Queen's English Cast Off: The 1974 Austin Marina 1.8

Last week’s Queen’s English show at Woodley Park in the Los Angeles suburb of Van Nuys was an orgy of great British brands and a panoply of that island nation’s finest. There was also – off in a lonely corner – an Austin Marina.
The Marina, which in GB was introduced as a Morris, was the Brits’ attempt to compete with the emerging money makers from Japan. Unlike the competition from the Land of the Rising Sun, the Marina didn’t provide value add with surprise and delight features like independent rear suspension, or a modern OHC engine.
Instead the Marina was marketed – at least here in the States – as a mad mix of parts from a number of British Leyland’s existing models. That’s pretty much all the game the nationalized auto conglomerate had. The British auto industry was going through tough times in the late sixties and early seventies what with labor disputes rocking their production capacity and quality control, and a corporate malaise that made you think many of the companies really weren’t all that sure they wanted to be in the auto business.
The small family car was developed under the internal moniker ADO28 at the time of Leyland Motors’ merger with British Holdings, a wonder-twinning that formed the unimaginatively named British Leyland. There are perhaps no two words in automotivedom that more concisely connote doom than British Leyland.
Of course, the companies that made up BL each had long and illustrious pasts – Morris Garages, Austin, Rover, Land Rover, Jaguar, Triumph – and the Marina leveraged that corporate parts bin for its major systems, a fact, as noted, that was touted in its ads. Did it sport engines and suspension from the Jaguar, aluminum bodywork like a Land Rover, and handsome interior accommodations like older Triumphs? Um, no.
Instead the Marina was imbued with the MGB’s engine, a stout OHV 1.8 that was already feeling the strangling effects of emission controls. At the same time that the Marina was brought to market, Japanese competitors were releasing SOHC crossflow engines that were not just more powerful, but were also cleaner and were at the beginning of their budding car-powering careers, not the end.
Along with the B mill came a Triumph gearbox on the manual equipped cars. I can speak from experience that the Triumph four-speed is perhaps slightly more durable than a box of wet Kleenex, but not by much. This one eschews the Triumph manual for the optional Borg Warner 35 3-speed automatic. That’s probably a good thing for longevity, but likely relegates acceleration times to those comparable to glacial ablation.
Hey, but it does have its ignition switch on the left-hand side of the wheel, just like a Porsche! That was the result of a cost-saving measure which used the same column on both LHD and RHD models. The styling of the Marina was and is tidy, looking similar to the Ford Cortina of the day, a car that was seen in the Marina’s development as a primary competitor. There’s also a little later Alfa Alfetta in there, if you look at it from certain angles.
I’ve never before seen a Marina at the all-British event and applaud its owner for bringing this one out – and for keeping it on the road. The Marina may not have been the high point of the British Motor Industry, but it was an important part of its history. Cheers, mate!
Images: ©2015 Hooniverse/Robert Emslie, All Rights Reserved

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

  1. mdharrell Avatar

    A Marina! I knew I should have found a way to make it to this show.

  2. nanoop Avatar

    This is why I love my Hooniverse! No piano jokes, and alllowing the shown car to represent its humble siblings -and admitting that they were not very good…
    There is a tad too much imbuing recently, though.

    1. Tanshanomi Avatar

      At least they don’t have stuff in here about, um, you know, slaking and stuff like that.

  3. Sjalabais Avatar

    Great writing! Got to say, I didn’t know that these were sold in the US at all…did the exodus of European makes from Britain, France and Czechoslovakia happen at around the same time, like late 70s, early 80s?

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      I remember the ads but don’t recall seeing any Marinas at the time.

    2. Maymar Avatar

      As I recall, Skoda was never properly available in the US, while they were intermittently available in Canada through about ’90. Pretty much all of BL (excepting the obvious Jag and Land Rover) was gone by about ’80. The French were a progressive departure – Citroen was mid-70s (with a few grey market imports into the 90’s), Renault fizzled out when the AMC merger didn’t stick, and Peugeot hung on to the early ’90s. Similar for the Italians, too – Lancia and Fiat called it quits in the early 80s, while Alfa Romeo lasted to the ’90s.

      1. karonetwentyc Avatar

        As a footnote to Fiat’s withdrawl from North America: they left the US in 1982 but the X1/9 remained on sale until 1987, rebadged as the Bertone X1/9. Malcolm Bricklin was behind that before moving on to Yugo as a full-time sales venture.

  4. TonyF Avatar

    My dad had a 1974 Marina coupe with the 1.3. We could only dream of the 1.8. With no seatbelts in the back my brother and I would slide around in the corners.

  5. dukeisduke Avatar

    A K&N filter? That’s good for 50hp, but only on SBCs. The tach is only for laughs, and it looks like there’s a switch missing, below the speedo, which seems to be loose in it’s opening. Other than that, it’s tidy.

  6. theskig Avatar

    I think the automatic is quite rare on a Marina!

  7. Batshitbox Avatar

    Can I get a Marina with a Seamaster?

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Only if you’re prepared to move the driver’s seat to the trunk.

  8. julkinen Avatar

    Same auto as on Saabs?

    1. Rover 1 Avatar
      Rover 1

      Yes, like almost every small euro, the Borg Warner Type 35 3 Speed.

  9. karonetwentyc Avatar

    Eight or nine years ago, what was likely this exact car (how many bright orange Morris Marinas can there actually be in Los Angeles?) passed me on the right on the 210 Freeway headed East through Pasadena. Granted, this happened in the usual 55mph – 32mph – 46mph traffic bumpalong in which everyone unintentionally jockeys for position rather than as a result of the Marina’s accelerative capabilities, but three things went through my head when I realised what was happening:
    – Holy crap, a US-spec Marina
    – Dear God is that thing orange
    – Wait, that’s an ‘Art Center College of Design‘ sticker in the back window
    I have no idea who owns the car now, but if it was owned (at the time) by a student at Art Center who was taking the automotive design programme, it may explain a thing or two about some of the current crop of vehicles. It may also be that the then-owner had a sense of humour very close to my own.

  10. Cameron Vanderhorst Avatar
    Cameron Vanderhorst

    I have a real respect for people who keep unloved, unappreciated, and forgotten cars on the road. I love Jags and MGs as much as the next guy, but seeing this at a British car show would absolutely make my day.

  11. JayP Avatar

    I was a lad when I discovered the Marina. That was a car that wouldn’t have made it anywhere near me.
    But I discovered it from an article in a mag 25+ years ago. I read it had a the B series I knew this was a cool car.
    Imagine a Marina in an MGB Sebring spec. The parts are there. Make it so.

  12. Synchromesh Avatar

    I found a Marina sedan once at a MA junk yard many years ago. I believe it came from Canada. Still have the Marina badge somewhere at my parents’ house!

  13. tom' Avatar

    The Marina was used as the basis for the Giugiaro designed and Mitsubishi-powered Hyundai Pony.