Last week’s Queen’s English show at Woodley Park in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys was an orgy of great British brands and a panoply of that island nation’s finest. There was also – off in a lonely corner – an Austin Marina.
The Marina, which in GB was introduced as a Morris, was the Brits’ attempt to compete with the emerging money makers from Japan. Unlike the competition from the Land of the Rising Sun, the Marina didn’t provide value add with surprise and delight features like independent rear suspension, or a modern OHC engine.
Instead the Marina was marketed – at least here in the States – as a mad mix of parts from a number of British Leyland’s existing models. That’s pretty much all the game the nationalized auto conglomerate had. The British auto industry was going through tough times in the late sixties and early seventies what with labor disputes rocking their production capacity and quality control, and a corporate malaise that made you think many of the companies really weren’t all that sure they wanted to be in the auto business.
The small family car was developed under the internal moniker ADO28 at the time of Leyland Motors’ merger with British Holdings, a wonder-twinning that formed the unimaginatively named British Leyland. There are perhaps no two words in automotivedom that more concisely connote doom than British Leyland.
Of course, the companies that made up BL each had long and illustrious pasts – Morris Garages, Austin, Rover, Land Rover, Jaguar, Triumph – and the Marina leveraged that corporate parts bin for its major systems, a fact, as noted, that was touted in its ads. Did it sport engines and suspension from the Jaguar, aluminum bodywork like a Land Rover, and handsome interior accommodations like older Triumphs? Um, no.
Instead the Marina was imbued with the MGB’s engine, a stout OHV 1.8 that was already feeling the strangling effects of emission controls. At the same time that the Marina was brought to market, Japanese competitors were releasing SOHC crossflow engines that were not just more powerful, but were also cleaner and were at the beginning of their budding car-powering careers, not the end.
Along with the B mill came a Triumph gearbox on the manual equipped cars. I can speak from experience that the Triumph four-speed is perhaps slightly more durable than a box of wet Kleenex, but not by much. This one eschews the Triumph manual for the optional Borg Warner 35 3-speed automatic. That’s probably a good thing for longevity, but likely relegates acceleration times to those comparable to glacial ablation.
Hey, but it does have its ignition switch on the left-hand side of the wheel, just like a Porsche! That was the result of a cost-saving measure which used the same column on both LHD and RHD models. The styling of the Marina was and is tidy, looking similar to the Ford Cortina of the day, a car that was seen in the Marina’s development as a primary competitor. There’s also a little later Alfa Alfetta in there, if you look at it from certain angles.
I’ve never before seen a Marina at the all-British event and applaud its owner for bringing this one out – and for keeping it on the road. The Marina may not have been the high point of the British Motor Industry, but it was an important part of its history. Cheers, mate!
Images: ©2015 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved