The Real McCoy On The Leyland P76 - Giving It The Boot

Dan McCoey | Jun 9, 2008

The Leyland P76 has been considered a joke by the motoring fraternity and public for over three decades now and I am wondering if it is a reputation that the Leyland giant really deserves?

During the 70’s big collars and even bigger flares were in and I never understood why the equally oversized P76 failed. Maybe the interior designers should have trimmed the seats in paisley?

Thirty years on and big collars and flares are once again cool, but what of the Leyland P76? How does the P76’s retro ‘barge’ styling and 70’s acid tripping colour schemes shape up in a new century. Can a thirty something P76 actually be cool?

p76-release017

It may be hard for some to believe but I actually think the P76 is cool, in one form, the “Targa Florio” model.

You see there were two versions of the P76, a V8 and six cylinder. The six-cylinder engine was an enlarged unit borrowed from the Austin Tasman and Kimberley and taken from 2.25-litres out to 2.6-litres, while the V8 was a development of the Rover 3.5 litre V8, with a stronger block and longer stroke. The longer stroke meant the engine was close to square resulting in a more free revving nature and an increase in capacity to 4.4-litres. The engine was fuelled by a Bendix Stromberg two-barrel carburetor, in place of the twin SUs used in Rovers, and power climbed to a heady 161kW.

The styling for both V8 and six cylinder models was almost identical. Designed by Giovanni Michelotti both variants shared the same wide panels, square edges, wedge shape nose, flat rear end and high sides, a look that was very different to anything else in its day.

p76-release003

Suspension was ‘floaty’ by today’s standards, and could ‘turn’ even the hardest of sailor’s stomachs. Up front there were struts, coil springs and an anti-roll bar which was a bit of an oxymoron. Brakes were the other issue.

Power assisted brakes were standard and a big selling point in their day but the 270mm front discs and 230mm x 38mm drums in the rear just didn’t do a good job of slowing the big Leyland down.

In July of 1973 “Wheels” magazine said this of the P76. "For Leyland it is the most important car in the company's history. It has cost $21 million and taken 500,000 miles of development and five years to get into the showrooms." Thirty-five years on and inflation has taken its toll with “Wheels” more recently dubbing the VE Commodore as Holden’s “Billion dollar Baby!”

p76-release004

Then in September of 1973 “Wheels” magazine in their usual format did a four car comparison featuring the Valiant, Falcon 500, Holden Kingswood and P76. With these large family sedans costing no more than $3,500 fully optioned, the P76 was the clear winner in this segment.

Early 1974 saw the motoring journalists at Wheels name the P76 V8 the 1973 “Wheels” Car of the Year. This is what they had to say about it;

"It is in the V8 version that it really shows its potential. It sets new standards for medium-sized local cars in its ride/handling/road-holding compromise; it has fine brakes, is comfortable, very roomy, and practical and, with the all important V8 engine, has excellent performance and superior fuel consumption compared to the V8 opposition and the larger competitive sixes. Of course, the car is not perfect but in reaching its design objectives the P76 V8 has contributed to the engineering standards of Australian cars."

The award was also given to the V8 P76 for its roominess, as the car had a cavernous interior and its famous boot. People still talk today about the P76 boot and its ability to swallow a 44 gallon drum like a cheeseburger at a Biggest Loser temptation test.

The P76 was at first well received, but one thing that hasn’t changed in our relatively small Australian car market is the fickle nature of new car buyers and it was no different 30 years ago. Over 2,000 P76’s had been pre-ordered, resulting in a shortage at the dealers, particularly of V8 versions, which resulted in the P76 being slow to get onto Australian roads – and the car buying public became a little suspect.

p76-florio

The Leyland dealer network didn’t help the situation either. On the rump of the Leyland was a difficult to read P76 badge that looked like PIG from a distance and the Leyland salesman soon had a pet name for the new car. It didn’t take long for the lack of stock and the dealer’s nickname to result in whispers that brought into question the reliability of the P76.

Rather than buy a PIG, Australian buyers stuck to their Holdens, Fords and Valiants and the P76 was eventually axed. Even Australia’s Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam called it a dud and Bill Hayden joined in by calling it a lemon. All up around 16,000 P76’s were made in various guises, however the actual official number of P76’s built remains a mystery.

However, the news was not all bad for the P76, which enjoyed a brief and successful motorsport career. Evan Green drove one to success in the 1974 World Cup Rally and made the fastest time around the leg in Sicily. This included part of the former Targa Florio course and Leyland celebrated by introducing a limited run of 300 P76 Targa Florio’s to celebrate.

