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Who still loves it

Sneered at it may be, but there are large numbers of P76 devotees who love their cars as much as any Ferrari-owner. Geoffrey Bewley reports

IN A way, it's incorrect to say the P76 was killed off in 1974. After all, a good few were made and probably two-thirds are still on the road. By now many have found strong-minded owners who know what they want from a car, are satisfied with what the P76 delivers, and can shrug off the wisecracks that it still draws.

In the last year or so, P76-owners have been closing ranks. P76 clubs were formed independently in Sydney and Adelaide within a few weeks of one another, which sounds like proof of an idea whose time has come. Since then they've established links and started to put out a national club magazine. Right now, they're probably the fastest-growing car clubs in Australia.

"It was a real grassroots movement," Joe Torony, the NSW P76 owners' club president, says. "It really started as a result of some friends of mine being very interested in the car and suggesting that we could have a barbecue at my place to -get a few P76-owners together and see how things went.

"So I printed a little sheet and passed it around, leaving it under windscreen wipers and so on. I only printed 30 sheets and they were all white, but funnily enough, all sorts of different coloured sheets started to appear, so obviously people were recopying it.

"I was instantly rewarded with a positive response from 15 cars, so we changed the venue to Parramatta Park. I booked it for 20 cars and 50 turned up, including two Force 7s, and from that meeting the idea of a club was formed. We then started looking for a constitution.

"Then we heard of a South Australian group and we adopted their constitution almost without change. Our first meeting was on December 6 and they started on February 2, but we weren't as quick at getting the organisational part of it done. They set off virtually with the intention of forming a club, whereas our first meeting was to see if the feeling existed.

"From then on the club has gone from strength to strength. We're getting enquiries at the rate of six or seven a week. We've got members from as far afield as Tamworth, Wagga, Canberra and we've got a large number at Newcastle, Mittagong, the Blue Mountains and Wollongong. Now we're looking at the possibility of local branches."

Joe has two P76s himself and other club members have up to six. "I think there's such interest in it because basically it's such an excellent motor car," he says "It offers superior handling, superior roadability and superior fuel economy. And the people who've been willing to persevere with it and overcome minor difficulties—and they were all minor— have seen how well it's turned out.

"You hear a lot about fuel efficiency these days. You're looking at V8 motor cars here which habitually get 24 or 25 miles to the gallon. P76-owners don't like publicising figures, because the owners of other cars tend to think they're terrible liars. But I might point out that in the recent economy run held in Adelaide, the winning car, which was a four-speed manual V8, achieved 30.4 miles per gallon and averaged 35 miles per hour for the duration of the run.

"And besides that, of course, it's a truly Australian car, designed by an Australian team for Australian conditions. As for the design, well, to give you an example, I'm currently rebuilding a car from the bare shell and I went down to the motor registry office to ask what points I might have difficulty with as regards registering the vehicle.

"The fellow there hit me with the usual P76 jokes, like P38, because it's only half a car, ha ha ha. or, what's the quickest way to get a P76? Buy yourself a vacant lot and pretty soon you'll have half-a-dozen, ha ha ha. And after I'd weathered the storm of all this he said: Listen, mate, you'll have no trouble registering it. They're a terrific car, they just don't wear out.' So that's the feeling of the technical people who really know.

"Unfortunately, the general public tend to buy cars on looks and nearly 10 years ago the shape of the P76 was, to say the least, revolutionary. Now if you look around nearly everybody's adopted the wedge shape, but in 1973 it was a new departure which people failed to accept. Most people thought it looked funny. But you talk to the people who own the cars now and you can't convince them that they're ugly in any sense."

One club member, Hal Maloney, has experience of driving P76s in the toughest Australian conditions of all. "I ran a four speed manual in the Repco Trial," he says, "and I also drove one across the Gun Barrel Highway to Ayers Rock, and it went real well. We were told this car couldn't cross the Gun Barrel; a vehicle had to be four-wheel drive and a two wheel drive car was out of the question. So we thought the only way to find out was to go and have a look.

"It was a tremendous trip. We started off at Wiluna and went right across to the Warburton Mission, Giles Weather Station and then to Ayers Rock. We'd lifted it up, given it heavier springs and an alloy sumpguard underneath and extra fuel tanks. But economy was an interesting point. I was in company with a Commodore from NBN Channel 3 and a Peugeot 303 and we filled the vehicles at Wiluna. When we refuelled at the Warburton Mission the Peugeot took 85 litres, the Leyland took 86 and the Commodore took about 103.

"We had better performance than the Commodore, we could outrun it on the good smooth sections, but on the rough I would say the Commodore was just a touch better. It did have gas front struts and gas rear shock absorbers. But on the sand stretches and over the long sand ridges, we were way in front. I could actually stop on the soft sand and start again, but if the Commodore lost its momentum it just sank. But overall, it was amazing how similar the cars were."



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