When we think of Aussie muscle cars in their 1970s heyday, our mind turns immediately to Ford, Holden and Chrysler.
The Big Three, as they were somewhat affectionately known, dominated the racetracks and the headlines in an era where Falcon, Monaro and Charger became bywords for ‘Aussie Muscle’.
It’s a sentiment Leyland tried to tap into with its P76, an Aussie-built large family car with power and plenty of grunt thanks to its all-alloy (a first for an Aussie-built car) 4.4-litre Rover-sourced V8.
But, like so much Leyland product, quality control issues saw it quickly bestowed with the ‘Lemon’ honorific, even if the bible of Aussie motoring magazines, Wheels, awarded the P76 its coveted ‘Car of the Year’ gong in 1973.
But, while the P76 filled a gap in Leyland’s arsenal, what the British carmaker didn’t have was a two-door to go head-to-head with the triumvirate of Australian muscle car legends, Falcon Hardtop, Holden Monaro and Valiant Charger.
That all changed with the swooping Leyland P76 Force 7, a two-door version of the British firm’s large family sedan.
Leyland proposed a model range of three variants – a six-cylinder Force 7, the V8-powered Force 7V and the grand-daddy of them all, the luxury-focussed Tour de Force, which featured a leather interior, amongst other premium accoutrements.
Unlike its contemporary rivals, the P76 Force was notable for featuring a liftback hatch, another Australian first. There was comfortable seating for five adults and the second row could be folded flat to open up a huge cargo area.
Leyland announced the Force 7 in 1974 and was scheduled to hit dealerships in June of that year. Leyland had gone so far as to produce 56 prototypes. But BMCA’s (British Motor Corporation Australia) timing could not have been worse.
With the parent company in the U.K. struggling financially, several international manufacturing divisions – including Australia – were forced to shutter their plants. The announcement came in October 1974 and by the following month, the last Aussie-built Leylands were rolling out of BMC’s Zetland plant in Sydney. The P76 Force 7 project was dead.
There followed a nightmare scenario for Aussie muscle car collectors, the company deciding to crush all but 10 of the 56 prototypes it had built to that point. The horror.
What of the 10 that survived? One was sent to the U.K. for testing and evaluation, before finding a home in the garage of Leyland boss, Lord Stokes; one was kept by Leyland in Australia; and the remaining eight coupes – all V8-powered Force 7V variants – were sent to auction in 1975.
As development mules, Leyland made it clear that the auction cars would never be able to be registered while also attracting a 27.5 per cent sales tax. Still, all eight coupes were snapped up, but without attracting the big dollars that Leyland was quite possibly hoping for.
The cheapest example was a manual orange with black interior V8 with just 6km on the odometer. It sold for $6250 (plus sales tax).
Topping the sales charts was a yellow with white interior V8 manual with 69km on the clock. It sold for $10,010 plus tax.
It’s believed all of the remaining 10 P76 Forces have survived. One is in private hands in the U.K. (the ex-Lord Stokes car bought by Nottingham-based David Morton), one example (the brown P76 Force 7V kept by Leyland ) is now in the Birdwood Mill National Motor Museum just outside Adelaide while the remaining eight remain in private hands and have become regular fixtures at Leyland P76 Owners’ Club meetings.
As to current-day values, in 2021, Grays Online sold a yellow with tan interior automatic Force 7V for $100,209, plus buyers’ commission.
Sadly, we’ll never know if the Leyland P76 Force 7 could have been a force in the Aussie muscle car landscape, but for one brief shining moment in our automotive history, the Big Three came perilously close to becoming the Big Four.
Rob Margeit has been an automotive journalist for over 20 years, covering both motorsport and the car industry. Rob joined CarAdvice in 2016 after a long career at Australian Consolidated Press. Rob covers automotive news and car reviews while also writing in-depth feature articles on historically significant cars and auto manufacturers. He also loves discovering obscure models and researching their genesis and history.