Car of the Month : January 2010

Maestros are perhaps Austin Rover’s favoured Marmite cars. People either love or hate them. Well, we love ’em at AROnline and to show just how much, the site’s deputy editor has just invested rather heavily in his to keep it in pristine condition.

The car lives in Germany, and has been to Poland and back on a number of occasions, each time coming back improved in some way. The latest trip has seen rather quite a lot of bodywork being fettled, with a view to keeping this LPG-fuelled beast on the road for years to come…

Words and pictures: Alexander Boucke

Fettled and perfected…

Looking rather good in the setting sun…

THE Maestro LS was aquired after I spotted it sitting quite forlornly in the corner of a small used-car lot. It was covered in green, and in this state, did not really look at all promising. A quick check showed very rusty wheelarches and tailgate, but no other visible signs of rot. The positive signs were bumpers without cracks, a new exhaust and – from lurking under the car – a leak-free A-Plus engine. So, a promising package disguised as something quite grotty, and these good omens were topped off by a low mileage of just 75,000km. This car gave me considerable food for thought.

In the end, I bought the car for 250 Euros. After I received the documents, it became clear that the car had been standing there for more the three years!

This was six years ago, now, and since then, the Maestro has been reliable everyday transport for me. The clock now reads 120,000km, which is quite low (one reason for this slow acquisition of miles is that I usually go travelling in one of my older cars during the holidays), and it means that when the car is driven, everything still feels very tight and solid.

After a first year, the rusty wheelarches were replaced and given a respray, which also extended to the rear bumper (which was black when I bought the Maestro). I also took care of the floor panels at the same time, but only very tiny rust spots were found and cured. Small enhancements, auch as a homegrown VP-like grille and colour-coded door handles followed. I also swapped small bits of the interior, when I came across higher quality replacements, such as the rear parcel shelf from an earlier 1985 model, which is a bit more solid.

Apart from regular servicing, the car did not require any mechanical attention – even the oil consumption remained low. So much so, that I don’t need to top-up between the annual services, which are done every 10,000km or so. This does not mean that the bonnet has remained shut: I fitted an original Unipart cruise control in the summer of 2003. On Christmas Eve, 2004, a loud bang in front of my place signalled what was perhaps the death-knell for my reliable workhorse. A speeding driver hit three parked cars at high speed, including my Maestro… Luckily the police found the driver soon after, which meant that there was someone that my insurance company could claim against.

Due to the extreme rarity of my Maestro in Germany, and faced with the prospect of travelling to the UK to buy a similar replacement (and then convert it to LHD), the insurance decided against writing off the car. Instead they decided repair the car, which would amount to the princely sum of about 3300 Euro. To get it back into shape, it needed new bumpers, front and rear valance, and lots of new paint… all of which, it received.

Which led to the rest of the car looking inconsistent. The dull patches on the roof, rusty tailgate and small dents in both front doors looked somewhat out of place with the rest of the car and its fresh paint. The conclusion was obvious: take the car to Poland. The incentive of doing this was sweetened when I found out just how cheap LPG installations are in Poland. I could now run the Maestro extremely inexpensively, given how cheap LPG is compared to unleaded.

So, the Maestro travelled to Poland and received an LPG conversion. It was also treated to a new tailgate, some fresh paint (roof, front doors, tailgate) and a set of colour-coded MG spoilers. Three weeks and 800 Euros later, I collected the car again. The results can be seen in the pictures – and all I can say is that I was very pleased with it! As a bonus, the garage gave the window frames a coat of fresh black paint, and welded two small rust holes they found (properly, instead of just filling them in).

However, time and rust waits for no man, and the Maestro, which lives outside 365 days a year, began to show signs of wear. So much so, that when preparing my Maestro for it’s re-test in November 2009, I found a couple of rusty holes not intended to be there. So a very quick change of plans followed with the car being delivered to Poland with the order to search all the rust, have a look at one wheel bearing, change a steering rod end, fully underseal and waxoil the car (and give me an estimate about the expected cost).

Fresh paint in Poland for the intrepid Maestro.

Good as new.

Underside now looking as it should…

All went well, apart from a) the garage omitting the part in the brackets and b) the car hiding much more iron-oxide than I was aware of. So a couple of days later I received an e-mail: Austin ready, total 1750 Euro. Ouch – I was expecting much less than this. A more detailed report including pictures revealed the truth: About 400 Euros went into mechanical repairs and 1350 into welding, painting and weather-proofing the car. The pictures showed that I got actually very good value for money.

Bloody cars.

Now having shelled out much more money than planned, the car should/must be fine for years to come. The test was passed on the 30th of December 2009 without any trouble. Such is life, though, two days before collecting it from Poland a lovely blue Maestro 1.6 Mayfair turns up a few miles down the road in Verviers, Belgium – which would have been quite a bit more attractive to spend so much money on.

Whatever, it’s ready for many, many years of motoring….

Keith Adams

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