The Morris Marina is a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive small family car that was manufactured by the Austin-Morris division of British Leyland from 1971 until 1980.

It served to replace the Morris Minor in the Morris product line, which had first been built in 1948. The Marina was also sold in some markets as the Austin Marina,[6] the Leyland Marina and the Morris 1700.

It was a popular car in Britain throughout its production life, beating its main rival, the Ford Escort, to second place in UK car sales in 1973 and taking third or fourth place (behind the Escort) in other years. The car was exported throughout the world, including North America, and assembled in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Malaysia. A total of 1.2 million were built.

According to various sources, the Marina ranks among the worst cars ever built.

The 1980 replacement for the Marina, the Ital, was the same car with only mild styling changes. It was only fully replaced by the Austin Maestro in 1983.

British Leyland sold the Marina alongside the 1969 Austin Maxi, which shared the same market segment but used front-wheel-drive and had a hatchback body, and the 1973 Austin Allegro, which used front-wheel-drive and more adventurous styling.

The Marina was developed under the ADO28 codename. The impetus for its development came when Leyland Motors merged with British Motor Holdings (BMH) in 1968, thus forming British Leyland (BL). BMH was the corporate parent of the two biggest car manufacturers in the UK, Austin and Morris. The new BL management, made largely from ex-Leyland Motors staff, were shocked to learn that apart from the Austin Maxi (then entering the final stages of development) and a tentative design for a replacement for the Mini (the 9X) BMH had no new cars under development. The company's products aimed at the mass-market consisted of the Morris Minor, dating from 1948, and the 1100/1300 range of mid-sized Austin and Morris saloons that were a decade old. BL rapidly implemented a plan to develop a replacement for both the Minor and the smaller Farina models that could be produced as quickly as possible and would be on sale for no more than five years until a genuinely "all new" product could be launched in its place.

To try to introduce some clear distinctions between its multiple brands BL decided to release conservative, traditionally engineered cars under the Morris name, and sell more adventurous cars as Austins, or even as new marques – such as the Austin Allegro and Princess, the former of which occupied the same small family car segment as the Marina would. Specifically this meant that Austins use the groundbreaking transverse-engine front-wheel-drive layout developed by Alec Issigonis. It was thus decided that the ADO28 would be badged as a Morris.

The Marina would use a conventional rear-wheel drive, live rear axle drive-train as found on other 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 BMC 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, making use of existing BMC components derived from the Morris Minor and MGB, as well as using mainly Triumph Dolomite transmission and running gear from the former Leyland side of the organisation.

The car was designed by Roy Haynes, the same man who designed the Ford Cortina Mark II (launched in 1966), with which it shares some stylistic similarities. Lacking the budget to develop two cars to compete directly with the Escort and the Cortina, the makers sized the ADO28 between the two benchmark Ford models. Haynes' original idea was to produce the car in coupé and saloon versions with the coupé pitched as a premium, sporting version, in a similar mould to the Ford Capri – a popular coupé based on Cortina running gear – to appeal to younger buyers, while the saloon was for the crucial company car market and families.

Haynes also attempted to put forward a system that many manufacturers now use: a common floor pan shared between models. The Marina was the first car design that used this idea. Although this idea carried great potential benefits for a company selling cars under numerous different brands across multiple market sectors it was looked on as too radical by the management of British Leyland and Triumph designer Harry Webster was drafted in to push the project forward. Roy Haynes soon left the company.

The British Leyland Board decided to build the Marina at the ex-Morris Motors plant at Cowley in Oxford, which was largely still as it was in the 1920s. The plant had insufficient capacity – British manufacturers had difficulties in meeting demand in the post-war years – which increased design and production costs significantly, since Leyland had to rebuild the plant.

The Marina was originally designed to use the E-series overhead cam BMC engines. These engines had a number of design problems. A modular engine design, the E series had standard bores, with capacity increased by using either more cylinders or larger strokes. However, small-capacity sixes fell out of favour as post-war Britain became increasingly affluent.[clarification needed]

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 had to be "siamesed", that is, the water jacket was shared between pairs of cylinders. These factors contributed to overheating and oil burning in the Austin Maxi, and so the board decided to adopt the more reliable A and B- series engines 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 a "full nappy" rear-end styling, needed to even the lines between the necessarily bloated front and the rear.

The engine assembly line was bifurcated by a municipal road; Leyland had to build an overpass, further increasing cost. The Birmingham local authority then agreed to sell the road to Leyland after the overpass had been completed. This increased the cost even further.

