News : AROnline’s new project car

Craig Cheetham

AROnline has gone and bought a Maestro. Well, it is Friday the 13th after all…

What's not to like?
What’s not to like?

It all started with a random conversation. In one of those ‘small world’ scenarios, I happen to play for the same rugby team as the Chief Sub Editor at Practical Classics, Matt George. While it’s a distinct worry (to us, at least) that a collapsed scrum could lead to a distinct shortage of talent in the classic automotive media, it does mean that Saturday pre-match conversation often diverts away from the game and more toward the world of the distressed automobile.

This is its best side - the doors on the left are filler free...
This is its best side – the doors on the left are filler free…

AROnline had been looking for a project car for a couple of months, and being the Editor and pulling rank, I’d decided it was going to be a Maestro because I’ve never actually owned one. Our first hot lead, a white Maestro in a garage in South East London was frustrating, as we were outbid in the eBay auction in the dying minutes.

The second seemed promising, when we were approached by an AROnline reader whose elderly aunt had passed away, but all went quiet and we eventually learned the car had been sold on to a neighbour. Which left us car-less, and having promised the powers that be that a project would be forthcoming ‘early in the New Year’, I was running short of ‘early’.

Plush, and fairly tidy inside. But shouldn't it be leather?
Plush, and fairly tidy inside. But shouldn’t it be leather? Welded area of sill just visible (like me, it’s ugly, but strong) – does anyone have a plastic sill cover in brown to replace the one that’s missing?

It was only when Matt was showing me some pictures of his newly acquired Nissan Bluebird (what can I say, the man has taste…) that I was alerted to something very gold and slightly rotund in the background of the image… By the time I’d thought about asking ‘Is that a Maestro?’, I’d somehow managed to agree to buy it from PC’s Editor, Danny Hopkins, who in turn had recently rescued it from a scrapyard… in Jersey. Funny how these things happen…

This isn't the first time Craig has bought a Vanden Plas off Danny. The last one was an Allegro, 13 years ago...
This isn’t the first time Craig has bought a Vanden Plas from Danny. The last one was an Allegro, and that was 13 years ago… (Pic: Martyn Knowles)

A week later, and the newly registered C426 OVW (nee J 3545) is sitting in my rented storage awaiting full evaluation.

Jersey tax disc expired in 2004 - suggesting it's 11 years since the Maestro was last used on the road. What could possibly go wrong?
Jersey tax disc expired in 2004 – suggesting it’s 11 years since the Maestro was last used on the road. What could possibly go wrong?

The good bits? 

It has covered just 52,000 miles from new, most of which will have been below 35mph.

It’s a Vanden Plas. Don’t you know?

It has mostly its own sills and wheelarches.

The interior is in good nick (although it’s a Montego dash VP with velour trim, which I’m told is an anomaly).

It looks pretty good from 10 paces.

The radio-cassette works.

It drives surprisingly well.

It appears to be pretty much free of any oil leaks.

Brand new tyres all round.

10 months’ MoT.

Engine bay is pretty tidy, and S-Series unit seems remarkably oil tight
Engine bay is pretty tidy, and S-Series unit seems remarkably oil tight

The bad bits?

It’s an automatic…

It’s not entirely devoid of bodyfiller, notably around the o/s door bottoms.

It makes a funny clonking noise from the back end.

The sunroof is jammed shut, and has some rust.

It needs new tailgate struts.

It has had some welding to the top of both sills, inside the door shuts.

It’s not a Mk 1 Vanden Plas, so it doesn’t speak.

The poor man's alternative to Nicolette MacKenzie
The poor man’s alternative to Nicolette MacKenzie

So, the next steps? Well, once I’ve cleared the decks in what’s an astonishingly busy time with the day job, my plan is to get it up in the air and have a good look around underneath (it looks pretty good, to be honest) and create a job list graded from A to C, A being essential, B being desirable and C being academic, but probably the kind of silly thing I’ll do first (like give it a lick of polish).

I’m also going to get AROnline’s grease guru, Mike Humble, to give it a full and frank verbal deconstruction, as I’m one of life’s eternal optimists (I also reckon it’s a pretty sound car, all things considered)…

Go, baby, go....
Go, baby, go….

So what do we think? And does anyone have any idea what we should do with it next?

Answers on a postcard, and if you can wait that long (I’m sure you’ll all be tingling with anticipation to see it sooner), I’ll be bringing this one along to the BMC/BL Spares Day at Peterborough in August.

Finally, a tale of 'meant to be'. On the morning I collected the Maestro I popped into the local cobblers to get a key cut for my wife - and found this keyring on a dusty old rack for a quid!
Finally, a tale of ‘meant to be’. On the morning I collected the Maestro, I popped into the local cobblers to get a key cut for my wife – and found this keyring on a dusty old rack for a quid!


