14 February 2017

Top Ten Anglo-Australian Cars

The heritage of Anglo-Australian cars is so rich and varied that it was almost impossible to limit this list to merely ten. In the end, personal tastes/prejudices decided the entrants so any omissions are entirely the fault of the author.

Vauxhall Vagabond 1952 - 1955
One of the greatest model names in the history of motoring, the Vagabond was a fascinating hybrid model built by General Motors Holden. The floorpan was from the Bedford CA but the well-executed coachwork was a convertible version of the E-Type Wyvern and Velox. The body sported two lengthened doors and the B and C-pillars were removed but not all Australian motorists took to its side curtains in place of winding windows. However, who could resist the question posed in the advertisements - ‘Do you like your car to express the sheer joy of living as you head for the open spaces?’

Standard Vanguard Phase 3/Vignale/Six Utility 1956 - 1964
The ‘Ute’ was as much a part of post-war Australian culture as the beer- fuelled barbecue. Local market Standards were assembled by AMI (Australian Motor Industries) and the light commercial conversion of the third-generation Vanguard was a good-looking vehicle with a certain sense of panache. The last of the line Vanguard Six saloon may have aimed at urbanites, as seen in this film, but the Utility was ideal for farm work and government departments.  Indeed, Ute production ended a year after the demise of the 4-door as a final batch was commissioned by the State Electricity Board.

Austin Lancer and Morris Major 1958 - 1964
In their original incarnation, the Lancer and Major were essentially the Wolseley 1500 with different radiator grilles and a more Spartan interior made in the Zetland plant in New South Wales. 1959 saw an improved chassis, a front bench seat and an elongated body that now sported faintly bizarre looking tailfins. By 1962 BMC Australia cars reserved the Austin badge for larger models so only the Morris gained a third-generation facelift as the ‘Major Elite’, with the Oxford VI’s 1,622cc engine. In their heydey, the Lancer and Major represented quite a bargain – a 1959 Wheels magazine test of the Morris concluded that ‘this is just about the biggest and more powerful car available for less than four figures’.

Austin Freeway and Wolseley 24/80 1962 – 1965
The Freeway and its upmarket Wolseley stablemate were intended to be BMC-Australia’s entry in the all-important Holden/Valiant/Falcon sector of the market but although head office in Longbridge agreed about the need for a six-cylinder offering there was no money for a completely new body. As compared with the A60/16-60 the new cars had a slightly longer wheelbase and were powered by the locally designed 2.4 litre ‘Blue Streak’ engine married to a three on the column gearchange, as seen in this film. The prices - £1,130 for the Austin and £1,255 for the Wolseley were very competitive but sales were slow, one problem being that the British origins of the coachwork meant that the Freeway/24-80 were too narrow compared with their rivals.

Ford Cortina Mk.1 Fastback 1966
This car is one of the most fascinating versions of the Cortina. The plan was that the coachbuilder Bodycraft Ltd., who had previously built an estate version of the Zephyr Mk. II, would covert the Mk.1 Aeroflow, in either 1500 or GT form, into a two or four-door fastback and the resulting car would then be marketed by Ford of Australia.  The alterations were elaborate, with stiffening of the body, the rear of which was cut down to the waistline in order to accommodate the new roofline, but Ford eventually decided against the project. Fortunately, a handful of Fastbacks still survive.

Holden Torana HB 1967 - 1969
The Holden Torana was announced by this swinging commercial. The previous Viva HA had been sold in Australia as a Vauxhall but by the late 1960s, Holden dealers wanted a compact offering to rival BMC, VW and Toyota. The first examples used HB body panels imported from the UK but the Series II of 1968 was made from locally sourced material. The range paralleled the Viva, with 4-door, Brabham and ‘70’ (the Holden equivalent of the Viva 90) and the 1159cc engine; the estate, GT and the 1600 versions were not built by GMH. According to the adverts, apparently ‘Just shaking hands with it will give you a thrill’.

Morris Nomad 1969-1971
In 1969 the Australian-built ADO16 was now available with the E-Series OHC 1.5 litre engine and five-speed gearbox to form the Morris 1500 and more intriguing still was the five-door hatchback version badged as the Nomad. As with the Austin Maxi – which was never made at BLMC’s Zetland factory – the front and rear seats could be arranged to form a double-bed and the engine gave the Morris the power that it always merited. The original sales tag ‘The Civilised Sports Car’ may have been a tad optimistic but the Nomad was arguably the car that the British 1100/1300 could and should have been.

Austin X6 Tasmin/Kimberley
Its appearance was undeniably odd – Landcrab meets Ford Zodiac Mk. IV - but in most other aspects this was a well-planned improvement on the Austin 1800. The power plant was a 2.2 litre OHC making the Tasmin and upmarket quad-headlamp Kimberley the only traverse- six cylinder cars in the world; the British Austin/Morris 2200 would not debut until 1972. The Tasmin came with a front bench seat, making it a genuine six seater but one problem that afflicted the X6 range was its unconventional looks compared with Ford, Chrysler and Holden competitors, even if BLMC-Australia claimed that ‘Lines are simple and ageless’. Another issue, alas, was its reliability.

Leyland Marina 6 1973 - 1974
The Marina had been a steady seller for Leyland Australia since its introduction in 1972 and the launch of the six-cylinder version in late 1973 was to be their rival to the Ford Cortina Mk. III fitted with the Falcon’s 4.1 litre unit. For the new Marina power was from a 2.6-litre engine and the brochures claimed that here was a vehicle that combined ‘all the good little things of Japanese cars with the toughness and power of Australian cars’. Its main problems were the 3-speed (!) floor gear change, the ride and the handling but Leyland’s financial problems meant that production ended before the Marina could really be developed.

Leyland P76 1973 - 1976
If ever a car deserved to succeed in the Australian car market it was the Leyland P76. After years of adapting Longbridge and Cowley products, Leyland Australia created a wholly new coachwork with power from the 2.6 litre ‘Red Six’ and a 4.4 Litre version of the Rover V8 engine. Wheels magazine stated that ‘Once the assembly problems are overcome, the P76 is going to be a very good car’. However, by 1975 the Zetland operations had been closed -  a casualty of the saga that was ‘The British Leyland Story’ – and production of the P76 ceased. The last examples were assembled in New Zealand and an intriguing plan to sell them in the UK as a Vanden Plas sadly never came to fruition.

2 Reader Comments

  • 1
    roman pilar uk.peterborough March 10, 2017 at 01:43
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  • 2
    Rob Francis Adelaide March 14, 2017 at 05:05
    The P76 was also beset by Leyland Australia deciding to accept component suppliers' QA without question. Anyone who knew about this when they bought one would promptly and unceremoniously discard the Lucas starter and alternator and replace them with Bosch units. Then they would go about checking all the under-dash wiring to forestall the inevitable ammeter-related electrical fire (if not already done by the previous owner). Sales were not helped by a rather unflattering review by a well known and respected Australian motoring journalist who didn't like the high boot line. Not everyone wanted to have a boot space big enough to hold a 44 gallon drum when closed (I kid you not!) Lastly, the V8 motor was so well developed by the Australian engineers that it became the basis for the Range Rover 4.6 HSE.

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