P76 giant flop despite award

Riley Riley

The Leyland P76 occupies a special place in Aussie motoring folklore.

It was Leyland Australia’s attempt to build a big family car to rival those from the big three — Ford, Holden and Chrysler.

It was intended to provide the company with a genuine rival to large local models like the Ford Falcon, Holden Kingswood, and Chrysler Valiant.

The P76 was magnificent — but it was a huge flop and the company went bust.

A combination of rushed assembly, the fuel crisis and strikes at component suppliers, saw  the car labelled a lemon — despite being awarded Wheels Car of the Year.

Just over 18,000 cars were produced before Leyland closed its Sydney factory in October, 1974.

Forty eight years later, however, it still enjoys a strong following, with plenty of support available from clubs and specialists.

Designed from the ground up in the early 1970s, the P76 owed little to existing models, with styling by Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti.

Billed as “Anything But Average”, the P76 boasted class-leading features like power-assisted front disc brakes on all models, rack and pinion steering, MacPherson strut front suspension and a bonded windscreen with concealed wipers.

Designed around the new ADRs, the P76 also came with advanced safety features such as side intrusion bars on all four doors and recessed door handles.

The car was nicknamed “the wedge” due to its wedge-shaped profile and had a huge boot capable of swallowing a 44 gallon drum.

Under the bonnet Leyland offered a choice of two engines: an enlarged 2623cc version of the straight six found in the Austin Kimberley and Tasman, plus the alloy V8 displacing 4416cc.

Three trim levels were offered, the Deluxe (distinguished by two headlights instead of four), Super and Executive.

Taking out Wheels magazine’s coveted Car of the Year award, the P76 won praise for its class-leading boot, remarkably rigid body and performance but a combination of the Oil Crisis and early reliability issues hampered sales.

Alongside the Deluxe and Super models, Leyland introduced the more luxurious Executive model, loaded with many extra features.

Standard equipment included the T-bar auto, power steering, reclining cloth bucket seats, better ‘cut-pile’ carpet (including the boot), rear map lights and additional sound-proofing, while factory air conditioning remained an option.

Leyland turned to motor sport in an effort to boost sales, entering the P76 in the 1974 World Cup Rally and it won the Targa Florio stage, finishing a creditable 13th overall, resulting in a limited edition model named after the Sicilian mountain.

A limited edition Targa Florio model was produced to mark the occasion, with the V8 Super with Limited slip Diff, sports wheels and steering wheel, as well as special paintwork, including side stripes.

At the time P76 production ceased, Leyland was developing a V6 version to replace the E6 variant.

Leyland tried building a two-door fastback version named the Force 7 and even a station wagon, although it never reached the production stage.

Leyland produced 56 or more Force 7 coupes, the majority of which were reportedly crushed to boost the value of the eight auctioned in 1975.

At least three wagons were produced. One was broken up by Leyland to test body strength, one was crash tested by Ford Australia for Leyland and the last and only surviving example was used as a factory hack until it too was auctioned.


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