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?
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.’
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?
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