Concepts and Prototypes : LM10 and LM11 facelifts

Keith Adams discusses the Austin Maestro and Montego facelifts that never were – thanks to a lack of budget and a shifting of the firm’s commercial direction.

Thanks to Roy Axe, we get our first glimpse of the improved versions of the two cars that failed to sell in the numbers anticipated by their management. What do you think – were they an improvement?

Facelifted Maestro…

When it came to facelifting the Austin Maestro and Montego, the Roy Axe styling studio was limited in its scope. Not only did its singular styling make it difficult to facelift, but money was tight.

With the emphasis being placed firmly on the development of the K-Series-powered AR6 supermini and XX executive car, there was little left in the kitty for the rather pressing matter of developing replacements for the under-performing Maestro and Montego.

Clearly, from the moment he joined Austin Rover, Roy Axe was underwhelmed by the two cars’ styling. You can read more in the essay covering the subject by Ian Nicholls, as well as a frank interview with Roy Axe, but his summary is well worth repeating here.

What Roy Axe thought of the Maestro

Roy Axe recalled: ‘I was ushered into a room and stood in front of this object and asked, “What do you think of that?” It was the Maestro. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The car’s whole stance and proportion were wrong. The spiky lines and all the facets and scallops made the surfaces look hollow and weak. Design was moving into more rounded forms and this car was back in the old folded paper era. Its proportions were peculiar too.

‘Its front wheels were almost under the A-pillar, producing an enormous front overhang, and there was virtually no rear overhang so the car had a very awkward stance. The sill was very high off the ground and looked even higher because of the way it sloped under. In short, it was a complete shambles. I thought so and said so. The interior was even worse. The fascia panel was like a wet codfish, all floppy. It was engineering of the 1950s not of the ’80s.

‘To find a car that was two decades out in its thinking was just mind-boggling. When I said, “We have got to start again”, it was made clear to me that the car was only four months off production so there was nothing anybody could do.’

Austin Montego prototype

And what about the Montego?

He continued: ‘A few days, later I was shown the Montego. That shook me even more. I was absolutely appalled. Roger Tucker’s front and rear ends had already been grafted on.

Once again I suggested starting from scratch but it was made crystal clear to me in words that only Harold Musgrove would use that it was not an option. I simply had to improve it as much as I could. I went along with that but, in retrospect, it was not the right decision.’

Planning a better-looking Maestro

So, while the AR6 and XX (as well as the AR16/AR17) were being completed, the Canley Styling Team worked on these rather neat facelift proposals. Although Axe was unhappy with the Maestro’s scallops, interestingly, he left them in for the above proposal.

The result, it as to be said, looks successful, with the Maestro looking for more contemporary once it had lost its clipped corners. Its stance is more purposeful and solid, and combined with a Montego-like front, it looked like it could have gone toe-to-toe with the opposition – at least until the R8 arrived in 1989.

The Montego looks to have become more of a little brother to the Rover 800 – and, after losing its fussy C-pillar arrangement, it’s looking a whole lot more palatable. Without the scallops, it looks smoother and less of a mess, although as can be seen in the below image, little was changed at the front end. In fact, these changes were incorporated into the 88.5MY changes.

The question remains – would these cars have sold? Was it the poor styling or lack of reliability – or both – that caused these cars’ failure on the UK marketplace? What do you think?

Keith Adams


  1. Like these Maestro & Montego facelift proposals. They both seem to have more of a Rover than Austin feel about them. Both would have been ideal if launched in the late eighties to sit beneath the newly launched 800. If replacing by totally new models two or three years later they would have made sense.

  2. The Maustro could have come first (as it needed to) due to fewer bodywork changes. To maximise sales, the Montego would have had to have been launched in 1987. It could the have credibly soldiered on until the 600 came along.

    Both were missed opportunities, especially in the case of the Montego facelift which is so different it would have warranted being called a Rover with a series number.

  3. Let’s consider the source here for a moment:

    Roy Axe, the designer credited with the Chrysler Horizon, the Hunter and it’s Iranian cousin, the Pakyan, along with the Alpine is passing judgment on another designer’s work? The idea of people living in glass houses, not throwing stones, tends to come to mind…

    Even the Rover 800, the nearest thing to a success for him, was not received well at launch.

    The Maestro is closely related to the original (obviously), but has had the interesting and distinctive bits removed. While it’s kept that nice glasshouse and the scallop, the back has been made completely bland.

