Morris Marina

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Morris Marina

Morris Marina

1971 - 1984
4 & 6 cyl.
1300/1800/2600 cc
3/4 spd. MT / 3 spd. AT
Top Speed:
Number Built:
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Morris Marina
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1


With sales of the Ford Cortina skyrocketing, BMC decided it too needed a new mid sized car to replace its rapidly aging designs. The Marina was, however, considered a direct rival to the Ford Escort and Holden Torana/Vauxhall Viva. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting motoring public the decision was made to use existing running gear dating back to 1948 on the "all new" Marina - by reason that the technology was tried and tested.

Tried and Tested it may have been, but the appaling build quality was to become the main reason anyone would talk about the Marina - and non existant trade in valuations were soon to follow. Launched in 1970, the car was a typical contemporary design, with a front-mounted four cylinder engine driving the rear wheels via a live axle. Using torsion bar suspension, the Marina had two engine sizes (1.3 and 1.8 litres) and three body styles (sedan, station wagon and coupe).

Big Red

Despite the oil crisis that was supposedly affecting sales of larger engined cars in the early 1970’s, the Australian six cylinder market grew by nearly 10 per from 1970 to July 1973. BMC knew they needed a mid-sized 6 if they were to compete, particularly given the demise of the Mini Cooper series and the axing of the MGB. The addition of four "Red Sixes" to the Marina range took the line-up to 11 models 150 ohc, 175 ohc and 262 ohc engines.

The Red Six models were the Six Coupe and Six Sedan with their Super equivalents. At launch, prices ranged from A$2820 for the Six Coupe, $3290 for the Six Coupe Super which included as standard the otherwise optional $118 luxury pack of more elegant trim. The basic six at $2820 compared with $2796 for the base Torana Six and $3040 for the base Cortina Six.

The 2620cc 6 cylinder engine was borrowed from the P76. But there were few other concessions for the larger engine – unlike the Holden and Ford competition. To set the Six apart from the 4 cylinder Marina, Leyland added two small badges, painted the engine red and added a red exhaust pipe. Grille and trim differences were made between Deluxe and Super models, but these were identical regardless of engine capacity.

Physically the P76 engine slotted into the Marina engine bay well, the only major change being to the location of the fan. The block was too close to the radiator for the conventional fan to be retained so the engineers switched to a thermo-electric job. To handle the extra engine weight, the front suspension was beefed up with increased bar diameters. At the back, the Red Six got two radius rods over the single radius rod on the fours. The shockers on all Marinas had been relocated to behind the rear axle for a better handling combination by the time the six was introduced.

To ensure stopping power was not compromised by the additional weight, the Marina’s brakes were increased from 9.8 inches to 9.9 inches, while the rear drams remained at 8 inches. The new specification was in deference to the greater power and weight of the six so the Marina Fours scored a bonus in the braking department. The Red Six ran on wider rubber with rims increasing from 4.5 inches to 5 inches. Two transmissions were offered: a three-speed manual floor shift and a three-speed automatic. The absence of the P76 four-speed manual for the Six range was disappointing – we can only speculate that maybe it didn't fit. The ratio spread of the three-speed box adequate, and the Marina six had a pretty good power to weight ratio of 18.5 lb/bhp, which was 1.3 lb./bhp less than the Cortina and Torana sixes.

On The Road

That power proved itself on the road, having identical power figures to the P76, they being 121 bhp @ 4500 rpm and 165 lb. ft. @ 2000 rpm . But on the Marina the power torque at the wheels was slightly better with the absence of the engine-driven fan. Wearing Marina hardware, the 262 and the three-speed Borg-Warner automatic gear box were a good match – the Marina putting down an 18.4 second standing quarter, just 1 second slower than the Cortina six fitted with a 200 cu. in. engine and three-speed manual.

Under normal acceleration, changes were smooth while the swap from second to third with the power on tended to give a slight but not annoying kick. On over-run, the change back from third to second under instructions from the selector was remarkably gentle. Enough already with the good news - and on to the bad. And there was plenty of bad. The front end for starters did not enjoy having the Red Six overhead. As we mentioned at the start of this article, the Marina componentry dated back to a "tried-and-tested" 1948 design. That meant a torsion bar arrangement that was used on the Morris Minor.

It may have worked ok on the flatter and better quality roads found in Britain, but it was woeful in Australia. Here, where we are served a diet of heavily patched bitumen along with unsealed uneven roads, the Marina would have the road going ability of a 44 gallon drum. It provided plenty of thumping, kickback through the steering and vibration of the dashboard and steering column. The vibration was a feature of both the four and six cylinder Marina's, and given the build quality, the vibration would would soon have most of the interior squeaking, rattling and in some cases falling off - which to some owners was preferable to listening to the parts in their death-throws.

