Unsung Heroes : MG Maestro 2.0 EFi

Another view through rose tinted spectacles at some once common automotive sights here in the UK.

This time, our very own Austin Rover features here with their own slant on the ‘Hot Hatch’  The MG Maestro EFi, but the car hardly made a flying start as Mike Humble explains.

Gone but not forgotten

The MG Maestro had some pretty serious exposure at the beginning of its life.
The MG Maestro had some pretty serious exposure at the beginning of its life.

Whatever people say about cars like the Ford Escort XR3i or the Volkswagen Golf GTi Mk2, they were undoubtedly sales sensations and a common sight on our roads that both offered a sporting image along with a different slant on what they were based on – rather unexciting three- or five-door hatchbacks. The hot hatch era saw some brilliant and inspired cars arrive in the showrooms, great models such as the Astra GTE or 205GTi even today, are held on an almost God-like pedestal. In the case of the Peugeot 205GTi, quite rightly so, as they drive so bloody well even by a modern standard – and today, still make middle aged men nod approvingly when spotted.

But there was also a whole host of metal which failed to catch on for differing reasons, but all of which having a genuine talent, cars like the Daihatsu Charade GTti, Fiat Strada 130TC and one of my own favourites – the Citroen Visa GTi. Of course there were models that were best left forgotten like the Toyota Corolla or Mazda 323GTi for example, but one thing is certain, that era is long gone and sadly missed. Our very own cash-strapped Austin Rover jumped in with both feet with the MG Metro and Turbo thus creating the nearest thing to powered roller skates and the best laugh yet since the original Cooper S Mini.

A Pain in the R series:

In my own opinion, the 1983 MG Maestro 1600 was nothing short of a mess, even the production team had no confidence in the car and it was forced into the showrooms by sales hungry and greedy senior management, with much protest from the engineers, with a view to making money rather than to develop the thing properly and enjoy some deserved success. The Maestro worked well in the intermediate models, but the MG was nothing short of embarrassing as dealers struggled to cure running problems with the Weber carburettors, symptoms that manifested as flooding, backfiring, stalling and monumental flat spots – even the occasional engine bay fire.

The 1.6-litre engine, designated R-Series had been quickly developed out of the 1500 and 1750cc E-Series unit which found fame in the Allegro and Maxi. This chain driven overhead cam unit was launched back in 1969 and was designed in Issigonis tradition to be fitted with a transmission in sump design as per the Mini & Metro. For Maestro application, the transmission was end fitted in the conventional FWD manner, this left the block of the engine without torsional rigidity so ARG engineers designed a heavy duty cast alloy sump in order to regain some lost bottom end rigidity. Sadly, some 1.6-litre cars were known for breaking crankshafts partly due to poor castings causing an ultra high sonic vibration and partly owing to a lack of block strength which caused flexing.

The gear change was at best, imprecise and the even the horn was poor – being the same part as fitted to Mini and Metro models emitting a laughable high pitched peep sound rather than a shouting twin tone blare. Looks wise, it was not too bad with those pretty herringbone and velour trimmed faux-Recaro seats and red themed carpets/seat belts. Those odd shaped alloys were pretty to look at too even if they were buggers to keep clean. Such a shame, as the MG Maestro 1600 was potentially a good dish, just a bit half baked with some inferior ingredients. The MG 1600 model quickly gained a reputation for being poor, but ARG tried again a year later – with some success too!

After trying the twin carburettor treatment on the new and vastly superior S-Series engine, Austin Rover engineers admitted defeat mainly due to not having access to a crossflow cylinder head. Out on the open road the 1600 MG could give a fairly good account of itself where good airflow was present. But around town where temperatures in the engine bay would rapidly rise quickly, petrol evaporation became the critical problem owing the exhaust manifold being inches away from the fuelling systems. Even firing up an MG 1600 after a motorway ‘splash and dash’ could be a traumatic experience thanks to the fuel in the carb float chambers evaporating due to heat. Redesigned carb jets and heat deflecting manifold shields made the MG 1600 at best, tolerable.

The turning point: MG Maestro EFI
The turning point: MG Maestro EFI

O  What an improvement:

In late 84, Austin Rover launched a revised range of Maestros with some much needed tweaks – including an all new 115bhp 2.0-litre EFi engine and gearbox which mirrored the power train fitted in the also new MG Montego. The trusted O-Series engine used a Lucas designed fuel injection system which aided top end performance while at the same time, not harming the O-Series nature of good low speed torque. Gone was the Volkswagen-sourced gearbox with its, at best, tolerable shift change quality, replaced with a Honda designed but ARG built T5-AR transmission known latterly as the PG1 which became Rover’s signature gearbox in years to come.

To cope with the increased power from 103 to 115bhp, the front brakes benefited from vented discs and hub assemblies again, from the 2.0-litre Montego which at the same time, lessened another common Maestro fault of failed front wheel bearings which would hum like a Child’s spinning top. As a consequence, the 2.0 MG Maestro was over a second quicker to 60, had superb in gear acceleration times, and was no thirstier on the fuel the outgoing 1.6 version. Visually, there was little difference between the two models, and when viewed from the rear, only larger badges with a subtle EFi logo gave the game away.

The interior also looked fairly unaltered, but keen eyes would have spotted the new 3 spoke steering wheel which looked far better than the spindly affair of old, there was also a  new gear lever and gone was the Texet calculator style digital dashboard, replaced by conventional dials – though it could still be specified, but only as an option. The MG Maestro finally became a credible car for the ’86 model year when the Montego style dashboard was fitted, ridding the Maestro of its ‘unfinished prototype’ look to the interior. This new facia was of decent visual quality too and gave the car a solid feel along with some novel touches like fibre optic column switch illumination.

