Buying Guide : Austin Maxi

The Austin Maxi has the honourable distinction of being Sir Alec Issigonis’ final production car – and, just like the Mini and 1100 before it, the Maxi boasted an extremely advanced spec sheet.

Keith Adams takes a look at this oft-misunderstood car and highlights the good… and the bad.

Maxis from at their launch at Estoril in 1969 - reading the contemporary newspaper reports are fascinating...


Years produced: 1969-1981
Body style: Five-door hatchback
Engine options: 1485cc: 1969-1979 Austin Maxi 1500L
1748cc: Single carb, 84bhp, 1970-1981, 1750L, 1750HL
1748cc: Twin carb, 95bhp, 1972-1981 1750HL, 1750HLS
Transmission options: Five-speed manual, four-speed automatic

Brief overview

THE British Motor Corporation (BMC) found itself all at sea during the latter half of the Sixties. On the one hand, the Mini and 1100 ranges were selling in bucket loads, and buyers loved them. But on the other, the mid-range cars, the Farina saloons, were dating badly (in relation to the rest of the front-wheel-drive range) and their replacement, the 1800 was considerably more expensive. The net result was BMC wasn’t making money from its small cars – and it had no direct competitor for the Ford Cortina in the family car market.

In 1965, once it became clear a new mid-range car (codenamed ADO14) was needed to replace the Farinas and plug the gap between the 1100 and 1800, the engineering team at Longbridge headed by Alec Issigonis devised the car to fill the gap. The 1.5-litre car would sport a brand new engine and gearbox, fluid suspension and a hatchback rear end.

Despite having so much new hardware, it ended up looking like a scaled-down 1800, thanks to the company accountants’ insistence on using the larger car’s side doors. However, BMC’s troubles were such that, by the time the Maxi was launched in 1969, the company had been taken over by Leyland, to form British Leyland.

Although the Maxi bristled with innovation, became Britain’s first five-door, five-speed hatchback and took the fight to the Renault 16, sales take-up was slow – the main criticisms being a lack of performance and a price tag appreciably higher than the Farina saloons it was designed to replace.

That didn’t stop the engineers putting it right (it received a bigger engine option and improved gearshift in 1970) and, by the time the Maxi went out of production in 1981, with nearly half a million built, it was an extremely well-sorted car.

Model availability

THE Maxi’s range was never extensive – and you had a choice of two engine sizes, three states of tune and various interior packages. The five-door is your only body option, although there was a four-door Morris version on the cards – which was cancelled shortly before launch. 1970 saw the improved Maxi Mk2 filter through (although it was never called this) and, in 1979, the ‘Maxi 2’ (effectively a Mk3 version) was launched – it’s easily spotted thanks to bigger rubber ended bumpers and plastic hub caps.

Mind you, as it was a saloon and an estate all in one, what more did you need?

What to look for

BEING a BMC/BL product of the Sixties and Seventies, the Maxi benefits from the joys of parts sharing and, although the platform was unique to the car, there are plenty of components shared with the better-selling Allegro. In terms of reliability, the Maxi seems to have a better record than the Allegro and Princess – although how much of that is down to a simple case of buyer perception is another matter.


The Maxi’s body is extremely strong, but it is not immune to rust. Corrosion to front wings and doors is not structural but can be extremely unsightly. The front end of the sills is a known weak area – as are the rear suspension mounts, so pay close attention to these areas. Right hand side rear door – these always rot first, and no-one knows why. They are interchangeable with the BMC 1800 and Austin 3-litre, although we suspect finding a Maxi door is easier than its bigger brothers.

Hard to find parts: windscreens, window winder mechanisms, front bumpers, and exhausts (on later cars) are hard to find – so check all these areas carefully.


Front subframes rot between the top and bottom suspension arms – and, as these rot from the inside, it’s not easily spotted. Replacement of the subframe is a time-consuming job. On all cars, also listen out for clicking CV joints.


These run forever as long as they’ve had oil and filters, so check for plenty of evidence – at least every 5000 miles for piece of mind.


They can fail anytime between 5000 and 150,000 miles – and it’s a nut on the mainshaft that causes the failure when it spins off. Symptoms are obvious – you end up with no drive – although predicting failure is almost impossible. The oil seal behind clutch can also fail leading to slipping clutches.

Hydrolastic Suspension (1969-1975)

The short flexi-pipe between the Hydrolastic displacer and the steel pipe are known to fail – repairs are not too difficult.

