Blog : 30 years of the Maestro

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Keith Adams

Nicolette Ma
Nicolette McKenzie, the voice of the Maestro synthesizer, poses with the MG1600 at launch. (Picture: Neil Turner)

Last month, we celebrated the 30th birthday of the Peugeot 205, and most of us ended up marvelling at how the French got it right first time; how well the baby Pug has aged, and how quickly three decades seem to have passed. March 2013 sees the Maestro cross the same landmark, and once again has us asking, ‘where did the time go?’

Remember the weeks leading up to the Maestro’s launch? It was the era of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy ruled the charts. Britain’s great white hope, the LM10 was heading for production, and the weight of Britain’s expectations lay heavy in Austin Rover’s shoulders. Ever since the first accurate scoop images of the LM10 were released to CAR magazine in January 1980, the press had been speculating about the next mid-sized Austin, and how good it was g0ing to be.

I remember seeing that December 1982 issue of CAR with the LM10 on the cover, and extensive pre-launch Maestro coverage. They got some of the finer technical details wrong, but the blurry images were spot on. As a 12-year old car enthusiast who used to digest and analyse every piece of car information I could get my hands on, I was swept up by the Maestro’s pre-launch hype. I still vividly remember staying with relatives on a late-year holiday, excitingly thumbing through that issue, wondering why the styling wasn’t exciting me.

Maybe it was those grainy photos.

In the run up to the car going on sale on 1 March 1983, the press got to drive the cars in Spain, discovering the joys of the Spen King-designed suspension and drivtrain, fully appreciating the car’s excellent dynamics on challenging roads. One PR shared with me this vignette from the launch – and how it didn’t entirely go to plan. ‘Did you hear the story of Chris Goffey rolling an MG on the driving route?’ he said. ‘As the dust settled the electronic voice from the wonder dash could be heard saying “low oil pressure – low oil pressure”!!’

We’ve dissected the Maestro many. many times on AROnline.  And I’m not going to do it again here. The initial euphoria, the niggles from the early cars, the disappointing sales, and the eventual decline into sad, neglected banger – it’s a sad epitaph for a car that the hopes of the British motor industry once rest upon. And I sincerely hope that thanks to the efforts of its fans today, that the remaining few nice examples get appreciated for being the excellent piece of industrial design ruined ever so slightly by those side scollops.

Meanwhile, spend a few minutes enjoying these links – we’ll be revisiting the Maestro more throughout its birthday month.

Enjoy!

Austin Maestro (1)
Austin Maestro 1600HLS was a practical proposition. (Picture: Sam Skelton)

Maestro reminiscences : Ian Elliott

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

58 Comments

  1. Thet are still spinning stuff off this platform in China…

    I remember the R/S/T plate ‘Ledbury’ cars too.

    MG 2.0i…the most underated hot hatch of that period?

  2. I owned a very early 2.0 EFi on a B plate, and it was a great car to drive, fast, handled well, and was huge inside compared to the rivals, and had loads of low down torque, and was great for towing. Shame it rusted as a hobby. If the EFi had been launched at day 1, instead of the troublesome 1.6, and its ‘Kagagoogoo’ dash, that went senile quite quickly, it could have been a thorn in the side of the Golf GTi

  3. 30 years – blimey… And I can’t believe the date passed me by 😮 .

    Was driving my LHD MG1600 tonight, and enjoyed the experience thoroughly 🙂 .

    Bit bewildered by the 205’s 30th Anniversary Blog though – in the UK, this anniversary falls in October this year.

  4. My parents use to have a early 1.6 hls I still remember the number plate A108FAO we use to call it the submarine as it always use to leak in the front passenger footwell went back to Austin rover dealer in Carlisle more times than I can remember they could not find out what was the cause was. Also suffered from the auto choke. Problem and hot starting was a pain as well. All these problems did not stop them buying 4 more over the years. I’m still looking for a early mg 1600 to restore myself

  5. I had a nearly new 1.3L in 1984. The worst car I ever had. Oil leaks, engine mountings not capable of stopping the tranverse engine rocking back and forth. The automatic choke was so temperamental, I wonder whether it was ever running on the right mixture. Dash warning lights lit the whole time. Squeaky dashboard. Leaking windscreen. And the master stroke: the boot cover/parcel shelf was lifted by cords with weights. These weights would knock loudly against the unupholstered wheel arches every time you went over a bump or round a corner. Who signed that off? Put this car next to a Golf Mk II and weep. Didn’t stop me ordering a Montego for my first company car. Such a patriot. And my employer was paying the bills then.

