Australia’s Greatest Lemon – The Leyland P76 Story
MINI, Jaguar and Land Rover… all of these brands are known for quality workmanship and top class cars. All of these brands originated as part of the British Leyland conglomerate formed in the United Kingdom in 1968 following the merger of Leyland Motors and British Motor Holdings. But there is one major mark on the record of Leyland motors. The Leyland P76, now I briefly discussed the P76 in my iconic Australian cars blog but the history of this vehicle is worth a further discussion. The P76 story is a controversial one as many people still hold on to the idea that it is a spectacular vehicle, where common conception is that it may be one of the biggest lemons in automotive history.
So where did it all begin, well in the early 70s the Leyland motor group decided to make the P76 in an attempt to compete in the full sized sedan market in Australia which was dominated by Ford and Holden. It was a comfortable car with an aerodynamic design for its day, with its large boot (able to fit a 44-gallon drum) and choice of either a 6 cylinder motor or a 4.4 litre V8. Now people will argue to this day that the P76 is a good, even exceptional car and in many ways it was… the issue is that in many more ways it was terrible.
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It all started so well, the P76 hit the market to great fanfare, it picked up the prestigious title of Wheels magazines Car of the year in 1973. The car initially exceeded demand and by all accounts drove well, with good brakes and positive steering. The driving experience initially was praised by car testers, this along with its superior fuel economy made Leyland excited for the future of the P76. However that never really happened, in October of 1974 quality control problems were extremely evident, including one recorded case where the wheels simply fell off mid drive.
Then there was the obvious; the P76 is not a good looking car. It was designed by Italian Giovanni Michelotti who was told to make a big car for a big country and make sure the boot could hold a 44 gallon drum. He achieved all these requirements however forgot one major feature… he forgot to make it look good, the side view is not horrific with an aggressive looking wedge style but the front and rear are below standard and plain compared to the rest of the market. Michelotti is known as being one of the greatest designers of cars ever; having worked with Ferrari and Maserati for most of his career the P76 is a major spot on his otherwise exemplary record.
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Then there was the issue that if you drove your P76 in the rain the doors were not water tight and you would soon have a small puddle at your feet. This poor sealing also caused large amounts of air and dust to fill the car when driving causing many unsafe occurrences. The interior fittings would regularly come loose and simply fall off, the paint work faded faster than it should have, the V8 version was prone to over-heating and corrosion. If you were one of the customers who had splashed out and paid the extra money for the carpeted floors in your brand new P76 you were in for a shocking surprise when due to the poorly designed exhaust system being too close to the floor and not insulated properly your expensive carpet would begin to smoulder. But then there was the big one, the problem experienced with the Leyland P76 that would go down in history and that was that the windows would literally fall out of place. When driving with the side windows down enjoying a leisurely drive in your P76 the draught was enough to sometimes make the rear windows fall out entirely.
Because of these issues the P76 became the butt of many jokes, it was often said that when taking a P76 in for servicing it was easier to list the things that still worked on the car rather than those that required servicing. It was also commonly referred to as the P38 as it was only half the car it should have been. There was also political fallout when the Prime Minister at the time Gough Whitlam referred to the P76 as a dud and Bill Hayden, who would go on to be Governor General from 1989 to 1996 famously called the P76 a lemon.
Car of the year?
However while the jokes were flying around, owners of the P76 were not laughing and the downward spiral of Leyland’s finances were no laughing matter either. Rumours have it that the poor financial situation for the British headquarters of Leyland was the reasoning for a lot of the issues the vehicle had as there just was not the financial assistance required to make the P76 into the car it was designed to be. Leyland did set out to design a 2 door coupe variant of the P76, named the Force 7, in an effort to boost sales however found themselves collapsing before the Force 7 could hit the market.
The P76 was not just an embarrassment for Leyland, or the people who owned them, but also for Wheels Magazine. As previously mentioned Wheels had named the P76 its car of the year in 1973, this would force the magazine to rethink its criteria for this award. Up until 1973 the award was only open to Australian built cars, and it seemed to many that the reason the P76 won was due to a lack of competition that year. From 1974 onwards the Car of the Year award was open to imports as well as Australian made vehicles.
This is not the only lasting impression the P76 had on the motoring world however, the V8 engine that the P76 housed is still considered to be revolutionary and is still used today in everything from ski boats to race cars. However in an industry that is often incredibly unforgiving the Leyland P76 just wasn’t meant to be, its poor production planning, poor assembly quality and problems with reliability combined with bad press and consequently poor sales led to the cars’ demise. Regrettably all of these issues overshadowed the cars’ many innovative qualities but in the long run the Australian motoring public was convinced the car was a “lemon” and they simply didn’t want to buy it. In total approximately 17,000 to 18,000 P76 sedans were constructed. The biggest downside of the P76’s failure is that it effectively bankrupted Leyland’s operations in Australia.
The P76 contributed greatly to Leyland Australia losing around 71 million dollars, a huge amount of money in the 1970s. This is equivalent to a company losing over 440 million today. The Zetland based plant closed down soon after the P76 and Force 7 projects were cancelled and Leyland withdrew from automotive production in Australia for good. The P76 still has a small but loyal following across the country with numerous car clubs dedicated to the vehicle. However the Leyland P76 will go down in history as the biggest lemon ever produced by a car manufacturer on Australian shores.
To avoid ending up with a lemon, take the time to research the car you are about to buy and talk to an expert first. Many of our car loan experts have backgrounds working in dealerships and many (just like me) are car enthusiasts themselves. Feel safe in the knowledge that you will not only be getting a tailored car finance package but also tapping into the knowledge and experience of over 40 industry experts.