Maestro : a tale of unfulfilled promise

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Steven Ward

autowp.ru_austin_maestro_8

The car
Today, I visited a fair-sized barn in North Yorkshire full of Maestros, Montegos and the odd Metro. I’m a former Maestro owner, admirer and salesman, so it was not without some sadness that I pondered on the decline and unrealised potential of the Maestro.

BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast a programme by Steven Punt (of Punt & Dennis fame) called Uncool Britannia which focused on the Austin ‘Miracle’ Maestro. My boss took part in the programme along with a few motoring rotters and all had wide-ranging views on BL’s failed hatchback.

Here, though, I’d like to bring some more attention to the surprising indifference and neglect inflicted upon the Maestro during its 11 year lifespan by its various parent companies.

1st March 1983
Following the launch of the highly successful Metro, the Maestro was the car to bring home the profits for BL and lead us all to a bright, prosperous future. It was well received at launch for its sound design as trumpeted by Stephen Bayley among others and even the ever-critical CAR Magazine.

The car promised a lot with high-tech features in a remarkably spacious and airy body shell and superb ergonomics. Sadly, as we all know, the Maestro never lived up to expectations and was cut adrift during its lifetime in favour of Honda-based in-house rivals. That need never have happened – if only some loving care and attention had been given to this practical mid-ranger. Why was the car just completely ignored by management and engineers alike?

Montego arrives
When the Montego was launched in 1984, it was already several steps ahead of the Maestro in terms of style, engineering and customer appeal. It needed to be to face the Yuppie-fuelled 1980s. It slowly started donating bits and pieces of its powertrain: the S-Series engine, the fuel injected O-Series and PG1 combination for the MG variant, its slick one-piece dashboard and various other items of trim.

This all made sense – keep the Maestro as up-to-date as possible and maximise component commonality to maintain a profit margin. When Montego went WOW! with smart two-tone paint and a slide and tilt sunroof, so too did the Maestro – even if the dealers had to apply the Tempest Grey paint themselves and cut a hole in the roof for a tilt and remove glass roof affair. Such were unsold stocks and unanticipated demand…

Roverisation is invented
Sadly, this rationality was bizarrely lost when the Montego received its one and only facelift in 1988. The Montego facelift (was there a code name?) was a jolly decent effort for a few pennies which required no major changes to body or interior. Briefly, the Montego got a combined Lucas ECU, a revised dashboard, new internal door cards and R8-style door cappings (with or without tree), Rover’s excellent ‘World Seat’ with attendant tasteful fabrics and, best of all, standardization of the licence-built PG1 gearbox courtesy of Honda.

The updated Montego also had a cracking turbo diesel engine which had been under going proving in n/a form by in the Maestro van. The term and the philosophy of Roverisation had been invented and the world was about to rave about it when applied to moribund Austins.

Progress stalls
At this point in the production cycle, it would have made perfect sense for the Maestro to have followed Montego and receive its Roverisation. Its position in the sales charts was slipping like a contaminated clutch and ARG needed every sale they could muster. Management had by now ruled out a proper facelift for the range in favour of putting their shirts on Honda-based offerings.

Yet ARG also knew that they were chasing a premium market with said joint ventures, progressively moving their cars upmarket and charging heavily for it.  The Maestro could and should have been used to plug the gap between an up and coming Hyundai Pony and the ever-aspirational Volkswagen Golf. Chase volume, chase the cost conscious, chase the practical buyer, re-chase the fleet buyer but, most of all, chase a bit of profit. The Maestro could have easily done this with a tiny bit of time and effort: indeed, it put up a valiant fight to the very end against the Escort despite the dated ungainliness.

Exasperated Dealers
The Dealer Network despaired with the Maestro and ARG’s indifference towards it. They could see that, despite the passage of time, there was a decent car trying to get out and a willing public wanting to buy it – if only it could be made to work properly. One frequent complaint raised in Dealer Network meetings was the shockingly reluctant and unreliable gear change. It may have looked good on paper, but the VW ‘box was a big let down in reality.

Notchy, slow, unpleasant to use and with a poorly designed and built linkage, it was the car’s most obvious weak point in every sense. Women especially, were staying away from the Maestro for this one reason. Would the management listen? No, of course not. The limited edition Turbo was a sop to the dealers and, even then, its run of 500 was less that hoped for. Water leaks too, constantly created a running battle between a disillusioned buyer and a weary dealer. I’m not even going to mention the electronic choke.

Off the shelf engineering
It really didn’t have to be like that. ARG now had the PG1 in its hands and had tooled-up to allow fitment of it to the S-Series for both Montego and Rover 216. Surely it could have done the same for the bag-of-nails A-Series as well, for relatively lose change? Why did they not just fit it to the Montego when they knew it could rejuvenate its sister car?

Those customers who insisted on buying ARG, and who knew of the dodgy gear change, bought a 213 instead. ARG may have retained the sale but, in doing so, it lost vital (and substantial) profit and added a customer to a waiting list. All the while a newly-built Maestro sat unwanted on a disused airbase.  Crazy stuff… However, it gets even more frustrating when the subject of build quality is touched upon. Maestros (as mentioned above) leaked like crazy and a ‘routine’ PDI could take as long as 24hours to rectify faults. Management blamed workforce, workforce blamed engineers. In truth, all were responsible for the situation, because the same factory could knock out Triumph Acclaims without fault or blemish at a fast pace.  Consider this: the machinery used to build the Maestro was state of the art compared to anything in the world, let alone a CKD Honda.

Why?
Just why, then, did it take over four years for the Maestro to receive the sensible and stylish Montego updates, when the car was fast fading away and being subject to criticism? I’ve no idea if I’m honest. The three rotary dials the Montego used for heating and ventilation controls were an excellent update – they tied the fascia to the upcoming R8 style and they were more user friendly that the existing (largely obscured) switch and slider arrangement.

Those Montego vent dials would also star in the LDV Bulldog range and the MGR V8 – likewise the repositioned and restyled buttons for the heated rear window, rear wash, rear wipe and rear fogs. These went on to star in all sorts of BL-based vehicles, even in today’s TF. It just didn’t make sense NOT to share the Montego love with its sister car , especially in light of the forthcoming R6 Metro facelift.

Internal door arm rests are a case in point. The Montego got a choice of two restyled items, the Metro got a restyled item which was the same as a base Montego’s, yet the Maestro stuck with the original.  Surely all of these bits of trim should have been made universal across the Triple M range to save money, add a family theme and keep them all relatively contemporary?

Finally, let us look the ‘World Seat’ as first appeared on XX. It was an excellent design in conjunction with ICI which was a world leader in duel density foam and ergonomics. This seat went on to comfort in Metro, Montego, R8, R17, Mini and can still, in fact, be found in the SAIC Motor-built MG TF. Yet bizarrely, the Maestro only got it at the very, very end of its life. WHY?

Spen King’s package – still sound
The Maestro’s basic package never fell out of fashion at any time during its lifecycle. Indeed, the Ford Focus, in my eyes, could have been son of the Maestro in so many ways. Europe’s insatiable demand for hatchbacks of this size continued to grow and ARG should have Roverised the Maestro to fill-in demand where R8 fell short.

The R8 fell short in a few notable areas, losing sales which could have been mopped-up by a more competitive Maestro until R3 and HH-R burst on the scene. We have touched upon the lower end of the spectrum, an area where Hyundai and Skoda were making inroads and where the Astra Merit and Escort Popular held sway. The Clubman-spec Maestro did very well in this area, especially when the excellent diesel arrived (late). However, there were those who felt the R8 lacked a practical package and that the car cost too much.

There was also the occasional 12-16 week waiting lists for R8 to deter buyers. Getting a potential customer into the showroom is difficult enough, so if you’ve got them captive, scalding hot coffee in hand, having an alternative car to sell would have been ideal.

Enter the K-Series
The Maestro Clubman and, surprisingly, LX-spec cars continued to sell of their own accord but they weren’t without issues. A-Series cars couldn’t comfortably cope with unleaded and would run-on. Catalysts, uncontrolled but mandatory, would block up and break down. There was, of course, the ever present gear change to contend with and the lack of PAS on 1.3s was becoming a sticking point. Bumpers continued to crack and shatter too.

Rover Group should, in my opinion, have launched a K-Series Maestro a year before the R8 in conjunction with a full transfer of Roverised Montego trim and the PG1 on S-Series. This product move would have allowed Rover three full bites of K-Series publicity. Rover Group should have launched the 1.4 8valve in the Maestro – after all, it had been used as the K-Series test mule.

The Rover 214 got the 1.4 16valve with injection and, finally, the Metro/R6 got to debut the sweet 1.1 8valve K.  All met with critical acclaim and, in the case of the 214/R8, it had the benefit of additional testing of engine and R65 box (there were a few teething troubles on both). The Maestro would have been given a much-needed shot of steroids in the arm. Can you imagine that outstanding engine replacing the expensive to build, heavy in weight and lengthy to service A-Series nail?

A K-Series- engined Maestro would have come with a delightful new Rover-manufactured gearbox, no emissions issues and marginally lighter steering. No electronic choke either. It would not have detracted from the almighty bang with which the R8 was launched – indeed, it would have been a delicate bit of foreplay. A prelude to the brave, successful world of Rover Raving that we’d all been waiting for.

Details
I also think that, in addition to the above mechanical and trim alterations, Rover should have  revised the Maestro’s bumpers into a form and material very close to the forthcoming R8 and Metro R6. This would have added much needed family resemblance and reduced costs (no painting needed and just one bumper material/supplier used). Visually, this would have modernised the look of Maestro and banished the awful crack and shatter of those fragile plastic bumpers.

Ford and Vauxhall successfully replaced the black moulded bumpers on both the Escort and Astra respectively for just the last 18 months of their production runs.  The steel bumpers were a relic of the 1970s, as too was that fussy grille until it went body-coloured. Finally, the door mirrors on both the Maestro and the Montego should have been replaced with the forthcoming R8’s items.

These seemingly insignificant details would, like many of the changes I’ve suggested, have reduced overall costs, added to family resemblance and modernised appearances. It was a trick that worked well on the last Austin Metros which got R6 Metro door mirrors (which are still in production today). Instruments shared with Metro, Montego and LDV Bulldogs too, would have looked more modern and less fussy for simply having a black background.

