement, the Ital was a tempting buy for families that couldn’t afford a two year old 1.6 litre Cortina. Also in HLS form the Ital was quite nice inside with velour seats, tinted glass and more instrumentation.

  8. BL’s advertising – both print and TV – was always very good. Let’s face it, it needed to be. MG Motor could learn a lot from it.

  9. Love the way the Ital forces the Mercedes out of the way and the reference to the Saab 900 GLS( although surely only the 2 litre auto would be capable of this). It does strike me as a very optimistic advert and one that was showing British Leyland was fighting back.
    Although the Ital was never going to be a Cortina or Cavalier beater, 155,000 people bought them and helped British Leyland keep a presence in the family car class until the Montego arrived.

  10. @ Adrian, for its day, the Ital wasn’t particularly underpowered and 1.3 versions could outrun 1.3 Escorts and the 1.7 would find a 1.6 Cortina easy to keep up with. You have to admire a near bankrupt British Leyland for making the ageing and outclassed Marina look like a new car and making it better to drive. Yet the Saab boast is a bit of a tall story as surely only the 2 litre auto would be able to outrun a 900 GLS and probably very only just.

  11. How well I remember this advert! How can it be that long ago!

    The Ital wasn’t such a bad old crate! Let’s not forget in 1980 its main rival was the Cortina – hardly an advanced piece of kit. The styling was a very successful modernisation of Marina. The A+ engine was a notable technical advance. Not such a bad bet as a smaller, cheaper Cortina alternative.

    I’ve recalled this quote twice before from Company Car magazine – “With this car BL are a force”.

  12. No it wasn’t that good,together with the equally lacklustre Austin Ambassador to me these two cars were the nadir in BL’s fortunes, still at least the Austin Metro & Triumph Acclaim were the first signs of a revival

  13. @ Ian Parker, BL were broke in 1980, this was a cheap and quite clever way of updating the Marina, which consistently sold well in the seventies. Obviously most of the company’s limited funds had to go to the Metro, but they still had to have a presence in the family car market, even more so when the Maxi was ditched a year later( a car that sadly never lived up to expectations and was quite old by 1981).

  14. After Innocenti demise BL had a strong presence here in Italy, Mini and Metro being a very common sight on our roads, back in the ’70 BL also imported the Allegro ( with the original name, after a disaster start as “Innocenti Regent”) and even the Princess, but no Marinas or Itals have ever been sold here. The car in the ad has a typical italian plate of that period (the first two letters in orange indicating the province followed by numbers in white, or a letter and numbers for the biggest provinces).

  15. I have to say, in 1980 if I was offered an Ital, Cortina MK V or Cavalier MK1, I would choose the Cav first and Cortina second. The Ital was an improvement over the Marina but surely no way as good as the other competitors?

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