Craig Cheetham


  1. The Maestro so defines all things BL>MG Rover. A car constrained by the company’s finances, ever changing management direction. A car not sitting neatly in a market class. A car launched late, and so not really ahead of current rivals. A car which completed development during it’s early months on sale. BUT an essentially good car displaying innovative thinking. Back in 1983, I thought the Maestro could look pretty goods in the right colour & trim. This VDP illustrates my point perfectly and time has served its styling well.

  2. Craig – Nice find, I miss my H reg DLX, had the same “box velvet” seats although in a more tasteful grey.
    1986 model year is when Maestro’s got the Montego dash, ARG had given up trying to get the rattles eliminated from the original Airfix kit.
    You may find that the rear suspension clonking is just the rubber bushes at the top of the shockers have perished, an easy fix. Most of the parts from a Montego will fit, although finding a brown sill cover will be a challenge!
    It was always a bit hit or miss if the bodies were wax injected (anybody reading this remember the Redman Fisher chain conveyors at the bottom end of E block with the wax booth en route to QT Assembly?) My Maestro had no wax in it, the doors never rusted unlike cars that were done. It appears that the wax in the doors trapped the moisture. However, no wax in the sills meant they rotted away.

  3. Erm, the tyres look good…

    Ok, I’m not really a Maestro fan, but it is good to see some still knocking about for old time’s sake- soon there will be almost none.

    Good luck with this project.

  4. I’ll give it a good home.. loving Gold auto’s. . Especially the finest BL products.. so uncool it’s cool.

  5. I agree with Dave. Where was the diesel option when the Astra and Escort had diesels by 1983? Where was the quality on early cars, that made a fundamentally good car bad? However, when the Maestro came good when two diesel options were offered and quality improved under BAE ownership, it was too late. Yet for those in the know, a turbodiesel Maestro proved an excellent buy, 110 mph performance and 60 mpg and an engine that could last 200,000 milkes.

    • Who needed a diesel when you had the A+?

      A 1.3 maestro was economical, quietish, and very comfortable compared to the harsh 1.6D Escort,

      Maestro’s are brilliant, ran ours for 23 years, and enjoyed every mile.

  6. That’s a strangely likeable little car. I doubt that the previous owner was under 60 years old, but nonetheless, would make a nice little runabout, not to say an excellent project. Look forward to the updates on this one.

  7. How could anyone want to own and drive a Maestro ? They were awful, dreadful, probably the worst car ever designed and built in the UK. And before you ask, I did own and drive one once, but not for long

    • My employers had an old Y reg with rattly R series engine and dash, it was awful. But they also had a new F reg 1.6L with S series engine which I actually preferred to an XR2 which was also on the fleet. The MG’s were also quite tasty, with bags of torque, even if the brakes were stretching a point. I drove a non-turbo diesel, not enough poke but a turbo would have been much better. Two friends took the plunge and bought Maestro 1.3’s, both liked them very much and found them to be very reliable.

  8. @ Fraser, the Montego was worse. At least the Maestro had a decent sized boot, was cheaper to run and the A series engine was durable. However, the Montego like the Maestro, did come good around 1989, but it was too late. I did own a Montego, after a reliable Honda engined 200, and it was a disaster.

  9. Looks quite good for its age at first glance. Perhaps it’s because there are so few Maestro’s left that this appeals. VDP trim on Maestro’s, Monty’s and R200’s was a marketing badge ploy that didn’t live up to the halcyon days of “real” Vanden Plas cars like the Princess R – or even the ADO16 VDP?

    Good luck with this project car.

  10. I was never a fan of the S series engine as it used to leak oil from day one and the breather system would soon become clogged with horrible, yucky mayonnaise leading to more oil leaks! BL’s solution to this was a kit of moulded pipe foam pieces that were fixed onto the oil filler tube and breather pipes using cable ties. Unfortunately this made little difference. Replacing the cam cover gaskets and resealing the cam carrier with silicone RTV sealant was almost a daily task in the mid 80s while they were in the warranty period but you always knew it was no more than a futile, temporary fix. Then there was the unreliable automatic choke and the weeping rear wheel cylinders that had seals the size of cat’s whiskers and nearly always needed replacement at the first 12,000 mile 12 month service. At least BL were paying I suppose! I recall one elderly chap who bought a new 1.6 Automatic in 1988, he kept it until 1996 and in the early days had no end of trouble with it flooding due to his habit of reversing out of the garage, switching off, going indoors then coming back out say 20 minutes later and being unable to restart. Eventually we fitted a manual choke kit and this cured the problem. He sold it in ’96 because the engine had been unusually oil-leak free and the cylinder block became corroded and porous close to the water jacket on the front face!