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. Consequently, the board decided to cut costs and abandon Macpherson struts in favour of an old design from the Morris Minor. They also abandoned a project to design a new 4-speed BMC gearbox. As a further cost-cutting measure the coupé version of the Marina would now use the same front doors as the saloon version. This produced significant cost savings in tooling and assembly, but left the coupé as obvious styling derivative of the saloon rather than having a different, more sporting image as Roy Haynes had originally proposed. This made it impossible to pitch the coupé as a superior product, and so it was decided that the 2-door coupé version of the Marina would be the cheaper of the two body styles, with the 1.3-litre model directly replacing the entry-level 2-door version of the Morris Minor and competing with the 2-door saloon versions of the Ford Escort and the Hillman Avenger.

Meanwhile, the 1.8-litre coupé models had no direct predecessor in the BL range and the closest equivalents were the sporting Ford Capri and the new Vauxhall Firenza. This gave the coupé a rather conflicted image – the sporty bodystyle led many buyers and testers to have expectations of the Marina coupé that the final product was never intended to meet, being mechanically identical to the standard saloon version. The Marina saloons more obvious market placements; the 1.3-litre saloon replaced the 4-door Minor while the 1.8-litre version superseded the Austin and Morris Farina saloons and the 1.8-litre Marina estate did the same for the outgoing estate versions of the Farina. The dashboard also suffered from being ergonomically illogical, with the radio and warning light controls facing away from the driver towards the passenger seat.

The indigenous engines were the venerable A-Series and B-Series units in 1.3- and 1.8-litre capacities, respectively, which drove rear wheels through a live axle. It featured torsion bar suspension at the front, leaf-spring suspension at the rear. An estate (station wagon) came in 1972, 18 months after the saloon and coupé, giving British Leyland a full-circle competitor for the Cortina and Capri. Five body styles were available all in all: saloon, estate, coupé, pickup, and van. For extra performance, TC versions were equipped with a twin carburettor engine similar to that in the MG MGB for extra performance. These could be fitted with a body kit from BL Special Tuning that added 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 diesels. With no more than 37 or 40 hp on offer depending on the source, performance was often lethargic; 3,870 diesels were built between 1977 and 1980. They were never sold in Britain, where diesel engines were almost unheard of in passenger cars.

Launch and subsequent updates
The new car was launched on the domestic market on 27 April 1971,[9] with a night shift added at the Cowley plant in May 1971.[10] At that time the manufacturers reported they were producing 2,000 cars per week, projecting over-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.[12] The Marina continued in production from 1971 to 1980, when it was replaced by the Morris Ital (an updated version of the Marina) which continued in production until 1984, when the Morris marque was axed and the Austin badge featured on the Montego that replaced it, signalling the end of the Morris brand after more than 70 years. (With the discontinuation of the Morris 18-22 – also sold as an Austin and Wolseley – the Marina car and the Ital were the only noncommercial vehicles sold with the Morris badge after 1975.)

In Australia and 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 in North America as the Austin Marina.

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 compete with the generally similar Ford Cortina (and to some extent the smaller Escort); the Vauxhall Viva and later the larger Cavalier; as well as the Hillman Avenger and Hunter from Chrysler UK. It shared its basic styling with all these cars, adopting a supposedly 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 that the windscreen-wiper set-up was "opposite" the driver. This was decided pre-production after drivers of the prototypes reported that airflow at certain speeds made the wiper closest to the A-post lift off the windscreen, potentially disrupting the driver's line of sight. The problem was judged sufficiently serious that the car went on sale with a wiper position as if for driving on the other side of the road, though subsequent road testers questioned the effectiveness of this decision and the basis for it.

BL was beset with problems including industrial action th

on needed]roughout the period, and the Marina was one of a number of models that suffered. While the labour disputes at BL eroded employment, manufacturers in Europe and Japan introduced innovative designs (such as the VW Golf) with which the Marina and its like were never likely to compete. Problems were compounded as the cars to replace the Marina and BL's other mid-size offerings were repeatedly delayed (eventually appearing as the Austin Maestro and Austin Montego in 1983–84). By this time Leyland had abandoned the idea of separate Austin and Morris ranges. 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 increasingly accepted 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 make the Marina seating more comfortable and supportive. The overhead camshaft O-Series engine (also used for Leyland Princess) appeared in 1.7-litre form in 1978 to replace the larger B-Series 1.8-litre 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 made changes to its appearance. 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.

Popularity

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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.[15] This was a particular problem with the more powerful 1.8 and 1.8 TC 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 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 30,000 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.[14] 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 towards body-roll. What Car? magazine, in a typical review, described the understeer as "noticeable", but called the car as a whole "unobtrusively well designed".


The interior of the Marina
More comprehensive suspension changes were made with the Mark 2's introduction in 1975, which added anti-roll bars that calmed the earlier car's wayward tendencies. In 1982 the Ital changed its Marina-derived front lever-arm shock absorbers for telescopic ones.

Despite heavy criticism from the media and motoring press, the car's lack of technical sophistication let it be keenly priced. The Morris Marina was a very popular car in Britain, and was among the country's best sellers throughout its production life, peaking at second place in 1973 — only surpassed by the Ford Cortina. In many ways, the car fulfilled its design goal of being an unpretentious, high volume, mass-market car for average-income families and business people.