Austin Rover were keen to re-market the MG as a sporting five-door family car with some keen advertising and single class motorsport competition gained valuable TV coverage on ITV. By the mid-1980s – partly riding on the coat tails of the blisteringly quick MG Montego Turbo and the well recieved new 200 range – Austin Rover seemed to have a vision and a range of cars to suit all tastes, seemingly a far cry from the Union torn BL era that came before. After a shaky start, the MG Maestro at last gained some favourable comments from the critics and public, thanks to various talents which included keen pricing, decent performance and class leading packaging.

Still tainted, but also talented:

Out on the road, the MG EFi was blessed with good road manners partly thanks to the revised suspension featuring a rear anti roll bar while at the same time, a ride comfort that was on the right side of acceptable and not being as crashingly harsh as the XR3i or Astra GTE. Engine-wise, the MG Maestro was a joy to drive, no coughing or spitting from angry hot carburettors, no annoying flat spots at low revs and certainly no worrying smell of  fuel from inside the car. Simply grab first gear and away you went with a flawless presentation of power and torque from the gutsy 2.0 engine with that unique induction thrum that was unmistakable injected O-Series.

That all-important O-Series engine, whch really did turn around the MG Maestro.
That all-important O-Series engine, whch really did turn around the MG Maestro.

Just as happy to slog through the rainy rush hour in Bristol as it was to zoom across to Brussels, ARG produced a car that was equally at home with the elderly or eager motorist, all that needed to be shown now, was confidence and recapturing lost custom. Well, the MG Maestro EFi went on to sell in decent numbers, especially after the ’86 interior upgrades and those memorable feel good ‘Now We’re Motoring’ TV campaigns. Never a runaway hit of Golf GTi or XR3i standards, but hardly a flop either but the ’80s for Austin Rover was more about survival and gaining some badly needed credibility rather than world domination.

My own MG Maestros (a 1600 and 2.0EFi) were like chalk and cheese, I was glad when the 1600 caught fire, it was nothing short of trash – I hated it after a few months, but the ’87 EFi was a different beast. Quick and reasonably economical too, the way it could seat five with comfort and boot full of clutter impressed me. I grew quite fond of the odd styling too, and as for ease of DIY repairs and servicing? They don’t come much easier than a Maestro. A once common sight (and sound) on our roads, not a class leader by any imagination, but equally not a dreadful one either.

You decide!




Mike Humble


  1. A really nice car (I drove 3 of them during the mid to late 80’s and early 90’s), though let down into older age by water soluble bodywork, alloys that didn’t keep the air inside the tyres, papier mache exhaust systems, along with disposable shock absorbers and wheel bearings! Carelessly buy one without specifying the optional PAS and it’ll give you something else to remember if by at parking speeds!

    Would I like an immaculate, low mileage, original condition EFi back with all these faults? Yes please!

  2. That MG Maestro race is quite the most ridiculous sight I’ve ever seen! Very close racing, but very silly too!!

  3. Much under-rated at the time, the EFi. 5 doors were a practical advantage, but with the Maestro’s staid styling they gave it lower ranking ont he cool wall than the Escort, Astra or Golf rivals. Still a good seller, though,. I remember Setright commenting that it would make an excellent motorway Police car

  4. Now come along Michael, the 2-litres were EASILY distinguished from the 1600’s, due to having a body-coloured grille, rather than silver.
    Norman Tebbit (of “on yer bike” notoriety) once boasted that his EFi could beat any Ford Sierra in a road race.
    “How did you find that out, Norman?” a colleague asked.
    The reply is a classic, just one word: “Illegally”.

  5. Ken, grille of different shape and coloured mirrors too. Also the interior featured different cloth, different (darker) grey for the pvc trim parts – not to be mistaken with a 1600 in any way…

    But I agree with Mike, the EFi was a great car to drive. When I was a new driver my first car to use was actually a nearly brand new one of these early 1987. It is still in the family and served excellent 225k miles, still going strong. But right now it is waiting for some (more) rust repairs. Sadly the Montego style dash lacks the long-term durability of the earlier one – it cracks and warps because it is in fact no more than pressed, shaped cardboard…

    I think the gearbox in our early 2litre was made by Honda in Japan, and only later production was transfered to the UK. Also later boxes received these unlucky plastic caged bearings making themselves heard rather more often.

  6. @ Ken & Alexander:

    You forgot the colour-keyed door handles too, not to mention the MG initials appearing in the alloy wheel centre caps.

    I still own a 1989 MG Maestro 2.0i which is about to have a ground-up rebuild, following another motorist driving into it and writing it off some years ago. I learnt to drive on one of these nearly twenty years ago and absolutely loved its effortless low torque delivery, smooth gearbox (a Honda unit in the EFi/2.0i)and good road manners, not to mention alround versatility. It really was several steps on from the inadequately developed MG 1600 and more civilised than the rather explosive MG Turbo which had inadequate brakes.

    Well, as the adverts for the MG Maestro EFi and 2.0i suggested, “the Golf GTi will be along in a second”; “Just light the red touch paper” and “now injected with addrenalin”, to name but a few.

    Thanks for giving the EFi/2.0i a worthy stand-alone mention, Mike.