  6. A shame it got off to a bad start as the Maestro had the potential to be a great car and later models were actually quite reliable, particularly in diesel form. Yet was it any worse than the worst car of the eighties that appeared at the same time, the Mark 2 Fiat Strada, a rust prone nightmare that was about as reliable as a chocolate fireguard and looked like hell.

  7. Bear in mind, Ian @8, the Allegro came out in an era when nine out of ten new cars were British and buyers were far more patriotic than in 1983, when people were far more cynical about British cars. However, had the quality been right with the Maestro from the start, it could have flattened the opposition.

  8. In some ways quite a modern car size wise at least. Compared next to a Mk3 escort it is taller and wider. A bit like how modern cars have become so much “bigger.” Look at a Chevette next to a new Astra and the Chevette looks like tiny little toy.
    Not sure why so many are against the side scallops. What is so bad with them? Add a bit of character (he says waiting to be shot down in flames!).

  9. I, like like so many fools believed the Austin Rover PR machine with its product led recovery mantra. Then you read the tales of woe in this very thread and realise it was all an illusion, a mirage, a fools paradise.
    After 8 years of state ownership and millions of pounds of taxpayers money, why wasn’t the quality right?
    One realises why Austin Rover sales stalled in 1985. Fleet buyers has burned their fingers with ARG and went elsewhere, and reading no.4 and 5, can you blame them?
    Now I wonder if Ford had bought ARG whether the MG and Triumph sports cars would be global brands alongside the Mazda MX5, instead of the stuttering Chinese MG cars?

  10. The Maestro did date very quickly, when the curvy Mk2 Ashtray was launched just over a year later it was another hammer blow to the Maestro. I also think the odd size counted slightly against it, and the well recorded quality issues, especially with the expensive plastic bumpers on the early cars..

  11. More to my ranting.
    Back in December 1977 the LC10 was due to be launched in 1980 with the help of new fangled CAD. It was delayed until 1983 and they still couldn’t get it right!

  12. My sister in law did a Chris Goffey in Liverpool when she clipped another car. Ended up on the roof. That was a brown 1.6L, that always had auto choke isues. That was a fair few years back now..

  13. I have owned 5 Maestros, 2 1.6 and 3 EFI’s, one new in 86. Still own a EFI. Never had any problems with auto choke. I obviously like them. camshaft oil seal, was the only fault I remember on my new one.It must be said that the build quality start out poor and got worse. Around 1985-86 in was very poor, nail in the coffin really. The EFI is certainly much nicer drive than the basic models. Cannot think of any car that had less money spent on development, once the car was lunched. They even left off improvements made to the Montego over the years.

  14. I remember my uncle who worked for Hartwells in Banbury giving me a plastic badge of the ‘New Meastro’ as it was launched, wish I had it now.

    When older I ran a clapped out Vanden Plas 1.6 and some kind chap broke into to to ‘alf inch the stereo. What really hurt was that he kicked the proverbial out of the dash to get it.

    I like to think of my Rover 45 as a small spiritual successor to the Meastro.

  15. @10 I’m not sure that the Chevette and Astra are comparable. The Astra replaced the HC Viva and the Nova and subsequent Corsa replaced the Chevette so that’s where the comparisons lie. Still I get your point! It’s an interesting situation though as Ford gave up the Scorpio market to the Germans (or perhaps they we leaving it to the newly acquired Volvo brand) but the latest Mondeo is of old Granada/Scorpio proportions. At the other end of the scale, the current Fiesta is bigger than the MK1 escort. I guess that’s why they needed the KA! My mate had a 1983 1600 MG Maestro. It was absolutely dreadful. Rotten as hell in no time and failing electrics from day 1. On the other hand, my Dads mate once had a 1990 MG 2.0 that he used like a van and towed all sorts. It was badly neglected but just kept going. He racked up 340,000 miles before scrapping it!

  16. My mum had a blue 1300 (i think) for a few years that was very reliable if i remember and had very little rust on it,sold to an uncle that had it for a few years too,B596 MPV.

  17. All the development cash was being spent on the more profitable Rovers (200), which basically sold like freshly baked Greggs pasties, so the M cars had to make do with the leftovers. I do wonder what the Maestro and Montego would have been like if they’d fitted the engines from the 200, complete with fuel injection?

  18. I remember the Maestro’s launch well. I had been caught up in the patriotic Metro launch. The Metro may have owed too much to Mini and been a bit dated mechanically but it seemed right. Somehow, though, to me the Maestro seemed a bit frumpy by comparison. Its extra bulk did not give it the youthful appeal of, say, a Mk3 Escort. Whilst some colours, trims looked rather good (light metallic HLS) others looked awful (chocolate brown L).

    I think, though, that time has served the Maestro well. In terms of size it was rather ahead of its time.

    If better sorted at a 1981 launch and without some of the dowdy colours, trims I’m sure Maestro would have sold far better.

    MG 2.0 EFi was a fine car – I think even Jeremy Clarkson thought so.

  19. Glenn @ 9

    Yes, in the Allegro’s days society was different – many tended to buy a British car, regardless. By the 1980’s it was more commonplace to buy a foreign car. Look how things have changed again since – in 1983 it would have been hard to imagine the market share Hyundai, Kia now have.

    • When the Allegro was launched( 1973), British Leyland had over a third of the new car market and most buyers bought British cars , as they were still considered familiar and superior to foreign cars. Ten years later, British Leyland had 18 per cent of the new car market, the majority of new cars were imported, and bad experiences with British cars had made many buyers very wary of buying another one. However, countries that weren’t considered major car producers like South Korea, Hungary, Romania and India now import tens of thousands of well made and decent to drive cars into Britain every year.

      • Right Glenn… As you say, it was in the mid – late 70s that the likes of Datsun, Honda & Toyota made inroads to the UK. My Dad bought his first Jap car (Mazda) in 1973, my brother his first Datsun in 75 and myself a Datsun Cherry in 1979.

        Another reason for the dip in sales of UK built cars was probably the extras fitted to competitors (even simple things like radio’s & cheap carpet on entry level models, tempted buyers towards Japanese imports). It took till the 1980s before UK built cars caught up in the equipment stakes.

  20. Lucas Girling had an ’83 and an ’88 on their fleet when I worked there. The quality of the latter was vastly better. If only they had been launched like that.

  21. Good looking cars, I still cannot understand why they get so much stick… The Golf was a folded paper, child’s sketch of a car compared to the modern looking, dynamically sound Maestro/Montego. (Rust was the killer though, such a shame)

  22. I had two of them a c reg vanden plas and a g reg mg2.0 , they were both great cars even my mates who initially took the piss conceded so , the 1,6 vanden plas i had was a surprisingly fast car i even managed to keep up with a vey upset xr3 driver away from the lights

  23. Steve, the Golf 2 came just over a year after this and also showed that curves were the way forward, not the folded Origami, with filed off corners that was the Maestro. The Maestro looked old when launched to be honest really, after all it was born in the 1970s, but constant BL buggering about caused it to be delayed

  24. The maestro’s platform design was no more or less advanced than the competition, but the body styling was a bit less up to date. Nearly every other competitor was FWD, and the Maestro joined them in being the first ARG designged car with an end-on gearbox (I think the first BL car with an end-on box was the acclaim)

    Regarding the autochoke issues that was own to ARG using a complex electronically regulated carb with its own ECU above the glovebox, and the mixture stepper motor seals failing didn’t help. The latter post ’88 models had a redesigned carb and a combined ignition/carb ECU under the bonnet, which was vastly better.

    The big problem with the Maestro was it was 3-5 years late coming to the market, and still had some niggles to iron out even then.

  25. I worked for a major, now defunct, computer company throughout the 1980s, Maestro Astra Peugeot 309 and Escort were for new recruits, ie fresh from Uni/College, yes, the usual company hierarchy.

    A number opted for the Maestro, the Victor Meldrew image had yet to take root, (where did this originate, media bashing of AR)?.

    The cabin of the Maestro was far better than the Escort or Astra, bright and airy due to the larger glass area.