The P76 Targa Florio had a large sticker down the side to commemorate the win but it wasn’t just livery that made this car different. The Targa Florio came standard with options that included power steering, five-spoke alloy wheels, radial tyres, a four-speed auto transmission and even a limited-slip differential. This was enough to make it quite special and in my opinion rather cool. Much like my 70’s velour suit, I would be happy to be seen out and about in a Leyland P76 V8 Targa Florio in 2008. It has too rich a history to continue being considered a joke.

Until next time ~ Happy and safe motoring

Filed under: News, The Real McCoey, leyland, p76, targa florio

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  • wheelnut says,
    6 years ago
    People say that the P76 was a mongrel of a car... and they are right!
    My uncle had one and he loved the fact that in the unlikely event of something going wrong with it He didn't have to go to a Leyland dealer and pay over inflated prices for replacement parts
    He could simply go to a auto wreckers yard and virtually pick any similar part he wanted be it from a Chev Holden Ford Valiant Chrysler Misubishi Toyota.. and even a Couple of Europeans
  • Golfschwein says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    Great article, guys.

    Is the P76 cool? Yes, I think so, but it must be the V8 Executive or Targa Florio versions.

    Its wedge styling was half a decade early and the only things that messed it up then are the same things that mess it up now, which is the details. The best example is the sad tail lights and fussy boot lid pressings.
  • James Mentiplay says,
    6 years ago
    5 likes
    Not a bad article, the only thing missing is research. The P76 was available in 3 models not two - them being Deluxe, Super and Executive. The first two could be had in either 6 cylinder or V8. The V8 put out 144kw, not 161kw.
    Handling was certainly not floaty, even by todays standards. The P76 sits very falt on the road, when the suspension is in good condition ( has the author ever driven a P76?)
    Brakes were never an issue on the P76 either ( what is your source ?). Never were the brakes mentioned in any road test of the P76 ( other than to say how good they were ).
    The Targa Florio was an auto, it was not available as a manual as stated.
    And last but not least, 18007 P76's were built. The number is not a mystery. The West Australian P76 club has done an enormous amount of research on the car, and would have been happy to provide any info required considering it's photos were used without permission.
    • T Bennett says,
      6 years ago
      1 like
      James, if memory serves I think there was briefly another model P76 below Deluxe level. It appeared early on, a 'fleet stripper' dubbed the Standard or Business perhaps? I do remember it being mentioned in the motoring media of the day, and that it was reportedly to deliver Leyland a whopping $4 profit on each unit!

      As a multiple owner of P76 (and having owned or driven just about every other relevant family-car competitor of the era, from Chrysler to Volvo) I agree the big Leyland delivered a terrific mix of handling and ride. Even today they are an enjoyable drive. Braking was never an issue with these cars, merely enhanced by the remarkably light kerb weight.

      To disparage the 1973-debut P76 by comparing its dynamic abilities against 2006-debut VE Commodore displays minimal relevance in my opinion, and even less credibility. For example, use that same 33 year gap to compare 1975 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 litre (undoubtedly the world's best sedan of its era) to a 2008 Hyundai Genesis and guess what? You get the same (pointless) outcome.
  • Daniel McCoey says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    James, glad you liked the article. But I now have just a few things to clear up for you. Research in this line of work is of the utmost importance, and it’s something I pride myself on, if you can’t get things right then there is no point writing about them, so on that basis I’ll try to answer your statements.

    Firstly when I said two models, I was referring to the two different engines available not the full range of car which you have correctly pointed out. I have a certain amount of space to piece a story together as dictated by the editor, if I could write a full story and include everything, my weekly piece would look more like a novel than a leisurely Sunday morning read.
    Secondly, the press release that I have in my hot little hands says 161kW; however I doubt they are accurate as many manufacturers’ in the 70’s pumped up their output figures. So I do find that hard to swallow as I did stumble across other output figures, one of which is 192bhp which equates to 143.2kW but whose numbers do you use? A Leyland press release or information just found on the net, or from P76 owners who belong to a club?

    “Suspension was ‘floaty’ by today’s standards…” I still stand by that, as I do about the brakes, however I did make reference to the wheels family car test, which put the P76 as the winner, and a criteria of winning was handling. Sure, for its time it was great, but if you think a P76 is good by today’s standards I would ask if you’ve driven something like a VE commodore that handles and stops very well. Just on the issue of ‘if I have driven one?” The answer is yes. We had a V8 P76 in our family for many years before time took its toll, I still remember the sound of the engine repeatedly cranking over on cold mornings. Only recently I had the chance to captain another that had been lovingly restored, hence the reason for my article.

    Targa Florio question? Yes, it should have read ‘4 speed Auto’ that’s my mistake by way of having a brain snap as it was Auto only as you correctly say, and that’s the way it should have read. I still have no Idea why I wrote manual in place of Auto, as I don’t usually refer manual’s as Transmissions either.