The End
I believe that, with this simple pattern of range-wide adoptions, the link between R6 Metro, Maestro and R8 would have been credible and successful. I’m quite sure that, had the Maestro benefited from these updates during the last six years of its production life, Rover could have shifted significantly more units, placed less of a burden on warranty costs and the model might even have been cheaper to build. Furthermore, a Maestro so updated would have offered new and existing customers a more satisfying ownership experience, lower running costs and higher residuals – that would have been good for fleet operators too.

Crucially, prolonging volume sales could have saved a lot of jobs at Cowley – if you think I’m wrong, go and compare the size of the R3 200 with a Maestro and remember that the R3 came with a Maestro rear axle and a lot of Montego switchgear. The difference is that you could fit into a Maestro rather more comfortably. Cruelly, BMW ended production of the Maestro in 1994 even though there were still consistent and profitable sales of the car – rather like the Maxi before it.

Admittedly, by then, the Maestro was hand-built to special order so there was no longer any build issues, just a waiting list. Surprisingly, it lived nearly as long as its successor, but really, it had to go. Could you imagine some wag comparing the package of the 1970s-designed Maestro to the forthcoming BMW MINI?  The cry of ‘where’s the progress’ would have rang loud, pretty much like it did at the launch of the Maestro back in 1983 when the dealers lifted the bonnet only to discover the R-Series (nee E-Series) and struggle with the reluctant gear change…

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

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.
Keith Adams

Latest posts by Keith Adams (see all)

68 Comments

  1. So, so, so much potential… Wasted!!!

    By the way, a great essay… I totally agree with you about the Roverisation plan. Not to bother with a quality-improving facelift was such a shame.

    Jon.

  2. A great story… I’ve had Maestro on my mind for weeks. It makes me think I should go and lie down on a couch and tell my troubles to someone specially qualified.

    Imagine a Maestro with K-Series power and the rear-end facelift that was proposed by Roy Axe. What’s not to like?

    It was interesting how the Maestro came into its own later on in life. I remember reading one group test where a Clubman 1.3 beat the then new, and appalling, Ford Escort.

    Suddenly, diesel-powered Clubmans were all over the place and, when the turbo diesel models came out, there was talk of it being a “cult” car, in the same way the Mini was.

    You don’t see Maestros around now. I miss them.

    Ryan.

  3. I believe that part of the problem was that there was a desire within Marketing to ensure that the Montego was always seen as being a step or two ahead of the Maestro when it came to enhancements. This is evidenced by the introduction of various dashboard designs over the years – Montego dashboard introduced in the Maestro in January 1986, updated Montego dashboard in the Maestro from October 1992. It was even the case with the padded head restraints in the Maestro’s entry level models, not to mention the duotone paint option.

    I still own an MG Maestro 2.0i which I absolutely love, but still feel a tad frustrated that it lacks many of the updates seen on the Montego. The K-Series 8-valve engine was something I did propose myself, as an enthusiast, to Rover Cars, albeit in 1990 when it was probably too late.

    The comparison between the Maestro and BMW MINI is an interesting one. The MINI is roughly the same size and weight as the Maestro, yet it is so cramped inside, while the early 115Ps MINI Cooper feels underwhelmed compared to the faster, more eager 115PS MG Maestro 2.0i. Where’s the progress there?

  4. The late arrival of the diesel-engined Maestro in March 1990 actually led to delivery times of up to 12 weeks in the summer of that year because of the demand for it!

  5. The Maestro seems to be a forgotten model and illustrates how the company lost its way in the key market it represented, shredding market position in the process.

    The Maestro replaced BL’s two largest volume sellers, the Allegro and Marina/Ital as well as the Maxi (only as far as being being a hatchback mind) – three models which notched up hundreds of thousands of sales. The Maestro was the company’s Escort/Astra, yet it had no estate or even a two door to help cover the market.

    No wonder owners of three year old Allegros looked to Ford and GM in the mid-1980s for replacements – that VW gearbox, a unit which made the old E-Series 5-speed look refined and class-leading, and having to find the extra money for a Montego were probably too much for many of them to stomach.

  6. A good story… I once saw a Maestro Turbo in a New Zealand museum called Motormania and Cadillac Cafe Limited which is in Putaruru, a forest town on the North Island.

    I thought that it was a great-looking car and a very tidy the example it was too. I was still driving our Vitesse at the time and thought the Maestro and the Vitesse would have made a nice pair.

    Alex

  7. Hey, those “fused” bumpers not only cracked, they paved the way for the world’s first mass produced EV (the Sinclair C5!!!) body shell manufacture…

  8. I really used to think that the Maestro was an ugly, rubbish motor!

    However, the other day, I saw THAT promo shot of the BRG MG Maestro 2.0i and fell for it. I’ve been finding myself reading lots and lots about it.

    I drive a Skoda Fabia vRS Mk1 at the minute and think I’ve got a soft spot for the under-dog hot hatches because of that… I want an MG Maestro 2.0i! I really do! Just wish I had a garage to keep one in…

    The MG Maestro 2.0 EFi/2.0i is a 100% future classic!

  9. I think that one of the Maestro’s downfalls was the somewhat frumpy styling.

    The Maestro just wasn’t “cool” when compared to the (still an overrated brand in my opinion) VW Golf and Ford Escort Mk2s – the GTi and XR3i versions of which gave these otherwise inoffensive designs street-cred. That’s a little like the situation of the modern day Hyundai i30.

