BMC, Nuffield and Leyland in Australia

BMC and Leyland produced many vehicles, a number of which were unique to the Australian market.

The best known is probably the Leyland P76, but this was just one (and the last) of a long line, some only slightly altered for Australian conditions, others local developments of British designed vehicles and others which designed to the Australian marketplace’s requirements. Although both Austin and Nuffield had plants in Australia, after the formation of BMC, assembly and manufacturing took place in Nuffield's factory complex in Sydney, with Austin's Melbourne plant subsequently being closed.

The site where this activity took place was originally known as the Waterloo Swamp and was situated about three miles from the centre of Sydney. The swamp was drained in 1908 to create a racetrack and, by 1930 was home to the Australian Trotting Club. During the Second World War, the Australian Army used the site and, after the war, it reverted to a horse-training track.

William Morris (Lord Nuffield) purchased it in the late 1940’s. He planned to build a site not just for his own firm, but rather what was described in the motoring press as "a minor motoring manufacturing township, which would have complementary industries to supply the many components needed. Lord Nuffield purchased the property privately, and sold it to, in addition to Nuffield Australia Pty Ltd, Lucas, Olympic Tyres and Leylands.

The plant was opened by NSW Premier J McGirr in 1950 and car building commenced with local assembly of CKD (completely knocked down) kits, and full assembly of models adapted or specifically developed for the Australian market. In July 1958, BMC Australia opened what was then described as the “most modern car manufacturing plant in the Southern Hemisphere”.

By 1974, however, things started to go wrong. David Beech, sometimes referred to as the father of the P76, resigned in mid 1974. Around 1,000 employees were sacked and soon afterwards managing director, Peter North, resigned, as well.

North was succeeded by David Abell, a 31-year-old British executive, who promised that Leyland Australia would be profitable again within two years. Soon after, Abell axed the P76 and the Marina and the plant at Zetland was sold to the government.

Local production was transferred to Enfield and was limited to the Mini and Moke. Abell said that he “always thought we should never have built the P76” and went on to say that Leyland would return to profitability by concentrating on selling more Jaguars, Rovers and Triumphs.

The Industries Assistance Commission suggested that, in order for Australia’s car industry to remain viable, the four local manufactured should be reduced to three. By then, Leyland's production lines had closed down, the last Mokes and Marinas were sold off at a discount and all but nine of the Force 7’s were crushed for scrap. The sole P76 station wagon survived.

David Abell said that around 2,600 Leyland workers would lose their jobs. By mid 1975, more than twice that number had been sacked. In its heyday, the plant had employed 7,000 people but, by 1975, the doors were closed.

A view of Leyland Australia's workshop. In the centre is the P76 station wagon and a P76 sedan and Force 7V Coupe can be seen in the upper left.