    As for the total amount of cars built, during research I was unable to get any clarification on that as the last piece of information I could find said a little over 16,000 cars were built. James, maybe I should have spoken to a stalwart like you on that point, as very little info is available about the Factories demise. It’s good to see a small army of devotees still passionate about the ‘PIG’ after so many years, thank you James for your comments.
  • tonyn says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    ive owned two of these and one was a targa florio, they are actually nice to drive, i was quite suprised on how good they were to a similar GM or chrysler product!
  • Bret says,
    6 years ago
    Yep, I have only fond memories of the two our family owned as well, particularly the effortless towing abilities.
    No mention of the (stillborn) wagon?
    Well I actually saw one on the weekend, and commented to those I was with how rare a beast that it was. I was, however, disappointed to see the rather sorry state that it was in.
  • FORDMAN says,
    6 years ago
    Yep she cool my mum had one didnt like or think much about it as a kid but now i would like one, think same reponce to the AU Falcon the more i see them better they look
  • Andrew says,
    6 years ago
    It came with a three speed automatic, not four speed.
  • Andy says,
    6 years ago
    In reply to the Targa Flrio *auto only*. Well I've just come into possession of a crimean blue?........Targa Florio from my brother who has had it from new and been garaged since 1985. Believe me..it is definitely a 4 speed factory manual...
  • Sean says,
    6 years ago
    1 like
    Ask my Dad ( Peter Smith ), he was the Product Manager for the P76 and knows absolutely everything there is to know about it. He brought home the actual P76 that won the Targa Florio...I was only 3 so my memmory doesn't serve me well. Anyway, I enjoyed your article and the replies.
  • John Ernst says,
    6 years ago
    James M is totally correct in his assessment of your article and the lack of research, no article ever written other than this one has criticised both the brakes and the suspension. The suspension is always described as tight and taunt, brakes consistent and fade free... even when compared to the VE Commodore (which I use daily) my P76 Executive is much more communicative however I have made sure that shocks and brakes were serviced regularly, something many owners often neglect.
  • Dave N says,
    6 years ago
    Yep, there are not too many cars that can stir up opinions like the legendary P76!
    First car was a P76(not normally noted as a first choice car for an 18yo!)and have since owned many more. At the time I fell in love with the smooth V8,ride and handling of the big beast,plus it looked so different to anything else my mates had. Have travelled many km's in a P76 and have to say they are one of the most easy and comfortable cars to cruise in. Sadly,I had to part with all,with the exception of the Force 7V.....now there's another story.....! Love 'em or hate 'em they are a unique part of our motoring history!
  • Wheelnut says,
    6 years ago
    People like to think that the P76 is a Lemon.. However; I think that title now belongs to TRD. Particularly when they only sold 888 TRDs compared to approx 10;000+ P766s.. and even more so when you consider the wealth and resources TRD had access to compared to Leyland.
  • James H says,
    6 years ago
    i own a executive has been in my family around 12 years.
    im currently restoring it and i thought i would just say that its great if you get one that's been cared for other wise your in for some trouble. mine lived under a tree for 10 or so years. mines grate has heaps of power great handling and looks mean as.
    but you need to upgrade the suspension if you get in a bog stock P76 of course its going to ride like s**t the suspension and other components are worn and all not operating properly.
  • MAL HERRICK says,
    6 years ago
    I WORKED IN THE VEHICLE EXPERIMENTAL DEPARMENT OF LEYLAND IN ZETLAND SYDNEY, AND WAS VERY INVOLVED IN THE P76 AND THE FORCE 7, I HAVE GOT PHOTOS OF OUR BUSH TEST DRIVING IN THE EARLY 70s, ALSO RARE PHOTOS OF OTHER VEHICLES. IF ANYBODY WOULD LIKE INFO, JUST EMAIL ME
    • FrugalOne says,
      2 months ago
      I WORKED IN THE VEHICLE EXPERIMENTAL DEPARMENT OF LEYLAND IN ZETLAND SYDNEY, AND WAS VERY INVOLVED IN THE P76 AND THE FORCE 7, I HAVE GOT PHOTOS OF OUR BUSH TEST DRIVING IN THE EARLY 70s, ALSO RARE PHOTOS OF OTHER VEHICLES. IF ANYBODY WOULD LIKE INFO, JUST EMAIL ME


