The Marina was a model of car manufactured by the Morris division of British Leyland throughout the 1970s, a period of great turbulence and difficulty for the British car industry. The model has been widely identified as symptomatic of the problems facing the industry at that time, with poor build quality and outdated design, especially in its post-1980 Ital incarnation, which over-extended the lifetime of the design.
The Marina was originally developed under the ADO 28 codename. It was in production from 1971 to 1980 and thereafter as the moderately facelifted Ital until 1983 when the Morris name was consigned to history. In Australia, it was known as the Leyland Marina, in New Zealand as the Morris 1700 (for 1979–81, in facelifted form), and in South Africa as the Austin Marina. It was also, briefly and unsuccessfully, sold in North America, as the Austin Marina.
The Marina was unadventurous, being based on tried and trusted BMC componentry taken straight from the Morris Minor and MGB. It was designed by Roy Haynes, the same man who did the Ford Cortina Mk II, with which it shares some stylistic similarities. The engines were the venerable A-Series and B-Series units in 1.3 and 1.8 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 (sedan), estate (station wagon), 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.
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 (tundra) green and a funky metallic ’70s purple. It was intended to be a competitor to the generally similar Ford Cortina, Vauxhall Viva and Hillman Avenger and Hunter.
BL was beset with problems stemming from industrial action throughout the period, and the Marina was one of a number of models that suffered accordingly. While the BL workers gradually eroded their own employment, manufacturers in Europe and Japan introduced new and innovative designs (such as the VW Golf) that the Marina and its like were never likely to compete with.
There were changes however, albeit small ones. A small facelift in 1975 gave the Marina new radiator grilles and dashboard, and the overhead camshaft O-Series engine (from the Leyland Princess) appeared in 1.7 litre form in 1978 to replace the larger B series 1.8 models. A changed grille, including driving lights, and a front spoiler were added to all models.
Under severe financial strain, BL was bailed out by the government in the late ’70s, 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 woefully obvious. The Ital was short-lived and was replaced by the Austin Montego in early 1984, thus bringing to an end use of the Morris name on passenger cars.
- 1971–1980 - 1275 cc A-Series I4, 60 hp (45 kW) at 5250 rpm and 69 ft·lbf (94 Nm) at 2500 rpm
- 1980–1984 - 1275 Plus cc A-Series I4, 61 hp (46 kW) at 5300 rpm and 69 ft·lbf (94 Nm) at 2950 rpm Ital
In Denmark, the Morris Marina name was used for a badge-engineered version of the Morris 1100 in the early- to mid-1960s.
The Morris Marina, sold there as the Leyland Marina (in saloon and coupe forms only) instead used the OHC E-Series motors, in 1500 cc and 1750 cc. Additionally, as an ill-advised competitor to the Holden Torana and Ford Cortina 6 models, the Marina was also offered with a 121 hp (90 kW) 2600 cc engine. This was capable of 0-60mph in under nine seconds.
In 1974 Foden commissioned a Rover V8 engined Marina to compete in the London-Sahara-Munich rally. This stormed through several stages before suffering rear-axle failure in the desert.