The Leyland P76 is a mystery car guys can’t resist. It was a brand new vehicle that was built by the Aussie arm of a British company that was cash poor. So it is not hard to make a good conspiracy theory around how it shares a little too much in common with a finished product that never saw the light of day.
Jaguar and Rover were under the same corporate umbrella known as British Leyland. As Rover began advancing development in the late 1960s on a large sedan called the P9, former Jaguar company owner turned British Leyland board member William Lyons became concerned. Lyons may have sold his company to British Leyland in 1966, but his loyalty never went beyond Jaguar. The Rover P9 may have become trouble for the Jaguar XJ6, and so even though the P9 was so far advanced that tooling for production was already built, the P9 was scrapped in 1971.
Across the globe the neglected step-children at Leyland Australia were begging for a large car. Australian automotive tastes are similar to Americans, and the smaller cars from the England-based British Leyland that Leyland Australia were told to produce left much of the market untouched.
That changed when the P76 was introduced in 1973. It was a largest sedan Leyland Australia ever produced by a wide margin (the trunk was famous for carrying a 44-gallon drum with ease.) It was marketed in Australia as an original machine, but in reality the P76 was a bit of a mutt.
The engine and transmission were direct descendants from the P9 program, but it seems to go much further. The quad headlights and Coke bottle styling of both the P9 and P76 give these two more than a passing resemblance.
There is little evidence to confirm how close these two cars really are, but it is hard to imagine a production-ready car like the Rover P9 would just disappear forever. So instead we have to resort to theory to make the connection.
Michelotti was the outside designer of choice for Leyland products during that time, and he worked closely with the company. Michelotti had penned the P76 as well as a failed proposal for the car that would become the Rover SD1 (another car with ties to the P76.) So whether or not he had a hand in the Rover P9 design, Michelotti was likely at least aware of the sedan. From this prospective, it is not too far of a stretch to assume that he recycled much of the known pieces of the P9 into his P76.
Not all the facts are known, but we are not the only ones to believe that the Leyland P76 is a fruit that fell from Rover’s tree.
The Mercury Comet was a case of something little that came too late. Ford misjudged the market in 1958 and introduced a car for the upper middle class just in time for a recession. The Edsel was such a spectacular flop that it was announced in 1959 that the division would not live through the 1960 model year. It could not even hold on long enough for dealers to get the small car they needed.
The Comet first appeared as a 1960 model. It was designed to be a little brother in the Edsel range, but instead the Comet became an orphan car available through Mercury dealers. It seems even the marketing and materials for the Edesl were recycled. For example, every Edsel came with a key special “E” insignia integrated into the car key. The Comet’s “C” logo on its keys has a striking resemblance to the same as the Edsel, just with the center peg removed to convert the letter.