    I read that Maestro was an old-fashioned 1970s design, & so was the Escort,-the awful CVH engine and the choppy ride

    No takers for the 309 though, or the car allowance

  26. Dull but worthy. Sums the Maestro up totally. My brother had a chocolate brown 1.3HLE (3+E gearbox & LED “econometer”) for about 6 years. It was utterly dull and very reliable. Even the auto choke worked most of the time. It was stolen, recovered and ran for another couple of years before he sold it. The good thing about the colour was that it disguised the rust bubbles….

    A friend of mine bought a 2.0 diesel near the end of production. The engine pulled like a train but it was very agricultural compared to my Golf GTD. Eventually that one was stolen, presumably for the engine which was used in many Manchester taxis, and was never recovered.

    Never mind Victor Meldrew or the MG versions, the overriding impression of the Maestro was … dull.

  27. Who’s bright spark idea was it to put the fag lighter almost out of reach of the driver I wonder? The Ash tray was within easy reach, but putting the fag lighter on the passenger side???

  28. I remember a neighbour of ours in 1985 bought a new vandam plas model,but it wasn’t till they got it home they noticed the voice dashboard was speaking in german, it took almost 6 months to get it replaced.

    • @Neil Rapsey: The dashboard speaking German may have been, but there is a switch on the non-UK units to change the language, well documented in the service manuals. So if the story is true the service of the dealership was rather questionable.

      I just drove 100 miles in my Maestro – my daily driver since more than 12 years. Being a 1.3 on LPG it no rocket but a good to drive, roomy and exceptionally reliable car. It needs to be kept free from rust though, not that a 1987 Escort or Astral would be much better – but they do tend to rust more than I like.

  29. I had an almost new 1.6VP on a B plate – brillian car, eccentric voice box, but relaible, comfortable, reasonably economical and looked ace three years on when I had the bottom of the car resprayed a different colour after an accident to make it two-tone. I px’d it for a crap Audi Coupe that’d been bodged – and was right back in the fold with 1.6 Montego two months later. A pair of brilliant cars that lasted me well over five years between them!

  30. I know Maestros rust just for a laugh, and in some strange places too, like the top of the D pillar where it joins the roof, and a light frost would crack the early model plastic bumpers, but if the funds were there, I would have another EFi, as I found it really good to drive. BL/AR were expert at dropping a clanger, and sadly the Maestro is proof of it, even though it was a bit of a cockroach car, and kept refusing to die, with a second life in Bulgaria, a 3rd back in the UK, and a 4th in China, where the bare guts still underpin some truly awful cars

  31. A few months ago, at least 9 I would say, I was out & about in Cheshire and noticed a late, blue metallic, two tone Maestro (L or LX? parked up near the roadside. Gave the impression of being ‘off the road’. Saw it again today and stopped for a quick look. Apart from a bit of ‘moss effect’ around the rubber seals it looked remarkably well for a car which has sat for so long. No obvious signs of rot or bodywork damage. Interior looked clean too – that nice velour on later models.
    I thought to myself, viewing the car in hindsight rather than against current fashion “they weren’t bad, were they….” . As I said above, time has served the car well.

    Also, I think latter day improvements applied only to the Montego were to help differentiate Montego, justify the price premium.

  32. I still own an MG Maestro 2.0i, having learnt to drive on one back in 1990 and then driving one ever since. My current example, a 1989 Model Year build in British Racing Green metallic which I have owned since 1993, is about to undergo a nut and bolt rebuild following it being damaged by another road user a number of years ago.

    Okay, it is purely about sentiment than restoring a car that will one day recoop the cost in terms of an appreciating monetary value. But I genuinely love its smooth and responsive throttle response, the low end torque delivery and the gruff engine note. Above all, the sheer grin factor I get from driving it.

    And, yes, I actually like the scollops along the sides as wthout them, the Maestro would actually look rather flat and characterless.

  33. I have to say I cannot, ever, EVER, get misty-eyed and nostalgic about this truly dreadful car. They were AWFUL, lets not kid ourselves.

  34. My neighbour owns a late ‘don’t call me Austin’ model which he has owned since new and refuses to trade in. It’s immaculate. Says that nothing he’s driven in the last fifteen years or so has ridden as well, so he’s sticking with it!