  7. I remember the ralley programmes on ITV. In my region (TVS – Television South) it was this :

    06.00 – Programmes from TV-am
    9.25 Number 73
    11.55 – The Trever Baker Long range weekend Weather forcast
    12.15 – Ralley Special
    13.00 -World Of Sport
    17.00 – Regional news and Weather & Sport
    17.25 ITN News

  8. The body colour grille with fewer slats fitted to the MG 2.0i transformed the front of the Maestro – it should have been fitted to all the Maestros. That and the later two tone paint schemes would have made the Maestro look more contemporary and look the part alongside the R8 in the final years of the Maestro’s life.

    Maybe if ARG had made a three door version the MG would have been more of a success. To be taken truly seriously, hot hatches needed to be three door back then – the five door option was rarely ticked on the Golf or Astra. Equally, the fantastic Visa GTi 115ch, a larger, cheaper hot hatch thean the 205 GTi yet with the same engine, never took off. The five doors were probably a factor. Personally, I actually preferred five door hot hatches, as I liked the extra practicality. I seemed to be in a minority, however.

    Five (or four) doors seemed to be acceptable in the next class up – witness the Sierra XR4x4/iS/GLS, the Cavalier GLS/SRi, the Montego MG/MG Turbo. the Peugeot 405 SRi/Mi16, Citroen BX GT/GTi/16v, Passat GT etc.

    Just typing these names is making me long for those days again!

  9. don’t know if they were a good car Im not going argue
    However back in the day a successfull late 20’s early 30’s somethings bought Golfs or XR3i’s. Totally uncool

  10. I owned two brand new EFi’s. The first one, a very early example, did not in fact have MG engraved in the wheel centre caps – they were plain, just as on the MG 1600. It developed a curious engine knock early on, which got progessively worse and Austin Rover replaced the engine, on the advice of their ‘field engineer’. It featured the early type of ‘O Series block’ as in the picture above. My second EFi from 1987, had the later type of block and featured power steering which was a huge boon.It had grey carpets instead of red which made the cabin a bit dreary in my opinion. Also, the 3-spoke steering wheel, although nice to look at, obscured some of the minor switches and controls. The revised dash I reckon was designed to be used in conjunction with the upturned 2-spoke wheel which most other Maestros and Montegos had.Both of the EFi’s had far too soft front suspension – so much so that the sump would hit on the bumpy rural roads of Tyrone. On one occasion the sump wore thin and developed a hole and I had to get a heavy metal plate brazed on to it. I think the suspension was stiffened with the advent of the 2.0i model of 1988. The EFi models were a joy to drive and had one of the most torquey engines around at the time and were faster and more economical than most of the opposition; they just didn’t have the sexy body of say the 205GTi and were hampered by not having a 3-door version. They were however much more comfortable than the others (and indeed the much newer ZR, which I drive daily). I believe that Austin Rover missed out on a couple of tricks by not fitting the S-series engine with fuel injection, as on the Rover 216 and also by not fitting the M-series 16valve engines from 1986 on. I still have 3 MG Maestros – a 2.0i, a 16valve conversion and an 8valve Turbo conversion, plus 8 other Maestros.

  11. Early EFi Maestros never came with an ARB until ‘Roverisation’ took place. All turbo models had it as standard, as did the Montego Turbo.

    1600 was actually pretty good but I had to reduce the size of the chokes and use a PiperX airfilter in order to cure the hot start and flat spots… Oddly those flat spots used to appear around 50-60. In traffic at motorway speeds, that’s not good hence why it was far more noticeable. Chokes cured it and only shave a little off the top end.

    It always served me well, and for £80, with pretty much new Motobuild shocks costing £15 each from a Montego in scrap yard, new Matador (Michelin rip-off design) tyre at £120… It was my second best car I’d ever owned.

  12. “Ahh yes… TVS
    Did Richard Stilgoe once nickname them “portakabin” TV?”

    I read somewhere that it was to do with when they took over the old Southern Studios in Southampton. STV refused to let TVS use any facilities on site until the exact minute that STV’s franchise ran out. So TVS had to operate from a couple of portacabins in the car park in the run up to the switch over.

  13. it was possible to retro fit them as they came standard on the Montego turbo Alex.

    Essentially the cars shared the exact same components so it was possible to fit them – perhaps new at the dealership? But I assure you, they were most certainly not a factory fit option until about ’89-’90.

  14. I find it interesting that this could be considered the direct relation to the MG6… I can even see certain small cues between this and the fastback

    (hides behind a corner and waits for a slagging off…)

  15. @ Dennis

    Bang on the money

    I mentioned it deliberately for Mr Spud

    What that little bald man doesn’t know about pre licence auction ITV, you or I don’t need to know 🙂

  16. My aunt and uncle had one of the 2.0 models, bought as an ex-demonstrator in c. 1988. It had been sprayed a unique shade of red by the dealer, Edwards of Stratford, I believe the car having originally been white. I thought it was amazingly cool with the red seatbelts.

    A couple of years later my mother bought an F-plate standard Maestro 1.6L – perhaps not quite as cool as the MG, but – despite needing a new alternator every year and breaking its gear linkages whilst crossing a busy dual carriageway – it lasted until 1999. The imminent demise of four-star petrol and the lack of power steering meant that it was then traded in for a new Skoda Felicia. My mum always pointed out that the 1600 engine was far superior to the 1300 Maestros that seemed to make up the majority of the models that were about.

  17. Problem was you couldn’t really tell it apart from a cooking Maestro unless you were an anorak. A mate of mine had a late model 1.3 L in Red and from a distance it looked like the MG version.

