Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5
The study which produced the report, which produced the P76, was only finalised in late 1967
. But the origins of Project P76 can be traced all the way back to 1962
,when market analysts submitted that Leyland
should plan future models made of lightweight alloy engine construction. During the sixties, BMC were bound to follow HQ instructions and manufacture and sell British cars adapted to suit Australian conditions.
That did not necessarily mean every BMC product was bad, and some made the transition to Australian conditions better than others. Leaving the dreadful Marina aside, the original Morris 1100
and Austin 1800
were very good cars, and enjoyed considerable success on the local market to the extent that the former was for some years Australia’s top-selling four cylinder car - and it actually sold better here, on a per-capita basis, than anywhere else in the world.
But the Australian company knew that this situation couldn't last – and that Australians were keen to buy cars designed and built for local conditions. The costs of developing a local front wheel drive car was prohibitive – and Australians much preferred rear wheel drives in any case. At one stage the company actually produced a prototype Austin 1800
with a front-wheel-drive north-south Rover
V8 shoe-horned into place, but the idea of producing such a car was virtually shelved before this one-off special hit the road in 1968
report also stated that the company needed an "A & B" model plan, with two basic body sizes, to cover the widest and most lucrative areas of the market. Unfortunately the “A” size in this model plan was derived from the then new Marina – a car that Leyland
hoped would suit the requirements of an Australian build-and-market programme. History would record that the Marina
was dreadful, despite being adapted fairly heavily for local conditions. To our mind the thing was unsafe – but when it was first launched, the build quality and handling issues were yet to surface, and better still, having that market sector covered, Leyland
could concentrate on the larger “B” model.
And, in 1969
, that “B” model was project P76. Before project P76 even got the go-ahead, it was known that the car would be using a lightweight alloy engine and that it would be built to make the most of every advantage that that type of construction implied. The intention was to produce a car with “US styling and power”, but with "European handling and ride” characteristics. The lightweight V8 that was originally developed in the U.S. by G.M.
and eventually found its way into the Leyland
-owned Rover company, was obviously the engine needed for the job. But unlike the other cars Into which it had been installed, the P76 had the unique distinction of being designed "around" the engine, with Leyland
using every opportunity to use its favourable weight characteristics to advantage.
Lighter Engine, Less Body Panels
The company knew that a reasonably light engine would enable its designers to keep the overall weight of the car down to a level where the cost of casting an alloy cylinder block was offset by the saving of weight elsewhere on the body. The other advantage was that the designers could create a better weight distribution along the length of the car - a factor which contributed significantly to the achievement of exceptionally high road-handling standards. An integral part of all this weight-saving effort on the part of the designers was a panel economising programme, which worked towards a target of trimming down the number of body panels to an incredibly low 160. The engineers didn't achieve that figure, but they did get the design down to only 215 panels. This amazing figure was only five panels more than that used in the Mini and was considerably less than the 280 used in the Morris 1100
and the 350 used in the Austin 1800
In doing this, Leyland
claimed that the car still boasted exceptional standards of torsional rigidity and the performances of prototype models on the M.I.R.A. test facility in Europe bore this out. After 1000 miles on the demanding circuit, the car was brought in with no major structural faults - the first car in M.I.R.A.'s history to do so. Shame the Marina
did not undergo such rigorous testing, as it would have likely set a record beating the then worst cars around, which started to break down at the 300 mile mark. The prelude to this prototype testing was an extensive programme in the Australian outback which used P76 suspension and transmission components in various Holden body shells. Experimentation with suspension
rates, control arms, engine capacity, etc., was carried out until the final form was decided.
For the P76's body design, Leyland
went to three styling centres for submissions: the parent company at Longbridge in the U.K., Michelotti and Ghia
in Europe. The successful design, from Michelotti, was built-up into a full-size wooden mock-up and sent to Pressed Steel Fisher in the U.K. for evaluation. Eminent British stylist Roy Haines, to the disappointment of Leyland
engineering director Dave Beech, did some initial work on the project, but was not involved in the final design. Haines was responsible for the excellent and economical re-design which created the Kimberley/Tasman out of the ugly duckling 1800.