    I reckon that a facelift, which included the removal of the scallops and a Montego-style nose, might have tidied the styling up a bit. The Maestro was a good car, dying for recognition.

    I would say the Astra Mk3, rather than the Focus, could almost be the immediate successor.

  10. A K-Series engined Maestro? Now that would have been interesting and might have raised its popularity.

    My old company had two Montego Estates – a 1985 1.6 base followed by a 1988 LX. The LX was a much better car in terms of spec (obviously) and driving capability. They were good alternatives to the Sierra Estate at that time.

    I agree that the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi/2.0i in British Racing Green is a future classic…

  11. Dr Bobby Love :
    I really used to think that the Maestro was an ugly, rubbish motor!

    However, the other day, I saw THAT promo shot of the BRG MG Maestro 2.0i and fell for it. I’ve been finding myself reading lots and lots about it.

    I drive a Skoda Fabia vRS Mk1 at the minute and think I’ve got a soft spot for the under-dog hot hatches because of that… I want an MG Maestro 2.0i! I really do! Just wish I had a garage to keep one in…

    The MG Maestro 2.0 EFi/2.0i is a 100% future classic!

    Yep, me too – for a longtime, I’ve felt that the Fabia vRS Mk1 is the closest thing made to a well-built Maestro 2.0 EFi :-).

  12. Will :
    I think that one of the Maestro’s downfalls was the somewhat frumpy styling.

    The Maestro just wasn’t “cool” when compared to the (still an overrated brand in my opinion) VW Golf and Ford Escort Mk2s – the GTi and XR3i versions of which gave these otherwise inoffensive designs street-cred. That’s a little like the situation of the modern day Hyundai i30.

    I reckon that a facelift, which included the removal of the scallops and a Montego-style nose, might have tidied the styling up a bit. The Maestro was a good car, dying for recognition.

    I would say the Astra Mk3, rather than the Focus, could almost be the immediate successor.

    I liked the styling and scallops although detail updates would have been easily implemented to keep it up to date. I hated the cheepo special editions with body-colour grille, vile seat trim and girder bumpers. The problems for me were the A-Series in the 1.3, head rests which, once raised, couldn’t be lowered and rust, rust, rust!

  13. I wanted to like the Maestro so much, but it was let down so many times by poor management and early build quality issues.

    The old phrase: “you only get one chance at a first impression” comes to mind. “The Maestro is a crap car” was the popular view in the 1980s. No matter what Austin Rover did to correct this, the public’s mind was sadly made up.

    Mind you, having said that, the MG Maestro 2.0i variant was a “cool” car! It was so underrated. The MG grille and spoilers, a powerful engine and a good range of sharp, modern paint colours (instead of the awful metallic bronze and golds of the standard Maestro) helped the car to have a great, almost menacing look about it – particularly the very rare Turbo version.

  14. The styling was characterful, but old-fashioned even when the Maestro came out and the build quality of those early models was awful (especially the MG Maestro 1600).

    The Maestro was a nice design, but I can see why it wasn’t updated at a time when budgets were very tight – the cancelled AR6 would have been a far better investment than money spent on the Maestro.

    It’s more of a surprise to me that the Maestro wasn’t dropped when the R8 came out and Rover Group plc were pushing upmarket for all they were worth.

    I do have a spot for the Maestro though – I keep looking them up on eBay!

  15. I think the point that everyone who has affection for the Maestro misses is that the design was already five years old at launch. The car was a mid-1970s design and was really a replacement for the Maxi in concept and packaging terms – hardly electrifying!

    The Montego was hastily redesigned at the last minute and turned out not to be bad-looking car but was, nevertheless, no Cavalier Mk2.

    The Rover R8, on the other hand, had it all – looks, great interior, cachet and was able to distance itself very successfully from the Austin-based range. Why, on that basis, develop the Leyland-era Maestro any more than required? The Maestro had a steady and loyal traditional BL-buyer base and had, most likely,at leaset amortised its tooling.

    Unfortunately, Rover Group had no credible Rover equivalent to replace the Montego – the R8-based 400 was too small and the 600 some way off, so, the cash was spent on making the best of the Montego’s flaws and attempting to turn it into a class-competitive range of cars. Rover Group almost succeeded with the estate and the Turbo diesels derivatives.

    I’m afraid, though, that the Maestro just didn’t warrant the spend – its Rover rival outclassed it in every way.

  16. All Maestros should have been equipped with the rear strakes as fitted to the LE/HLE. They transform the rear end – at a stroke, the car looks much more modern and less dumpy.

    I wouldn’t knock the A+ Series engine – it was a throughly reliable engine which performed surprisingly well for its modest size. We had a Maestro 1.3 for over 20 years and I always found driving it a pleasure.

    Panoramic visibility was fantastic when parking and safe at junctions – what a difference to today’s high-waisted cars with small windows and large ‘often-double’ A-pillars.

  17. Ryan:
    Suddenly, diesel-powered Clubmans were all over the place and, when the turbo diesel models came out, there was talk of it being a “cult” car, in the same way the Mini was.

    Hardly!

