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.

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". Motoring writer Tony Davis suggests that the project number came from the back of Leyland chief Lord Stokes' watch which he read during a business meeting.

The Rover SD1 (released in 1976) shared several engineering features with the P76 — including MacPherson strut front suspension, the aluminium V8 engine and a live rear axle.

Automotive forebears

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 2623 cc version of the 6-cylinder engine from the smaller Austin Kimberley and Austin Tasman. The top-of-the-line aluminium alloy 4416 cc V8 unit was unique to the P76, and was a derivative of the ex-Buick V8 that was powering the Rover 3500. 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.

Transmissions for the car were all bought in from Borg-Warner Australia who were already also supplying transmissions to Ford and Chrysler.

Notwithstanding the advertising slogan ("Anything but average") the P76's engineering followed conventional lines.

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, McPherson 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.

The P76 was potentially a superior car to its competitors and, had Leyland Australia been given time to develop the full P76 range, the model may well have succeeded in the Australian market.

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 trophy. Leyland Australia celebrated this victory by releasing a limited edition Targa Florio model: the V8 Super with sports wheels and steering wheel, as well as special paintwork, including side stripes.

Unreleased P76 derivatives

The Force 7 coupé was announced in 1974 but offered for sale only in an auction. 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. It was unusual in that it had 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 an estate version later that same year, and at least two, maybe three, station wagons (estate cars) prototypes, which shared much of the sedan's structure and body panels but with more upright rear door frames, were built: one was crash tested by Ford Australia for Leyland Australia, another was used as a factory hack and one is in a private collection and currently undergoing restoration; this one may, in fact, be the factory hack. This one was sold at the same auction as the Force 7s and was sold as a part of a pair of cars which included the last car made. These were thus obviously never offered for commercial sale, however. A total of nine Force 7 coupé hatchbacks were completed before the assembly lines came to a halt, and it is believed that all survive.

The end of the line

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 manufacturers back in Britain. Commercial success for this car was therefore seen as crucial to the survival of Leyland in Australia. The Leyland plant at Zetland closed in October 1974, and production of the P76 ceased, although assembly continued in New Zealand, where it was sold successfully in V8 form, until 1976.

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 England 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 NZ collector which is where it resides now. One is at the National Motor Museum at Birdwood Mill in South Australia which is on permanent loan from Leyland Australia.

A smaller sister car, the P82, also designed by Michelotti and intended to replace the Morris Marina in Australia, was never produced.

P76 today

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.

After production of the P76 ceased, Leyland Australia limited its local production to the Mini and Mini Moke, both produced at Enfield, along with commercial vehicles and buses.

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 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.