    The Montego is a predictable cross between a Montego and a Rover 800 (he was obviously very proud of the 800). Yes, it looks better (it couldn’t fail to), but there’s nothing that wouldn’t currently be done, by any number of PhotoShop fantasist contributing to AutoExpress, by copying and pasting Rover 800 parts onto a Montego!

    PS: I’ve just looked at the Chrysler Alpine for the first time in years and it’s pretty apparent that it’s the earlier work of the Rover 800 designer – I’ve never noticed that before.

  4. I’m sorry, I’ll take back what I said about the Maestro facelift, I was far too kind!

    At best, the back has so little, if any, curve that it looks truly insubstantial in the way that only a Citroen AX might. At worst, it looks like someone has tried to repair an accident damaged Maestro by using only the flat sheet steel available to him or her in the school metalwork shop. Will their mum notice the damage repair?

  5. Because the Maestro and Montego were *such* a sales success with their ‘distinctive’ style weren’t they? Me thinks we have someone with rose tinted glasses syndrome here.

    Oh, and I think the R8 might be considered a bit more than ‘the only thing nearest to a success’ for Mr Axe, likewise the 800 which happened to be the best selling exec in the late 80s.

    Oh, and the critically acclaimed EX-E, and CC-V concepts.

  6. The Maestro and Montego were a sales failure, but this doesn’t detract from the fact that the proposed facelift was a disaster in the making.

    Roy Axe laid in to the work of his predecessors, particularly David Bache, before Mr Axe had come up with a single remarkable design of his own. That’s what irked me. Especially when the press were so disappointed by the 800 at launch when it replaced the still much loved style of the SD1. To illustrate the point, I seem to remember Car magazine running their launch report of the 800 under the title “Bland Rover”.

  7. I dont care for the look of the facelift Maestro. The Montego looked more palatable with its smooth sides and restyled tail (as far as I can see). Very much follows the style of the 800 as mentioned here – but still bland?

  8. @6 Errr Sunbeam Rapier?

    Roy Axe hardly ‘laid into’ David Bache’s designs – I certainly don’t recall reading about him saying the SD1 or P5, for example, was ‘bad’. But you really cannot deny, Mr Bache lost the plot somewhat near the end of his tenure at BL. The pre-launch ‘facelift’ Metro was a pretty decent bit of project management, but he shouldn’t have allowed the project to drift so much in the first place.

    In terms of the facelifts – I’d agree they’re not amazing, but in the context of what little cash there was in the company at the time, had the products appeared like that from the beginning, the sales figures would be somewhat better. Axe wanted to ditch both cars and start afresh anyway (as echo’d by Stephen Harper et al.)

    I think you’ve got to judge them in the context of their time. The Maestro and Montego was a complete and utter disappointment at the time, and the gawky styling hid the fundamentally decent engineering (albeit with shoddy production values).

  9. @Tigger – I guess you’re a Maestro/Montego fan.

    Styling is always subjective, of course, but the fact is, with such pronounced scollops, it was always going to be impossible to spin-out a saloon from it. It did have proportional issues – my mate Stephen Harper, who designed the Montego estate called the Maestro the ‘son of a Beech’ (after its stylist, Ian Beech). It was a commonly held view.

    1) The Talbot Horizon’s styling wasn’t bad at all – as is the case with the Alpine, which Axe also penned. In fact, looking at it internationally, the Plymouth Horizon remained in production until 2010, and sold extremely well.

    2) The Rover 800 was the executive sector’s best seller until 1991 (the year the R17 arrived).

    3) You probably need to read Roy Axe’s autobiography – to see all the other cars he did.

    • Agreed, I really like the style of the Chrysler Europe products from that period, particularly the Horizon. Rover 800 is a shade bland, yes and you can see a bit of Talbot Tagora in there, but as noted it sold much better than SD1 ever did. Had it been built reliably and launched with a coupe in the US it would have been a winner.

      Come to think of it – a fantasy / what if scenario – what if ARG had “gone large” and bought Chrysler Europe from Lee Iacocca (I understand it was considered briefly)?

      Peugeot only paid £1 for it. ARG could have canned Maestro altogether and rebadged the Horizon for the UK market giving them a real Escort competitor. As noted it lived far longer than LM10. A tweaked Tagora would have become Rover 800 3 years earlier. They would have inherited the old Simca dealer network to push their product on the continent. And they’d have acquired Roy Axe and his team in the bargain.

