Apparently the Morris Marina wasn’t bad enough, we had to make it worse with a bland and rather boring facelift, with creative consultancy by world renowned car styling house Ital.
I’m guessing the folks at British Leyland took their advice, and promptly threw it away, but decided to land them with the indignity of having their name tagged onto it, the only car to ever be named in their honour!
Although many people often make the mistake that the car was designed by Ital, ItalDesign had been asked by British Leyland to provide creative consultancy to the company in 1980 so as to give a new breath of life into the 9 year old Morris Marina range. Although Ital did take a look, the final product you see here before you was the brainchild of Harris Mann, BL’s chief engineer who had been known for other strange concoctions like the Triumph TR7, the Princess and the Allegro. Not all blame can fall on Harris Mann though, by God I’m sure he tried, indeed many of his preliminary designs for the Allegro and the Princess looked magnificently space-age, but after some watering down by the folks at British Leyland head office, these things were very much less than stellar.
However, British Leyland thought that for advertising it would be better to name the car in honour of Ital so as to make the idea of owning a car designed by the same guys who gave us such classics as the Maserati Merak, the Alfasud and the DeLorean would give it some cred…
What resulted was instead a not very pretty Morris Marina with big chunky headlights and a completely unchanged interior. There were very few alterations to the original Marina underpinnings, which did in fact date back to the late 1940’s since all it was was a Morris Minor with a different body. Reliability hadn’t improved much and the car was still very basic in terms of equipment. From its launch in 1980 the car was sold as a pickup truck, a van, and a 5-door family estate, although plans for a sport coupé were ultimately scrapped. Some cars were also produced in Portugal at the British Leyland factory in Setubal, with these cars being produced with 1950’s B-Series engines that gave the dizzying power output of 37hp!
Sales however were reasonable, largely due to its low price and running costs, but its reliability and build quality left a lot to be desired. Eventually only 175,000 cars were produced by the time production ended in 1984, the car being replaced by the new Austin Maestro and Montego. The Ital however does have the distinction of being the last production car to wear the Morris badge as after this no other cars were given this name, although this was briefly placed on the Morris Metro van. The Ital however did gain a revival in 1998, when the First Auto Works Group of Sichuan province, China, started building the cars again as the Huandu CAC6430 until the closure of the factory in
1999, another very obscure revival of a British Leyland product, but oddly enough 15 years after the last Itals were built.
Today Itals are very hard to find as only 174 remain in the UK, most cars breaking down or rusting away before the 80’s were even over. Their outdated design and poor quality made them very undesirable and thus nobody bothered keeping them around. Although there is a fanbase for these cars much like the Marina, I will give the Marina the benefit of the doubt that it did at least have something of a charm to it, whilst the Ital I see as a hopeless facsimile.