  18. Simon Hodgetts :
    I think the point that everyone who has affection for the Maestro misses is that the design was already five years old at launch. The car was a mid-1970s design and was really a replacement for the Maxi in concept and packaging terms – hardly electrifying!

    The Montego was hastily redesigned at the last minute and turned out not to be bad-looking car but was, nevertheless, no Cavalier Mk2.

    The Rover R8, on the other hand, had it all – looks, great interior, cachet and was able to distance itself very successfully from the Austin-based range. Why, on that basis, develop the Leyland-era Maestro any more than required? The Maestro had a steady and loyal traditional BL-buyer base and had, most likely,at leaset amortised its tooling.

    Unfortunately, Rover Group had no credible Rover equivalent to replace the Montego – the R8-based 400 was too small and the 600 some way off, so, the cash was spent on making the best of the Montego’s flaws and attempting to turn it into a class-competitive range of cars. Rover Group almost succeeded with the estate and the Turbo diesels derivatives.

    I’m afraid, though, that the Maestro just didn’t warrant the spend – its Rover rival outclassed it in every way.

    Actually, if you consult period motoring magazines, the Maestro and Montego were class-competitive. I think that the Montego Estate won Estate Car of the Year in What Car’s annual awards for three consecutive years and, although the smaller-engined models were rated as boring in CAR Magazine’s GBU, they were always praised in road tests.

    The Maestro offered many innovative features for a car which had supposedly been due for launch in 1979 – features which other manufacturers took years to catch up with eg: clear indicator lenses and the higher spec models’ body coloured bumpers (which, although fragile, were nowhere near as bad as a Mk1 and Mk1a Mondeos).

    The problems stemmed from image (who the hell sanctioned that nasty baby cr*p beige on 1983/84 cars?) and, as ever, the terrible build and quality of materials used.

    A nice colour, well-trimmed Maestro wouldn’t have looked out of place with the Golf 2, Tipo, Astra 3 etc. The killer from a driver’s point of view was PAS. The unassisted rack on 1.3s, most 1.6s and even some 2.0s ruined a very decent chassis.

    Jon

  19. I remember that, whilst at the Metropolitan Police, I saw a very early model in dark brown being trailed. We had a basic 1.6L model in my department much later on but it drove very well and had good around visibilty as well. The Metroploitan Police used MG Maestro 2.0is extensively as well as the Montegos. I feel that the Montego Estate was a worthwhile workhorse.

    I also recall that one of the car magazines installed a Rover 2.0l engine and that the conclusion of the article was that ARG should have fitted that in the first place instead of the original.

    I think it’s a shame ARG didn’t spend more on refreshing the model as more might, perhaps, have been sold. The diesel version should have been introduced a lot earlier as that would also have helped to increase sales.

  20. I never liked the grille – it looked old-fashioned (apart from the MG version). The steel bumpers also looked very plain Jane, but at least they didn’t shatter like the plastic ones did!

    I found the A+ Series version to be noisy, slow and rough. The S-Series was much nicer, but why the mayonaise coming out of the top? Why the engine leaks?

    The styling was old-fashioned before the car was launched and, combined with the ‘fusty’ image, made the car a sensible choice, rather than a desirable one. Unfortunately, unreliable, ‘sensible’ cars don’t sell…

  21. A Maestro 1.3 in red… For a minute, it looked just like an MG Maestro Turbo.

    No other car came close in terms of space – the package was heaps better than the Escort and deserved much better styling and quality than AR gave it.

  22. Here’s another point: am I the only person who feels that the MG Maestro 2.0 EFi and 2.0i were tasteful and well-judged whereas the Tickford bodykit on the Turbo was heavy handed, inappropriate and ugly? Give me an EFI every time :-).

  23. I had a Clubman D Turbo in the mid-1990s – more or less just as the production line was being flat-packed and sent overseas. I loved it – comfy, spacious, easy to live with, quite quick and very easy to drive. It was quite well built too. I reckon that the A+ Series engine suited the car more than the K-Series would have done but I’ve never been a big K-Series fan.

    My understanding of the situation at the time was that the Maestro kept the A-Series partly because AR didn’t want to spend on the car and, as the engine was being shared with the Mini, that wasn’t losing as much money as before. The Mini was the only A-Series powered car left once the Maestro went out of production.

  24. I would also like to know more about the barn. How did the cars come to be there and what will happen to them? Are there any photos available?

  25. @Jon
    There was no denying that, at launch, the Maestro was an exciting car – and that, yes, it did offer some innovative features for 1983. Indeed, when compared with some rivals (such as the Peugeot 309, Renault 9/11, Talbot Horizon, Volvo 340), it was very competitive – I remember it doing particularly well in a Motor magazine road test against the Escort, Astra, Golf and Renault 11 (a car which shared many characteristics – and frumpy styling!).

    However, this article isn’t focusing on that – it is focusing on ARG’s neglect of the Maestro after 1989 (by which time the Maestro’s basic design was 10 years old), the launch of the R8 and also the need to keep investing in the Monty due there being no direct replacement within the Rover range.

    Incidentally, the innovations the Maestro was lauded for at launch were only added at the last minute when Harold Musgrave realised that he was about to launch a 1970s car in 1983!

    The Monty Estate was an excellent car, especially in later Turbo Diesel guise, and the original was given a Design Council award for its design.

