In early November I was delighted to be invited to address members of the BMC-Leyland Australia Heritage Group, made up of former employees going right back to the days of the British Motor Corporation in Australia, which became Leyland Australia (and then JRA Limited in 1983).
BMC got its start in 1954, and was renamed Leyland Australia in 1972. In 1975, when the British management took the decision to shut down the manufacturing operations in Australia, 6000 workers lost their jobs – so it’s a tribute to endurance and goodwill, that the current heritage club still boasts a large number of members, eager to meet regularly to celebrate the spirit of enterprise which drove their initiatives and performance.
I was personally thrilled and delighted to be welcomed to the gathering by my old friend, 89-year old Roger Foy, who boasts an incredibly long tenure with the company in a variety of engineering roles.
Believe me Roger has been involved in so many roles and projects at the very top level, there isn't much he doesn't know about.
He remains spritely, full of enthusiasm, and still fits into his original white lab coat from his time in the Experimental Department.
Following the plant shutdown, it was Roger who invited me to drive both the nascent Force 7V hatchback coupe, and the one and only remaining P76 station wagon prototype, for a story in my magazine, MODERN MOTOR.
There was even a 1948 Morris Minor side-valve on display at the Heritage gathering, similar to my own very first car.
The meeting was also an opportunity to shine a light on another stillborn program initiated entirely within Leyland Australia – it was known as Project P82.
Leyland Australia recognized the folly of continuing with the underpowered Morris Marina, and the deathly unsafe Marina Red Six, and in concert with the development of the P76, a separate team of engineers embarked on a replacement for the Marina, using the same modular techniques being developed and employed on the P76.
Initially the range would consist of a two-door compact sedan; a four-door sedan and a two-door coupe. Two engines already existed: a 1.8L ‘E’ series 4cyl; a 2.6L ‘E’ series IL6; but the genius came in the development of a 3.3L V6 developed from the P76 V8.
Leyland Australia’s ‘whizzkid’ engineer Kjel Eriksson also developed a 2.2L 4cyl, using one bank of the P76 V8, and brought it to ‘hot run’ status as a skunkworks project.
Michelotti presented the original concept drawings, and the engineers managed to finish one prototype, and one V6 engine before the plant closure.
After the closure everything related to P82 was shipped to the UK
The prototype did have one test outing in England, but was then pushed to the ‘back of the shed’ and forgotten.
As mentioned previously the BL management in the UK were completely against the idea of Leyland Australia developing its own unique range of vehicles.
It's said that BL only provided AUD$21 million for the development of the P76, barely enough the bring it to production status.
That's why P82 was conceived and developed 'in the shadows'.
However, the V6 engine went on to record a colourful history. The Director of BL Motorsport, John Davenport, developed the engine in tandem with TWR, and fitted it to the giant-killing MG Metro 6R4 Rallycar.
Later, when TWR was given the job of bringing the Jaguar XJ220 to market, Tom Walkinshaw told Jaguar the V12 engine was too impractical and too heavy, and the build proceeded with the twin-turbo V6.
In the ‘What if’ category, if the P76 had been successful, then P82 would have proceeded and would have provided Leyland Australia with a range of well-designed small, compact and large cars, which would have ensured local manufacturing continued – but, it was not to be.