The deliberately simple and apparently 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. However, its image remained as a rather dull, workaday vehicle.

Marina production lasted almost ten years, and in that time no fewer than 807,000 were sold across Britain, though it was less popular on export markets. By the time production of the facelifted Ital version ceased production in 1984, total Marina/Ital production had topped 1.2 million, making it BL's second biggest seller after the Mini. In fact, of all the post Ryder Report models that BL and its successors produced, only the Austin Metro would surpass the Marina's sales. Whilst intended as 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 face-lift and interior changes. Coupled with the continuing quality problems suffered by the car and the increasingly poor perception of BL cars as a whole, this sealed the Marina's reputation, despite its high sales. Even when Marina production ended in 1980, a modified version of it survived until 1984 as the Ital. British Leyland had been working on an all-new replacement for the Marina by 1980, but it was too early in the development stages to enter production, with production not beginning until early 1984, when the new car, called the Austin Montego, was launched.

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.

Legacy
A survey conducted by Auto Express magazine in August 2006 reported that 745 of the 807,000 Marinas sold in Britain were still on the road, fewer than one of every thousand sold, making it the most-scrapped car sold in Britain over the previous 30 years. The low survival rate is due to a combination of factors, chief amongst which is the Marina's poor rust-proofing. Like other family saloon cars of the period, the Marina did not gain the status of a classic car, whilst large numbers were still in good enough condition to encourage preservation. 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 carried a slightly higher power output. Factors such as these meant that elderly Marinas were more likely to be stripped for parts to upgrade more popular models than to be repaired or restored.

Top Gear vilifies the Morris Marina; a running gag throughout the series involved dropping a piano on a Marina every time the car is featured, generating angry reactions by Morris Marina lovers, dubbed "Morris Extremists" whose letters would be read out and mocked in subsequent episodes. In the Top Gear book Crap Cars by Richard Porter, the Marina was named fourth worst car of all time. However, presenter James May stated that at least one Marina should be preserved, as a warning to future generations.

Ironically, the greatest contribution the Marina made to the automotive world was in Korea. When George Turnbull was hired by the Hyundai conglomerate in 1974 to head up their effort to create an indigenous Korean automobile, he brought with him from the UK two Morris Marinas, a coupe and a sedan, and hired a number of British engineers who had worked on the Marina project or for Austin Morris or British Leyland. Their first product, a reworked Marina equipped with Mitsubishi engines and transmissions, and a four door hatch back body restyled from the two door coupe by Italdesign Giugiaro, was the Hyundai Pony, whose global success turned Hyundai into a major automotive manufacturer.

In February 2016 it was reported that the number of Marinas still on Britain's roads was 295, although this figure does not count examples which are SORN.

As of December 2019 there are currently 374 Marinas on the road in Britain, with a further 498 currently SORN

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 rear axle suspended on semi-elliptic leaf springs with telescopic dampers. To ease production and reduce costs, the body featured a strong central spine around the transmission tunnel, where most of the unit's strength was. The rear dampers were inclined inboard from the axle to their top mounts on this spine, rather than being mounted vertically on dedicated top mounts built into the body at the rear-wheel arches. This limited the effectiveness of the dampers somewhat (they were dissipating vertical motion when mounted at an angle), and when combined with the live rear axle, made the rear end prone to "bump steer" on rough roads. A similar setup was used on the early Ford Escort for the same reasons of cost-effective construction, but Ford revised the arrangement on later models. BL lacked the funds to retool the Marina's design significantly, and so all models were fitted in this less-than-ideal way.

The front suspension was closely derived from that on the Morris Minor, using longitudinal torsion bars for springing. The rest of the front suspension consisted of lower arms pivoting on trunnions with upper ball joints supporting the wheel and acting on hydraulic lever arm dampers. These provided superior ride comfort over rough roads when compared to early telescopic dampers, but at the expense of sloppy handling and body control at high speeds. Improvements in road surfaces, the development of the motorway network, the huge increase in the performance of even standard family cars and advances in the design of telescopic dampers since the Minor was launched in 1948 made this type of damper obsolete by 1971. Nonetheless it was adopted to keep development and tooling costs to a minimum.

British Leyland's Special Tuning department (which primarily handled development of BL's works' motor-sport cars and technical support to private entries using BL products) produced a variety of upgrades for the Marina, which were (technically) available on road cars through special order. Amongst the S/T products were a kit to adapt the front suspension to use telescopic dampers (eventually fitted to the Ital), and adaptor kits to convert the rear dampers to a more effective vertical orientation using separate turrets. The S/T suspension upgrades produced significant improvements in handling and ride over the standard Marina, but were not widely publicised on the general market.

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.

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