The 1980 replacement for the Marina, the closely related Ital, was essentially a facelift with a change to the front suspension, using telescopic dampers rather than lever dampers but still retaining torsion bars, in a hopeful attempt to address the criticism of the motoring press. Still, it sold reasonably well.
The Marina has been described as one of the worst cars of all time, although it was one of the most popular cars in Britain throughout its production life, and compared to many of its competitors, such as the Lada 1300 range, however, a fair buy both new and secondhand. The car was also exported throughout the World, including North America, and assembled with varying degrees of popularity in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The Marina was developed under the ADO 28 codename. In the early 1970s, BL decided that conservative, traditionally engineered cars would be released under the Morris name, while more adventurous cars would be released as Austins or even as new marques – such as the Austin Allegro and Leyland Princess. Specifically this meant that Austins would make use of the groundbreaking transverse-engine front-wheel-drive layout developed by Alec Issigonis, whilst Morris cars such as the Marina used a conventional rear-wheel drive, live rear axle drivetrain as used on popular mass-market cars such as the Ford Escort and Vauxhall Viva. This strategy was also intended to improve sales in BL's export markets. Commonwealth markets such as South Africa, Australia and New Zealand were large buyers of BL products, but the innovative Austin cars were considered too fragile and complex for use in such countries, as well as being fitted exclusively with small, low-powered engines. As a result, the Marina was unadventurous but simple by making use of tried and trusted BMC components derived from the Morris Minor and MGB, and using mainly Triumph Dolomite transmission and running gear. Intended as a stop-gap design until new products were ready later in the 1970s, it was designed by Roy Haynes, the same man who designed the Ford Cortina Mark II, with which it shares some stylistic similarities.
Roy Haynes attempted to put forward a system that many manufacturers now use, that of the common floor pan shared between models; the Marina was designed to be the first car utilising this idea. It was looked on as too radical by the management of British Leyland and after a short while Triumph designer Harry Webster was drafted in to push the project forward, Roy Haynes soon leaving the company. This protracted development period and the numerous changes made to the design by the various people working on it had a major effect on the Marina. It meant that the Marina (a car intended to be basic and conventional) cost more to develop than the Austin Allegro, its technically and aesthetically advanced stablemate. This is often held up as a prime example of British Leyland's poor project and cost management.
The Board decided to build the Marina at the Cowley plant, little developed by Lord Nuffield since the 1920s. Furthermore, the plant had insufficient capacity (British manufacturers had trouble just meeting demand in the postwar years). This increased the design costs significantly, since the plant had to be effectively rebuilt from the ground up.
The Marina was originally designed to be used with the E-series OHC BMC engines. These engines had a number of design problems. A modular series, the E series had standard bores, with capacity increased using more cylinders or larger strokes. However, small capacity sixes fell out of favour as postwar Britain became increasingly affluent.
To increase capacity, BL preferred increasing stroke, which added little to the cost of production. This resulted in a tall engine. It was not possible to slant the engine, because of the location of the fuel pump. Furthermore, the engine needed to be "siamesed" - that is, the water jacket was shared between pairs of cylinders. Both these led to overheating and oil burning in the Austin Maxi, so the board decided to adopt the more reliable A- and B- series engine for indigenous production (Australia and South Africa continued with the E series). However, the body had already been designed, so the Marina was forever cursed with "full nappy" rear end styling (needed to even the lines between the necessarily bloated front and the rear).
The cost was further exacerbated by the fact that Leyland had to build an overpass for the engine assembly line which was bifurcated by a municipal road (Birmingham council agreed to sell the road to Leyland - after the overpass had been completed). This increased the cost even further.
The development costs were again increased when it was decided that the saloon and coupe versions of the car should be designed separately—normal industry practise was to use one style as the basis for the other. Later, advertising for the car would hold this up as one of the coupé's selling points, but this policy caused added expense for the ADO28 project. The numerous redesigns also meant that the final design of the Marina was rushed as the project's final deadline grew near — the car went from design stage to production in just 18 months. As a result, the board decided to "cut costs" and the Macpherson struts were abandoned in favour of an old design for the Morris Minor. The project for a new 4-speed BMC gearbox also had to be abandoned.