    Interesting how the last Maestros reverted back to almost their pre-launch spec and, as an honest, no-frills motor, took Austin back to its roots for what would be the last Austin-badged family car!

  26. An excellent piece which again shows how BL/ARG/Rover had no idea how to develop their products.

    This happened time and again – Maxi, Allegro, Princess and, later, with the 1995 400. All were basically sound cars but with major flaws which the company just ignored but which could have been dealt at minimal effort and cost thereby allowing the models to reach their full potential.

    Contrast this with Ford’s Sierra and Escort Mk4 – those two models were every bit as bad at launch as any of the above but were given emergency re-engineering and facelifts within a couple of years of launch.

  27. I still feel that, in that context, the lack of a decent facelift at the same time as the Roverised Montego was another wasted opportunity.

    The Maestro was nothing like as compromised a design as the Metro for example and look how that was transformed by the 1990 facelift. The R8 was expensive for its class when launched and rightly so, but this did leave space in the line up for a practical, versatile family car to battle the Escort, Pony, Tipo, R19. The R8, good as it was, did leave the high volume £6500-£8500 sector of the late 1980s family car market unattended.

    I remember, as a 16 year old, sketching a Rover Metro-style facelift onto the Maestro and it worked. What didn’t work were the skinny-wheeled special editions and Clubmans which made the car a hideous laughing stock for private and fleet buyer a like. Do you remember that ‘Company Car’ reality show where the chap felt insulted when his employer gave him a Maestro Clubman?

    Diesel Car raved about the Turbo Diesel when that was launched and that great car could have been marketed from the end of 1988! Madness!

  28. I have to admit my bias at this point: my two favourite cars of the 1980s would be a Moonraker Blue 1986 MG Maestro EFi and a 1985-ish Lancia Delta GT i.e. in the same colour.

    I’ve loved the MG Maestro for 25 years and can’t see myself being hit by an attack of commonsense now! 🙂

    Jon

  29. ARG ran a small fleet of Montegos fitted with the K-Series engine for some selected members of the public prior to the launch of the R8. I remember reading an article at the time and the feedback was very favourable.

  30. We owned an MG Maestro 1600, the talking car, which wasn’t so bad but did seem to suffer with the odd electrical fault. We sold that and bought an MG Maestro 2.0 EFi. That was a good car – lovely to drive and completely trouble-free.

    Various members of the family owned a 2.0 litre Montego Estate (petrol) and also a diesel Montego Estate. Neither of these cars had any problems and both proved to be good, reliable workhorses.

  31. The Maestro and Montego were really the last “hurrah” of the old British Leyland era. Both models were designed and concieved in an era where “that’ll do” would suffice.

    The Maestro was dead from day one because p**s poor build quality combined with a list of ailments and issues that never really got dealt with. The car was roomy and reasonably well-kitted out but a light year behind in styling. The fit and finish of the exterior trim was disgraceful and the pedestrian image of blue rinse drivers which the car quickly acquired didn’t help.

    The A+ engine being lengthier to service? I don’t think so – the only job remotely lengthy was checking/adjusting the valve clearances which took 0.4 hours on top of the other service items and was only required once every two years.

    There were way too many bad design faults thanks to an over-reliance on CAD/CAM design instead of real proving tests. Common issues included:

    Front wheel bearings (re-designed three times)
    Front shock absorbers
    Raging Corrosion
    Inferior electrics
    Poor design of engine mountings
    Poor design of gear linkage
    Water leaks
    Shocking fit and finish of ancillary plastics
    Poorly made and bad fitting plastic bumpers
    Poorly made and corrosion prone steel bumpers

    The MG Maestro 2.0 EFi was the only version that went ANY WAY to cutting the mustard but even that model was way behind the Astra GTE/Golf GTi set in terms of desirability – that, in turn, meant that the Maestro was a car bought for reasons of cost and was never a car which buyers aspired to own.

    The Maestro represents everything that BL was in the late 1970s to early 1980s – out of luck, out of money and lacking in direction.

  32. A good article… I agree that someone should ask who had the idea to have some of the early models finished in “Hearing Aid Beige”!

  33. Interesting about the seats and trim… My 1989 Montego 2.0DSL had wonderfully comfortable, sculptured seats and padded full-length armrests. My 1994 Montego 2.0D had a simpler design of seat, still comfortable but not as good, and short, hard armrests – both these changes were common across the range from the LX/SLX revision in 1990 and were also fitted in, at least, the Maestro Clubmans.

    Both Montegos suffered from boot/rear window leaks. My firm had a lot of Maestro Clubmans and the metal bumpers got quite rusty and tatty.

    I remember being quite disappointed with the Maestro’s styling when it came out, but it had been appearing in ‘scoop’ pictures since at least 1980.

  34. Incidentally, in response to some of the comments about quality, both my Montegos stayed with me for 130,000 miles at 30,000 plus a year and the reliability was first-class – very few problems indeed plus a regular 57 mpg. I wish my ZT was as good!

  35. Mike Humble :
    …There were way too many bad design faults thanks to an over-reliance on CAD/CAM design instead of real proving tests…

    CAD/CAM even today doesn’t take the place of testing. CAD: Computer Aided Design has replaced the drawing board. CAM: Computer Aided Manufacturing automates previously manually operated processes e.g. welding, milling, maching etc. CAD and CAM have both lead to vast improvements in vehicle development.

