Concepts and Prototypes : Austin Maestro AR7 facelift (1982)

The industry norm for the mid-1980s was for a car design to last about three to four years before it received its first facelift. 

In the case of the Maestro, the first facelift was planned for even before the original hit the streets.


How to beautify the Maestro…

With thanks to renowned Designer Steve Harper, we  know just how radically the Austin Rover Group Design Team was thinking when it came to de-scolloping the Austin Maestro. Looks exciting, doesn’t it?

Step One

  • Existing sheet metal
  • Existing screen roof, door panels and tailgate
  • New smooth applied front end incorporating air intakes and spoiler
    ‘Service band’ around scollop feature incorporating all lamp units, number plates, etc
  • Aerodynamic mirror design
    Flush side glass incorporating Medusa-type opening lights
  • Aerodynamic sill design with particular attention to yaw requirements
    Rear tailgate lip spoiler
  • New rear quarter panel or cladding to achieve fully enclosed rear wheel
    Rear lower panel spoiler, if required
  • Aerodynamic wheel design with Ford
  • Probe style flexible wheel skirt
  • Flush front and rear screens
  • Smooth underside

It is a widely known fact that, back in 1982, BL’s newly-appointed Director of Design, Roy Axe was shocked to discover that the company’s vitally important new car, the LM10, was somewhat stylistically challenged.

He put it in these terms, ‘I thought this design to be something of a disaster. The proportions were bad and the detail awful and clumsy. The concave sides made the design look weak and the whole thing looked totally dated.’

If that seemed a little unfair on the Maestro, it must be remembered that, in 1982, the industry’s style-lead had been set by the handsome Ford Escort Mk3. In many ways, the Maestro was of the generation previous to the Escort (it had, in fact, been styled in 1975/1976), but due to delays, it would be hitting the market very late.

Too late to redesign

After being told firmly by management that there was little that could be done to improve the Maestro in the time left (it was due to be launched just over a year after Axe’s first viewing), the task of putting the Maestro right would have to wait until its first facelift.

In 1983, this project was defined as the AR7 and, given that this was a facelift (and therefore, no major mechanical or structural changes were contemplated), it centred on putting right the two main areas of the Maestro’s styling that most disquieted Axe.

Undoing the 1970s

Firstly, those concave sides: the interesting scollops may have been functional (they added a degree of strength to the door pressings, whilst also keeping the door tops cleaner in mucky weather), but they also managed to date the car terribly. As Roy Axe stated, it also made the car’s flanks look weak. Given that, AR7 would receive re-profiled sides – smoothing off the scollops and wheelarch panels.

Secondly, there was the matter of the dropping shoulder line (the point where the door tops meet the windows). For the Montego, Axe devised some Heath-Robinson window cappings that disguised this, but it was something that would need to be fixed at the facelift.

For AR7, therefore, a more traditional rising shoulder line was drawn in, giving the Maestro a more pleasing ‘wedge’ design to it (below). Subsequently, Roy Axe has described the facelifted Maestro as a pleasant looking car, somewhat redolent of the 1991 General Motors Astra.

Austin Maestro facelift proposal

Gordon Sked lends a hand

Austin-Rover’s Designer Gordon Sked knew Ian Beech’s Maestro shape intimately – he was one of the Designers involved with styling the saloon variation (initially called LC11, then LM11 before being launched as the Austin Montego).

When asked to come up with a de-scolloped version in 1981, he produced a number of pleasing variations. Here are two that manage to move the Maestro forward considerably, although many would say that there’s a more than a passing resemblance to Ford’s Eltec concept – except that car was first shown in 1985…

Sadly, AR7 was cancelled in the light of the emerging Rover-Honda AR8 (and budgetary pressures in the lead-up to privatisation), and the Maestro was left to soldier on in its original form.