      Not to mention Paykans! It was still Britain’s largest automotive export at the time.

      • I remember suggesting this what if a few years ago, someone pointed out that the last thing BL needed were more strike happy factories in the UK, but the French & Spanish ones would have been useful.

        Also how easy would it have been to re-engine the Horizon & Alpine to replace the rattly Simca units?

        • I’d assumed the flow of engines would be the other way, a nice 2.2 litre 4 would be useful. Not sure Ryton was any more strike prone than anywhere else, but certainly there’d have had to be some serious benchmarking between the plants. It could have been almost a reverse takeover with Whitley already set up.

          • Good thinking. The Chrysler OHC four-cylinder was a souple and robust engine that could have saved O-series development funds.

            Those could have been used to refine a 1.6 E four and 2.4 six along the lines of the later R/S-series, which in turn would have saved development of the SD1 six-cylinder.

            Don’t we love what if’s?!

  10. We must remember the maestro was penned in 1975/76 so it is not surprising it appeared a bit jaded to a stylist in 1982.
    I can well remember the launch of the maestro and the press was quite complimentary, it certainly looked better than much of the competition and far from dated to the buying public.

    The maestro was unique and has aged remarkably well, remember this was a car that sold against the boxy mk3 Escort, awkward Volvo 340 and blobby Astra mk2 this was not an era with stunning styling.

  11. The Marstro looked dated at launch compared with the Mark 3 Escort & Mark 1 Astra which were nearly three & four years old by this time. The upright headlights did the car no favours.

    Montego style front & rear lights would have transformed the car, effectively concealing its seventies era design.

    The Maestro facelift couldn’t have realistically been launched ,uh after the 800 for it to have been worthwhile.

    The Montego should have been launched as the 600. Rover Group tried claiming that the R8 400 replaced the Montego. It only did in the same way as the Orion replaced the Cortina. It provided a more modern saloon until the a same sized Ronda 600 came along.

  12. Phil Simpson, no offence mate but if you think the MK2 Astra was better looking than the Maestro, you need to go to the opticians! The Maestro/Montego were good looking cars with only a bad rep for rust spoiling them…

  13. I really cannot imagine how so many people can still say that the Maestro/Montego was an ugly or outdated car! To my eyes they were handsome and quite modern looking even at the time of their eventually discontinuation in ’94. The bland, two dimensional and quite poorly proportioned R8 looked stumpy and dated in comparison to the boldly styled M/Ms, Just my opinion..

  14. @15
    R8 is far better looking, more modern and better proportioned. It also looks more expensive. Indeed the Morris Ital was better looking…

    The Maestro was old fashioned looking,even with the attempts to jazz it up with the brittle plastic bumpers. The Montego was definitely not handsome though, the over long nose overhang, the weird rear window arrangement, the scallops…the estate is much better looking though (step forward Roy Axe)

  15. @16 Yes, the estate is much better looking, but its design was completed before Roy Axe arrived, allowing for only tinkering around the edges.

    @8 Yes, I was aware of the Sunbeam Rapier, but I thought I’d provided a long enough list of evidence against the man’s design talents already.

  16. @18 No car designer can make what’s considered the ‘perfect’ car for everyone, but I think sales figures tell a story.

    I think you’re very seriously denigrating the work Roy Axe did in terms of setting up the necessary personnel/processes etc to design cars in a far more professional way – working to unify the engineering and styling departments as one, rather than the frankly ridiculous situation of them fighting each other.

    As has been said before, you’re obviously a Maestro/Montego enthusiast – and there’s nothing wrong with that – but the facts bear out that they were NOT successful cars on a styling level.

  17. @19 Brian.

    Yes, guilty as charged, I liked my old Montego estates and the MG Maestro that was also being run in the family at the time (years and years ago!)

    I am not denigrating his work in setting up the division. I was annoyed when I read his derogatory remarks about the work of the department before he arrived, especially when he had so very little form at that stage.

    I don’t believe that the failure of the Maestro or Montego to sell in the right numbers can be blamed entirely on the styling. At least they kept the BMC FWD legacy of space efficiency that was so sorely lacking in the later Rover products. Even the otherwise brilliant Rover 75 has very little space inside.

  18. Credit where credit’s due, if Roy Axe was responsible for the Montego (and later Maestro dash) he did a brilliant job. They were always much nicer than the later, Honda inspired (or Honda supplied), designs. The same goes for much of the dash in the Rover 800.

