Leyland P76 – an Australian Icon

Has there been a car that has polarised the Australian public more than the P76? It doesn’t matter who you talk to, if they know what the P76 is then they have an opinion on the car. In years gone by, in particular the 1980’s and 90’s, the commonly held view was that the P76 was a piece of rubbish. This was not an opinion borne from experience, but rather was founded on rumour and pub talk.

Such comments as “surely a car that was only in production for 18 months cannot be much good” and “the P76 sent Leyland Australia broke” were two of the more common comments, along with the old chestnut “P38 – it was only half a car”. If you owned a P76 during this time you heard it all. Despite such negativity though, the P76 was able to draw from its owners a strong sense of loyalty and devotion. Maybe this was created through the negativity that P76 owners had to endure, but I tend to believe it was because the P76 was and is a damn fine car.

My father purchased his first P76 back in 1981. Not long after buying this car the WA P76 Owners Club was formed. My father joined and soon became an active member.
It was tough going back in the early days of the club, we would attend car shows where the organisers didn’t want our cars on display, and the public thought of us as being freaks for wanting to display P76’s in the first place.

Going to school back in the 80’s and being into cars generally meant that you were either a Holden or Ford fan. But not me, I was a P76 fan. Of course having a big mouth meant that all my mates knew that my family owned P76’s and copping flak though out my school days was normal. Naturally, when it was time for me to get my license in 1990 there was only one car to own. And I ended up buying a P76 V8 as my first car. My mates disgust at me buying a P76 was quickly forgotten when they first went for a drive in the car.

It has been interesting being involved in the P76 for 30 years, over the journey I have come to learn so much about the car and the company that built it. I have learnt that indeed it was not the P76’s fault that Leyland Australia ceased local production in this country, but rather the ill health of the parent company British Leyland.

Having had the chance to talk to many people who worked at Leyland during the development and then production of the car, I have learnt that it was a miracle for such a small team to develop a car from the ground up for a meagre budget of $20 million.

Before the P76, Leyland (and BMC before the name change) had only built small to medium size cars in this country. Unlike Holden, Ford and Chrysler, there were no overseas variants to poach ideas or designs from. Leyland Australia designed and built an all-Australian car from the ground up, and not only succeeded in getting the car into production, but designed a car that was far superior to its competitors.

It is satisfying today to attend classic car shows and hear the public response to the P76. I find that at least 90% of comments are positive. This could only have been achieved through all the hard work of P76 owners over the years in ignoring all the negativity and constantly proving the knockers wrong about this great Australian car.

There can be no doubt that the P76 is indeed an Australian Icon.

Editor’s note: All photos included with this article are of vehicles that belong to the author and this piece should be read in conjunction with the comments by Damien at the foot of this piece. Damien not only owns a P76 but he also owns a Ford Falcon GS 351C 4 spd Coupe and his brief comparison of both vehicles is interesting.

Leyland P76 – an Australian Icon

6 thoughts on “Leyland P76 – an Australian Icon

  1. Well written piece on the P76. Having had one in our family since 1974 and having driven them since that time it is interesting how well they continue to drive. In fact with modern tyre technology they seem to respond even better. A wide variety of the cars will be on display in Melbourne at New Quay Docklands on the 30th of October if members of the public want to have a closer look.

  2. I agree with what James and John say about the car,although I am a bit biased (the white car in the shots is my old one that I restored in the 1990’s).I have other cars in my collection from the same era and only my Jensen Interceptor comes close in dynamics which hardly compares as new, one of these would of bought 4 new fully loaded P76 Executives!
    When slightly modified, a V8 speed with some tweaks to the suspension,camshaft,exhaust,carburettor,such a car would keep one of my other cars (XA GT Rpo83)very honest on a race track in terms of speed while far outbraking it,and much more agile (due to it being about 300 kg lighter),around the corners.
    I am keen to see one in historic racing and am building up a car to start doing some relay races and timed sprints…where it might end who knows!

  3. Great article. I have owned many P76’s, and though I sold my last one way back in 1988 I still remember them with great fondness.

    They were a great car, much better in some regards than the opposition. Better handling, better visibility, better brakes, better economy (the V8 would get better economy than the wheezy Ford 6 cylinder), more usable space and pretty good reliability despite all the jokes.

  4. P76 – so underated and so malined it’s criminal. So much better in specification and to drive than it’s big three counterparts. Quality control issues were there but nothing as bad as what we saw in the VN Commodore and EA Falcon years later. Like the Betamax – too good too early…

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