Tooling-up costs for the P76 benefitted greatly from the innovative, pioneering design approach, particularly where body pressings were concerned. The V8 engine, which initially used castings imported from the U.K., was costly to manufacture by comparison with normal cast iron units, but the overall cost balance still worked out to be favourable. All Leyland's engines - fours, sixes and eights - were assembled on parallel lines within the same building. The new quality control system required that all engines be fully hot-run tested before being passed through the plant, while all V8s were treated to a full dynamic balance after assembly.
The P76 also joined the other Leyland
cars in passing through Leyland's then new "Pre Shipment Inspection" facility, which included tests in high-pressure spray booths for water leaks, comprehensive in, under and over inspection by specially trained staff and a demanding road tests on a specially devised route around the plant. This was all part of the company's "new image" build-up for the P76. The aim was to win back public confidence in product quality by both improving the "warranty" system (the cars were now backed by a proper guarantee) and ensuring that prescribed standards were met before a car left the factory. The development cost was to the tune of A$30 million – and while it is sometimes derided today, there was plenty of reasons why it did win the Wheels Car of the Year. Don’t be fooled by what you hear – it was a very good car.
The P76 Is Launched
The P76 was launched in 1973
in an attempt to break into the lucrative "Family Car" segment being held firmly by the 'Big Three', GM Holden
with the Kingswood, Ford
with the Falcon
with the Valiant
. In the past, BMC had enjoyed success with its English imports such as the Austin, Morris and of course the ever popular Mini. But in the changing times of the early '70's, most Australians wanted a large family sized car in their garage, and this was being reflected in declining sales of BMC's traditional products. Leyland
set about developing a car specifically designed for the tough and harsh Aussie climate - and just as unforgiving roads!
For market acceptance, the P76 would have to follow the tradition of rear-wheel-drive and 'big six' or V8 up front. But the Leyland
engineers went much further than that, thinking outside the square and vastly improving on the family sedan formula. They started by commissioning Giovanni Michelotti (1921 - 1980
) to come up with the P76's design, he having already created popular designs for BMW
. The distinctive wedge-shaped body set it apart from its competitors, and with the benefit of hindsight we can see that this revolutionary new shape would become popular with other manufacturers in following years.
Instead of offering a vast range of body styles in line with its competitors, Leyland
decided that it would make only three, the Executive, Super and Deluxe - all sedans! They were manufactured at the Zetland plant in Sydney from 1973
, with knock-down kits being exported to New Zealand for assembly until 1975. The P76 introduced significant advances, such as the first ever Australian made car to use an all-alloy engine, low weight (only 1250kg for the Executive model), safety features such as full-length side intrusion reinforcement on all doors, power-assisted front disc brakes
(only offered as an option on the 'Big Three' sedans), concealed windscreen wipers, recessed exterior door handles and a front hinged bonnet.
There were two engine choices, and a choice of manual or auto transmission
. The smaller of the two engines was the 2623cc OHC six-cylinder unit, borrowed from the Austin Tasman/Kimberly but undergoing improvements to power and refinement. Then there was the sweet 4416cc all-alloy V8 engine, this time being an improved version of the existing Rover 3500 V8. The use of alloy in the V8's construction meant the difference in weight between the 6 and 8 was negligible. The motoring press of the day were indeed very impressed with the advances made in the P76, and it should have come as no surprise that it would take out the coveted 1973
"Wheels Car of the Year" award.
But the P76 was to have a dogged life - many pinning the eventual failure squarely at the marketing guys who, while correctly pointing out that its boot was big enough to hold a 44 gallon drum, left most Aussies scratching their heads and asking why. This criticism is perhaps a little unfair. The management at Leyland
could well have been distracted by the industrial unrest affecting Australia at that time, their production line being continually slowed down by continued strike action at their component suppliers - and obviously creating a flow on effect to the showroom floor. Despite these setbacks, in 1975
Leyland announced ambitious plans for a new range of luxury hatch-back sports Coupes, the (now highly collectable) Force 7 range.
