Sometimes, trying to make a difference creates more hassle than its worth.
The Maestro that ended up being anything but music to the owner’s ears will haunt me for years to come…
Words: Mike Humble Photographs: Maestro and Montego Owners Club
Sometimes you just can’t do enough
Being the wrong side of 40 now, I remember, as do many, how almost every other car featured a Ford Kent Cross flow or Leyland A series engine under the harvest gold or terracotta coloured bonnet. Just like the Ford Pinto tussled it out with the GM Family Two engine for OHC supremacy, the BL A series caused many a bar room argument as to who made the best little pushrod four banger around. Of course, the tuning capabilities of this engine were, and still are – legendary, but a bog standard 1.3 Metro could still put on a decent show against much more modern rivals in terms of performance and economy right up to the models demise over 20 years ago – crikey! Does it really seem that long ago?
When I decided to operate as a sole trader, I not only advertised in the local press but I also visited various used car traders offering my services for pre sale servicing and warranty repairs – a smart move I thought. This paid off following some interest from a trader of long standing who specialised in mainly diesel cars and also used to be a small retail Rover dealer a few years beforehand. We struck a mutually beneficial deal whereby I charged him a favourable rate for my services and in return I could use his ramp and facilities for my own clients. This worked really well, especially during rough weather and I got to know both him and some of his customer’s well, one of which ran an elderly Maestro.
The chap in question drove a two tone Maestro 1.3 LX and because he was a bit of skinflint, he never really serviced the car as required, opting to maintain the car as and when it simply conked out. My man Peter had sold him the car from new and lived close by to him but had no appetite in servicing an old scrotter on the books as t`wer, so Pete put the old boy in contact with me directly. After speaking to the ageing owner of the Maestro it became obvious that there were some running problems with the car and I would pop by to see him that evening. Apart from the grubby appearance of the car, it was in fairly good body condition with low mileage and even the factory fitted central locking worked, as did the electric front windows.
Time erodes the full dialogue but a figure was banded about to fully service and sort out the cars dreadful stuttering and flat spot. He was visiting family by rail I recall and left me the car for the week so I could fit the job in around other commitments. Basically, the Maestro needed nothing more than some new plugs, leads, distributor cap, ignition timing and some oil in the SU HIF 44 carb dashpot. A belly full of fresh oil along with some Unipart filters did the trick in the end, but the car sounded like a child’s Tommy gun so it had obviously been some time since a 0.12 feeler blade had worked magic with the tappets. Pulling off the valve cover revealed a cork gasket that was even harder than a Sheffield night club bouncer.
Some of the tappet clearances were so large you could just about slide a jam butty through the gap without dropping a crumb, so after digging out my almost redundant feeler blades and working to the ‘rule of nine’- the Maestro sounded almost like brand new in next to no time. After dropping the tin sounding bonnet shut, I hopped into the Cowley built clonker for the obligatory road thrash and was stunned how smooth and tight the car felt on the road. The excellent visibility and spacious interior were always plus points, and apart from the familiar clunky gear change and slightly ponderous steering, the Maestro felt no where near like a car that was designed in the 1970s. I was actually starting to enjoy myself too!
The rest of the service went without a hitch, that was, until it came to stripping down the rear brakes. No matter how much prising hammering or brute force you applied, the offside drum would not budge from the backplate. In the end, the whole hub had to be unbolted from the car and thrown away. Locating a decent used unit from a breakers yard, both rear drums were skimmed to a matching pair and some new shoes fitted, the brakes were bled through and the ancient Austin now had some credible stopping power to match the restored performance. One thing that can be said in favour of the Maestro is the sheer ease of repair or servicing, nothing is difficult or taxing in the service bay – even the 1.6 or 2.0i MG are lessons in simplicity.
I kept thinking how impressed the customer was bound to be upon his return from afar and even the hard to please garage proprietor Pete was stunned at how sweet the car ran. The old boy returned as planned from his family break and we arranged to pick the car up from my house as I had ample space on the drive. I even treated the car to bucket of soapy water – it really was a back from the brink kind of job, the kind I enjoy doing the most. Arriving at the house, he seemed bowled over at how clean it looked both outside and under the bonnet, I explained what had been replaced and why and how important it is to keep on top of a decent car service wise. It was all going swimmingly – that was, until I flicked the key and fired up the motor.
The engine fired up like only a sweet A+ series can do – I was almost bubbling over with pride, but the bubble burst via means of the customer’s response to my skills with a half inch spanner, screwdriver and feeler blade. Using some language that was not in fitting with my postcode, he went into a rage and told me in no uncertain terms that I had wrecked his engine. In a nutshell, he eventually cooled down and settled the bill after I told him to get as many second opinions as he liked, but he left my premises in a manner that gave me the impression I would not be receiving a Christmas card. As you can imagine, I was gutted and downright angry at this but it was all forgotten about soon after – until one day at Peter’s showroom.
I was called in to fit a new clutch to a Rover 25 diesel and upon arriving Peter handed me a tin of chocolates with a letter stuck on the lid. It seemed that the Maestro man had indeed visited a few local garages including the once Rover main agent Reg Vardy to be told the same thing. His old banger was of course in first class mechanical order and his letter told me of how he was putting in a fiver less in fuel each week, even his son had told him how well the car seemed to be. I subsequently never went on to do any more work for him, partly because I had deleted his number from my mobile and partly because I think he may have been too embarrassed to contact me directly.
Such a shame – I enjoyed working on that old heap!