    • Not surprised you’d be sealing the cam carrier on a daily basis with silicone RTV…. it wont work.

      It requires a fatter modified O ring and the use of an anerobic sealant….. drier than Ghandi’s sandal once dealt with this way.

  11. There was a BBC one-off documentary in about the mid 90’s – and I’ve wished I could find it since on Youtube – anyone? – it was about Company car drivers, and amongst other things how the type of coat hanger you had in the rear (wood vs metal) denoted your status – There was this chap who was promised a new company car but ended up with a blue maestro clubman, that his wife refused to go in, and how he pretended it wasn’t his when he went to sales meetings etc.
    I had a 1986 City x 1.3 for the record and loved it at the time.

    • It was called “From A to B” and was shown on BBC2 originally. One of the earliest “fly on the wall” type documentaries. It was last repeated on BBC Four in 2009.

      I remember the Maestro driver on that program. It was never explored in detail, but it seemed like he was given that basic-spec Maestro as a “punishment” for poor sales performance, or for p***ing off the fleet manager.

      There was also an accompanying book to go with the series (how quaint).

      • Most of these programmes are available on You Tube, just search for “From A to B: Tales of Modern Motoring”.

        As well as the Maestro guy there’s an amusing young lad with a Metro and a sweet episode about a girl and her 2CV.

  12. If you want a reliable Maestro, buy a diesel. These Perkins engines really last and deliver 50-60 mpg. Had the Maestro had a diesel option from day one, it could have fared a lot better. Also the 1.3 models seem to have been more reliable than the S series, an engine I have bad memories of from the Montego.

  13. Clearing out a cupboard this week, I uncovered an old notebook in which I used to record expenditure on my cars.
    I had been so pleased with my 1.3 Allegro over 80k miles that I passed to the wife to use, and acquired a 1.3 Maestro.
    The Maestro was still going strong on 110k miles before being replaced by a company car. Apart from regular servicing (which I did myself) and normal consumables, other expenditure was negligible. This was for a new brake cylinder at 64k miles, new ECU at 67k which appears to have needed further work at 68k, new clutch at 87k, clutch cable at 88k and a top end overhaul (new valve springs, CH gasket, decoke) at 91k. All fuel purchases were logged and averaged approx. 45mpg. The clutch cable issue was the only time it let us down.
    The cars needed a 5 speed box and better noise insulation-if built with these they would have sold like hot cakes.

  14. @Guy… that yucky mayonnaise you mention was also encountered on my 1256cc VIVA HC, especially in cold winter weather. The Vauxhall servicing dealer never had an answer or cure for it either!

  15. Dug out a couple of AR range brochures from the mid 80’s and your car does seem to be an anomaly. According to the sales blurb, the Montego dash was introduced on the Maestro in 1986 along with leather seat facings (box velvet a no cost option) and cheesegrater alloys as standard. Your car has the previous wheels and the then standard box velvet, but looks like it should have come with the Maestro dash. Apparently, the Maestro Vanden Plas was also What Car? family car of the year in 1984!

  16. I like that. It’s a nice little microcosm of cheesy 1980s faux-luxury. The phrase “rescued from a scrapyard” suggests it was cheap to buy. With the low mileage and VDP spec, this has scope to be a good magazine project car that you can fix up, take to a few events, and then flog for a profit.

  17. I had an E reg VP in a strange grey/green colour with the grey lower doors and sills and a wonderful tan leather interior. Very comfortable and reliable, good stereo but…

    The plastic wood trim rattled all the time

    It never got above 32 mpg no matter how I drove it. Oddly, it never went below 30 mpg no matter how I drove it!

    Heavy steering (no PAS)

    Notchy gearbox.

    I know it’s the pseudo luxury 1980s trim, but it was so much nicer than Ford or Vauxhall and German cars were so austere in those days and Japanese were very unplesant places to spend your time.

    Looking forward to this

  18. What a great project car, and one I wouldn’t have minded myself! My parents owned a 1983 1.3L in red, which gave sterling service, and some years later I owned two 1.6L Montegos, one a saloon the other a estate. The saloon I purchased with 40k on the clock and chopped it in on an R8 Rover 200 when I had added 80k on top of that, commuting daily to Solihull. I also later owned a Maestro Diesel Clubman Turbo on an L plate, which was wonderful. Great economy, but more than enough oomph to leave many more ‘exotic’ vehicles for dead. No major problems with any of them, and I loved them all.

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