Drive Story : Cowley to Longbridge with a Maestro – what can go wrong?

When Mike Humble was asked to drive a very rare MG Maestro in the Cowley Convoy, it was music to his ears. However, heritage soon kicked in almost scuppering the adventure…

The MG Maestro awaiting the off at the Cowley MINI plant
Going back a few months, before the 75 came back into the fold (for the third time), I asked Tanya Field from the Maestro and Montego Owners Club if she had a spare steer for this year’s Pride of Longbridge gathering. My reason for asking was because I wanted a “class” vehicle to pootle up there in rather than parking on Lowhill Lane with the rest of the lesser vehicle marques – after all, I was running a Ford Focus. So when the Rover 75 came back into the fold it left me with a bit of a quandary… do I drive that or one of Tanya’s many vehicles?

Between them, Tanya and her husband, Jason, possibly own more Longbridge and Cowley assembled tin than my old dealer had in the stock compound – I kid you not. She sent me a list to choose from and, after some deliberation, it was narrowed down to a stunning Montego Countryman diesel or a splendid-looking Zircon Blue MG Maestro 1600. I always favouring the under-dog so it simply had to be the Maestro – but not any old MG Maestro, an S-Series powered model fed by a brace of noisy twin choked Weber DCNF carbs!

Anyway, once the swap-a-thon deal with AROnline reader Neil Rapsey had been completed, the Focus went off to the land of song and the 75 came back to leafy Horsham. However, that left Neil in a similar pickle to my own – without a “class” vehicle to meander up to Cofton Park. We invited Neil and his wife, Tracey, up to leafy Horsham on the Friday, celebrated her birthday with a quality Chinese take away and coaxed ‘er indoors into making up a foursome – an automotive one I must clarify. Jacky and Tracey would pilot my 75 while Neil and myself would hop into the Maestro upon arriving at Cowley – what a caper!

My other Jacky with Neil Rapsey and his missus Tracey - the girls piloted my Rover 75.
My other half Jacky with Neil Rapsey and his missus Tracey – the girls piloted the Rover 75

However, what I omitted to explain in my best laid plans of mice and men, was that all four of us would be coming back in the Maestro – had I done so beforehand, I don’t think Jacky would have been as enthusiastic. Don’t get me wrong, she loves cars and driving them but, unless it’s got four-wheel-drive and a green oval badge, corners like an Esprit, has climate control or enables her to stream her musak from her ‘phone to the “infotainment” system, well, quite frankly, she doesn’t want to know. Mind you, she does, at least, understand my need to have automotive tat in my life – and, for that, I am eternally grateful.

Well, the jaunt up to Cowley (despite none of us having more than four hours kip) went without a hitch and we arrived in good time. I had a chat with Tanya and Jason Field over a strong tea and a gingernut biscuit, sorted out Jacky and Tracy with a map of where they were aiming for before grabbing the keys to the Maestro. Soon it was 8:30 and the convoy set off in line order, despite the Maestro being on the front of three rows – pole position if you like, we were the last ones to get going. The girls had a head start on us so we planned to make speed and catch them up… if only plans went that smoothly.

Onwards to Longbridge - it wasn't long before the wheels fell off though.
Onwards to Longbridge – it wasn’t long before the wheels fell off though

About a minute later us lads in team “S Express” spluttered out of the Cowley plant and right away I thought the car was not running as well as it could. A little further up the road and warmed through, the MG Maestro ran a little smoother and soon we were picking off one or two slower members of the convoy which included an early Marina and a brace of Rover SD1s. We settled back into what we thought would be an uneventful drive of just under two hours and both Neil and myself must have gone through the test function of the voice synthesis half a dozen times… but then it went a bit pear-shaped.

At the first roundabout on the Oxford by-pass, I pulled into the flow of traffic with front plaque and convoy flag proudly fluttering in the breeze when, without warning, we lost all the gears. I knew from the rather pronounced “clunk” noise that it was more than the usual detachment of the nylon ball joint links – a fault so very common to Maestro or Montego with the VW-sourced gearboxes. This was much worse as the gear lever was limper than a Vicar’s handshake, so I piloted the freewheeling car round the roundabout and stopped in a hatched marking area – effectively not blocking any traffic.