Wheels Car of the Year
The P76 was a very good car. And we are not relying merely on the Wheels Car of the Year gong to make the claim. Ask most that have owned one, and the answer is (nearly) unanimous – it was a great car. As mentioned above, there were problems on the production line that hastened its demise. But it was arguably too sophisticated – too advanced – for its own good. Leyland were no strangers to being a little too sophisticated for the Aussie market. The "X6" Kimberley and Tasman are cases in point, they being, for the time, unusually sophisticated cars, offering generous interior space for their modest exterior dimensions, along with superb stability, good handling, class leading ride, reasonable performance and very good fuel economy.
To make project P76 palatable to the buying public, Leyland knew they could not make it a Front-Wheel-Drive
. In fact, Leyland seemed to be trying to produce a car which was as conventional as the X6 was unique. But there lay the problem – no matter how hard they tried, the designers were forward thinkers and the project was a genuine “clean-sheet” approach. They tried to make a car which, on the surface, looked similar to the opposition. There was a model range designed to match the competition too. While we have claimed above that there were three models, there was also a fleet special. So, in the interests of accuracy, the actual P76 range consisted of four model levels: P76 (level one), De Luxe (level two), Super (level three) and Executive (level four).
And of course there was the Targa Florio, but we will cover that later in the article. The cars varied in trim, creature comforts and options. The top-of-the-tree Executive was a heavily-equipped, in effect being a short-wheelbase attempt to steal some sales from the Fairlane/Statesman/Chrysler market. The base models were powered by a stretched OHC six from the X6 cars, displacing 2620cc through a stroke increase from 80.28 mm to 95.76 mm, and producing 121 bhp at 4500 rpm. More importantly, the torque figure had risen from the X6's 116 ft/lbs at 3500 rpm to 165 ft./lbs. at 2000 rpm. The 4414cc alloy V8 was standard in the Executive, optional in the Super and De Luxe but, we believe, not available in the “fleet special” standard car. Although the power output was a relatively modest 192 bhp, the P76 had considerably less body weight to contend with and the result was a power/weight ratio which was much better in comparison to “The Big Three”. The figure for an automatic transmission Super V8 was 15.5 lbs./bhp - a Falcon Fairmont 302 auto from the era toted around 14.4 lbs./bhp.
Engine/transmission options were similar to those offered by Holden, Ford and Chrysler, although the two engine line-up reduced Leyland's cover by comparison with that of the others. Chrylser, for instance, had three V8s to offer (although availability was not spread through the entire range), plus four different six-cylinder engines, starting from the triple Weber six-pack unit, down through the two-barrel 245 to the low-compression 21 5. Ford also offered three V8s, plus three sixes, while Holden offered three V8s and two sixes.
Better Power to Weight – Better Steering – Better Suspension - Better Fuel Economy
Only two rear-axle ratios were available with the P76, a 3.89:1 on 6 cylinder iterations, and a 2.92:1 with a V8. Five final drive ratios were available in the Holden range, three in the Valiants and Falcons. Falcon, Valiant and P76 FDRs were very similar, and only Holden models offer a wider choice. The P76 had a definite edge over its competitors in steering and suspension design. Whereas Valiant, Falcon and Holden all used a recirculating ball mechanism, the P76 used rack and pinion. At 37 feet, the turning circle was within a foot of the others, while power steering was available on those models which have a V8.
Rear suspension of the P76 was similar to that of the Holden’s, with four locating links and coil springs. The front suspension, however, was markedly different to that of its competitors, using McPherson struts with coil springs. Weight distribution was almost 50/50 – amazing for a car of its size. The P76 came with front disc brakes
as standard on ALL models. In fact, all models except the base model had power assisted discs. Many believed it was the P76 that forced the fitment of standard discs across the range to the competitors, who would have happily continued to serve all-wheel drums to the Australian motoring public. We don’t believe that is true, but the P76 was definitely a class leader – in just about every department you cared to judge it on.