The indigenous engines were the venerable A-Series and B-Series units in 1.3- and 1.8-litre capacities, respectively, with rear wheels being driven through a live axle. It featured torsion bar suspension at the front and leaf-spring suspension at the rear, and five body styles, saloon, estate, coupé, pickup and van, the estate coming about almost one and a half years later in late 1972. The TC versions were equipped with a twin carburettor engine similar to that found in the MG MGB for extra performance. These could be fitted with a body kit from BL Special Tuning comprising front and rear spoilers, alloy wheels, extra lighting and other details.
A 1.5-litre diesel version, using an engine developed from the B-Series, was offered in a few European countries where the tax rates favoured oilburners. With no more than 37 or 40 hp on offer (depending on your source), performance must have been lethargic. 3,870 diesels were built between 1977 and 1980.
The new car was launched on the domestic market on 27 April 1971, with a night shift added at the Cowley plant in May 1971. At that time the manufacturers reported they were producing 2,000 cars per week, projecting, as things turned out, optimistically, to increase this to 5,000 cars per week by the end of 1971. Nevertheless, eleven months after launch, on 29 March 1972, the 100,000th Marina, a 1.8TC version, emerged from the Cowley plant and by February 1973 the company was able to announce that 250,000 Marinas had already been built in less than two years. The Marina continued in production from 1971 to 1980, when it was replaced by the Morris Ital
(a reworking of the Marina) that continued in production until 1984, when the Morris marque was axed and the Austin badge featured on the Montego that replaced it. In Australia and in South Africa, it was known as the Leyland Marina, in New Zealand as the Morris 1.7 (for 1979–81, in face-lifted O-Series form), and North America as the Austin Marina.
With the discontinuation of the Morris 18-22 - also sold as an Austin and Wolseley - the Marina was the only car sold with the Morris badge after 1975.
The car was popular with families and undemanding car buyers, and was available in the typical BL colours of the day – Russet Brown, Harvest Gold, Limeflower Green, Midnight Blue, Teal Blue, Blaze Orange, Damask Red and a characteristically 1970s purple called Black Tulip. It was intended to be a competitor to the generally similar Ford Cortina (and to some extent the smaller Escort); the Vauxhall Viva and later Vauxhall Cavalier; and the Hillman Avenger and Hunter. It shared its basic styling with all these cars, adopting a "transatlantic" look that took elements of car styling from contemporary American cars (especially the front-end treatment in the Marina's case) and offered them at a scale acceptable to the European market. As with its mechanics, the Marina was not intended to be visually innovative or particularly interesting – its Austin Allegro stablemate was the entry in that area of the market. A point of criticism with the Marina was the setup of the windscreen wipers to that which was "opposite" to the driver. This was a decision taken pre-production after drivers of the prototypes reported how airflow over the windscreen at certain speeds caused the wiper closest to the A-post to lift off the windscreen, potentially disrupting the driver's line of sight. The problem was judged sufficiently serious to see the car go on sale with a wiper position as if for driving on the other side of the road, although subsequent road testers questioned the effectiveness of this decision and the basis on which it was taken.
BL was beset with problems including industrial action throughout the period, and the Marina was one of a number of models that suffered. While the BL workers gradually eroded their own employment, manufacturers in Europe and Japan introduced innovative designs (such as the VW Golf) that the Marina and its like were never likely to compete with. The problems were compounded as the cars which were to replace the Marina and BL's other mid-size offerings were delayed again and again (eventually appearing as the Austin Maestro and Austin Montego only in 1983/4). By this point, the idea of separate Austin and Morris ranges had been abandoned: there was not enough money to develop a full range of rear-wheel-drive Morris cars and an equivalent front-wheel-drive (FWD) Austin range and FWD was becoming increasingly acceptable across the market.
There were changes however, albeit small ones. A facelift in 1975 gave the Marina new radiator grilles, dashboard, seats, suspension modifications and increased soundproofing. In May 1977 Marinas started to appear at dealers equipped with Allegro style seats: apart from rationalising the procuring and production processes, this was said to give the Marinas more comfortable and supportive seating. The overhead camshaft O-Series engine (that was also used for Leyland Princess) appeared in 1.7-litre form in 1978 to replace the larger B-Series 1.8 models. A changed grille, including driving lights, a front spoiler and redesigned bumpers and rear lights were added to all models.
