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.
|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|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, www.austinmaxiclub.org.
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!
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.