Even the wheel/tyre combinations were better than the opposition. All but the base model had six-inch rims. It is important to remember that, at the time, the Holden’s and Falcons used 5" rims as standard throughout, and Valiant were a little better with 5.5" rims. The P76 was undoubtedly safer judged on that criteria alone. But of course the designers did not stop there. They included a side collision protection barrier in the design, which was a feature none of the other manufacturers had bothered with. It offered better forward vision too, even though it was achieved with the “wedgy” shape that many derided. Sure, it was not as pretty as the HQ, but we doubt the designers ever intended their creation to enter a beauty contest. Rather, they wanted their car to be the very best it could be – monetary considerations applicable of course.
The HQ did not have concealed wiper arms and blades. Its bonnet was not hinged at the front either – and while this is today seen as the norm, back then it was very much considered to be a more expensive to manufacture safety factor, and one that was fashionable on expensive cars. The body of the P76 was made up of only 215 body panels, which was only five more than the Mini. The result was an increase in torsional stiffness and body rigidity which, theoretically, should mean that the body will be less prone to rattles and perhaps even have a longer life.
As with Holden, Falcon and Valiant, dual headlights were fitted on the two upper levels, while the base level and Deluxe had single headlights. Turn indicators were mounted well above the bumper . The interior of the P76 offered more creature comforts than the Holden, Falcon or Valiant. An electrically heated rear window was optional throughout the range, not so on the Holden, Falcon or Valiant. And like the Falcon, all P76 models were fitted with a water temperature gauge.
Instrumentation included the mandatory trip odometer, clock, battery
condition gauge on the Super and Executive. Strangely, neither oil pressure gauge nor tachometer were available, even as an option. Minor - but it remained one of the very few points on which the other makers could claim bragging rights. It did not stand the test of time too well, but there was a wood-grained facia, and it was preferable to what you would find on anything other than a European car - and was way better than anything Japanese. Again, with a safety focus, the sun visors were recessed into a "skid header" panel. Minor it may have been, but it did demonstrate just how thorough the designers were.
The seats on the P76 varied from bench seats in the cheaper models to bucket seats in the Super and Executive. Interior and exterior dimensions were on par with the competition, and there was less than an inch difference in legroom, headroom and shoulder room between the P76 and the Falcon. The Leyland
car did, however, have the advantage of an enormous 36 cubic feet boot – something that even today owners are very proud of.
The P76 Force 7
The Force 7 was one of the first hatchbacks to be released in Australia. There were to be three models of increasing price and luxury, from the base model equipped with a six cylinder engine and 3-speed column shift gearbox, followed by the awesome Force 7V fitted with a powerful 4.4 litre V8 'four-on-the-floor'. At the top of the tree was the "Tour de Force", featuring leather interior. Despite promising reviews, the Force 7 range was ultimately doomed - it was simply too costly to manufacture! Other carmakers were borrowing heavily from their existing parts bin to create their hero cars; however the Force 7 range had only a handful of production elements in common with the P76 sedan - and so only around 60 Force 7's were manufactured with the majority being scrapped.
In fact, only ten survived: one was sent to Leyland
in the UK for testing and was subsequently bought by a British private collector; another is in the Birdwood Mill Museum in South Australia. The remaining eight were auctioned to the public when the line was discontinued in 1975 and they remain in private hands. Ultimately, the P76 was a good car that suffered from a poor image. Perhaps the marketing team should have given the car a more significant name, so that it could effectively compete with the Kingswood, Falcon and Valiant. But more important in the public's perception of the car was the poor assembly quality, and problems with reliability and parts supply.
showrooms became deserted - and BMC made the decision to cease production. But before they did, Leyland
built approximately 300 limited-edition "Targa Florio", which featured auto transmissions
, power steering
and limited slip diffs - most were painted an eye-catching metallic navy blue with silver stripe detailing. Today the P76 has shaken its poor reputation to become very desirable and collectable - for they are at the very least a good talking point and represent a significant part of Australia's motoring history.