Eagle eyed Neil soon spotted the problem and sorted it, but I had a quick final check before declaring the car fit for purpose.
Eagle-eyed Neil soon spotted the problem and sorted it, but Mike had a quick final check before declaring the car fit for purpose

Needless to say, my language was the same colour as the car and the bonnet was raised for a diagnosis. Before I had chance to roll the sleeves up, First Officer Rapsey was up to his waist in the engine bay and spotted the cause of the disaster just 2.6 miles into the journey. The relay link that’s secured by a pair of bushes and two “R” clips had disconnected itself from the rest of the selector componentry – that’s why we lost all the gears and not some. One of the flexible bushes that looks like a rubberised top hat was missing completely which explains why the gear change was laughably poor to start with.

Thanks to an accumulation of over 30 years of oil and road grime, the vital “R” clip was sitting on top of the greasy filth on the back subframe, so, after giving it a little squeeze with some pliers, it was fitted back in place along with the relay link. I was just on the ‘phone updating Tanya (stationary of course) when a Thames Valley Police traffic car drew up alongside. The two Traffic Officers asked us if we needed a hand but, by now we were good to go, so they offered to stop the traffic and let us move away from the roundabout – they do grand job our boys in blue, they really do!

In order to keep the gearchanges to a minimum, it was agreed all round that we should drive along the M40 and head straight for Longbridge. Besides, we’d spent the thick end of 20 minutes sitting on the edge of a roundabout so all the rest of the convoy by now had at least a 15 mile head start on us. The satnav was switched off and I aimed for the motorway while Neil ‘phoned the girls to see how they were getting on – a story worthy of its own item that ‘er indoors is currently working on… trust me – it’s a belter.

Well... we got there in the end. And all the way back to Horsham too - it was emotional!
Well… we got there in the end. And all the way back to Horsham, too – it was emotional!

Anyway, we got to Longbridge with no further drama except the car kept threatening to cut out in the heavy gridlock traffic as we queued to enter Cofton Park thanks to those well-engineered Weber carburettors. Also, the smell of hot fuel and engine oil required both windows to be wound down to avoid that unmistakable feeling of nausea. The Maestro made it back from Longbridge four up and with no trauma to Cowley in order to drop the 75 in the staff car park and two extra passengers were bundled into the back for the last leg to leafy Horsham.

Arthur, the MG Maestro, stayed with me for another week for me to service, cure the oil leaks and repair the wayward gearchange mechanism – this story is coming soon, too – with an extra helping of emotion.


Mike Humble


  1. Ah the memory’s, it was a great day and a great drive up made all the more exiting by that good old VW gear box, and with no tools to speak of aside from the basics and a kitchen towel, we got it going in tru bodge/heritage style.
    But the voice of Nicolette McKenzie emanating from the dash kept us entertained for the rest of the journey which thankfully was trouble free.

  2. It’s an old car and none too reliable in its original form, so it’s bound to play up from time to time. However, fair play to Mike for choosing the lesser MG Maestro, which must be as rare as hen’s teeth now.
    Also in the bottom photo I detect a Vanden Plas 1500, I’d think this would make for an interesting drive with its Rolls Royce like interior and Allegro mechanicals.

  3. I had a 1.6 HL back in the day and the gearlinkage was chocolate then, so no surprises whatsoever. Lost track of the number of roadside bodges I had to perform.

  4. The comment about eating a Chinese the evening before made me smile. Ironic nod to the current MG badged offerings. To be fair, I’d rather have a portion of salt and pepper ribs than an MG 3…..

  5. @ Enrico, the gear linkage was always a the weak spot in a Maestro, but unlike now, such jobs could be done yourself.

  6. Great read as ever Mike. Talented with both a pen and a spanner,something that is not as common as you would think. Best wishes.

  7. Back in the day I was a passenger in a 2-year old VW Golf that suffered a similar problem with lack of gears, found to be caused by some kind of rubber bush that had fallen out.

  8. Sounds like it had some hot fuel handling issues. This was common on the R-Series MG, but the ‘S’ had a carburetter cooling fan, was this working?
    Of course, with it being more than 20 years since the demise of the carburetter, it could just be that the oil companies don’t take their requirements into account any more…

  9. I remember being in a car accessory shop a few years ago & while waiting to be served looked at the oil section, which had a sign explaining the different grades of oil.

    The sign recommended mineral rather than synthetic oil for engines using carburetors.

  10. Whilst doing my apprenticeship at Cowley, I did the same journey. I delivered a Maestro Vanden Plas to East Works from Cowley so they could investigate a dodgey gearchange. I remember being blown away by the trim and trip computer. It was a different world from the Dolomite I drove daily. The Maestro was a lovely car to drive, just lacking a bit in the looks dept.


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