Hydragas Suspension (1975-on)

Replacement displacers are virtually non-existent new – front ones are prone to fail leaving no suspension travel. Rears are more reliable, and some say fronts and rear are interchangeable, although this is not recommended by the club. Ambassador/Princess front displacers are also said to fit.

Suspension pipework

Leaks are easily rectifiable – pipes are easily changed with standard ½-inch automotive hydraulic pipes. Heavy duty flexible front-rear interconnect pipes are easily obtainable through the club.

Interior trim

Early (pre-1971) parts very hard to come by now, but the rest are easily found on the secondhand market. Basically the interior lasts much better than the exterior, so if the car you’re looking is shabby inside, walk away.

Running one

The parts situation

GETTING Maxi servicing parts poses no real problems at all, but certain specific parts are now almost impossible to find. As mentioned before, there’s a great deal of parts compatibility with Austin Allegro – and that car enjoys a thriving owners club, with plenty of parts available to members. The Maxi Club itself is also a good source of parts, and secondhand panels and suspension parts will see you through any failures.

Typical prices (AGM Spares)

Clutch kit £35
Hydragas displacer £85
Front wing £120 (when available)
Door skins £27.50
Alternator £25 exchange
CV Joint, £25 (boot kit £8)


Parts: AGM Spares, Cambria, Queen Street, Bardney, Lincolnshire, 01526 398377.
Parts: BL Transverse, Les Roberts, 020 8654 3069.
Club: Austin Maxi Club, 01526 398377,

What should I pay?

MAXIS are a lot harder to come by than Allegros and Marinas, and that means that values are little higher. Although it’s still possible to buy a £100 project car that needs work, you’re best off spending between £1000 and £2000 and buying yourself a structurally and mechanically sound example.

That budget will get you a good Condition Two to one car with history, although we’re now seeing the best Condition One cars fetching well over £2000, so be prepared to pay above book for really nice ones. In real terms this is not a lot of money for a classic car, although we suspect a few people may bemoan the Maxi’s passing out of the bargain basement.

Should I buy one?

OKAY, the Maxi is not a glamorous classic, but for many people it’s a very nostalgic choice to go for. However, in this case, a rose-tinted outlook will not have you driving a classic that won’t stand up to modern life – it’s roomy, practical, handles well and is quick enough to keep up with the traffic.

Compared with its closest rival, the Renault 16, it’s also still a bargain. In short, if you’re thinking of buying a Maxi, we say go for it!


Keith Adams


  1. I’ve been driving a maxi since 2004 and I never regretted that one second. Generally a very dependable car which you could easily use as your daily driver. Just pay some attention to the required servicing intervals( oil beeing the most important)and she won’t let you down.
    Thanks to Alexander Boucke I even have reconditioned hydragas units providing me with proper suspension. 🙂

  2. I had about three maxis in the 80s and it is the one car I remember with particular affection . It wasn’t the most beautiful of cars but it did have a sort of rugged masculine beauty . It was very reliable ,I travelled with my family down to the south of France with it to go camping on many occasions and it oh so roomy interior was always very useful . Also I didn’t see it mentioned here but it actually folds down into a fully sprung double bed , how cool is that ! Never heard of any other cars that do that . I must stop writing now before I end up buying another one truly a great car.

  3. What an easy clutch to replace, oh that more modern FWD cars were that simple.
    The problem with the oil seal was usually down to catching it on the splines. If you taped the splines before insertion, then usually thre wasn’t a problem.

  4. Yes, it was a curious one. All that innovation and the styling then compromised by “those doors”. (although as said above it did have a certain rugged appeal).

    Little development during its life.

    Just think what a MASSIVE success it could have been….

    • Considering Renault sold about 2.5 times as many 16’s in the same period shows the market was big enough for mid sized hatchbacks.

      A transverse OHC engine was certainly one advantage it had.

      A mid life reskin was something the Maxi really could have done with, but the mid 1970s seemed to be one of BL’s rockiest times (when wasn’t one!)

  5. Came across a road test of the then new Maxi HL twin-carb from 1972. In the comparison section a Marina 1.8 estate was £1236 and Maxi £1375. Performance and economy much the same so for most buyers the Marina would be the better buy.Maybe the Maxi wasn’t priced keenly enough and HL trim wasn’t exactly lavish.

