Leyland Motors grew from the Lancashire Steam Motor Company, founded in the town of Leyland, North West England by the Sumner and Spurrier families. Their first vehicle was a 1.5 ton steam powered van, and then in 1907 the company would change its name to simply Leyland Motors. In 1920 came the Leyland 8, a luxury tourer that would soon find its way to the racetrack at Brooklands
, being driven by J. G. Parry-Thomas (who unfortunately would later be killed when making an attempt on the land speed record after the chain drive broke).
The Spurrier family would continue its control of the company through three generations, until the retirement of Sir Henry Spurrier in 1964
. During Sir Henry’s reign the company would rapidly expand, acquiring competitors such as Standard Triumph. It is worth noting that under Sir Henry’s leadership the company enjoyed excellent labour relations, it widely reported that not one day was lost to industrial action – but things were about to change!
Donald Stokes would take control, and in 1968
it would merge with British Motor Holdings (BMH) with encouragement from the Wilson Labour Government, to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Famous marques in the BMH family included Daimler, Guy, BMC (including of course BMC Australia), Austin
. Difficult to manage because of the many divisions under its control, all manufacturing similar products and in turn competing with each other, difficulties would be compounded by problems arguably outside its control, such as the oil crisis of the early 1970’s and continued difficulty with hard line unions.
In 1974 the company was forced to seek a guarantee from the British government so that it could continue to operate. With the Australian operation reportedly losing some $56 million, British Leyland would dispatch 31 year old David Abell to assume Managing Director responsibility, and given the financial difficulties being faced by the parent company it was obvious to most that he would shut down operation. The 1974
Industries Assistance Commission report claimed there was not room in the Australian market for four manufacturers, which didn’t help much either.
The P76 was the last roll of the dice, anything less than it being an overnight sensation would spell disaster – and it was only given the chance because so much work had already gone into the design and tooling up of the Zetland facility. The P76
deserved better, but an impotent marketing campaign combined with build quality issues would spell the end, only Mini and Mini Moke production continuing beyond 1975
. Today the P76 is highly collectible, very few cars having been born into such a turbulent corporate climate.
Also see: The History of British Leyland