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Monday, August 23, 2010

1972 Austin Marina

Austin Marina was the first all-new car from the three-year old British Leyland Motor Corporation. Canada was chosen as the world launch site for the sharp-looking compact.
If there ever was an automobile that had all the earmarks of a winner, it was the 1972 Austin
Marina,  brainchild of the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Marina was the first all-new product from BLMC and joined an automotive family that was as blue-blooded as Britain's House of Lords. Each brand in the clan was a legendary icon of motoring, respected the world over. The Austin Marina joined MG, Land Rover, Triumph and Jaguar in BLMC’s stable.

British Leyland itself was the result of a merger between Leyland and the British Motor Corporation. The former built Triumph and the latter, such time-honoured brands as the Austin, Austin-Healey, Morris, MG, Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas. The new corporation was ushered into existence in May of 1968 and that same month, plans were laid for the new Marina. It was given the rather unglamorous title of Project ADO 28; ADO standing for nothing more exciting than Amalgamated Drawing Office.

The Austin Marina two-door deluxe coupe sold for $2,395 and weighed in at 934.4 kilos ( 2,060 pounds).
Management required a simple, low-priced car that would compete effectively with the Vauxhall Viva and the Ford Escort in the domestic marketplace. Equally important, they wanted a package that would meet the approval of North American drivers and our driving conditions. The new vehicle would use existing components from other cars in the BLMC stable, nicely wrapped in attractive new sheet metal. Styling mockups were ready for viewing in August of 1968. 

The project got waylaid while management put their energies into sorting out the bewildering number of overlapping brands and models that resulted from the merger. Project ADO 28 languished. It wasn’t until 1971 that the stylish little car was put on the front burner again. This time around, the project was announced to the public. In Britain, the new car would be badged as Morris and replace the now outdated Morris Minor and Morris Oxford series. In the United States, Canada and South Africa, it would carry the stronger Austin name.

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For mechanicals, the Marina was given the 1800 cc MGB engine, tested in over two billion miles of driving. The unit-construction body shell was said to be every bit as tough as the Land Rover. Its rack and pinion steering was like Jaguar’s and the four-speed manual transmission and disc brakes were shared with the Triumph Spitfire. The front suspension was borrowed from the Morris and modified for the new package.

Those in charge of the project initially contemplated front-wheel drive for the new Marina but marketing studies done in Canada for the automaker showed that Canadians did not want or like the technology. Further, front-wheel drive had a reputation as being expensive to buy and difficult to maintain. Since Canada was an important part of the corporate export market strategy, designers and engineers at BLMC shied away from FWD when the results of that study were in.

Price tag for the 1972 Austin Super Deluxe four-door sedan was $2,560.
The exterior design was pleasing. Form followed function. Designers gave the package a slab-sided body with a hint of crease below the door handles. The sedan carried a formal C-pillar and the fastback’s rakish slope looked fast when standing still. Headlights and a colour-keyed centre grille bar floated in a blacked-out opening.

British Leyland was determined to get this one right for the North American market. Long before it ever saw a showroom, the Marina underwent 75,000 miles of tests ranging from Death Valley in California to trips through the Rocky Mountains and cold weather tests in Manitoba and northern Ontario.

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Introduced formally to the North American public on February 22, 1973 as “the gas saving Marina” and “some family car, from some fine family of cars,” Marina was photographed with its kin, so that no one could miss its heritage. The press raved about the Marina. Canada was chosen by BLMC as the place to introduce the Marina to the world market. The editors at Canada Track & Traffic got the scoop on all of North America with their February 1972 test. The four-door sedan was tested extensively on the freshly repaved Cayuga Drag Strip near Toronto. The Austin Marina performed admirably.

Instrument panel was highly functional. GT versions were decked out with faux woodgrain trim.
The interior was roomy if fairly Spartan. The vehicle did offer some nice touches like contoured bucket seats, a full-width parcel shelf under the fully padded instrument panel. The fastback came with a tachometer and woodgrain appliqué on the instrument panel at no extra cost. Seat upholstery was carried throughout the cabin. David Lamb tested the car for CT&T and wrote, “From a driver’s point of view, the front seats are more comfortable than one would expect in a car of this price range.” He went on to say that “At times we drove the car for hours on end yet never had the slightest hint of fatigue or backache.”

Dressing up one’s Marina was fun. The automatic transmission came from Borg-Warner and cost $195. Air conditioning was available for $340. An AM-FM radio made driving more pleasurable. One could order an optional wood or leather-wrapped gearshift knob, GT stripes in gold, silver or black, a luggage rack and optional chrome wheel trim rims looked sharp with the $30 extra spent for a set of snazzy whitewall tires.