  6. My dad had a 1972 Maxi 1500 (white – DKN 468K) followed by a 1980 1750 HL (chocolate brown – GKR 382V) which he ran until 1990 – both cars were bought new and did well over 100,000 miles without any major failures or significant overhauls that I can recall. The 1750 was the first car I drove after passing my test in 1980 in my mum’s Mini Clubman traveller – we were very much a BMC family. As a boy I remember how spacious they seemed after the preceding Morris Minor Traveller and the various family Minis. The Maxi had very forgiving handling and good roadholding for the time, albeit with bucket loads of understeer and body roll – but it kept me on the road a few times when by rights I should have ended up in a ditch. I could never quite get it to hit 100 mph even down hill … they were very bluff fronted and there was quite a bit of wind noise at speed. The gear change was pretty ordinary but having 5 gears was still quite novel then. The driving position was a bit odd but build quality was surprisingly good, certainly heaps better than the dreadful Marina (I drove one of those only once – it was quite probably the worst car I’ve ever driven, with the possible exception of an Indian Hindustan Ambassador which at least had charm). The Maxis didn’t seem to rust much compared with our Minis and Morris Minors and were both in pretty good order still by the time dad sold them; but he always looked after his cars and maintained them properly. The succeeding Austin Maestro VdP was his last British car … nuff said.

  7. One of those cars that had a distinctive exhaust sound especially the 1750HL with its large chrome finishing trim.

    • Oh yeh that’s right. For some reason a Maxi’s exhaust sounded a bit like a VW Beetle’s note.
      The Maxi’s engine had a very hard wearing bore, pearlite I guess, but they liked to overheat and a lot of them did not have the bores honed properly during production (strikes) and got a ‘BL burner’ reputation. The combustion chambers were designed with emissions in mind I believe? So not as torquey as they could have been. It would seem that Ford and GM ignored the emissions issue and kept building engines with a large squish area.

      ‘Cow-Byre doors and a floorboard for a dashboard’ some people joked about the Max-ceedes. I remember sitting in the front passenger seat of my Grandas Maxi when another car smashed into its passenger side. Although the doors were bashed and glass shattered the inside cards were not even bent!
      Seems they did have a strong body.

      But yes, they kinda sounded like a Beetle and unfortunately even with the 5th gear the fuel consumption was Beetle-like too.

  8. Very innovative for its day, a five speed fwd hatchback, when most of its rivals were rwd four speed saloons, but sadly the Maxi was let down by underdevelopment and faults in the early models, which hurt sales for the rest of its life. That said, once sorted, a quiet long distance cruiser due to its fifth gear and also fairly reliable and rust proof by the standards of the day.It was a far nicer car than its Marina stablemate and the 1750 cc models were more refined and slightly more powerful than a 1.6 Cortina due to being 150cc bigger.

  9. My Boss had a Maxi 1750HL (metallic turqouise) company car in the mid 70s. Not my favourite in the looks dept but when I had the chance to drive it, it went pretty fast with good acceleration on the open road. Was the first car I drove with a 5 speed box. It was later replaced with an Alfasud…

  10. I worked in the R&D Dept at Pressed Steel Fisher, across the road from the BMC Cowley plant and PSF built the Maxi body shells, as well as bodies for almost everyone else in the British motor industry.

    The original Maxi design had a much shorter nose than it did in production, and it was rapidly re-styled when a new chief stylist was appointed. As a result the 6″ nose extension can still be seen when you open the bonnet. On the top of each wing is a joggled weld running across the inner wheel arch which is where the extra bit was added!

    Never, EVER buy one of the first 500 Maxis! They all had under thickness front sub frames and we had to devise a modification, called the ‘Horse Collar’ because that’s just what it looked like, that strengthened up the front suspension mountings on those 500 cars. We test fitted the ‘Horse Collars’ to all the few cars left at Cowley with the thin subframes and a crew was sent around the country to do all the ones that had escaped already.

  11. CV joints are very important to check on the very earliest of cars, as they chnaged the design very very early on. The first version is utterly unbotainable anywhere at any price, I know because I had one, and the later version does not fit, so if it fails its new uprighting and driveshafts from a later car to sort out!

  12. CV joints are very important to check on the very earliest of cars, as they chnaged the design very very early on. The first version is utterly unbotainable anywhere at any price, I know because I had one, and the later version does not fit, so if it fails its new uprights and driveshafts from a later car to sort out!

  13. Probably let down as well by the range topping HL being less well equipped than the Cortina 2000 E, lacking tinted glass, a vinyl roof, fitted radio and rev counter. This was remedied in the late seventies, when equipment levels were increased and a luxury HLS model was introduced in 1979, but the Maxi was quite a basic car for the money for most of its life. However, superior rust protection, a fifth gear, decent build quality and a huge interior, gave it plenty of advantages over a Mark 3 Cortina.

  14. Was the four-speed automatic gearbox used in the Austin Maxi a version of the four-speed AP automatic transmission or a different gearbox entirely?

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