Thursday December 19, 2019
Thirty-nine years ago, British Leyland Australia introduced the X6 range, their rivals to the Falcon, the Valiant and the Holden.
The advertisements modestly proclaimed that ‘At last the kind of car Australian motorists have been waiting for. The new Kimberley X6 and Tasman X6 from British Leyland. Two new cars built with the idea that luxury motoring should be within the reach of everyone’.
Meanwhile, British motorists catching sight of the Austin Tasman/Kimberley would have immediately recognised them as an Australian interpretation of the “Landcrab”.
Local production of the 1800 commenced in 1965, but its engine was out of step in a market that demanded six cylinders. The X6 would rectify these issues with the new 2.2-litre E-Series power plant, in addition to a larger boot, enhanced ground clearance and a longer wheelbase.
The frontal treatment was also modified, giving the latest Austins a vaguely mid-Atlantic appearance although Leyland stated ‘We've chosen not to follow fads and fashions. Mostly because what's in fashion one year is out of fashion the next.’ You can imagine Sir Alec Issigonis nodding in approval at such sentiments.
The Tasman was devised as the entry-level model with a front bench while the Kimberley featured twin carburettors, reclining seats and, as befitting the flagship of the range, quad headlamps. The sales copy also boasted of ‘Personal ventilation. Head rests.
Cigar lighter. All independent suspension. A fully instrumented dash. All the things other cars call extras, the Kimberley calls standard equipment’. There was also a New-Zealand assembled X6 with Morris badging, for little is ever straightforward with BMC/BLMC marques.
Australian Motor Sports and Automobiles magazine from December 1970 thought the Kimberley had ‘a great deal of appeal to the old Wolseley buyers’ - but the X6 never achieved its potential.
It was a front-wheel-drive car at a time when the Australian motorist favoured RWD, and its looks were still unorthodox in comparison with a Holden Torana LC. There was an appeal to the social-climbing customer with the Austin offering ‘all the comfort, safety, performance and engineering excellence you'd expect from the people who build Rover, Daimler and Jaguar’ – but sales still remained low.
There were also complaints regarding quality issues, especially overheating and fuel vapour locks, and the lack of optional PAS was another concern. A Mk. II version did little to improve the Austin’s image, and by 1973 the Tasman/Kimberley was replaced by the Leyland P76, which has featured in one of our previous blogs.
As to the possibility of the X6’s manufacture in the UK, BLMC did consider using the bodyshell for the 1800/2200 Mk. III but this was rejected on cost grounds. Vanden Plas did use the X6 as the basis for an 1800 prototype, and this fine vehicle starred at the 2017 Lancaster Insurance Classic Motor Show.
Today, the X6 does have a strong following as bold, if not entirely successful, design. Many enthusiasts believe that had the Tasman/Kimberley initially featured the 1800S Mk. II engine combined with power steering, this would have allowed Leyland-Australian more time to develop suitable running gear. File that under ‘Could Have Been/Should Have Been’…