Leyland P76

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Leyland P76

1973 - 1975
6cyl & All-Alloy V8
2623cc / 4416cc
3 spd. auto and man, optional 4 spd. man
Top Speed:
Number Built:
18,000 approx.
3 star
The P76 was launched in 1973 by BMC-Leyland 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 and Chrysler 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, Maserati and Triumph.

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 to 1974, 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 Coup�s, the (now highly collectable) Force 7 range.

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 liter 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.

The Leyland 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.

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