  18. @ Ianto:

    Really? So the three-piece tailgate spoiler with vertical strakes, sill spats, red inserts in the bumpers and side protection strips, front bumper spoiler extension, alloy wheels and colour-coded radiator grille, door handles and mirrors were too subtle? And from 1989 the alloy wheels were a lattice design while the spoilers, sills spats and door mouldings were colour-coded.

    I cannot see what else Austin Rover Group’s designers could have done beyond fitting an even more over-the-top body kit than was already found on the MG Turbo version, or turning it into a car designer’s Christmas tree that more recent hot-hatches have now become.

  19. Was a nice car, I already mentioned on another blog, that the Met Poilce used them, I spoke to the coppers at the time, they said they liked the car roomy and a good boot to put the kit in. I couldnt understand why the pas and central locking was options on the Maestro, but standard on the Montego, the Turbo with the bodykit set that model off,I remember that was a feature in one of the car mags where they fitted a Rover 2.0l engine in, their conclusion was that it fitted well and when it was tested, they found the spec was much better than the standard engine and wondered why they didnt install t seris engine as standard or an option. Regards Mark

  20. A typical example of a great AR car stuggling to overcome the reputation of its troublesome predecessors and being rather behind the times once sorted. Just imagine the extra sales if the 2.0 EFi had appeared at launch rather than the 1600.

    Rather than rushing the 1600 into production, Austin Rover could have waited six months or so before launching a properly sorted 2.0 EFi. The initial Maestro launch campaign could have included a tempting ” and coming soon…”

    Still, even in 1986 -90 the 2.0 Efi, then 2.0i, had great appeal. It was a hot hatch for the older buyer who had more practical, family concerns. I liked its sporty, yet functional style.

  21. @25 I forget the precise model but it was towards the end, and I know quite a few of my other friends initially though my mate had bought a Maestro Turbo.

  22. From a distance obviously, less then ten feet and it was clear it was a 1989/90 bottom.of the range cheapo.

  23. That was it! Advantage, Mike Humble!

    Nice looking car, and served my mate well for a good six years from new.

  24. I like the look of the Maestro hatch it s anice looking car especially with lattice mag wheels. it looks better than the triumph acclaim / honda civic of the time and a number of other cars. alex

  25. I do remember the horror stories about the MG Maestro 1600 in its early days. The 2.0EFi was a much better (and better looking car). I never wanted to own a Maestro but had I done, it would have to be the MG version – or an MG Montego.

  26. I had an MG Maestro 2.0 efi in diamond white as my first company car. I did 93,000 miles in three years before moving onto another job. I tried to buy the car from the lease company but they wanted 4300 pounds for it – a lot of money in 1990 and too many miles to justify the price. Very reliable, comfortable, economical – one of th best cars I ever had – but rust was already starting round the seams at three years old! They look best in black by the way my first colour choice but I would have had to wait 3 months for that. Happy days when all the older Managers had Ford Sierra’s although one Manager of my age had a Pug 205 GTI 1.6 in black. Even then Ford was losing its grip on the user chooser market. We could only choose from British manufactures – Ford, Vauxhall, ARG or Peugeot!!

  27. I had a red 1992 MG Maestro as a company car. I took some stick from my Cavalier and Sierra driving colleagues when I ordered it, but once they saw it and had a go in it they soon quietened down! I drove it mercilessly hard for 84,000 miles and it was faultessly reliable. Routine servicing, tyres and brake pads were the sum total of the work needed. The engine didn’t sing like a 16 valver at the top end, but the low end grunt made it a very quick A to B car and it was more than fast enough to annoy Golf GTI drivers. It was practical too – the spacious, airy interior was a nice place to sit and the boot space was ample. I loved it and was sorry when it went. Where are you now J152 KBY?

  28. @38 Bob Wiles

    J152KBY is no longer with us I’m afraid. It lasted 11 yearsw though. Info from the DVLA https://www.taxdisc.direct.gov.uk/EvlPortalApp/app/enquiry?execution=e3s1 then click on “Vehicle Enquiry” then “next”.

    Vehicle enquiry
    The enquiry is complete.
    The vehicle details for J152 KBY are:
    Date of Liability 01 08 2002
    Date of First Registration 01 08 1991
    Year of Manufacture 1991
    Cylinder Capacity (cc) 1998cc
    CO2 Emissions Not Available
    Fuel Type PETROL
    Export Marker N
    Vehicle Status Unlicensed
    Vehicle Colour RED
    Vehicle Type Approval Not Available

  29. I owned an early B reg example 2.0 EFi, and loved it to bits! It was very lowly spec’d, but performance wise, it ate a mates XR3i for breakfast. The space inside compared to the rivals, as well as the 5 door. Those original style alloys were an absolute **** to keep clean. It was even pinched when I went out with the girlfriend for a meal. It was found intact, but out of petrol about 10 miles away. Repairs were a new lockset, and column shroud, so didn’t claim on insurance. I only got rid of it because tinworm became an issue. I had it resprayed, but a year later it was scabbing on the sills & doors again.

  30. Can’t remember the last time I spotted a Maestro, never mind an MG one! Surely there must be some cherished MG Maestros (and Montegos) out there somewhere.

    Trying not to make any typing errors tonight – normally my visits to AROnline are late in the day!!

  31. I sometimes spot a Maestro with half metallic blue / half red panels & an American license plate on the rear bumper.

  32. @24.. Haha! I know, but look at the rear quarterlight and that little kink on the bottom, and the front end wraparound lights and the prominent nose on the grille as opposed to the bonnet, etc. anyway only cues you’d need to be looking for and I’m pretty sure they’re a coincidental.

