Dura­bil­ity tested

Australian Muscle Car - - Stillborn Muscle -

An S2 pro­to­type was com­pleted in early 1973 and despatched to the Charleville area of Queens­land where the Ley­land en­gi­neers were do­ing most of their dura­bil­ity test­ing on the P76 mod­els. Roger Foy was in charge of th­ese ex­pe­di­tions.

For the most part ev­ery­thing went as ex­pected which was not sur­pris­ing be­cause the P76 sedan had passed with fly­ing colours. How­ever, after ex­tended pound­ing over the dusty cor­ru­gated roads small cracks ap­peared around the area where the hinges were mounted for the lift-up rear hatch. Hardy looked at mea­sures to strengthen that area of the body but this dis­cov­ery meant that the late 1973 re­lease date could not be met.

The other ma­jor prob­lem with the S2 pro­to­types con­cerned the moulded plas­tic front nose cone. The orig­i­nal plan was to press this panel in steel, as on the P76, but a sup­plier con­vinced Ley­land man­age­ment to try a plas­tic ver­sion and pushed the idea that it would be less ex­pen­sive. Ley­land went for it and sev­eral were moulded and bolted to the nose of S2 pro­to­types and taken to Charleville where it was dis­cov­ered that out in the 40+ de­gree heat they went soft and lost their shape!

It took some time be­fore the right mix of chem­i­cals was found and they were signed off for pro­duc­tion. It would have been another in­dus­try first for Ley­land.

All of th­ese is­sues con­spired to push the re­lease date back into 1974.

Three ver­sions of the coupe were en­vis­aged in the orig­i­nal plan. The en­try level was to be a plain-Jane strip­per Force 7 with the anaemic 91kW 2.6-litre SOHC L6 en­gine with 3-speed man­ual gear­box and col­umn gearshift. Likely to be of most in­ter­est to per­for­mance-ori­en­tated driv­ers – cer­tainly those keen to change gears them­selves – was the Force 7V with 4.4-litre OHV 144kW V8 en­gine and 4-speed man­ual gear­box. A 3-speed

au­to­matic trans­mis­sion was op­tional. Then there was the Tour de Force with V8 en­gine, 3-speed Borg Warner Type 35 au­to­matic gear­box (no man­ual was to be of­fered) with con­sole se­lec­tor and all the lux­ury fit­tings that were avail­able in the day. They would have in­cluded a good qual­ity AM/FM audio sys­tem with a cas­sette deck, heater/demis­ter with fan, floor car­pet­ing, re­clin­ing front bucket seats, al­loy wheels with ra­dial tyres with in­te­grated air con­di­tion­ing as pos­si­bly the only op­tion.

While the P76 sedan ap­peared mid-1973 – and promptly col­lected Wheels mag­a­zine’s Car of the Year award – the Force 7V’s re­lease was pushed back from late 1973 into 1974 be­cause of qual­ity con­cerns with some com­po­nents, in par­tic­u­lar the plas­tic nose cone. Sched­uled to follow some months later was the lux­ury Tour de Force ver­sion and then the plain Force 7 if the mar­ket­ing depart­ment felt that it was needed. Long be­fore the re­lease, how­ever, the six-cylin­der ver­sion was canned.

Up front, the P76 and Force 7 used large coil springs over Arm­strong-York-man­u­fac­tured MacPher­son struts. At the rear was a Borg Warner-sourced banjo axle (sim­i­lar to that used by GM, Ford and Chrysler) with a four-link coil spring sus­pen­sion sys­tem.

The sus­pen­sion was unique to Aus­tralian Ley­land prod­ucts and was de­signed to with­stand the rugged lo­cal con­di­tions. It was far less costly to man­u­fac­ture than the tech­ni­cally su­pe­rior Hy­dro­las­tic sys­tem used on the Austin 1800 and the X6 Tas­man and Kim­ber­ley.

Com­plet­ing the me­chan­i­cal pic­ture was a rack and pin­ion steer­ing sys­tem, front disc/rear drum power-as­sisted brak­ing sys­tem, and 6J x 14 al­loy wheels man­u­fac­tured by CAC.

The Force 7V’s very in­di­vid­u­al­is­tic ex­te­rior styling apart, it was recog­nis­ably P76-de­rived inside. There was the same enor­mous moulded plas­tic dash­board with its re­cessed VDO-sourced in­stru­ment pack­age that con­tained five gauges – fuel con­tents, volts, en­gine tem­per­a­ture, speedome­ter and tachome­ter.

Across the base of the dash was the same nar­row-ribbed re­cess with ven­ti­la­tion air out­lets at each end. On the sur­viv­ing Force 7V coupes the whole dash face has been fin­ished in very 1970s imi­ta­tion ‘wood grain’ although it was in­tended that the fi­nal pro­duc­tion dash would fea­ture a ma­chine-turned alu­minium fin­ish.

A fea­ture of the in­te­rior was the un­usu­ally-shaped steer­ing wheel. Slightly smaller in di­am­e­ter than the P76 wheel, it had a bold ver­ti­cal cen­tre pad with two down­ward point­ing alu­minium spokes. Ei­ther side of it, be­low the in­stru­ments, were pairs of push but­ton switches for lights and wiper/wash­ers.

Not sur­pris­ingly, in­te­rior roomi­ness matched that of the P76 sedan. The only dif­fer­ence was get­ting in and out of the back seat that re­quired a lit­tle body flex­i­bil­ity. By coupe stan­dards ac­cess was good through the two huge doors with their frame­less win­dows. Once inside, head, leg and shoul­der room was fine for up to five pas­sen­gers. And lug­gage space was sim­i­larly huge, eas­ily sur­pass­ing the space avail­able in the Kingswood and Valiant sedans.

Above: The Force 7 fea­tured many Aus­tralian firsts in­clud­ing the hatch. The fold-down rear seat cre­ated a mas­sive space, in which the av­er­age adult could stretch out for a kip. Above right: Test­ing chief Roger Foy, out­back of Char­lieville. Cracks in the hatch hinges’ mount­ing points be­came ap­par­ent dur­ing dura­bil­ity test­ing. Right: Solv­ing the hinge is­sues de­layed the Force 7’s re­lease and Ley­land Aus­tralia went bust be­fore it could it could hit the mar­ket.

Above: The Force 7’s in­te­rior was the same er­gonomic night­mare as the P76’s.

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