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.