  35. @11 Ian Nicholls

    If Ford had owned ARG?

    A rebadged mk5 Escort would’ve been the Maestro replacement, instead of the class leading R8.

  36. The Maestro wasn’t really replaced, just axed. The R8 replaced the ‘Hyacinth Bucket’ 200, and when you look at the R8 in silhouette, it is awfully similar to the mk4 Escort

  37. Someone on Wikipedia thinks that the R8 200-400 were replacements for both the Hyacinth 200 and the Maestro:

    “this model was a 5 door hatchback designed to replace the Maestro while the saloon variant, called 400, was the replacement for the Mk 1 200.”

    Silhouette is similar to the mk5 Escort, but then this is probably the late 80s / early 90s trend.
    There was a Mitsubishi in the early 90s that I thought looked very R8-like, but I can’t find what it was.

    Probably the spiritual successor to the Maestro was the ZX or the mk3 Astra.

  38. People say that too much tax payers money was spend on BL/ARG. I would say that not enough was spent. If it has been proper subsidised with more spent on R&D and QA then the outcome may well have been different. The Maestro would hav ebeen launched earlier for example. If one compares the subsidy to BL compared that with Renault, the difference is staggering. Do not forget that during the 70s they were about the same size. Look at Renault now.
    Also VW nearly went out of busines i the eary 70s due to poor range of cars and sales. Luckily they changed direction with the Golf and were subtly subisided by then regional government.

  39. Comment 2 and others. I agree: the 2.0EFI was a great car to drive, carried shed loads and in BRG metallic colours was immaculate. I really wish I still had one.
    I also drove an Austin 1300. The difference in performance was vast.
    Anyone knocking the MG 2.0 Maestro never drove one. Those scalloped sides? Like so much else at BL – bung ’em on a BMW and people would have loved them.

  40. Mine was black which as people will know is an absolute swine to keep clean, and had the’chip cutter’ MG alloys which were also an absolute (inserts multiple swearwords) to clean as well. Yes it looked a complete bag of spanners, and when it behaved its self, it was a really entertaining car, I even cured a misfire it developed by thrashing the crap out of it on the M62, and yes if I do ever get chance to own another, it must be a series 1 EFi in black

  41. We put 3 brand new Maestros on as pool cars to replace our hammered 5 year old Cortinas, and they fell apart in three months. Mechanical failures included oil pressure absence, overheating and gearbox seizure. The doors would not seal. The interiors were littered with bits of disintegrating trim and dashboard. Absolute crap from bumper to bumper (which fell off). They were parked as dangerous and dumped for Cavaliers after about 10 months. Sadly, they were the very last BL cars the company bought. Great white hope for BL? Nah, more like the great white shark that ate BL!

  42. Did work experience at a BL garage back in 1985ish when I was at school. Remember going out on a test drive with a mechanic in a MG Maestro 2.0 EFI to find a vibration noise the customer wanted fixed under warranty. Wow what a car I thought! Acceleration was amazing (I remember thinking). It turned my stomach over when he put his foot down in 2nd gear (of course he had to keep checking if the vibration was present under heavy acceleration!!!).

  43. Have to agree with Yorkie and others, the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi was a very special thing. I first drove one at an ARG fleet trackday at Thruxton and was so struck by the finely balanced handling as well as the amazing grunt that I had to get myself one soon after.

  44. obviously number 39,and others like him, have never driven one I have had I 1600 mg ,hot start problems assingned to them were easily solved,got into maestro”s by accident,had 2 efi models both excellent,made fatal mistake of trading one of them for an rs turbo,[poor car], moved onto a mg maestro turbo, everything the rs turbo was not, great car ,bought in 1989, still got it today, have started collecting others to restore, and im still perfectly sane

  45. If launched along the Montego in 1979 or 1980, probably could matched the Escort, Ritmo and etc and maybe Austin would be still alive and prosper. But of course, they were launched in 1983/84, and the rest is history.

  46. I remember that CAR magazine article, published only a few weeks before the Maestro was launched. The car was supposed to have a 1.5 E Series, gearbox in the sump and hydrogas suspension. I believe the journalist involved does the weather forecasting for the Daily Express these days.

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