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Leyland P76 - A brief History
This article was written by Rick Perceval

In about 1968 the Australian arm of the British Motor Corporation started to realize that their present approach to a "Australian" car was not getting the market acceptance they hoped for . Many attempts had been made at producing a "six" cylinder car for Australia , but the modified English cars had limited success . Australia had a substantial influence from American car manufacturers and they dominated our market using older American compact designs .

After gaining finance from England BMC Australia set itself on a path to produce the first "Australian Car" . The early attempts were based on front wheel drive cars and one of the most interesting would have to be the Austin 1800 fitted with a "north/west" Rover V8 and auto . As a interim solution the "1800" would be redesigned , fitted with a 2.2 litre east / west six ( no V8) and called the "Kimberly and Tasman" cars . Although good cars in their own right , the "Kimberly's" retained their front wheel drive heritage and the P76 had already been decided to be more "conventional" in its drive layout . Both V8 and Six cylinder engines would be needed .

BMC now renamed "Leyland Australia" had completed substantial market research into what the Australian public wanted in their cars and now had a clear picture of the car they would build . The car we would call "p76" needed to be about the size of a Falcon , but with more interior space than a Valiant , a boot far bigger than the Holden's and more serviceable than any of them .

With the size and basic layout decided , Leyland started looking at engines . Leyland Australia favored a locally produced V6 based on a redesigned V8 engine . At least one of these engines were created using a Rover V8 "cut down" to produce a experimental V6 motor . Holden would eventually fit a cast iron version of this motor in their "Commodore" range in the early 90's . Unfortunately economic restraints forced Leyland Australia to modify the "straight" six of Kimberly fame after it was bored to 2.6 litres. A redesign of the 3.5 Rover V8 would produce a 4.4 litre V8 Australian engine.

Unfortunately - British Leyland , the parent and financier of Leyland Australia was starting to slip in to financial trouble due to their own problems and some people in Australia wondered about British Leyland's ability to "fully fund" the P76 project .

Testing of P76's started in Holden bodies with initial cars having only minor modifications and finishing with a Holden body sitting over a full P76 chassis , interior and drive train . The first two P76 body's were hand assembled in England for secret testing . One of these cars was destroyed in crash testing and the other returned to Australia . Leyland Australia were struggling with many pre-production problems including union and supplier delays and this caused the launch of the P76 to be delayed . With production finally starting in May '73 , the first P76 's started being shipped to their anxious dealers . The Leyland P76 was finally released to an waiting public on 26th June 1973 .

Somewhere around this time , Leyland had achieved one of the greatest marketing coup's in Australian automotive history. Armed with the knowledge that its rivals would purchase all advertising around the P76 release date , Leyland set about another secret project . They would create a movie about the P76 called "The Carmakers" . The movie starred Ray Barret and Noel Ferrier amongst others and was filmed completly in secret at locations in Australia and Leyland's plant in Zetland Sydney . The storyline was a comedy mix between James Bond and the Pink Panther . The resultant movie was listed as a "light comedy" and aired almost simultaneously on most Australian networks before anyone realized it was basically a huge ad for Leyland . There were some very angry people in the T.V. world that night .................... The movie was only shown once .

Previous Leyland products had not resulted in people "rushing into the showrooms" and the immediate interest generated by the P76 caught many dealers unprepared . Leyland Australia was a low volume manufacturer with approximately 20% of the capabilities of its rivals . This resulted in a almost immediate shortage of P76 cars and delivery orders started to build . In the rush to deliver cars , Leyland had not had time to completely rectify the annoyances found in the initial run . This resulted in some of the early cars being delivering with minor things unfinished . Although these teething problems were speedily resolved , these early cars gave the opposition the ammunition they needed . Within months of the P76 release any problem with a P76 no matter how insignificant became national news. Interestingly enough the problems of Leyland's rivals were often "glossed over" as all the attention became focused on Leyland Australia . At one stage it seemed if a P76 had a flat battery in Melbourne - you would read about in Perth . My family owned a new Falcon at the same time and it displayed many problems requiring constant returns to the dealer , but of course our Falcon did not make national news. The most memorable fault in the Falcon was a total headlight failure , at night , on a windy road apparently caused by problems with the initial headlight switches . A family in our street constantly shared their disappointment in their new Holden and no one could ever get a Valiant to stop straight .