Step Two

  • Existing sheet metal
  • Existing screen roof, door panels and tailgate
  • New smooth applied front end incorporating air intakes and spoiler
    ‘Service band’ around scollop feature incorporating all lamp units, number plates, etc
  • Aerodynamic mirror design
    Flush side glass incorporating Medusa-type opening lights
  • Aerodynamic sill design with particular attention to yaw requirements
  • New tail door incorporating 15 degree angle with roof spoiler applied at vertical face of tailgate
  • New rear quarter panel or cladding to achieve fully enclosed rear wheel
  • Rear lower panel spoiler, if required
  • Aerodynamic wheel design with Ford Probe-style flexible wheel skirt
  • Flush front and rear screens
  • Smooth underside
Keith Adams

20 Comments

  1. The second option especially looks like it was based on an enlarged Citroen Visa.

    One thing I’ve seen frequently on AROnline is that artists impressions of a new model usually looked much better than the reality which appeared on the roads. I wonder if that would’ve been the case here – they look very much of their time so it’s difficult to judge today

  2. I’m not altogether sure that these proposals would have improved on the Maestro – the big problem being the odd proportions of the car – it was after all intended as a Maxi replacement, and so it never really had the more conventional proportions of a Golf or Astra. Having said that, the Maestro had one thing both the Golf and Astra lacked – character. I’m not sure how the changes would have translated to the Montego either, a car which I always found quite handsome.

  3. I am reminded of a Citroen Visa and to an extent the AX. I never really have found the Maestro to be to bad looking, I think a lot the features proposed here would make the model look rather dated and `firmly` from the 80`s. I like the direction AR took with the Maestro.

  4. Switching to flush glass and window ports would have have been far too expensive to engineer on a face lift… all manuafactures leave the greenhouse out of face lift (look at the VW Golf from Mk5 to 6). Filling the scalop with a big platic moulding would have looked very heavy handed. The car would have looked liked it belonged on the dodgems at a funfair!

  5. Judged against the competition there was nothing wrong the the Maestro’s style. It was certainly better looking than the Escort and was a better car all round.

    These “update” proposals looked like nothing but a waste of badly needed funds

  6. Fundamentally, I think the body design was good on the original Maestro, despite being compromised by sharing with it’s bigger brother. The problems for me were largely minor cosmetics. Newer curvier bumpers front and rear, as well much rounder door mirrors can soften and modernise a look (just look at the very last LADA Samara sedan and Niva 4×4 cars), perhaps looking closely at the headlamp/tail-light arrangement could have had an impact too.

    The trouble is the proposals shown above are very much a vision of future motoring stuck in the 80’s, and given how cars were to be designed in the 90’s this would have dated horribly worse than the Maestro.

    No, I like the Maestro. When the examples are clean, and tidy, they have a distinctive shape to them with ever line having a sharp functional edge to them. Brutalism in a car? It may not have been totally successful but it still seems to retain a character – love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it.

  7. Interesting how both proposals claim to use ‘existing sheet metal’ – I assume that this means the inner body structure – especially on the 2nd proposal – the rear 3/4 is clearly a completely different shape to the original. In hindsight, the best improvement ARG could have made to the Maestro was to re-design the front end to lose the unfortunate sag where the wing fell away to the indicator, and lose the distinctly ’70s front lights – a truncated Montego treatment could have worked, with a reduced overhang – the Chinese Maestro/Monty mash-ups look ill-proportioned. Re-designed rear light clusters and rear bumper wouldn’t have hurt either. Having said all of that, the original MG1600 looks pretty much ‘right’ IMHO!!

  8. @7 i agree the original MG maestro did look good at launch,in fact even the EFi and tickford models looked good,the turbos were proper savage pigeon catchers.

  9. In light of the fact that the Rover AR16/17 prototype was based on the Montego, why didn’t AR7 simply adopt styling elements from AR16/17 and the neat-looking facelifted LM10 by Roy Axe together with slight hints of the Honda-derived AR8 / R8?