Under severe financial strain, BL was bailed out by the government under the Ryder Report of 1975, and Sir Michael Edwardes was brought in to oversee the company. Under his leadership, BL made an attempt to update the Marina, by enlisting the help of Giorgetto Giugiaro's ItalDesign. ItalDesign, however, did not design the car, which was an in-house product — it merely productionised it. The result of this exercise, the 1980 Morris Ital features large rear lamp clusters and a new front end, but the 1971 vintage of the design was obvious. The Ital lasted four years and was replaced by the Austin Montego in early 1984, thus bringing to an end use of the Morris name on passenger cars.
The Marina's public life did not get off to a good start. The rushed final stages of design and production, especially in regard to the suspension, meant that many of the press fleet cars had an incorrect front suspension set-up whereby there was no camber change when the car rolled, which in turn produced "almost heroic" levels of understeer: Autocar reported that the car they were driving ended up on the wrong side of the road when taking a sharp corner. This was a particular problem with the more powerful 1.8 and 1.8TC cars, which were unfortunately the models the press were most likely to test, though the 1.3-litre models with their lighter engine did not suffer from the problem to the same extent. Early production 1.8 Marinas were fitted with the original front suspension although a different lower link-arm (trunnion) was fitted quite quickly. The best estimate is that about 5,000 cars with the original suspension were sold to the public: many, though not all, had their front suspension set-up retrospectively corrected by dealers and before September 1971, less than six months after launch, front suspension "uprights" were being modified on the production line. The Marina was never intended, or designed, to have particularly exciting or sharp handling, but the early problems led to less-than flattering road test reports and it was undeniable that the Marina's handling always tended towards understeer, which for a rear-wheel-drive car was unusual, and body-roll. What Car?, in a very typical review, described the understeer as "noticeable", but called the car as a whole "unobtrusively well designed".
More comprehensive suspension changes were made with the introduction in 1975 of the Mark 2; anti-roll bars were fitted which calmed the earlier car's wayward tendencies, but even as late as 1982, the Ital changed its Marina-derived front lever arm shock absorbers for telescopic shock absorbers.
Despite heavy criticism from the media and motoring press, the car's lack of technical sophistication permitted it to be keenly priced and the Morris Marina was a very popular car in Britain and was among the country's best selling cars throughout its production life, peaking at second place – only surpassed by the Ford Cortina – in 1973. In many ways the car fulfilled its design brief of being an unpretentious, high volume, mass-market car for average-income families and business people.
The deliberately simple and 'old-fashioned' design of the Marina was intended mainly to appeal to company car and corporate fleet buyers. This market was dominated by Ford with the Escort and Cortina. BL's Austin products, with their advanced front-wheel drive and suspension systems were more expensive to buy and more costly to maintain, and so suffered poorer sales in these crucial markets. The Marina's front-engined, rear-wheel-drive, live-rear-axle layout was identical to the Ford products and most other mass-production saloons of the day. Although Ford remained dominant by a large margin, the Marina did succeed in capturing a larger share of the fleet/hire market and this contributed to its high sales but also its image as a rather dull, 'workaday' vehicle.
Marina production lasted almost 10 years, and in that time no fewer than 807,000 were sold across Britain, though it was less popular on export markets. Whilst intended to be a 'stop gap' design until a more up-to-date replacement could be developed, the problems faced by British Leyland in the mid-to-late 1970s meant that the Marina remained in production essentially unchanged other than some light facelifting and interior changes, as the competition moved ahead. Coupled to the continuing quality problems suffered by the car and the increasingly poor perception of BL cars as a whole, this sealed the Marina's poor reputation despite its high sales.
Over the years, it has frequently been described by journalists, authors and motoring critics as one of the worst cars of all time.
The relaunching of the then decade-old design as the Morris Ital only added to the image of an outdated, outclassed, and poor-performing vehicle.