  33. I never cared for the Maestro EFI until my my father-in-law to be at the time passed on his 5 year old EFI to my girl-friend (now wife!) and I was hooked, we ran the 1985 car for a couple of years before trading it in for a 1 year old 1991 red EFI which was fitted with optional PAS and electric front windows – this later car was a disaster and would never run properly, revs were all over the place at idle and the extra load of the PAS would cause the engine to stall mid corner at parking speed, despite repeated adjustments by the dealer, it never got any better and we got rid of it! 20 years on I still would like one as a project car.

  34. My dear dad had one of these new in 1983 A118XAN in Targa Red with grey/red trim and RED seat belts! at the time i believe he had all? the optional extras available, like PAS,Voice computer, electric windows and sunroof?.
    The car had dramas from day 1, a regular occurence was that the sparkplugs cracked and produced a misfire, something that went on for while, but eventually AR rectified.
    He got rid of it a year later for a new 213SE.

  35. MY MG originally had the tilt & slide steel sunroof, a crappy 2 speaker AM radio cassette made by Motorola and central locking. Didn’t have rear seatbelts, but I got some from the local Rover dealer & fitted them. Carpets were red, and so were the seatbelts. I really do want one again……

  36. I used to love these. A family friend had an early 1600 in white that was no end of trouble.

    I remember my old man making noises about buying a used EFi back in the day, but he ended up with an E34 520i instead. You can imagine my disappointment.

  37. @ Mike – I know, but I think that the styling has aged well, and the cabin was always a.much nicer place that the Mark 3/4 Escort. Not so keen on the Surf special edition though.

  38. British racing green was the tastiest option – it was the subtle contrast with the red stripe that really set the green off. Marvellous. And it was such a deep colour.
    I’ve driven loads of vehicles but only actually owned two private cars. An F-reg Maestro 2.0Efi was the first and I’d have it back right now.
    It was so much better to drive then the Escort or Vauxhalls (I never managed to drive a Golf) and nippier and faster than the Orion Ghia – the pick of the Ford offering. It was more comfortable, too and with that huge glasshouse had unmatched vision.
    I loved the look, too (and the Montego – another cracking driver’s car). Whether it was a committee or just a botch-job, I don’t care, it did it for me. And what a laugh to burn off those cooler dudes in their fashionable see-em-everywhere wheels. That car could really be thrown through roundabouts and chicanes. Great fun.
    I had it for 6 years. it did round town, motorway, Highland tours, A roads, country lanes and farm tracks. In all that time (and I drove it hard) it only once let me down – on a gear change some little linking thing popped out (you can tell I’m a real mechanic can’t you?) and was just popped back in again.
    I drive the only other car I’ve actually owned now, a Rover 75 estate. It will be the last car I own too, unless I get tempted by an MG Rover 200 pre-facelift. It’s another superb car and I love it too, but out of all the cars I’ve ever driven I really would have that Maestro back.
    I often wondered why Marina and Maestro vans always stank of petrol. Perhaps now I know. You’d think someone would have stopped that as nobody would surely buy a second sniffer’s van. Must have inhibited sales.
    I did use a late model Maestro a lot (wife’s car) and it was crap.

  39. As much as like the 2.0lt EFi and its gusty ‘O’ Series, I have always wondered why they didn’t fit the Injected ‘S’ Series from the 200 Vitesse. I know towards the end of the MG 1600 run they used the ‘S’ rather than the ‘R’. Maybe a 1600 ‘S’ EFi VP/Mayfair would have been an interesting car in the day, like a Orion Injection.

  40. Problem was though Simon, the Maestro failed to have mass market appeal and previous ghosts of BL made the error of having three engine ranges for three capacities.

    The O series should and maybe could have been bored down to a 1.6 thus giving a huge raw cost saving.

  41. 54 – Good point that Mike , the ‘O’ also came as a 1.7 so dropping it another 100cc to make it a 1600 wouldn’t have been a big deal. Didn’t the ‘O’ start life as the 1500 ‘B’ Series? Thinking about it the ‘O’ was a very versatile unit and spawned the M16/T16 as well as the 8V Turbo. They also ‘federalised’ with a view of sticking it in the MGB in the late 70’s and I have read somewhere(probaly here!) that it was winging its way towards the TR7 range? Its always a little bewildering why BL/ARG etc didn’t at some point just standardise a range of engines, the cost savings would have been huge and that money could have been ploughed back into developing things like a half decent gearbox, just a thought.

  42. In the days when I could just about stand to watch Top Gear (i.e. several years ago), there was a feature on 1980s hot hatches and the point of it was to determine which one was the worst! One of the contenders was the MG Maestro, and I remember anticipating that I was about to witness yet another bout of cheap and easy Rover-bashing. At the end of the feature, Clarkson summed up with (words to the effect of) ‘..which one was the worst? None of them, they were all good!’

    And he was right too.

  43. @ Simon:

    The particular MG Maestro they focused on was the MG Maestro Turbo and its inadequate brakes. Two British Racing Green examples were used for the filming – one registered as A20 TBO and the other was F999 RHP, itself a former Austin Rover Group press demo car.

  44. @ Simon:

    I have always been a closet MG Maestro fan, even of the MG Turbo version (although I prefer the EFi/2.0i derivative). I happened to watch (and record on VHS tape!) the programme The Clarkson Years featuring the two MG Maestro Turbos.

    In more recent times, F999 RHP has been restored by some fellow enthusiasts I know living in my locality. A friend of mine also owns one of the other F99* RHP registered Press demonstrators.