      My friend now lives on that land in Zetland biggrin

      A lot of the streets are named after the cars you guys manufactured

      Not sure if there is a P76 Road

  • MAL HERRICK says,
    6 years ago
    MY EMAIL ADDRESS. mhe28237@bigpond.net.au
  • Stuart says,
    5 years ago
    2 likes
    I have to agree with Both James and John. This article is poorly researched and incorrect in the driaing experience. Hell you even dismiss John's comment when he has both a VE and a P76.
    Also whilst I give permission to people wanting to use photos from my site at times I did not give you permission, nor was I asked f they could be used. There is no link to my site here at all which you use as your excuse for using them and my site is quite clearly copyrite. So please remove these images from this article or take up Jame's offer and get the article correct! Regards Stuart
  • Eddie says,
    5 years ago
    Well I have owned three of these & being more of a rev head than most I even had one of these motors in a rear engined rail, The first one I bought, I took on a very QUICK overnight trip to Melbourne & it went, stopped & handled better than just about any standard car I have driven & as an automotive exhaust designer & fitter I have test driven more than i can remember. & to finish this off that is why I have just purchased another to rebuild, A most enjoyable car to drive !!!
  • JIM BRICKNELL says,
    5 years ago
    YES I OWN A P76 V8 ALL MECHANICALLS ARE FIRST CLASS CONDITION BODY NEEDS SOME TLC AND SLIGHT REPAIR AS A DRIVER FOUR STARS COLOUR ORANGE WILL SUBMIT A PIC UPON REQUEST.REGARDS JIM
  • Required says,
    5 years ago
    Come on......we all know that the reason these cars didn't sell was that they were as ugly as sin......Great motor......great handling.....great brakes.......ugly car. anyway. My EH holden has a lovely engine...and turns heads....thanks to a great P76 engine(with I'm sad to hear 140 odd kilowatts....great torque though, at some good figure). Shame the P76 stylist was retarded...............bet he was a reject that ferrari,, and everyone else, said was "unfortunately over qualified"
    Any appeal the car has now is that it's 'quirky'......I like them
  • steve says,
    5 years ago
    ....btw......James Mentiplay pleasantly offered info.
  • Lloyd says,
    3 years ago
    I had a V8 P76 from new...it was an outstanding car really ...only the electrics were very bad.
    It handled very well on all road surfaces was quite fast and responsive..the engine was with out a doubt the best engine I have ever had in a car it did one MILLION miles over its life of 23 years with only one motor overhaul.Fuel economy was pretty good it used a bit of oil but all Leyland vehicles I have had were the same.
  • David Ellery says,
    1 year ago
    Flicking through this comment trail while researching a piece on the p76's 40th anniversary I was surprised by Dan McCoey's intolerance of constructive criticism from people who know what they are on about.

    His statement: ``So I do find that hard to swallow as I did stumble across other output figures, one of which is 192bhp which equates to 143.2kW but whose numbers do you use? A Leyland press release or information just found on the net, or from P76 owners who belong to a club?'' suggests that despite writing on this subject he does not have a lot of experience in the car scene. Club members (especially P76 Club members, tend to be mildly anal obsessives who can quote obscure (and bullet proof) facts in a way that puts Rainman to shame.''
    Personally I've never seen any reference to 161kw from a P76 V-8 (that's just under 220 horspeower or almost the same as a 5.2 litre Chrysler V8) but don't doubt that some idiot in the press office mistakenly circulated that figure.
    My understanding is that the 4.4 litre V8, in unmodified form and fitted with the two-barrel Stromberg, put out 195 SAE (not DIN) horsepower or 145 kw. This is impressive when you consider the first multipoint fuel injected 4.01 litre six from Ford (1989's EA) only produced 139kw (DIN however). My source for the Leyland V8 output is the Automobile Club of Italy's World Cars 1974 which cites information provided by Leyland Australia.
    Dan's worst blunder, which he only exacerbated when he tried to correct it, was the original claim the Targa Florio came with a 4 speed manual. WC 1974 lists the manual as a Targa option but, I have been told, that because the model was late in the build life no four-speeds were left.
    Yes, there are TFs getting around with 4speeds but I suspect they have been retrofitted by owners wanting to get the most out of the excellent engine.
    To say,as Dan did in his response to his critics, that he meant 4 speed auto, not four speed manual, turns a small blue into a big one. The first four speed auto to be fitted behind a V8 by an Australian manufacturer was the Ford unit which came out with the EB? V8 in the early 1990s.
    Apropos Dan's claim P76 build numbers ``are a mystery'', as other readers have pointed out it was only a mystery to him. The 18,007 figure has been around for years.
    Hope this helps.
    David Ellery
  • thiago says,
    1 year ago
    I heard that about P76s, and I've actually been to an auto wreckers a couple of times and just looking around seen dozens of compatible parts. That's truly impressive. Something car designs should be striving towards, I say.
  • Ron Butler says,
    1 year ago
    This guy is a bloody idiot. Also it was not designed by Michaloti They used him to tidy some of it so they could use his name for sale's. IE European style.
  • FrugalOne says,
    2 months ago
    All of a sudden this are bring big money, Leyland had the last laugh...smile

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