The Austin Kimberley and Austin Tasman (sold by Morris in New Zealand alongside the Austin models) "X6" models are a pair of Leyland Australia-designed front-wheel-drive sedans based on the Austin 1800 (ADO17) platform, that were produced from 1970 to 1972 and sold by Austin. At the time of the X6 being launched onto the Australian market it was quite an advanced design in comparison to the other competitors from Ford, Holden and Chrysler, whose rear-wheel drive, conventionally sprung underpinnings dominated the market at the time.
These cars were offered as an Australian replacement to the Austin 1800. Their boxy styling, developed for the car to be a proper six-seater, was all-new, but a few features, including the doors, were retained. These doors however utilised recessed door handles, to satisfy Australian Design Rules safety concerns. The body had an exceptionally stiff torsional rigidity, a trait it inherited from the 1800s.
The standard powerplant for the X6 range was a transverse mounted 2.2L OHC straight-six engine, based on the 1500/1750 Austin Maxi unit. At the time of the X6's introduction, it would have been the only car in production with a transverse straight-six-cylinder engine in the world. The Tasman's single carburettor configuration produced 76 kilowatts (102 hp) and the Kimberley 86 kW (115 hp) with its extra carburettor. Both were sold with either a four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.
Due to the application in this car, its engine would also be used in ADO17 Austin 2200/Morris 2200/Wolseley Six, and later in the ADO71 Princess. In Australia, this engine, enlarged to 2.6-litres also appeared in the Morris Marina and P76.
The differences generally between the Austin Kimberley and Tasman were in their trim. The Kimberley was an upmarket model, with a plush interior and four rectangular headlights, while the Tasman had basic vinyl trim, and a simplified grille with two round headlights. Mark II versions of both the Tasman and the Kimberley were introduced in 1971. The X6 was discontinued in 1972 with a total of 12,194 examples sold in Australia.
In the early 1970s, British Leyland had an idea of a medium-sized Vanden Plas model, based on the Australian X6 models. Had the car entered production (there was a running prototype made), it would have had a formalised Wolseley 1800/2200 front end, the rest of the car's bodyshell being X6 based.
A second proposal was a coupé utility variant (codenamed YDO14), to replace the Australian developed Austin 1800 Utility. Although this model never reached production, Barry Anderson (ex-Leyland Australia engineer) states that two were built, one served as a "work hack" for Leyland Australia while the other was crashed tested for ADR (Australian Design Rules) compliance. The surviving black work hack was offered for private sale in Melbourne in 1990, at which time it was no longer roadworthy or registered.
Initially the X6 cars sold well and there were plans by parent company British Leyland/BMC at the time to launch the Kimberley on the UK home market, where it would have competed with the top end Cortinas and various Vauxhalls. The BL execs desperately needed new products and their Australian arm were producing some interesting and exciting cars around this time which included a factory hatchback for the Morris 1100/1300/1500 called the "Nomad" and a useful 1800 utility as well as larger-engined versions of existing models.
Had they deemed these cars, along with the Spanish version of the 1100 (a booted sedan styled by Michelotti based on the 1100/1300) to be suitable for wider distribution, it could have gone some way to alleviating BL's woes on their home market. Sadly the advanced engineering combined with the Australian market's tough outback conditions, extreme heat and so forth were not kind to the X6 cars and reliability became an issue. Additionally the parent company was running out of money and there was no funding to develop the cars further.
In the marketplace, the cars were intended as competitors to the more established larger Holden Kingswood, Ford Falcon and Chrysler Valiant models. However, the complexities of front-wheel-drive were an issue against the car, and compounded with the lack of body variations and models, the X6 was never a serious threat to the dominance of the rear-wheel-drive and multiple-body Holdens, Fords and Chryslers.
Due to this, Leyland Australia developed a much larger rear-wheel-drive car to replace the X6, and compete directly with the Holden, Ford and Chrysler models (in both straight-6 and V8 forms), the Leyland P76, which was introduced to Australia and New Zealand in 1973.
When introduced, a notable selling point of the X6 was the Tasman's two bench seats, which could seat six (the plusher Kimberly had separate from seats and sat five). Interestingly one advertisement for the New Zealand specification Morris Tasman X6 proclaimed that the bench seats could hold the driver and seven schoolboy rugby players!. Whilst this may seem an exaggerated claim by its makers, the 1800/Kimberley platform did provide excellent passenger room for a vehicle of such a compact outer dimensions, a legacy of Sir Alec Issigonis who strived for increased cabin space on a small footprint as witness the Mini, 1100, 1800 and Maxi.
A white Morris Tasman X6 is preserved at the Wanaka Transport Museum, in New Zealand. Fittingly, while the cars themselves are moved constantly around the museum, it is always shown parked alongside an Austin 1800.
Two Austin Tasman utility vehicles were built, one served as a 'work hack' for Leyland Australia while the other was crashed tested.
In the late 1980s, in New Zealand, a Morris Kimberley had a unique stretch-limousine conversion, and was spray-painted pink.