  45. In the late 1980s and early 1990s my parents had a silver MG1600 with the early R series engine (ERW 333Y – no longer on the roads I believe). According to my dad, the engine wasn’t too bad on this car.

    Other things caused problems though. One day outside a Unipart outlet for something, as a weedy 11 year old I tried to open the passenger door and the handle came off in my hand! :-0 A little more business for Unipart there!

    The digital dashboard would go blank on hot summers days, so my dad covered the windscreen in an attempt to keep the interior cool. Nicolette McKenzine would inform my parents that there was no oil, or of other problems when the engine had been recently serviced.

    Other than that, I think my parents were quite fond of the MG Maestro 1600.

  46. someone i used to know recconed the rover 200 got the injected 1600 because when they tried the rover with the 2.0efi lump the engineers deemed it dangerous!

  47. Good article on an oft overlooked car Mike. Didnt know of the hot starting problems by I seem to recall Renaults were very prone to that…and catching fire

  48. I seem to remember that the 1600’s had a little cooling fan situated close to the carbs to prevent vaporisation

  49. Yes Dylan, the 5GT turbo was a pig to start after a hot thrash, again, all due to running a carb as oposed to EFi.

    Renault fitted an auxiliary fan to direct cooler air onto the manifolding, but this was not done on the Maestro.

    Keep this to yourself…. I had a soft spot for the 11 turbo, that was, until I borrowed one with a view to buying one some years back.

  50. Swiss, I would put a bag over your head and go into hiding for admitting you liked an 11 Turbo. What were you sniffing at the time? Easy Start? LOL

    I wonder what the Maestro would have been like if it had been an EFi Turbo?

  51. I worked in Vehicle Audit at Cowley during the summer of 1985. Part of the audit involved a 20 miles road test. The cars were supposedly taken at random from the end of the line, but somehow I nearly always managed to get one of these to test. Lovely car to drive, nice torquey engine, very underrated.

  52. The o-series was derived from the b in the initial stages of development but by the time the design was finalised, there were common components.

  53. One of the most memorable cars I’ve ever had – for all rthe right reasons. I first drove one at an ARG track day at Thruxton and decided I just had to have one to replace my Montego 1.6L. I was a young man on the fleet managment ladder at the time. Juat as my Montego was coming up for replacement a white 2.0EFi came up on the fleet when someone left the company. I asked nicely and GOT IT !!
    YEA-HAAAAA !!!!

    What an under-rated car. Easily better to drive than the Astra GTE and XR3 s of the time. I even had a drive in a potential replacement 16v Golf GTi and decided to keep the MG. The only car that came close to getting me out of it was a Citroen BX16GTi – now that was an underrated car.

    I even towed a caravan with it – perfect – max torque co-incided with 60mph in 5th gear so you could actually out-drag a lot of traffic on motorway inclines and would cruise down to the south of france on the Autoroute at 80 mph – absolutely stable.

    It’s end came the night before I finally had to hand it back. Stolen from outside my house by local joyriders. My boss thought I’d arranged it as I’d refused all attempts to get me out of it until then even though it had nearly 80k miles.

    It had the last laugh though, the police found the joyboys still with it a few nights later. They gave chase but couldn’t keep up and to add injury to insult, had their windscreen broken by my briefcase that was ejected by the joyboys through the sunroof. That was my MG !

  54. Wasn’t that Clarkson programme where this happened:
    After commenting on the super hatches, almost as an afterthought at the programme’s end the Great Man said “there is one other…” and some few words like “although fast…”. Camera shows the Maestro Turbo with all the tasteless Tickford bodywork flying past behind him brakes full on, tyres smoking and away off shot. Clarkson, holding clipboard, brochure, script or something tossed it (whichever it was) over his shoulder simply commenting “crap brakes”.
    And that was it, end of show and all the analysis the British car got. Dismissed out of hand.

  55. I enjoyed the tounge in cheek piece about the MG Maestro that Top Gear did in the late 90s, which was presented by Steve ‘Ducati’ Berry.

  56. These MG Maestros’ were sold to the then Silverstone Racing Drivers School for both tuition and school races in 1984 and 85 before being replaced by MG Montegos. I gained my Racing driving licence in these cars and went on to do 6 of the school races including one on the old full GP circuit with the flat out Abbey Curve; even in an MG Maestro if a bit sideways.. I then went on to do 16 races in an 2.0 MG Maestro in the MGOC race series between 1990 and 92 having aquired the car from my local Rover dealer who had used it in Rovers Maestro challenge, a series which included rallies and circuit racing. I even had sponsorship from Rover Sport to assist. Great cars, I have to say even better than my current 400 series and very easy to work on.

  57. Beats me why they couldnt have presented the 2.0EFi at launch. The Montego arrived only a year after so all the development must have been in place. They would have saved all the messing about with the Weber R Series and avoided all the bad will generated by the 1.6. If the EFi had existed from the start the MG Maestro would possibly stand tall today alongside the Escort XR3i, Astra GTE and Golf GTi as one of the seminal hot hatches of the 80s. While I’m at it, why did BL mess about with the E/R/S series at all? The O series was available as a 1.7 and was only a few years old at the time of the Maestro launch. The installation would have been the same as the 2.0 litre O and it would have produced significant economies of scale. The beared, leather patched, pipe smoking self interest group strikes again.

