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The Biggest Failures

What have been the biggest failures in Australia’s motoring history? We’ve listed our top five, see if you agree….

The Leyland P76

Designed by Michelotti in Italy and launched by impoverished Leyland into the large car market in 1973 against entrenched competition from Holden, Ford and Chrysler, it withered and died within a couple of years after less than 18,000 cars were produced.

But was it a bad car or badly marketed?

Certainly marketing was a problem with a shortage of supply causing huge frustration from anxious buyers who had to wait an age for delivery.

From a distance the P76 boot badge looked like “PIG” which did nothing to enhance its reputation.

It also was subject to some curious advertising with its major benefit apparently being that its boot was big enough to hold a 44 gallon drum.

It was also offered in some weird colour options such as:-

  • “Home on th’Orange”,
  • “Am I blue”,
  • “Bold as Brass”,
  • "Peel me a Grape” (metallic purple),
  • “Hairy Lime”


  • “Plum Loco”.


On the other hand, in early 1974 Wheels magazine named the P76 as “Wheels Car of the Year” saying “it sets new standards for medium sized local cars in its ride/handling/road-holding compromise, it has fine brakes, is comfortable, very roomy and practical”. However it then had some quality control problems (including one which reportedly caused the wheels to fall off), so the Australian public refused to be swayed from their tried-and-tested Holdens, Fords and Valiants.

The Datsun 120Y

With over 2 million manufactured between 1970-1974 the 120Y can hardly be called a “failure”. But one of our team insists it is, so we’ve included it in our list.

Introduced in 1973 it had many “carry over” parts housed in a new body and interior. Regarded by many as “totally boring, with no redeeming features”, it still sold well throughout the world. But it was slow, had a choppy ride and a mushy gearbox.

Can you imagine the sales volumes that it could have achieved had there been glowing road tests, great handling and novel features?

But no, it really was “dull as ditchwater”, so, does that justify it being classed a failure?

You be the judge

The Morris Marina

The Morris Marina was another offering from Leyland Australia. With sales of the Ford Cortina soaring in the UK, Leyland decided it needed to compete and offered the all new Morris Marina using “tried and tested technology”.

That was a euphemism for running gear designed over 20 years earlier.
But then it was rushed to market in an amazingly short development period of 2 years and 11 months.

Launched in 1970, it suffered from appalling build quality, resulting from turmoil in the British automotive industry. The locally assembled version fared no better, even with “substantial alterations” to the suspension to suit local conditions.

Oz production finally commenced in Sydney in 1972, with a bigger 1.5 litre engine (and a 1.75 litre option) with expectations of sales of 350 a week. Early expectations were, in fact, exceeded and continued through 1973. But it couldn’t be sustained.

The Marina suffered intense criticism over its ancient running gear (3 speed gearbox), poor handling, uninspiring cabin and poor assembly. Supply and reliability problems also took their toll, as well as the effect of emerging, smartly designed and trustworthy Japanese competition. With the demise of Leyland, so ended the Marina – after some 30,000 were built at Zetland, NSW.

Yes, it has its supporters, some enthusiastically denying it was a failure, but history has been its judge and the Marina can hardly be lamented.

The Ford Falcon AU

Ford and Holden were battling for sales honours in 1998 when Ford announced the AU Falcon to which, even with undue flattery, could be called a mixed reception. It has become known as the car that could have wiped Ford off the map, and they realized this, judging by the series of rapid updates and facelifts designed to overcome the public’s disappointment.

It was a case of market research going horribly wrong, styling clinics that came to the wrong conclusions and evidence that the fickle public could kill a car from appearance alone.

The AU was an unwanted orphan, yet from a technical standpoint, undeservedly so.
It represented unrivalled second hand values, as it suffered rapid depreciation and if you were one of the few who liked its looks, you got a great bargain.

Ford has spent more than a decade trying to overcome this styling aberration, rivalled only by its even odder design exercise of the late 90’s, the Ford Taurus.

Mitsubishi 380

Mitsubishi Motors Australia secured millions of dollars of government funding to continue manufacturing at its Tonsley Park plant in S.A. The Mitsubishi 380 was the car that would ensure its continuing success.

Only it didn’t.

The car was engineered for right hand drive only. The long wheelbase project that could be built in LHD form was abandoned even before production of the 380 began in 2005.

So it was doomed from the start, as export orders were crucial to the volume requirements of a substantial 60,000 cars p.a.

Desperate efforts by Mitsubishi management to secure home and overseas sales including the introduction of an unprecedented 5 year new car warranty failed to secure sufficient sales.

The 380 was a very good car, but simply not good enough to succeed in the toughest segment of the new car market.

Well, that’s our top five new car failures in Australia. These were chosen from a long list including

The Amphicar Remember that, an amphibious vehicle that leaked?
The Trabant Possibly the worst car ever built in quantity from the Eastern Block – but over 3 million were made – mainly out of poor metal and plastic! And a few even still survive…
The Holden Camira … “you could see it rust before your eyes” one staffer commented.
The Lada Niva It rusted even quicker – a remade Fiat from the USSR
The Niki 650 Cheap as chips (just $7995 straight off the showroom floor), another remade Fiat, but worse.
The Lightburn Zeta Launched by a whitegoods manufacturer amidst a huge publicity campaign where they claimed it was “a local car to rival Holden” – you’ve got to be joking. They weren’t but the public didn’t take it seriously
The Jaguar X Type An entry priced ‘ luxury’ Jaguar designed to increase volumes to threaten BMW ,it could never overcome the Ford Mondeo association.

Do you agree? Can you suggest others? Add your thoughts to our blog here.