A survey conducted by Auto Express magazine in August 2006 revealed that just 745 of the 807,000 Marinas sold in Britain are still on the road — that number is fewer than one in a thousand. This made it officially the most-scrapped car to have been sold in Britain over the previous 30 years. A few of these were later destroyed for comic effect by the BBC television series Top Gear. The low survival rate is due to a combination of factors, chief amongst which is the Marina's relatively poor rust-proofing. Like other 'ordinary' family saloon cars of the period the Marina did not gain the status of a classic car whilst large numbers were still in existence and able to be preserved. The Marina also made a good 'donor car' for several other British Leyland models. The brakes and suspension from a Marina were/are often used to upgrade the Morris Minor, whilst the A- and B-Series engines were used in a wide variety of other cars - the 1275 cc A-Series, for example, made an easy performance improvement for a Midget or Sprite, whilst the twin-carb B-Series engine used in the TC versions of the Marina fitted the MGB without any modifications needed (and the TC engine carries a slightly higher power output). Factors such as these meant that elderly Marinas were more likely to be stripped for their parts to upgrade more popular models than be repaired or restored.
There are Morris Marina owners' clubs in the UK with members who are keen to ensure that the few remaining examples are preserved and survive on Britain's roads.
- 1971–1980 - 1275 cc A-Series Straight-4, 60 hp (45 kW) at 5250 rpm and 69 ft·lbf (94 Nm) at 2500 rpm
- 1971–1978 - 1798 cc B-Series Straight-4
- 1971–1978 - 1798 cc B-Series Straight-4 Twin carburettor
- 1977–1980 - 1489 cc Straight-4 Diesel
- 1978–1980 - 1695 cc O-Series Straight-4
The Marina was a conventional design, a fully unitary spot welded body (no sub-frames were used except on the six-cylinder) with a longitudinally mounted engine driving through the transmission and naked propeller shaft to a solid live axle suspended on semi-elliptic leaf springs with telescopic dampers.
The troublesome manual gearbox was a four-speed unit with synchromesh on all gears except reverse and was derived from the Triumph Toledo unit, controlled by a floor-mounted lever. Automatic transmission was a conventional Borg Warner Type 35 3 Speed transmission and was offered at extra cost.
During the Marina's production run, around 70 were converted by Mumford into convertibles. About a dozen survive.
The Marina was available in the United States as the Austin Marina from 1973 to 1975 in 2- and 4-door form. It was marketed as an Austin because Morris was a virtually unknown brand in the US and to capitalise on the success of the Austin-Healey marque. The 1973 model still had the normal small bumpers, but the 1974/5 models had large bumpers to comply with new US regulations. It was only produced with the 1800 cc engine and was soon strangled by the emissions equipment required by US law, being fitted with an air pump and exhaust air injection. The US government soon accused BL of "dumping" cars in the US which – combined with tales of poor quality – made it a very poor seller, and they were not exported to the US after 1975.
The Marina was also marketed in Canada as the Austin Marina, in 2-door coupé and 4-door saloon form, from 1973 to 1978, using only the 1800 engine, fitted with US-style heavier bumpers and emissions equipment. Sales stopped when the 1.8 L engine was replaced by the 1.7 L engine, which was not emissions-certified in Canada. While its simple rear-wheel-drive layout and mechanicals appealed to many Canadian drivers, the Marina's body was prone to extremely fast rust-out on the salted winter roads of eastern Canada, which limited sales in later years.
In Denmark, the Morris Marina name was used for a badge-engineered version of the Morris 1100 in the early- to mid-1960s.
1973 Leyland Marina Super.The Marina was introduced to the Australian market in April 1972 as the Morris Marina and then, following a change in marketing policy, sold there from 1973 under the Leyland Marina name. The Australian Marina, which was sold in sedan and coupé forms only, used the OHC E-Series four-cylinder motor in 1500 cc, 1750 cc and 1750 cc twin carburettor form. Additionally, in an attempt to compete with the Holden Torana and Ford Cortina 6-cylinder models, the Marina was also offered from November 1973 with a 121 hp (90 kW) 2600 cc E-series six-cylinder engine. This indigenous Marina variant was capable of 0–60 mph in under nine seconds.
