The Leyland P76 is a large car that was produced by Leyland Australia, the Australian subsidiary of British Leyland. Featuring what was described at the time as the "standard Australian wheelbase of 111 inches", it was intended to provide the company with a genuine rival to large local models like the Ford Falcon, the Holden Kingswood, and the Chrysler Valiant. But, due to the first real fuel crisis and demand far exceeding the supply, Leyland rushed the assembly process with the first of the P76s to come off the assembly line, resulting in poor build quality and some reliability problems. The combination of the rushed assembly, fuel crisis and strikes at the component manufacturers' factories, resulted in the Leyland P76 being labelled a lemon, despite receiving the Wheels magazine Car of the Year in 1973. By 1974, sales of the P76 had slumped and BMC decided to end the production of the P76. Although the P76 has been labelled a lemon in Australian motoring history, it is viewed by some as an iconic Australian car and has a loyal following.
In 1969, Leyland Australia was given the go-ahead to build a large car for Australia. At the time of the car's launch, it was reported that Leyland Australia had an accumulated deficit equivalent to £8.6 million, and had borrowed the same amount again in order to fund the development of the P76. The P76 was designed and built from scratch with a fund of only A$20m. This was also a decade of serious financial and operational challenges for the parent company back in Britain. Commercial success for this car was therefore seen as crucial to the survival of Leyland in Australia.
Launched in 1973, the P76 was nicknamed "the wedge", on account of its shape, with a large boot, able to easily hold a 44 gallon drum. Although station wagon and "Force 7" coupé versions were designed, these never went into mass production.
Naming the P76
The name of the P76 derived from the car's codename while in development (Project 76). The official line was that the P76 was an original Australian designed and built Large Family Car, with no overseas counterpart and that P76 stood for "Project 1976".
The P76 itself was, however, out of production by 1976. An alternative theory is that P76 were simply the first three digits of Lord Stokes' National Service number (Donald Stokes was Chairman of British Leyland at the time).
Before the P76, Leyland Australia and its corporate predecessor BMC (Australia) had not fielded a direct competitor in large-car sector, which then dominated the Australian car market. The P76 was intended to provide that competitor.
Previously, BMC and Leyland had tried to compete in this market segment with the 1958 Morris Marshal (a rebadged Austin A95); the 1962 Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 (the Freeway was an Austin A60 with Riley 4/72 tail lights, a unique full width grille and a 2.4-litre 6-cylinder version of the 1622 cc B-series engine; the Wolseley was a 6-cylinder version of the Wolseley 16/60); and the 1971 Austin "X6" Tasman and Kimberley (facelifted Austin 1800s with the 6-cylinder 2.2-litre E-series engine).
Each of these cars was a compromise, and the motoring public largely rejected as challengers to the dominant local models. Nonetheless, the Freeway, 24/80 and the X6 each developed a loyal following.
Design and engineering
The shape was penned by Giovanni Michelotti. The entry-level P76 featured an enlarged 2663cc 121 bhp (83kW) version of the 6-cylinder engine from the smaller Austin Kimberley and Austin Tasman. The top-of-the-line 192 bhp (143kW) aluminium 4416 cc V8 unit was unique to the P76, and was a derivative of the ex-Buick V8 that was powering the Rover 3500 and Range Rover. Leyland Australia cited a weight advantage approaching 500 lb (230 kg) for the P76, most of which was attributed to the lighter weight of the aluminium engine block when compared to the cast iron blocks (with bigger displacements) of the V8s from Chrysler, Holden and Ford. It was hoped that the weight advantage would feed through into superior fuel economy and extended tyre life. Nevertheless, the car was a full-size car in Australian terms, for which class leading boot/trunk capacity was claimed.
Safety equipment preceded the forthcoming Australian Design Rules, and featured front discs as standard on all models, recessed door handles and full-length side intrusion reinforcements on all doors.
It did offer a combination of features which were advanced in this category in Australia at the time: rack and pinion steering, power-assisted disc brakes, MacPherson strut front suspension, front hinged bonnet, glued-in windscreen and concealed windscreen wipers, as well as the familiar Australian-made Borg Warner gearboxes (including 3 speed column shift) and a live rear axle.
Particular attention was paid to structural rigidity, a British Leyland engineering strength. This goal was aided by a conscious effort to reduce the number of panels needed to build the car's body — a remarkably low 215, reportedly only 5 more than for a Mini.
At the time P76 production ceased, Leyland was developing a V6 version to replace the E6 variant. The V6 was derived from the 4.4-litre P76 V8, with the two rear cylinders chopped off.
Performance in the marketplace
Despite the V8 model winning Wheels magazine's Car of the Year for 1973, sales of the P76 were adversely affected by a variety of issues: component manufacturers' strikes limiting parts availability, production problems at Leyland Australia's plant in Zetland all restricted supply of the car; the release of P76 coincided with the first Oil Crisis, when fuel prices increased dramatically. As a result, demand for all larger cars subsided.
Hence, notwithstanding generally favourable press and public reaction to the car, sales did not reach expectations.
British Leyland announced plans to sell P76 in the UK. However, production ceased before these plans could come to fruition.
The car achieved success in the 1974 World Cup Rally- winning the Targa Florio section and placing 13th overall. Leyland Australia celebrated this victory by releasing a limited edition Targa Florio model: the V8 Super with Limited slip Diff, sports wheels and steering wheel, as well as special paintwork, including side stripes.
Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson won the Classic Category of the in their Leyland P76 with a time of 237:30:10
Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson also finished Second on the 2015 Road to Mandalay classic car rally, winning the Malaysian Cup for being the fastest car.
Unreleased P76 derivatives
Although development had started much earlier - the Force 7 coupé was announced in 1974 but eventually only 10 pre-production coupés survived. By the time of the factory closure in 1974, one Force 7 was already in England for secret testing, Leyland Australia kept one example and finally donated that coupé to an Australian museum with some other components of the P76 production line and the remaining eight coupés were offered for sale to private buyers in an auction after the factory had closed. The handbooks had even been printed and were offered for mail order sale by the auctioneers. There was to have been a base six-cylinder Force 7, a more powerful Force 7V with the V8 unit, and a range-topping Tour de Force. All the surviving cars are the "mid" range Force 7V. It was unusual in that it had full seating for five adults and a large rear hatchback, the first of its kind produced in Australia. It shared few body panels with the sedan.
At the time of launch, the company announced the intention of introducing a station wagon/estate version later that same year, and at least three, prototype station wagons (estate cars), which shared much of the sedan's structure and body panels but with more upright rear door frames, were built: one was broken up by Leyland Australia for examination of the body strength, one was crash tested by Ford Australia for Leyland to gain part of the registration certification and the last and only surviving example was eventually used as a factory hack until it was sold at the same auction as the Force 7s as part of a pair of cars which included the last car made.
The wagon and the "last" car remain in private collections and the wagon is currently undergoing basic restoration. All of the coupés sold at auction did not have registration compliance plates fitted to them as final registration testing and approval had not been completed on either station wagon or coupe bodies. Currently - in 2018 all 10 coupés and the single wagon survive.
New Zealand and the end of the line
The Leyland plant at Zetland closed in October 1974, and production of the P76 ceased, although CKD (completely-knocked-down) assembly continued in Petone, New Zealand, in exchange for NZ-assembled Rover P6s that were shipped to Australia. In New Zealand the P76 was successfully sold in V8 form only in Deluxe, Super and Executive forms all the way until August 1976. Other P76s were imported into NZ as complete cars. NZ-built P76s can be identified by a 'Z' stamped onto the chassis plate immediately after the 076 model designation - i.e. 076Z. After production ended surplus stock spare V8s were sold off by local distributor NZ Motor Corporation and were popular as boat engines.
Leyland Australia produced some 56 or more Force 7 coupés, the majority of these were crushed at the factory to enhance the value of the 8 that were auctioned off in 1975. Leyland Australia auctioned off the last eight Force 7 coupé prototypes to the public; these all still exist and are owned and indeed regularly driven by their private owners. Another car, an Omega Navy one with white trim, was sent to Britain and was used by Lord Stokes for some time; this was later sold to a private collector, who in the last two years sold the car to a New Zealand collector, which is where it resides now. One is at the National Motor Museum, Birdwood in South Australia which is on permanent loan from Leyland Australia.
A smaller medium-sized car, was also intended called the "P82". Styling for this car became a competition between Michelotti and Leyland Australia's own internal design department. In 1982 - claims were made in some motoring papers that Leyland in Britain had decided on Michelotti's version but at the time the ex-head of Leyland Australia's design department was unaware of such a decision. This car was intended to replace the Morris Marina in Australia but only one prototype car and styling mockups were ever produced. At least two experimental V6 engines were made, with one being based on a cut-down Rover V8 at about 2.6 L and another based on the actual P76 V8 motor at about 3.3 L. Concepted as a high volume/profit car – the P82 was designed to have many body styles placed over the same basic structure and was intended to be offered in 4, V6 and V8 forms dependent on body style. After the Australian plant closed, the prototype car was reported to have been sent to Rover in Britain for examination before being destroyed. Just before the plant closure in 1974 and its subsequent takeover by the Australian military, Leyland Australia's styling department were still working on the P82 styling, and one single 1/5 scale clay model survives of the P82 in the sedan "short front and rear" variant.
The P76 continues to have a loyal following of owners who have great enthusiasm for the car. There are at least seven P76 owners clubs in Australia and New Zealand. The New Zealand P76 Owners' Club was founded in 1983.
Total P76 production numbers
- Model, Version, (Model Code), Production
- Deluxe, Column Auto 6, (2C26) - 2118
- Deluxe, Column Manual 6, (2N26) - 2342
- Deluxe, 4 Speed Manual 6, (2M26) - 516
- Deluxe, Column Auto V8, (2C44) - 1532
- Deluxe, Column Manual V8, (2N44) - 1281
- Deluxe, 4 Speed Manual V8, (2M44) - 380
- Deluxe Total - 8169
- Super, Column Auto 6, (3C26) - 1132
- Super, T-Bar Auto 6, (3A26) - 380
- Super, 4 Speed Manual 6, (3M26) - 719
- Super, Column Auto V8, (3C44) - 1928
- Super, T-Bar Auto V8, (3A44) - 2256 (including 488 Targa Florio model)
- Super, 4 Speed Manual V8, (3M44) - 1047
- Super Total - 7462
- Executive, T-Bar Auto V8, (4A44) - 2376
- Executive Total - 2376
Production Figures provided by James Mentiplay and the Leyland P76 Owners Club of WA.
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