Car of the Month : January 2003

A New Year and a new Car of the Month. Many people would call the MG Maestro Turbo the swansong for the Maestro/Montego line, and it has to be said that I tend to think along the same lines.

As was very much in vogue during the mid to late 1980s, performance hatchbacks in general were going through something of a power race. First, the Golf GTi came along in 1976 with 110bhp, then later on, Fiat upped the stakes with the Strada Abarth and its 130bhp engine. VW went all sophisticated in 1985 and introduced the 16V engine to the breed, releasing 139bhp – others followed, and by 1988, the 160bhp 16V hatchback was with us in the shape of the Peugeot 309GTi 16V.

Austin Rover originally thought along similar lines in the early 1980s, drawing up plans for a Maestro and Montego “VHPD” (Very High Performance Derivative, as described in various internal product plans). Unlike VW and to a lesser extent Peugeot-Citroen, Austin Rover were not endowed with an unlimited budget with which to develop a 16V engine in time for the launch of the Maestro/Montego (although it was on the way in the shape of the M-Series engine, which found its way into the Rover 800), and so, chose to take the less sophisticated, but very effective option of forced induction.

The first result of this was the 1985 MG Montego Turbo, which performed very well thanks to it’s combination of 152bhp, excellent gearing and light weight. The obvious answer to the Golf GTi 16V was for Austin Rover to drop the Montego Turbo’s engine into the 5-door Maestro’s body, but Harold Musgrove, then Austin-Rover’s Chief Executive, decided against the plan, fearing that the combination would not be an ideal marketing proposition.

However, following Austin Rover becoming The Rover Group in 1986, and then the sale to British Aerospace in 1988, a more marketing-focused management team ushered in the revival of the Turbocharged Maestro. The end result was the announcement at the NEC Motor Show in 1988, of the MG Maestro Turbo – and the subject of this Month’s Car of the Month feature is probably one of the nicest examples around today of this rather special car, as owned by Matthew Semple.

Front quarter view of this flawless example shows how the rather pedestrian Maestro’s appearance was vastly improved by the addition of the Tickford produced (but ARG designed) bodykit, and it’s aggressive looking front bumper. In this case, integral driving lamps, air intakes and and side skirts give add much purpose to the design – this car did not so much say “speed”, but shouted “you’re getting out of my way”!

It may not look that special, but the engine put out a very healthy 152bhp and endowed the Maestro with a sub-seven second 0-60mph time and a top speed of over 130mph. In truth, this car may well just be the quickest accelerating front wheel drive MG that we’ll ever see.

Matt Semple loves his Maestro and so he should, owning one of only 505 produced. He says, “This is my MG Maestro Turbo. It is no. 500, originally registered on 16th February 1990 as G818 REW. I am the fifth owner and I have spent two years restoring it from being very tatty into original showroom condition. The only non-original parts are the 6″ Montego alloys and the Hella spots that replaced the cracked Lucas lights. I have 5 replacement Lucas lights, but they are all upside-down. Two are yellow, three are white and I have two Lucas DX95 covers. This car even has an original Phillips R681 radio/cassette unit that I recently fitted.”

Keith Adams

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