The Australian Marinas were built from CKD kits sent from Cowley in England, but used high levels of local content, including different running gear, axle, interiors, seals, seats, uprated dampers and mounts, uprated wheels and a higher grade of fit and finish. The Marina Six used a separate front sub-frame to support the weight of the Big Red engine and different front struts in an attempt to improve handling. Base model featured a 3-speed manual gearbox - sourced from General Motors Holden - to meet local content requirements. The locally manufactured Borg-Warner automatic was, however, the variation most popular in the local market.
Leyland Australia were known for their own development and a version of the Rover V8 was converted into a V6 and test fitted to a Marina saloon, allegedly running in a race at Mount Panorama. Production of the Marina in Australia ended in 1975, when Leyland Australia's Victoria Park, Zetland factory (home of the Leyland P76) closed. A replacement model, the P82, was under development in 1974 but did not reach production.
The Morris Marina was a popular car on the New Zealand market, imported by the New Zealand Motor Corporation. Imports began with built-up British sourced saloons and coupes (in 1.3 and 1.8L forms) in 1971, but local assembly of Australian sourced (E-Series engines) models began in 1972 after the release of the Marinas there. In 1974, before the demise of Leyland Australia's manufacturing operations, local assembly switched to British sourced models again in saloon, estate, van and pick-up forms. Batches of fully built UK-sourced cars also came in in 1973 and 1974 when the government allowed additional import licences due to the inability of local assembly plants to keep pace with demand for new cars.
In 1979 the Marina received a facelift and the BL O-Series OHC 1.7L engine, however at the time the Marina name was perceived as negative by the New Zealand public – hence the Marina name was dropped completely, the car being renamed Morris 1.7. The Morris 1.7 had high equipment levels and included front spoilers and driving lights on all models. The related van and pickup models were renamed Morris 575.
Production of this car ceased in 1981, and the car was replaced locally by an expanded range of NZMC Honda products.
In 1970, Donald Stokes ordered the BMC Competitions Department closed and disbanded. By the time the Marina appeared, it was becoming obvious that Stage Rallying was gaining popularity and in early 1971 it was decided to use the new model in the 1971 RAC rally, the following November. Luckily for BL, Special Tuning had a rally driver on its books by the name of Brian Culcheth and so with no team, no mechanics, no funding and initially no sponsorship a team of talented engineers developed a 1.3 Coupe into a rally car, funded purely by sales of performance parts from Special Tuning.
Knowing that the 1.8 engine would be too heavy for the handling, they concentrated on the 1.3 engine and using Mini components got good horsepower figures from it; then they played a flanker to pen the field in the 1.3 classes. All rally teams used one particular course to test, so the car was fitted with a full-race 1.8 and blasted around the track in front of the Ford rally team — consequently they withdrew from the 1.3 class allowing the car to claim 1st in Class for the 1971 Rally.
Subsequently, the car was entered in seventeen more national and international rallies until 1975, either being placed or winning class honours in twelve of them, the others being crashes/failures.
For 1976, BL management decided to move to the Triumph Dolomite Sprint for its main rallying weapon.
In 1974 Foden commissioned a Rover V8-engined Marina to compete in the London-Sahara-Munich rally. This stormed through several stages before suffering rear-axle failure in the desert. The rear axle had been the only part sourced from outside the BL parts bin.
During the early 1970s, George Turnbull was retired from BL and took two Marinas, one saloon and one coupé to a small car producing company in Korea who were interested in developing their own car, instead of making other people's cast-offs. Hyundai took the Marinas and developed the Hyundai Pony from them, in 3-, 4- and 5-door variants, a station wagon, and a pick-up, kick-starting the company's ascendancy in car manufacturing.
The Marina lived on in many smaller ways: many parts from the Marina were used in other British Leyland vehicles. The door handles from the Marina were utilized in the Austin Allegro, Range Rover, Triumph TR7, and the first series of Land Rover Discovery, until 1998. They were also used by some models of the Reliant Scimitar, and by various Lotus cars, including some versions of the Lotus Esprit. The indicator switchgear, also used on the Triumph Stag, eventually became part of the Lamborghini Diablo. Marina-sourced gearboxes were used in the MG Midget 1500 version.