Austin Metro (Marina)

1978 commercial for the Austin Metro ‘Marina’

The Marina was developed under the ADO 28 codename. It was in production from 1971 to 1980, when it was replaced by the Morris Ital (a reworking of the Marina) that continued in production until 1984, when the Morris marque was axed and the Austin badge featured on the Montego that replaced it. In Australia and in 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 North America as the Austin Marina.

In the early 1970s, BL decided that conservative, traditionally-engineered cars would be released under the Morris name, while more adventurous cars would be released as Austins or even as new marques — such as the Austin Allegro and Leyland Princess. Specifically this meant that Austins would make use of the groundbreaking transverse-engine front wheel drive layout developed by Alec Issigonis, whilst Morris cars such as the Marina used a conventional rear wheel drive, live rear axle drivetrain as used on 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 Austin cars were considered too fragile and complex for use in such countries, as well as being fitted exlusively with small, low-powered engine. As a result, the Marina was unadventurous, making use of tried and trusted BMC components derived from the Morris Minor and MGB, and using mainly Triumph Dolomite transmission and running gear. Intended as a stop-gap design until new products were ready later in the 1970s, it was designed by Roy Haynes, the same man who designed the Ford Cortina Mark II, with which it shares some stylistic similarities.

Soon after its launch, the Marina was indeed the only Morris-badged car on sale as the marque’s Minor and Oxford models had both been shelved.

Roy Haynes attempted to put forward a system that many manufacturers now use, that of the common floor pan shared between models; the Marina was designed to be the first car utilising this idea. It was looked on as too radical by the management of British Leyland and after a short while Triumph designer Harry Webster was drafted in to push the project forward, Roy Haynes soon leaving the company. This protracted development period and the numerous changes made to the design by the various people working on it had a major effect on the Marina. It meant that the Marina (a car intended to be basic and conventional) cost more to develop than the Austin Allegro, its technically and aesthetically advanced stablemate. This is often held up as a prime example of British Leyland’s poor project and cost management. The development costs were increased when it was decided that the saloon and coupe versions of the car should be designed separately- normal industry practise was to use one style as the basis for the other. Later, advertising for the car would hold this up as one of the coupe’s selling points, but this policy caused added expense for the ADO28 project. The 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.




The engines were the venerable A-Series and B-Series units in 1.3 and 1.8 litre capacities, respectively, with rear wheels being driven through a live axle. It featured torsion bar suspension at the front and leaf-spring suspension at the rear, and five body styles, saloon, estate, coupé, pickup and van, the estate coming about almost one and a half years later in late 1972. The TC versions were equipped with a twin carburettor engine similar to that found in the MG MGB for extra performance. These could be fitted with a body kit from BL Special Tuning comprising 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 Europe.

The car was popular with families and undemanding car buyers, and was available in the typical BL colours of the day — brown, beige, dark limeflower green, dark blue and a characteristically 1970s purple. It was intended to be a competitor to the generally similar Ford Cortina (and to some extent the smaller Escort); the Vauxhall Viva and later Vauxhall Cavalier; and the Hillman Avenger and Hunter. It shared its basic styling with all these cars, adopting a ‘trans-atlantic’ 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.

BL was beset with problems including industrial action throughout the period, and the Marina was one of a number of models that suffered. While the BL workers gradually eroded their own employment, manufacturers in Europe and Japan introduced innovative designs (such as the VW Golf) that the Marina and its like were never likely to compete with. The problems were compounded as the cars which were to replace the Marina and BL’s other mid-size offerings were delayed again and again (eventually appearing as the Austin Maestro and Austin Montego only in 1983/4). By this point, the idea of separate Austin and Morris ranges had been abandoned: 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 becoming increasingly acceptable 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. The overhead camshaft O-Series engine (that also was also used for Leyland Princess) appeared in 1.7 litre form in 1978 to replace the lager B-Series 1.8 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 productionized it. 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, thus bringing to an end use of the Morris name on passenger cars.

Info taken from Wikipedia

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