  10. i thought the Maestro and Montego were intended to be ‘modular’ in that there would be a Maestro saloon and hatchback, and a Montego saloon and hatchback, plus estate car version of both.

  11. I think this would have made a good Motorshow concept circa 1986 and a CAR magazine feature – “Scoop New Maestro for ’92” but doubt it could have ever made production.

  12. The original Maestro was a good looking car, these proposals would have made it look ugly and dated. I never understood why people slated the design of the Maestro/Montego range of cars, I always thought the Montego in particular was a very handsome car that still looked quite fresh even in ’94 when is was discontinued. Try saying that about a MK2 cavalier or Passat or that era!!!

    • By the early 90s the then contemporary Astra looked quite similar, as did the angular Citroen ZX.
      Though by the middle-end of the decade, the mk4 Astra and the “mini-Xantia” Xsara were products of the brief era for midsize hatchbacks to be fastback shaped.

      Even a modern day equivalent might be the Skoda Fabia Spaceback.

  13. Thinking about it further apart from the most avant-garde AR6 design themes, the AR7 sketches did not seem to reflect how AR7 could have looked at it reached the production stage.

    Roy Axe for example described AR7 as somewhat redolent of the 3rd generation Vauxhall Astra, with the more production feasible AR6 proposals as well as the other Maestro facelift proposal, AR9 (Montego facelift) and AR16/AR17 likely being a more accurate reflection of where they were going with AR7 as opposed to each being done in isolation from each other.

    Also find it tough to believe they were going to leave the chassis of both the updated Maestro and Montego chassis, not unless they wanted the cars to have similar dynamics and reputation of the 5th generation Ford Escort.

  14. Meant to say – “..find it tough to believe they were going to leave the chassis of both the updated Maestro and Montego untouched, …”

  15. The updated Maestro wasn’t needed as the 200 arrived in 1989 and it was an instant hit. The Maestro then seemed to have a new lease of life as a budget car and as an ultra economical diesel that became popular with police forces and poorer new car buyers.

  16. There is no doubt the R8 was a hit. Only that as others have mentioned elsewhere the Maestro did not benefit from the improvements the later Montego received from the late-80s until about a year before it was finally discontinued.

    Both M cars could have gained additional improvements with minimal outlay whether it was utilising what was available up to AR7/AR9 and even AR16 (plus Maestro analogue) respectively.

    Still one must wonder how like the company did with R6 and the stillborn R6X, they would have looked to improve the Maestro/Montego platform for the more extensive rebodies had R8 not been a factor.

  17. Can’t see the Medusa windows making production – commonly a Japanese feature with curved profile doors that cannot accommodate a full sized drop glass – users would find them much more inconvenient especially if they previously had a Maestro with full sized drops.

  18. I don’t think there was much Austin-Rover could have done to turn the Maestro around, not anything economically viable anyway, clearly the Honda R8 project was the better (and possibly cheaper) way to go and that shows in the early popularity and profitability of the 200/400 models, as well as the long life of R8-derived models on the market, there was no way something derived from Maestro could have still been Rover’s core model range in ’04! What strikes me most about the Maestro/Montego facelift proposals was that more wasn’t done with the AR16 Montego-based Rover (I believe it was badged 400-Series) given that the Montego chassis was well-regarded, the S and O-Series engines were competitive (and there’s no reason the L, M and T series couldn’t have been fitted as they were all O-Series derived), the mini-800 styling would have been suitably modern and in line with the Rover range and at this point there were no real plans for a replacement beyond dreaming that Honda would collab on the Accord. I get the need to curb expenditure but as usual it was a very short-sighted plan, the Montego continued to lose sales and the eventual 600 was never profitable. AR16 could have extended the Montego’s life well into the 90s as more than just a niche model and generated profits to fund a proper replacement. Thatcher and British Aerospace may have benefited from privatisation but the company certainly didn’t!

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