The Hat-trick
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Force 7 Scoop The Hat-trick Why It Sank Who Still Loves It Force 7 Down Under Muscle Cars

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QUITE A few Leyland P76 fans have more than one car, but generally they can only get other P76s. There isn't much scope for variation. The P76 was the only model of the range to reach the showrooms. About 60 Force 7s were made, but nearly all were scrapped. Only one P76 wagon ever turned a wheel.

You can't fight the figures. Only eight Force 7s were auctioned to the public, so only eight Leyland-lovers can possibly bag a left and right. Only one station wagon was made, so only one man can possibly score a hat-trick.

One lucky man has managed it. John Smidt, a Leyland parts dealer in Sydney, has a couple of P76s, including a top-of the-line Executive, one of the rare Force 7s and the only station wagon in captivity.

John bought the Force 7 at the original auction in 1975. "My bank manager at the time was a personal friend of mine," he says. "He rang me one day and asked did I want to go down there. And my first response was, no, because if I did go down I'd probably buy one and I didn't really want one.

"But he talked me into going down and I ended up paying about $6000 for one. So from there I became a bit interested in them and when Leyland offered the station wagon and the Executive together, I bought them. I had to tender for them but I believe only two other people tendered, so I got them quite easily."

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The Force 7 is a fine big car and an inspection makes you realise again what a pity it was that it didn't reach the market. Apart from knocking out the neanderthal muscle cars, it would have appealed to family sedan-buyers and it might well have drawn sales away from the P76 just on the strength of its looks.

We're used to hatchbacks now and even a whopper like the Force 7's doesn't look out of place. Rather, it makes you think of sensible, modern designs like the little Honda Accord and the very nice Rover 3500. You wonder whether the Rover engineers looked over the reports from the Australian fringe of the Leyland Empire before they set to work.

"I believe had it had an opportunity to sell in the open marketplace, it would have creamed them," John Smidt says. "At the time the Charger had a fair sort of market and the Force 7 would have cut right into it. If you look at the vehicle now it's still a stylish motor car, and when you look at the other 1974 cars you can see the difference." The Force 7 shown here is finished in a colour called 'Home On Th'Orange’. The P76 Executive is 'Bitter Apricot' and the station wagon 'Country Cream’ Somebody at Leyland picked the colours from a Dulux range and they or somebody else gave them the witty names. Others included 'Dry Red'. 'Oh Fudge', 'Am Eve Blue', 'Plum Loco' and 'Peel Me A Grape' Perhaps most Leyland-buyers were lucky enough not to find this out.

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whnov82001.jpg (28725 bytes) John's station wagon is not in very good shape. Leyland used it hard and carelessly before they sold it. Now the body is rusting in places, the external trim is coming adrift and the cabin is a bit of a shambles. John says it will be docked shortly for a complete refit. At that, he's probably lucky to have it. Leyland being Leyland, when it wanted to get rid of the wagon it might just as easily have shoved it under a press.
The station wagon is much closer in design to the P76 than is the Force 7. It's almost the same length. The front is the same and the front doors seem to be virtually the same as the P76's. The rear doors were made up new.

The rest looks pretty makeshift. The surrounds of the rear side windows are brass cut from a flat plate, not stainless steel or chrome, just to have something looking more or less right. The rear window looks too small and square, just a slab of flat glass with a rubber strip glued across the bottom and you can't believe it would have gone into production like that.

"I had this parked at an auction once," John Smidt says. "I came out and a guy was inspecting the thing and he decided I'd done a fairly good job of modifying a P76 into a station wagon. He looked rather critical of the job at the back, but apart from that he said I'd done a pretty good job. He wouldn't have it that it was the real thing."

It's real, all right, and it could be counted as one of the most historic cars in Australia. It's a monument marking the farthest limit of Leyland Australia's progress as a manufacturer, the highest point occupied when the generals quit and the order came to retreat.

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Executive (left) was top-of -the-line automatic, with typical big-car dash (top) and plenty of room in the engine bay around alloy head V8 (above). Centre: John Smidt and Force 7

 

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