Force 7R for racing
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Force 7 was that prior to its demise Leyland had laid the foundation for a high performance version to tackle Ford and Holden head-on at Bathurst.
As outlined back in 2003 in AMC #8, the Force 7R touring car racer could well have gone head to head with Holden’s Torana L34 and Ford’s XB Falcon GT in the Hardie-Ferodo 1000 had British Leyland survived long enough.
If a 7R sounds laughable today, consider that the company, as BMC, had already won the Bathurst classic outright with the mighty Morris Cooper S in 1966, just eight years prior to the Force 7’s aborted launch.
Evidence of Leyland Australia’s proposed racing push was discovered when Peter Robinson – who, as an aside, retired from an illustrious career as a motoring journalist in 2014 – was researching a detailed story on the Force 7V in the 1970s. In a retrospective article published in Sports Car World in February 1975, he wrote: “We discovered that a competition program was planned for the Force 7 almost from the beginning.”
Leyland Australia was already deeply involved in competition development of its alloy V8 engine before the Force 7 Coupe even became a reality.
Gold Star champion John McCormack turned to Leyland Australia’s chief engineer responsible for engine development, Kjel Eriksen, when planning his new Elfin MR6 Formula 5000 racing car. McCormack wanted to power it with the Leyland V8 engine, due to its light weight compared to the Repco-Holden 5.0-litre cast iron V8 which powered the MR5.
Go ahead for collaboration on the F5000 engine was granted and a 4.9-litre version of the company’s alloy V8 was in the works when the rug was pulled on Leyland Australia. Former managing director Peter North told AMC for issue #8 that “no decision as to its intended use had been made.”
Just how advanced the engine program was is unclear, with Eriksen passing away many years ago. It is known that small increases to bore size and crankshaft stroke resulted in the increase to 4.9-litres.
Long-time Toyota Australia publicity manager Mike Breen started his career at Leyland and recalls that one Force 7 within the company was fitted the competition-developed engine.
“I remember Kjel Eriksen, the chief engineer for the program, had an orange one fitted with a five-litre V8 engine they were developing for homologation so they could race at Bathurst,” he says today. “It was part of the program they worked on with John McCormack.”
McCormack so believed in the concept that he got his own engine program up and running in conjunction with Repco Engines, building upon the foundations that had been put down with Leyland.
It took the Tasmanian several years to resolve the Repco-Leyland version’s F5000- related issues, but his faith in the Leyland V8 program ultimately delivered him the 1977 Australian Drivers Championship.
In 2003 AMC commissioned illustrator Jeff Haggarty to come up with his impression of what Leyland’s proposed Force 7R touring car could have looked like.