  58. I have read that the 2.0 O-Series in the Maestro/Montego was capable of putting out up to 129 bhp, as to whether the 1.6 S-Series was worth it when they had the 1.7 O-Series I’d like to think that there was a place in the Maestro/Montego range for the latter since a gap existed between the 1.6 S-Series and 2.0 O-Series (with the 1.7 O-Series being fuel-injected, possibly uprated to a 1.8 and later gaining 16 valves as it evolved into the M/T-Series unit).

  59. I’d take a 1.6 over the EFi anyday.. but only because of the dash and the trip computer.. which IMHO the EFi lost out on

  60. That computer was a source of much ridicule, and was completely hopeless stbh. I’m glad my EFi didn’t have it, plus the 2.0 lump had shedloads of torque, and was great for towing. If ARG had sorted the rot out, and launched the EFi at day 1 & not the 1600, it could have been a giant killer. That Honda box was sweet too.

  61. i owned an mg 2.0i i turned it into the turbo lock stock and 2 smoking barrels in black 20 yrs ago i traded it in for my first r8 on 19th dec 1995 i think it was, and i was crying and wot a mistake i had made its been nearly 21 yrs since i bought it and i had 3 fantastic trs init i drove it the whole of the uk and took it upto 100k id have another one tomorrow i still have the dash mat and workshop manuals in the attic RIP F660DDH


  63. Also became a ‘must-have’ car for caravaners!
    The torquey engine with minimum rear over-hang made them great tow cars.

  64. Mine had a towbar fitted, and the previous owners had used it to tow a horsebox. The boot of the car was covered in straw when I bought it

  65. A few mentions on here of the Citroen BX GTi….Spot on !!

    We were running an original XR2 ( which was also a fun car and is something of a forgotten hero ) but needed something larger for business reasons….A friend had a BX GTi and another friend an Astra GTE….We tried them both plus a Golf GTi and absolutely no contest.

    The best thing, though, was that we were able to buy the BX in an Estate Car version called the BX TZI….An estate car version of the GTi and probably the only one of its type in that era of Hot Hatches….

    Pound for pound, although it wasn’t exactly cheap, that TZI was probably the best combination of practicality / fun that I’ve ever owned and we kept it in the family just for fun for almost 8 years and almost 100k mainly troublefree miles before passing it on to my brother who, sadly, managed to write it off within a couple of weeks !!

    Even today, there are very, very few ‘ Hot Estates ‘ and I wonder if ARG might have made a killing with an EFI version of the Montego estate, itself a very capable estate car but hopelessly outclassed saloon ??

  66. @ STUART C:

    “Even today, there are very, very few ‘ Hot Estates ‘ and I wonder if ARG might have made a killing with an EFI version of the Montego estate, itself a very capable estate car but hopelessly outclassed saloon ??”

    The 2-litre O Series EFi engine (115bhp) was offered in the Montego estate, starting with the Vanden Plas from 1985. The Mayfair supplemented it in EFi form in approximately 1987. For the 1989 Model Year there was the high spec GTi and GSi. This was eventually joined by the Countryman Estate, LXi and SLXi; the latter two replacing the carburettor-fed LX and SLX in 1991. There was also a lower spec Clubman estate.

  67. @ Richard Davies:

    I have no knowledge of this particular car. However, in terms of MG Montego estates, there was only ever one prototype made which was finished in Atlantic Blue metallic and was registered by Austin Rover Group on an F’ registration. It featured a fuel-injected O Series engine.

    The magazine MG Enthusiast built an MG Montego estate, although this was based on a Vanden Plas EFi and simply had MG trim-related items fitted to it. I believe the car was finished in White Diamond and wore a C’ registration.

    The one-off ‘official’ MG Montego Estate prototype in Atlantic Blue metallic is still in existence and is awaiting a restoration.

  68. DAVID….

    Why on earth, then, did they not market it as an MG ??

    My BX was marketed as a GTI estate and was exactly that – mechanics, trim, interior, etc, were all identical and they were a hugely successful niche vehicle….

    Apart from the Volvo T5 estate, which was an official works race car in the early 90’s I think, I can’t remember many other estates of this genre….

  69. @ STUART C:

    That is very simple to answer: basically Austin Rover Group did not have enough confidence to build an MG Montego estate, based on the concern that dyed-in-the-wool MG enthusiasts would berate it and refer to it as “badge-engineered”. At that time the two main MG Clubs were less than supportive of the MG-badged Metros, Maestros and Montegos and certainly not that welcoming to new members who owned them.

    Indeed, so-called “MG authorities” within the MG scene were less than complemeentary about these cars and owners such as myself were made to feel very unwelcome back in the late 1980s and early 1990s when we turned up to events. This resentment was not based on a logical rationale, more the fact they were saloons based on an existing product (as were the ADO16 MG 1100/1300 and Farina MG saloons, which the two clubs showed more ‘acceptance’ to) and they viewed the MG marque as being more appropriate for two-seater sports cars than saloons.

    Austin Rover Group did not want to attract further use of the term “badge-engineered”, so did not proceed with the project. A shame really, as both naturally aspirated and turbo-charged engine options would have been rather interesting. However, from Octber 1988 the idea of a more sporting estate variant was rekindled in the form of the Montego 2-litre GTi variant.

    Fast forward to 2001 and you will find that attitudes in the MG scene had changed and they were far more embracing of the ZR, ZS and ZT. Indeed, one senior MG authority soon bought an MG ZT-T. Bearing in mind these were based on the rather competant Rover models, it is interesting as to why there was this sudden change in attitude. Who knows, but perhaps the MG scene finally woke up and realised that they needed to get behind the company (MG Rover Group) and its products and support it, if the MG name was to have any chance of a future?