  19. I don’t deny that the basic packaging of the Maestro/Montego was pretty reasonable – and the car certainly drove well for the sum of the (pretty basic, or old) parts (as is standard for any BMC>Rover car).

    I think you’re forgetting that Roy Axe was talking about the work of the styling dept at the Elephant House of the Maestro and Montego *before* they were in production. And I think you’ll probably agree that the Montego clays before production were pretty blood dreadful. The scallops combined with reverse wedge shape on the doors + wing forms create a really cheap, thin, ‘weak’ looking car. And so with the work of people like Steve Harper, Chris Greville-Smith (guided by RA), the car was made into something just about palatable to Joe Public.

  20. I find it hard to understand why Roy Axe has such a reaction to either car, I know they talk of the wheels under the A-Pillar etc but in the flesh and in pics both cars look perfectly good, the Montego for me was the more successful of the two. In the facelifted slightly Roverised form above it looks really quite stylish.

  21. The negative press never helped withthese cars,also the hangover from the leyland years.I owned a few,a roverised 1.6 SL was quite quick for its engine size,a roomy well behaved car.

  22. I think the styling for the Montego was new and at the time was a good selling point.It was why i bought mine in 1988.It has centinly been reliable and i think the thing that let it down was the build quality of the body as most got the greaded rot esp round the rear wheel arches but ive been lucky in that respect.

  23. I don’t think the Maestro and Montego were fundamentally wrong in terms of styling. I think the Maestro’s problems were largely dowdy colours, trims. Totally unaltered, a light metallic HLS or MG looks far, far better than a brown 1.3 L. The Rover like detailing on the above facelift is enough – it does not need the altered rear.
    Similarly, Montego’s only real issue was the ‘opera’ rear window. If the late 80’s ‘Roverisation’ had included a revised rear window arrangement (and LM11 hatch?) I’m sure sales would have improved markedly

  24. In hindsight there is nothing wrong with either the Montego or Maestro – and they certainly weren’t 20 years behind – if that were true and these car had been launched in 1963 I can imagine Austin would have taken the world by storm. The devil is all in the detail which can be exemplified by how different the 1980 Metro is from the 1990 Roverised version despite having very little changed. They look completely different. The late ‘Rover’ style versions of the Maestro and Montego look infinitely more modern than the launch models yet the only real difference was paint!

  25. The Maestro was always a better looking car than the facelifted Escort of 1986, which just looked cheap and nasty, and I’ve always had a liking for the later Montego estates in British racing green with O series engines. Once the quality came right around 1989, and there were some tweaks to the styling, both cars made sense and the diesel versions had Volvo like durability.

    • IYHO – The 86 Escort was an effective facelift of the original Erica whilst the Maestro was as shite in 1994 as it was in 1983 (IMHO of course!) – although the fact the Escort outsold the Maestro by a factor of 10 suggests I may be right!

  26. My company had an original Montego 1.6 Estate that was okay but its replacement, a 1990 1.6LX was a better looking and better built car, perhaps as good as the equivalent Sierra Estate of that era? Discuss…

    • I think diesel montego estate was pound for pound a better car than its Sierra equivelant, but I would say it was not as good looking. Also the Sierra estate in 2.8 4×4 was one of the best estates ever, though the best was an 850R….

  27. One thing am unable to understand with the Maestro and Montego facelifts. While there were plans for the Montego to become AR16/AR17, it is not clear if the Maestro was to a similar treatment under AR7 (if it needed such based on the successful execution of the planned LM10 facelift) or together with SD3 be replaced by an AR6-derived duo under AR7/AR5 before both lost out to the R8.

    If there was merit in transforming the Montego into AR16/AR17, then surely the same would have applied to the Maestro?

  28. Ex Montego owner here. Quite liked it apart from the rear window, and the face-lift arrangements look better to m

  29. I’m old enough to have driven these cars when these cars were new and was able to judge them in period against their competitors. I actually bought two new Maestros, the first in 1984 and the second in 1987 and had nothing but good things to say about them. They were in my opinion way better than the equivalent Ford Escort and to me the Maestro had a fresh, visually pleasing appeal. The later MG 2.0 looked fantastic. They also handled and rode really well. Yes. the original “boxy” Maestro dash wasn’t a success but the later Montego version was great and again much more appealing than the Escort’s or Sierra’s. I distinctly recall Autocar praising the Montego’s “conventional good looks” when being tested against the Sierra.

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