Not their finest hour : Austin Maestro 1.3HLE
AROnline takes a look back at some of the memorable automotive blunders in more recent times from both our own, and rival makes.
This time Mike Humble offers you a treat from our very own Austin Rover. Pray silence please for the Maestro HLE…
The miracle Maestro?
Now don’t get me wrong, but the Maestro is by no means a terrible car – though many will argue against that statement. But in all fairness, it was far from being an excellent one either. Of all the many cars from the house of BL, for me anyway, the Maestro is surely a car which got all the publicity for pretty much all the wrong reasons but for so many good reasons, had some really positive ingredients including interior space, ease of servicing and running costs.
True, the base models brought a whole new meaning to the word miserable, but taking into account the parlous state of affairs of Austin Rover, the Maestro kick started the company and at least got rid of the underwhelming Maxi. I have been a lifelong fan of the A series engine, and when developed into the A+, it became a torquey and refined little motor that did well to last as long as it did. For all of you non DIY mechanics, you haven’t lived unless you have spent an hour grinding valves into a 1275cc head!
A new body but old at heart
The Maestro 1.3 didn’t fare to badly considering the rival Astra and Escort both featured advanced overhead cam engines in their 1.3 models. The antiquated pushrod A+ was a much sweeter sounding plant than the Escort CVH, mind you thinking about it, cutting through a wrought iron girder with an 18″ angle grinder sounded like Vivaldi compared to the Ford CVH. But, the little 1275 put in a good show in the light of far more modern plants.
In economy HLE tune however, the Maestro 1.3 became a terrible car, which was simply awful to drive, mainly thanks to its comedy gearbox and ponderous obstructive gearchange. For reasons that even today seem hard to fathom, the HLE was fitted with a VW 3+E gearbox rather than a five-speed with overdrive orentated top. It failed to work in the Golf C Formel E (Volkswagen’s economy version) so why not do away with this stupid affair and throw in a decent five speeder?
Away you go! and into second gear… all is fine, select third and… oh `eck, what’s all this? you are greeted with a monumental gap in the ratios because third is actually the usual fourth ratio.
Select another gear and top gear is almost as long legged as Usain Bolt, so unless you lived in somewhere as flat as Norfolk, the HLE was a nasty drive with half decent performance available only by ringing down to the engine room. A larger engine may have pulled it off, but with just 68bhp under your foot, it was asking too much.
But still looked like a prototype
On the inside things were a bit poor too, alongside the poorly calibrated dials; Austin Rover fitted an econometer with a bar of coloured LED lights. I often wondered if anyone ever ended up in the backside the car in front owing to being so distracted by trying their level best in keeping the green coloured segments lit. What was wrong with a coloured coded or economy banded rev counter instead I will never know, but this gadget rather like the arcade game digital dashboard seemed just a pointless gimmick.
And the misery didn’t end there either, the rubber vacuum pipes were a poor fit on the back of the econometer, so when they became a slack fit, which they did, a strange noise like someone breaking wind came from somewhere in the dashboard when you changed cogs. The gearchange was painfully clunky and long winded, the lever would often baulk and fight back at you when selecting 1st partly thanks to the cheap and nasty cobbled gear linkages that had a party trick of coming adrift at red traffic lights.
Other superb ideas included the cigar lighter being fitted in front of the passenger and that ingenious engine top mount that bolted right through the alloy thermostat housing causing fractures and coolant leaks. The electronic carburettor & ignition sysytem was legendary for being naughty, the rubbish Lucas components nailed onto the SU carb were as reliable as Hammersmith & District line and many dealers as well as owners threw away the automatic choke and fitted a manual conversion kit.
The spacious and airy interior was utterly ruined by that dreadful prototype looking dashboard with thin rimmed steering wheel that felt cold and horrible to the touch. Beacuse the econometer took up the space where the ashtray and clock would have lived, the ashtray was moved to a tiny pot in front of the gear lever and no clock was fitted – in economy class, time matters to no-one so it seemed. One thing was certain, it was visible to all that the Maestro was rushed into production, it never looked finished.
Same old story
Some minor revisions came on stream in the back end of `84, but by the time the new interiors were fitted and the HLE became the LE in 1986, the Maestro was viewed as another half baked BL car with no end to the horror stories that included howling wheel bearings, weeping dampers, water logged interiors and flaky electrics. Such a damn shame, as these later Maestro’s were the cars they should have been, and the Montego type one piece dash lifted the whole feel of the package – too late, the boat was missed!
The rest of the range became fairly dependable cars in time, especially the 2.0EFi MG and later Vanden Plas models. But the early variants which included the above and of course the MG 1600 featuring a talking voice sythesis computer that sounded like a primary school headmistress – with a hair lip, did nothing for repeat business for Austin Rover. The company did have a saviour however, the Anglo Jap Rover 213 which proved to all Austin Rover were sunk without joint collaboration!
Not quite the miracle it claimed to be!
Pictures: Thanks to the MMOC