  70. YORKIE….

    Didn’t realise Skoda were doing something….Is the Octavia a rebodied Golf and the vRS a rebodied Golf GTi ?? Surised that VW themselves haven’t done something similar….


    Interesting what you describe, and thanks for the details….ARG Marketing Team was not the brightest spanner in the toolkit – to have held back for fear of upsetting MG owners was, I think, pretty insipid….I mean, wonder how many MG diehards bought the MG versions of the Maestro or Montego because it had the MG badge….Suspect not many compared to how many might have bought an MG badged Estate in full EFI spec inside, ouside and under the bonnet….Having said all that, my BX was so good at what it was designed to do and to be, maybe there wasn’t enough room in such a specilised market for two ‘ Hot Estates ‘ and the ARG people called this one correctly but for the wrong reasons….

  71. Just re-read my post and ( yes, in addition to the spelling mistakes ) missed out one crucial word…

    …how many PEOPLE might have bought an MG badged Estate, etc, etc….

  72. owned 2 EFis. Absolute cracker cars. Ate Fords, VWs et al.
    A practical hot hatch. Can never understand the mania for everything ‘foreign’ in the UK. We wonder why the country is in trouble – buy anything BUT British made. Am I the only one fed up with the endless flag waving for all things German made by every car journalist?

  73. Guys

    Back in the day I used to hire a 2.0 injection monty estate to visit a supplier in France.

    It went like a missile (I had a 997 fiesta at the time!), quiet, comfy, nippy. Easy to load and coped with a tonnes of coffee/choc in the back.

    Its party trick was burnouts….playing with the rev limiter in 2nd with the handbreak on at the traffic lights. 50 or so showing on the speedo.

    great fun 🙂

    Was that really 18 or 19 years ago!

    My uncle had a carby one, and it made it to 182K with just the crank sensor packing up….was rotten to its core tho.

    I get why the diesels were so well regarded…

    BUT imagine an MG turbo in that with about 200horses….like a volvo850 T5….that would have turned it from a workhorse into a thoroughbred!

    Before I get shouted at for abuse to a car it was a HIRE car….a LONG time ago!

  74. hi owned a montego efi brilliant car very cheap on fuel, fast comfortable, reliable, very underrated car, very easy to do repairs on, if only there had been more pride shown when they were built, better quality control, and as the European competitors, like BMW vw, always had better marketing techniques, if they came back again with a better build quality it would start the u.k on its road to financial recovery, I mean whereas the logic in charging £800 to put a timing belt on a particular car I could mention. These so called experts go on about emissions, I have owned carb run cars, which even some of these cars of today, could not achieve the low emission figures that these old cars achieved, its this class society which has ruined patriotism in this country too many chiefs not enough Indians.

  75. I had a second hand B reg 2 litre MG Maestro in red. It was far, far superior to my XR3i which it replaced. Much more comfortable and a joy to drive. Only let down by the dreaded tin worm. A great shame because it used to fly when you pushed it. I wish I still had it!

  76. I remember working down at Lucas at Great King street in the 1980s, one day i went into the Fuel injection labs and there were some Maestros with a M16 DOHC lump under the bonnet, probably test mules for the 800, pity ARG never sold that as a cooking model!

  77. Was it these cars that had giant ‘MG’ decals on the bodywork, that were almost as large as the car themselves?

  78. I’d forgotten that the inclusion of the two litre “O” pre-dated the insdertion of the Montego dash. One which fell into that camp must be almost as rare as S-powered MG1600.

  79. @95 Bob, care to put some numbers on your statement:

    “These so called experts go on about emissions, I have owned carb run cars, which even some of these cars of today, could not achieve the low emission figures that these old cars achieved”

    Which pollutants? How did you measure them? Does this concern CO2 (directly linked with fuel consumption) or the traditional urban air quality pollutants?

  80. I had a number of m g maestro’s the r series was no problem at all after fitting the s.u. carb from a 2litre montego.
    the 2litre efi always hesitated when you put your foot down.

  81. I have an r reies mg 1600 & an s series mg 1600,its the second r series after my arum white one in 1984,ihave just restored r series opaline green one [1983].,but never had any problems with the original one ,hot starting you easily got used to.I also have turbos [6 valve ],never had a bad one ,just daft little things that went wrong occasionally,so… I love them.

  82. Have owned F454&*^ 2.0i since 1997 being given it as a debt settlement. Most people then said I`d have been better off with the debt. It was rust that did it in. With fewer holes in a cheese grater per square inch and ten years in storage I`m determined to drive The Missile again so looking for help restoring it.
    Mine has the black valance and rear spoiler with black mudguards before the body coloured bits came in.
    Somebody at AR must have dropped a mixed bag of self tappers, nuts and washers in the boot as they are still embedded in the paint !!!
    Miss the daily dogfights with VW, Audi and BMW too.

  83. I had a 1988 diamond white 2.0 efi but replaced that engine with a 2.7 V6 from a Rover 827. It was one of the fastest cars I have owned.

  84. I owned a new red 2.0 Efi from mid 1985 for a year, and found it to be a practical, comfortable and quick car with tons of space inside. There was a persistent problem with ‘Phantom Throttle Jockey’, where the engine would rev wildly on startup for no reason. The suppliers could not fix it so I learned to live with it. The vehicle was hit while parked, needing a new front wing, plastic front bumper and headlight, but the parts were cheap as chips. I swopped it for a Toyota MR2, just because of the looks, but regretted the cramped interior and tiny boot of the new car. I hardly ever see a Maestro on the roads today, so I assume they all succumbed to rot. Those were the days!

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