    I think that was meant was CAE: Computer Aided Engineering. It’s this that can (but never should) entirely replace real-world testing. It would have been very much in its infancy in the Maestro development period, so I doubt that much CAE could have been done at all to replace real tests. No doubt, it was more due to cost-reductions, poor suppliers and a lack of development time/budget.

    Indeed, even today, CAE rarely replaces real tests and never safety critical items; it serves to help analyse test/service conditions and expedite new design directions.

  36. Didn’t Alan on Brookside drive an early talking MG Maestro?

    I also seem to remember a Maestro featured heavily in the opening titles of Juliet Bravo.

  37. I had a Maestro 1600 HLS on a ‘C’ plate in the mid to late 1980s, whilst my dad had a Montego 2.0 litre VDP EFI on a ‘D’ at the same time. We both did huge mileages in a short time and both cars were 100% reliable and very cheap to run.

    I agree with Quentin Gallagher when he says the seats were very good. I am 6’3” and my father was 6’6” so that was a real plus for us. Maestros and Montegos were good cars – we had no complaints.

    Dad had a brand new 1983 Maestro 1.3 HLE which replaced a Maxi HLS – it clocked up 120k in 3 years and never let him down, it was great.

    The Maestro was no worse than the equivalent Astra, Escort, 309 or Golf. The Astra Mk1 and Golf Mk2 both had dreary, gloomy interiors and hard seats. The Escort Mk3 didn’t handle as well and was cramped and the 309 looked odd while, as for the rest like the R11 or the Datsun Cherry, well I’m sorry, one was like driving a over-sprung sofa and the other was designed by someone whose previous job was drawing origami plans for pre-school students.

    The Montego was a far more handsome car than say the Nissan Bluebird or Renault 21. I love Sierras but not everyone liked the looks when it came out and how about the dodgy rear shocks and the camshaft-eating Pinto engines? Cavaliers? See my comments about the Astra. I can’t fault 405s and the VW Passat of that period was probably well screwed together but that’s about all I can remember about them without ‘Wikipediaing’ it.

    Oh, and yes, I have driven, owned or have had close first-hand experience of the competitors above. I am sure that Maestros/Montegos became unreliable if you didn’t bother to service them properly and on time. Admittedly, shock horror, they started to go rusty here and there after a few years but just look at a modern five year old Merc!

    My late father and I both found that our Maestros and Montegos did what they said they would do and offered affordable, practical and reliable motoring for Joe Public – wasn’t that the aim of old Herbert Austin?

  38. I used to work as an Engineer in the “Power Unit Systems” Department at ARG and am therefore extremely disappointed that credit for the “combined ECU” has been given to Lucas. The “combined unit” as it was known was an in-house design (both software and hardware) manufactured by Motorola – the whole premise behind this unit was to replace the poor-performing Lucas AB17 ignition and 4CM fuel control modules.

    This controller was given the name ERIC (Electronically Regulated Ignition and Carburation) towards the end of the development – this was deemed by management to be far more acceptable than the alternative “Fully Universal Choke Knock and Ignition Timing” proposed by one of my colleagues!

    The ERIC system included ignition control with knock detection and prevention algorithms, choke fuelling, idle speed control and rudimentary diagnostics as well as the tune data for all three variants (1.6 S, 2.0 O, and 2.0 Turbo) which was hard-wire selected at the time of manufacture – all this in a slow (by today’s standard) microprocessor with 256 bytes of RAM and only 8k of ROM.

  39. My parents had a ‘D’ reg Maestro1.6L when I was a teenager. They had it from 7000 miles to 110,000 miles and, except for a new VW gearbox at 10,000 miles, it never let them down.

    However, it developed a leak from the roof-mounted radio ariel, the door handles would snap off now and again and those damn head rest retainers snapped inside the seat meaning that the head rests were stuck in the highest position all for the time!!

    The Montego dash was great in design terms and, indeed, still looks good but the quality and basic design integrity of these detail items was appalling -especially when compared to rivals such as the Golf 2 and Corolla.

  40. @Ianto
    No, it was Annabel Collins who originally drove an early Maestro. She replaced it with another in 1986 – a 1.6 Mayfair finished in Oporto Red!

  41. @Ianto
    Correct.

    Inspector Kate Longton (aka Anna Carteret) drove a metallic gold Maestro 1.3 from Series 2 onwards.

    “Evenin’ Joe.”

    “Evenin’ Ma’am.”

  42. Jonathan Carling :
    A Maestro EFi was also used in the opening credits of Crossroads at the time – not, of course, that I ever watched the programme.

    I was just going to say that 🙂 Gordon Brittas drove a lovely Moonraker Blue HLE in The Brittas Empire.

    Some of the colours were lovely: Moonraker Blue, Oporto Red, a really nice Bluey/Green metallic (which you often see on late model Mk1 Volvo S40s and Big Bumper Mk2 GTIs) and Opaline Green.

    I also love the colour of that Clubman D at the top of the page – if it was a Golf that would be Polar Silver, but I’m not sure what Rover’s name for it was.

    Other colours were terrible: that sandy beige and blasted Henley Blue (which looked so good on the LX and so bad on the Clubman).

