What a crying shame. The Leyland P76 was a car that deserved to do a whole lot better than it was ever allowed. The bottom line is it bombed, but not necessarily through design so much as its parent not having the investment budget to iron out its glitches, either before or after production.
Mind you, even now, I have a mate with two P76s and he won’t have a thing said against them. Decades on, his opinion is that they are the greatest thing ever designed and manufactured in Australia. Just please don’t talk to him about cost of maintenance.
On the basic point, he’s both right and wrong. The concept was drawn loosely on an English design related to the Rover SD-1, so the substructure came from within the stable and could be readily adapted to Australian manufacture. One of the best features was the modern (for the day) wedge shape created within the Italian design house Michelotti. It, though, became bastardised with Australian detail changes spoiling the end result.
Through the 1960s, Australians bought anything, provided it had four doors and was equipped with a big, lazy six-cylinder engine, backed up with the option of a grunty V8. Holden, Ford and Chrysler dominated the market with such packages in their Kingswood, Falcon and Valiant models. Leyland had plans to set a new benchmark in the sector.
The company decided in the mid-’60s that the market needed something better than the Tasman and Kimberly, which were effectively the Austin 1800, upgraded with a 2.2-litre east-west six-cylinder engine. The plan was to manufacture two cars, model A (which became the Marina, and let’s not go there) and model B, a car to match and beat the three competitors on style, space and to be more serviceable than all: Project 76, or P76 as it would be known, was born.
Amidst great fanfare, the Leyland P76 hit the Australian market in 1973. Press reviews of the day raved over its general poise, its comfort, its fuel consumption and its size. Much was made of the fact a 44 gallon (200L) drum would fit comfortably in the boot! So impressed was Wheels magazine, they made the new design their Car Of The Year! This came home to bite them on their hindquarters. Up until then, Wheels had limited the car of the year to Australian-manufactured vehicles only. There were suggestions they’d been blinded and simply made the award because of a lack of any real quality in the cars it faced. From 1974, the award was opened to imported cars as well.
Warning signs were out there from the start. Windows would jam and even drop out while being wound up or down, or even as a door was closed, wheels fell off more than one car, the motor reporter for one journal had the steering column drop in his lap while driving. A hesitancy hit sales when owners who’d forked out their hard-earned discovered their new pride and joy was a problem child and complaints began to mount up. Exponentially.
A common problem was poor sealing of the windscreen and doors. Driving in the rain was fraught with potential to get personally wet or end up with water over the carpet in the footwell. Another, when driving with the windows down to enjoy a cooling blast of air (air-conditioning was relatively rare back then) was the likelihood the rear window would blow out. The exhaust ran too close to the floor, causing many floor carpets to smoulder (perhaps there was sense in having water enter, after all). The optional V8 engine tended to overheat and, an alloy design, was susceptible to sever corrosion.
The car looked good, it was spacious, it was comfortable, it was economical, it drove well, and it easily covered the long distances Australians expected of their cars, but quality control issues effectively caused the demise of the P76. The company that created a new design for an incredibly miniscule $21 million (even in its day; by 2006 when GMH released its VE Commodore, its development was $1 billion) simply did not have the money available to right the car’s wrongs. It died within two years, with less than 18,000 sales to its credit.
As I say, a crying shame…