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.
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
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
the (now highly collectable) Force 7 range.
The P76 Force 7
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
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
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.