Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

Enter the North American-market Austin Marina. Yes, there was a North American market Marina. They called it an Austin instead of a Morris because the Austin brand had more name recognition, probably due to the Austin-Healey sports cars of the sixties, and also their involvement with the Nash Metropolitan.

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Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

In the early Seventies, you were quite spoilt for choices when it came to compact family cars. Yet, not many of the options were very good. You had the Vega, Firenza (in Canada), Pinto, Gremlin, and some more quirky off the wall imports like offerings like the Hillman Avenger/Plymouth Cricket. All of these cars, some more deservedly than others, eventually gained a reputation for unreliablity and being symbolic of everything wrong with the British and American automotive industries, and basically handed the market to Japanese cars like the Datsun 610, Toyota Corolla, and Mazda 323. Which makes it all the more baffling why Leyland had to throw their hat in the ring.

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Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

The first few models arrived in 1972, arriving 6 months before the US in Canada, and had more conventional bumpers, meaning the car looked basically the same as the British Morris models barring the Austin badging. However, in 1973, the car got a facelift and with it came the hideous new bumpers, making an already pretty shit looking car even shittier looking.

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Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

Now, especially in the United States, but also in Canada, Leyland were known for making sports cars. MGs, Triumphs, Jags, those were their bread and butter. So, to sell their new “economy” car, they turned to making comparisons to their aging sports car lineup that were pulling at so many straws you’d think they were trying to destroy the windpipes of every single sea turtle on Earth. “It has the same engine as an MGB” they shouted from the rooftops. “It’s like a Land Rover because it has four wheels and a chassis!” they exclaimed.

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Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

Americans weren’t nearly as stupid as Leyland thought they were, and nobody fell for it. The Marina was a pretty large flop. Marketing couldn’t polish this particular turd, and people who wanted a compact import just bought Japanese.

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Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

Leyland discontinued the Marina in the US in 1975, but it kept on in Canada, even getting a facelift with the dashboard from the updated UK-market Marina, known as the Mk. II. The Marina lasted until 1978 in Canada, when it was unceremoniously discontinued. The Marina sold slightly better in Canada, mostly due to our quickly waning affinity for British cars. British cars had been the import of choice in Canada up until the 1970s, with Hillmans and Sunbeams and Vauxhalls and Cortinas dotting Canadian driveways for many years, providing a smaller, more sensible alternative to the big cars being made in Ontario.

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Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

However, by the early 1970s, British cars had begun to attract an unwanted reputation in Canada. This was not actually mainly driven by British Leyland’s low quality output, but instead was driven by mostly a single car. The Firenza.

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There’s a great article about it here that’s sadly now only available on the Internet Archive. In a nutshell, the Canadian-market Firenzas had a knack for spontaneous combustion, and were plagued by other reliability and quality control issues. Firenza owners got so mad they drove their cars to Ottawa and demanded Prime Minister Trudeau (the elder) do something about their shitboxes. This led to the creation of class-action lawsuits in Canada, and despite several marketing campaigns to turn around the Firenza story and paint it as a reliable car, Firenza sales plummeted, and British imports went into a decline that they would never recover from.

Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.
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By the turn of the decade, the only “normal” (i.e. not a luxury, offroad, or sports car) British import really left was the Mini, which had received a rather ungainly rubber bumpered facelift that was only seen in Canada to comply with new safety regulations. In 1980 though, the Mini was officially killed off in Canada, meaning if you wanted a British car you had to shell out for a Jag or a Land Rover, barring the Mini-based Innocentis that were imported to plug the hole the Mini left for a few years.

Illustration for article titled Just when you thought the Marina couldnt get any worse.

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