Some thought the Marina could never handle any worse - but with a six under the hood it set a whole new level of understeer that was downright dangerous. Quite a few were surprised by this, as the considered opinion was that the four-cylinder Marina was so bad that nothing could possibly have been worse. But the Red Six was, offering full-lock plough with ease. A reasonably neutral attitude could be obtained by getting the Marina tweaked up in the corners but this required a considerable degree of driving dexterity. On dirt and loose gravel the Marina would switch around, offering copious amounts of oversteer.

The Leyland engineers were obviously not too concerned that their creation was hideous in every concievable way. The standard specification was even fitted with 5.00 x 13 crossplies - a sure sign that they did not consider your safety a high priority. Thankfully Leyland did add radials to the options list, for A$45. The brakes were power assisted and while offering a very soft pedal in the Marina style they were surprisingly up to the performance of the Red Six engine. At city speeds they were reassuring and even when abused, showed little signs of fade. The turning circle was a tight 33 feet with four turns lock to lock. The steering tended towards the stiff side, understandable with the additional weight overhead.

If you found a straight, well made road then cruising in the Marina Six was comfortable, the heavily padded seat giving good support. The rumble of the Six exhaust could be closed out and wind and road noise levels were acceptable. The low-down torque made the Marina very flexible around town and the overall power increase made it a more suitable touring car with plenty in hand for quick passing. But there were so many faults that it, predictably, did not live up to sales expections.

The Marina Replacement - Morris Ital

By 1980 the Marina was getting tired - and its reputation was hurting sales. British Leyland knew they needed to pension the thing off, but rather than do what they should have done, and start with a clean-sheet design, they instead employed Giorgio Guigiaro (of Ital Design) to restyle the then nine-year-old design. As the Marina name was on the nose, they gave it a new name too, the Morris Ital. The celebrated Italian design engineer had cooked-up a new front-end which looked like a cross between an Audi and a Fiat, given it poly bumper/air dams, halogen lamps (as standard), 155-section tyres, reshaped seats, side repeater flashes, rear mud-flaps, and, wait for it, a 'more comfortably-shaped soft-feel gear lever knob'.

The two-door body was dropped, so there were six four-door saloons, and four five-door estate cars, available with the pushrod ohv 1300 engine, or the 1700 ohc 'O-Series' unit. There were three trim levels, L, HL, and top-model HLS. Obviously the Ital was an end-of-the-line model until the arrival of the Honda-British Leyland Rover Quintet, which started rolling off the Cowley production line in 1981. The Morris Ital 1300 models were powered with an uprated version of the old 127b cm3 pushrod ohv four-cylinder motor (as used in Mini and Allegro production) and this engine was also used in the later Mini Metro.

There were a few advancements however - the old 1276 had its crankcase strengthened (with cast-in ribs), and its compression ratio raised from 8.8 to 9.4:1, resulting in a power-output increase of 3.8 bhp (2.83 kW), and at 200 rpm less (b300 rpm). British Leyland also discovered plastic and chip-foam sound-deadening materials which made the Ital much quieter than the Marina. After much experiment to reduce noise, the engine mounts were also modified, a viscous-drive cooling fan was standardised, higher gearing was installed and a cross-brace stiffener was mounted between the rear damper mounts (saloon only). The Ital seats were comfortable on all models, and attractive in appearance too.

Many consider the Marina suffered a cursed life as industrial difficulties within the British motoring industry were to lead to compounding reliability and build quality problems. And of course this was to pave the way for the Japanese manufacturers, using their systems of "total quality control", to enter the Australian marketplace. Buyers deserted the British car makers in droves, the rest remains history.
Morris Marina

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Also see:

Leyland Marina Brochure
Morris Crayfords Mumford Marina Convertible
Austin Marina GT
Morris Ital
Lost Marques - The William Morris Story
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Posted Recently
I remember putting one up on a hoist to work on it and was aghast to find it had Morris Major series 1 suspension and steering on it, I remember them as an understeering, rattling oil leak, a bit sad really.
Posted Recently
I remember seeing one stopped in the middle of a city street around 1984 where both front strut caps had let go and were pushing up the bonnet on either side. One of these was nearly my first car I avoided it and bought a mini, its arguable which of these two would have been the most reliable.
Posted Recently
If this exact car had a torana badge on it, it'd be an australian icon!
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