Designed in Australia , for Australia , from a clean sheet of paper - the P76 was not limited by staid and archaic design instead applying many "cutting edge" principals and approaches . The car had brought many things previously thought impossible to the Australian public . Leyland's car had more interior room than its rivals , used less fuel in V8 form than most sixes , was actually serviceable , had a comparatively small turning circle , a huge amount of built in safety features and of course it had "that boot" . The boot really could hold a 44gl drum , a bale of hay , the spare wheel , some tools and you could still close the lid .

The achievements of the car were many - most notably a nearly standard V8 p76 competed in the World Cup Rally of 1974 , winning the "Targa Florio" stage in Sicily and being one of the few cars to actually finish the full race distance . Placed 13th outright the Leyland would have finished higher if the Australian team hadn't turned back to help stranded competitors . A special edition version of the P76 based around the "Super" model was called the "Targa Florio" and was released in mid 74 .

The Leyland P76 won the "Wheels car of the year" in 1973 a then prestigious car award recognizing the outstanding design and achievements of the P76 .

The P76 was the only car to conform to the initial "taxi" standard set by the government of the time . (the standard was later "adjusted" to allow Leyland's competitors to comply )

A Formula 5000 engine was both produced and raced from the P76 V8

A special P76 executive was produced for the Queen of England to ride in during her trip to Vanuatu.

British Leyland's financial trouble deepened thru no fault of Leyland Australia . It became apparent that shortly the fledgling Leyland Australia may need to become self sufficient as doubts formed as to British Leyland's financial position . At this time a credit squeeze hit the Australian marketplace backed by a "fuel crisis" that brought the spotlight directly onto large cars . Then as if that wasn't enough , the government released a report suggesting that Australia could not support four major car manufacturers as this may make some unprofitable . In reality Toyota , Mitsubishi , Nissan and Subaru were all starting to impact on the Australian market so the "four" manufacturers theory was nothing more than a fallacy .

Over the next 12 months Leyland battled constant selective media attention combined with dark rumors about its financial position and long term future . Orders started to be cancelled . The core people in Leyland Australia resigned over "undisclosed" issues and a British axe man was sent to take over . As the P76 represented no significant profit for England ( the profit was all Australian) there was little reason for British Leyland to continue with Australia's car . Rumored to have removed most of Leyland Australia's cash reserves, British Leyland watched as Leyland Australia slipped into financial trouble. After a crisis meeting with an uncaring government , it was decided to close Leyland's Australian plant so British Leyland could concentrate on importing cars . By November 1974 the P76 had ceased production although some continued to be assembled in Nz into '75 .

Although basically a professional accountant , with full knowledge of the accountability provided by concise information , the British "axe man" elected to destroy all records relating to the P76 . This unusual act has prevented anyone from examining in depth the position of Leyland Australia during the P76 years or confirming production costs , cars made or profit .

When the P76 entered our marketplace in 1973 it entered a market dominated by the poorly designed and reworked American compacts . "The big three" viewed Australia as a small market not justifying world standard cars and so simply re-hashed their archaic designs . The P76 project helped to educate Australians that they deserved a world class car and forced the competitors to deliver one . By 1978 the Australian market had become a completely different place . GM-Holden had abandoned the Kingswood - preferring to assemble the european Commodore out of boxes . Ford had redesigned the Falcon into a Australian clone of the also european Granada and the Valiant was simply dead .

The death of Leyland Australia was caused not by the car - but by a accumulation of problems and circumstances fed by people serving their own interests . Hundreds of Australian companies proudly built parts for the P76 , as hundreds of others assembled them . The production run numbered less than 20,000 cars and lasted for approx 18 months , and yet this car still manages to stir emotion in all who talk about it . The Holden lovers hate it , Ford people despise it , Valiant owners blame it for their demise, but Leyland owners love it . It is still possible to find people who purchased their P76 new in 1973 and despite a 30 year old smear campaign - would not trade it for anything . Try and find a original "big three" owner who still has his 1973 car and loves it ...

Yes there was problems - yet no more than any other manufacturer

But it 1973 it truly was "Anything but Average"


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