The Marina joined all of its British Leyland cousins on the showroom floor--the Austin Mini, the Austin America and the Austin 1800.  Prices for the Austin Marina four-door Super Deluxe Sedan was $2,560. The two-door Deluxe Coupe sold for $2,395 and the GT version added $580 to the bill of sale.

While there are no breakouts for individual brands, British Leyland sold 66,661 units in the US in calendar year 1972, that was nearly the same in 1973 with 65,948 units, despite a crippling coal strike in the UK that forced BL factories to go on a three-day work week. Records show that while BL’s overall sales were down in 1974 to 54,851 units, sales of the Austin Marina rose from 4,694 units delivered in 1973 to 4,761 units in 1974. 

In Canada, sales of all Austin models came to 4,354 units in calendar year 1972.

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The 1975 Austin Marina wore the new 5-mile an hour safety bumpers mandated by Washington. Sales shot through the roof with 13,262 units delivered. Surprisingly, British Leyland withdrew the popular model from the market. Public relations cited “cost pressures” as the reason for the car’s removal. Though it disappeared from the US market in 1974, the Marina continued on in Canada through 1978 when the 1.8-litre engine was discontinued and through 1984 elsewhere in the world. Its tenure with us was brief but pleasant.

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Copyright James C. Mays 2006 All rights reserved.


crane trucks said...

British Leyland with the merging of the British Motor Corporation has come with fantastic cars in the market.The mechanism was always good...punched with the good looks and a variety of range they are now giving the market a good competition.

Paul Richards said...

I had great expectations for my 1973 Austin Marina; but what a lemon. Had the shakes from the day I bought it. BL finally took it away for 4 days and I learned they had lifted the body, engine and transmission from the frame and mounted it on an entirely new frame. Solved the problem after 3 months of constant repair efforts.

Then the carb failed so they re-built it. However, the replacement part kit had the wrong parts - they fit but didn't work like the correct ones. After 3 or 4 rebuilds, I finally bought a replacement parts kit to rebuild it myself and discovered that the parts didn't match the specs. BL took a new carb off a brand new car and installed it. Solved the problem.

The engine began to overheat and they discovered that the head gasket was leaking. To BL's credit, at that point they just took the car and replaced the entire engine.

All of that in the first 7 months I owned it. After that I have to admit, it was fun to drive, a lot more fun than it looked.

The end came when driving on I-95, smoke then flames started coming out from the dash. Luckily it was at night with very little traffic. I got out with only a little singed hair, had time to remove my property and move away. The cremation only took a few minutes. Definitely, mixed feelings. Great bones, but obviously, greatly disappointed. My next car? Lancia Beta Coupe. Now that was one hell of a car. No, nothing against British vehicles - I also own a Triumph 750cc motorcycle - fantastic.

James C. Mays said...

My 1974 Austin Marina was dogged with problems. I owned it for less than a month when the engine blew in London, ON. The car spent more time in the dealership than on the road. After three months it caught fire on the way home from yet another visit to the dealer. I was less than a block away when the car burst into flames. I drove it back to the dealership, parked in front of the showroom and we all watched as the ill-fated Austin burnt to a crisp. I got my money back and purchased a Datsun B210. A month later, my Austin was on the lot--now with pinstripes and a price tag $200 more than I had paid for it originally.

Anonymous said...

I had a couple 1975 Marinas when I was younger,Dukes of Hazard was popular and I beat the poor little cars. Went through brake pads fairly quickly but they're a snap to replace and broke a driveshaft. I currently have a 1975 GT with 9,800 (yes 9,800) original miles for sale. Needs brake repairs and the original exhaust needs replacement, runs great. Great memories in the Marinas, especially the first one. $3,800.00 for my 1975 GT

Glynn Stewart, Calgary Alberta -

Anonymous said...

Cheap poorly built little car. Worst car I ever owned. Had a 69 Ford Cortina that I liked better.

Anonymous said...

This brought back memories. We had a little orange Austin Marina in the early 70's and it was our family car with two teenagers and one 8 year The back seat was cramped and being the youngest, I had to sit in the middle and there was a folding armrest, that when folded up, created a hump in my back. Lovely comfort!

James C. Mays said...

Thanks for sharing those backseat memories. I'd forgotten the centre armrest was unforgiving.

Ena said...

My husband is a car lover. Recently, he bought a 1980's Jaguar. It was too hard to get a perfect manual, but fortunately he got that free repair manuals Jaguar and within very reasonable price.

Anonymous said...

Had a 1972. Everything broke starting from day one. Ignition switch, wipers, fuel pump, springs, door handles, blower motor. One fire under the dash and lost lights at night. Eventually the crank shaft cracked in half.

On The Move Transport said...
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