    Jon

  43. Do you know I seem to remember them updating from a 1600 to an EFi?

    Actually, the model used in the opening credits of Crossroads was a 1600 and very nice too – have a look at this page on the Crossroads Appreciation Society’s website. 🙂

  44. The Maestro vans were pretty good and, with the choice of 1.6 and diesel engines, an improvement over the Marina/Ital range of vans. I felt that, with the diesel models having bigger wheels fitted, the car looked and sat a lot better than with the smaller wheels.

    The MG Maestro Turbo may have been one the fastest road cars at the time it was introduced. The MG Maestro 2.0i was a real improvement over the 1600 but what surprised me was that PAS and electric windows were an option on the Maestro but standard on the MG Montego 2.0i.

    However, compared with the Ford Escort XR3/XR3i and Vauxhall Astra GTE, the MG Maestro was a true family sports saloon because it was available as a 5-door hatchback.

  45. @David 3500
    The MINI has a beefed-up sub-body, increased frontal crash protection and sound-deadening, side-impact bars, air-bags and a galvanised body shell, in addition, no doubt, to air-con, power-steering, a catalyst, a more complex wiring loom and a security system – all of which will make it much heavier than the Maestro… That’s the ‘progress’.

  46. Ryan :
    @Jonathan Carling
    I really should have more important things on my mind, but I think it was a 1600. (I never watched Crossroads either).

    Yes, it was an MG Maestro 1600 finished in Targa Red and possibly one of the rare S-Series-powered versions because it was on a ‘B’ registration.

    Apparently, the opening credits were filmed on the Aston Expressway and the ‘fictious’ couple sitting inside it on the way to the Crossroads Motel were definitely older than Ms. Drake.

    Oh, and before you ask, yes, I used to watch Crossroads and still miss it to this day.

  47. @Ianto
    Ha! I went on YouTube to have a look and was gobsmacked by how much Crossroads stuff was on there!

    The red MG Maestro in the opening credits looked really good to be honest. I use the Aston Express way a lot because my workshop is practically underneath it!

  48. I had a MG Maestro 2.0 EFi and, once the wiring loom had been repaired, it was brilliant. I was sorry to get rid of it when the rust started to appear.

    I later had a Maestro 1.3: apart from a tendency to run on, it was perfect. No problems whatsoever.

  49. We had a ‘Y’ reg. Maestro 1.6 (horrid rattly engine and dash), an ‘F’ reg. Maestro 1.6 – so much better- and a ‘D’ reg. Fiesta XR2 when I worked at Lucas.

    I preferred driving the later Maestro to the XR2 because you could adjust the cornering line on the throttle at legal speeds. However, in the XR2, you had to be speeding to drift it; and to have sharp reactions when the lower profile tyres let go.

    The Maestro had a smoother engine than the Fiesta, was more roomy and had a lighter interior – it seemed to have bigger windows than the Fiesta.

    The diesels were very advanced and economical, but in the lower-trim versions, the diesel knock from cold start was very loud – which would put customers off on test drives. On moving from a non-turbo Maestro Clubman to a Montego LX turbo, the reduction in noise due to more soundproofing was astonishing – and very welcome.

  50. A friend of mine had a metallic blue Maestro while we were at uni – I always wondered why it would run on so badly (you could switch off the ignition, get out of the car, walk to the door, unlock the door and put the kettle on BEFORE the poor car stopped rattling and wheezing outside) – reminds me a lot of that car in Uncle Buck lol.

    It was moderately comfortable, but its reputation killed it stone dead. The Maestro’s problems could have easily been sorted but, instead, they were left to fester and the Maestro turned into Allegro II.

  51. Sixty-three posts on the Maestro – that many shows how much we all (as ARG enthusiasts) wanted the car to succeed.

    Does anyone know how many are left? I seem to recall a report some years back which stated that it was the UK’s most scrapped car (no idea how they could make that claim).

    Mind you, maybe it’s just down to an unhealthy obsession with daytime TV!

  52. Will :
    @Andy A

    256 bytes!?!?!?!?!??!

    Most headers are multipally larger than that!

    You must have been using very small variable names and short integer values!

    All code was written in assembler – not a high-level language in sight… eventually at least – the diagnostic routine was originally written in C, but later translated to assembler for efficiency.

  53. I had no idea that the dreadful “Roverised interior” had ever been fitted to the Maestro. I had never thought that it was meant to be an improvement either, I’d assumed it was mostly simply a cost cutting exercise in the Montego.

    In one instance, the electronic tune Philips radio in the early cars was a quality item, whereas the standard fit Rover branded item in the K Reg, top of the range, Montego Countryman that I last drove in the early 90’s was quite shockingly nasty!

  54. David 3500:

    ” The comparison between the Maestro and BMW MINI is an interesting one. The MINI is roughly the same size and weight as the Maestro, yet it is so cramped inside, while the early 115Ps MINI Cooper feels underwhelmed compared to the faster, more eager 115PS MG Maestro 2.0i. Where’s the progress there? ”

    I drove an MG Maestro EFi in the late 80’s and a MINI Cooper from ’04 to ’07 and completely agree with you. The MG was very quick, while the MINI was very ordinary. Only the R53 Cooper S, that I replaced it with, had the power and character to match the MG.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*