The best worst car ever

Leyland Marina Red Six

As many of my colleagues are taking a well-earned break right now I’ve had time to catch up with all the re-runs of my favourite television program, “Top Gear”.

I really enjoy the light-hearted banter between the hosts and I’m anxiously awaiting the return of Richard Hammond following his unfortunate 500 km/h accident whilst testing the rocket-powered car.

And yes I can tell you that “The Stig” really does have synthetic oil running in his veins and a stare like a halogen spot-light.

But I was a little distressed by the program about the “Top 100 Cars of All Time” in which a car I once owned was featured.

Not that I disagreed with most of their choices, but they made a small digression to mention the worst cars of all time and my beloved Leyland Marina topped the list.

Even though one million Marina’s were produced in the UK between 1971 and 1979 it’s estimated that there are only 750 left, making the Marina the rarest mass-produced car of the last 35 years.

I would hazard to guess that there are none at all left on the roads in Australia. So why is such an iconic vehicle almost extinct?

For starters there was the woeful build quality with every car leaving the factory with at least something wrong with it.

And, compliments of the torsion bar suspension, the handling was so bad that Jeremy Clarkson described the steering wheel as “a piece of plastic put there to hang onto when you go around corners”.

But as a medical student in the 1970’s a three year old Marina was all I could afford and it was a far site more comfortable than riding my motor-bike to ward rounds.

My $2,200 bought me a rust-free 2 door Super Deluxe coupe with a tachometer, cloth seats and a radio. It was a technological miracle compared to my first car, the infamous HB Torana.

I figured that there were already so many Marinas at the wreckers that spare parts would be easy to find and more importantly cheap to buy.

And the model I’d bought had the OHC six cylinder engine out of the P76 so there was another opportunity to come by more discarded bits as P76’s were also laying waste.

Although the Red Book says that I should have had a four speed manual in my Marina there were only ever three floor-mounted gears in my car, but it was all syncromesh and very well-powered with such a big engine in a light vehicle.

I haven’t been able to find any performance figures but I do recall it was quick off the mark and standard 6 cylinder Marinas were reported to be quicker than triple carbied GTR Toranas, but not as stable at high speeds (source aussiemusclecarmuseum.com.au).

On the down side all that weight in the front end did cause the suspension to collapse and the oil-filled lever action shock absorbers just never stopped leaking whilst I owned it.

To make up for its poor build quality Leyland produced Aussie Marinas in a range of candy colours which were all the rage at the time.

My Marina was painted in “Plum Loco” which was a horrid purple colour like something out of a Grade 8 Art class. Other colour choices included “Peel me a grape”, “Spanish olive” and “Bitter apricot”.

In a brief moment of affluence I once splurged on a trip to a car wash, but the detergent made the paint go blotchy.

In 1974 the Industry Assistance Commission announced a policy of reducing the number of local manufacturers and Leyland Australia ceased assembly here, though production in the UK and South Africa continued.

Even though my Marina had many faults its saving grace was that it never actually broke down.

And that’s one claim that Jeremy Clarkson can’t make about his beloved Ford GT40, one of his “Best Cars of All Time”!

Safe motoring,
Dr Clive Fraser

For: Cheap to buy and owners will learn a lot about mechanical mal-functions.

Against: Even wreckers won’t touch them any more so parts are hard to get.

This car would suit: Masochistic medical students.

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    Medical Motoring is an online record of the articles written by Dr Clive Fraser and published in the Australian Medicine magazine by the Australian Medical Association.