Essay : Not their finest hour – Austin Maestro 1.3HLE

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

AROnline takes a look back at some of the memorable automotive blunders in more recent times from both our own, and rival makes.

This time Mike Humble offers you a treat from our very own Austin Rover. Pray silence please for the Maestro HLE…


The miracle Maestro?

Looking resplendent in it's shade of prosthetic limb (Rattan) Beige - The early Meastro 1.3 HLE

Now don’t get me wrong, but the Maestro is by no means a terrible car – though many will argue against that statement. But in all fairness, it was far from being an excellent one either. Of all the many cars from the house of BL, for me anyway, the Maestro is surely a car which got all the publicity for pretty much all the wrong reasons but for so many good reasons, had some really positive ingredients including interior space, ease of servicing and running costs.

True, the base models brought a whole new meaning to the word miserable, but taking into account the parlous state of affairs of Austin Rover, the Maestro kick started the company and at least got rid of the underwhelming Maxi. I have been a lifelong fan of the A series engine, and when developed into the A+, it became a torquey and refined little motor that did well to last as long as it did. For all of you non DIY mechanics, you haven’t lived unless you have spent an hour grinding valves into a 1275cc head!

A new body but old at heart

The Maestro 1.3 didn’t fare to badly considering the rival Astra and Escort both featured advanced overhead cam engines in their 1.3 models. The antiquated pushrod A+ was a much sweeter sounding plant than the Escort CVH, mind you thinking about it, cutting through a wrought iron girder with an 18″ angle grinder sounded like Vivaldi compared to the Ford CVH. But, the little 1275 put in a good show in the light of far more modern plants.

The A+ worked well in the Maestro, but the ultra long legged HLE gearing killed any driving pleasure.

In economy HLE tune however, the Maestro 1.3 became a terrible car, which was simply awful to drive, mainly thanks to its comedy gearbox and ponderous obstructive gearchange. For reasons that even today seem hard to fathom, the HLE was fitted with a VW 3+E gearbox rather than a five-speed with overdrive orentated top. It failed to work in the Golf C Formel E (Volkswagen’s economy version) so why not do away with this stupid affair and throw in a decent five speeder?

Away you go! and into second gear… all is fine, select third and… oh `eck, what’s all this? you are greeted with a monumental gap in the ratios because third is actually the usual fourth ratio.

Select another gear and top gear is almost as long legged as Usain Bolt, so unless you lived in somewhere as flat as Norfolk, the HLE was a nasty drive with half decent performance available only by ringing down to the engine room. A larger engine may have pulled it off, but with just 68bhp under your foot, it was asking too much.

But still looked like a prototype

On the inside things were a bit poor too, alongside the poorly calibrated dials; Austin Rover fitted an econometer with a bar of coloured LED lights. I often wondered if anyone ever ended up in the backside the car in front owing to being so distracted by trying their level best in keeping the green coloured segments lit. What was wrong with a coloured coded or economy banded rev counter instead I will never know, but this gadget rather like the arcade game digital dashboard seemed just a pointless gimmick.

And the misery didn’t end there either, the rubber vacuum pipes were a poor fit on the back of the econometer, so when they became a slack fit, which they did, a strange noise like someone breaking wind came from somewhere in the dashboard when you changed cogs. The gearchange was painfully clunky and long winded, the lever would often baulk and fight back at you when selecting 1st partly thanks to the cheap and nasty cobbled gear linkages that had a party trick of coming adrift at red traffic lights.

Other superb ideas included the cigar lighter being fitted in front of the passenger and that ingenious engine top mount that bolted right through the alloy thermostat housing causing fractures and coolant leaks. The electronic carburettor & ignition sysytem was legendary for being naughty, the rubbish Lucas components nailed onto the SU carb were as reliable as Hammersmith & District line and many dealers as well as owners threw away the automatic choke and fitted a manual conversion kit.

The spacious and airy interior was utterly ruined by that dreadful prototype looking dashboard with thin rimmed steering wheel that felt cold and horrible to the touch. Beacuse the econometer took up the space where the ashtray and clock would have lived, the ashtray was moved to a tiny pot in front of the gear lever and no clock was fitted – in economy class, time matters to no-one so it seemed. One thing was certain, it was visible to all that the Maestro was rushed into production, it never looked finished.

Same old story

Some minor revisions came on stream in the back end of `84, but by the time the new interiors were fitted and the HLE became the LE in 1986, the Maestro was viewed as another half baked BL car with no end to the horror stories that included howling wheel bearings, weeping dampers, water logged interiors and flaky electrics. Such a damn shame, as these later Maestro’s were the cars they should have been, and the Montego type one piece dash lifted the whole feel of the package – too late, the boat was missed!

The rest of the range became fairly dependable cars in time, especially the 2.0EFi MG and later Vanden Plas models. But the early variants which included the above and of course the MG 1600 featuring a talking voice sythesis computer that sounded like a primary school headmistress – with a hair lip, did nothing for repeat business for Austin Rover. The company did have a saviour however, the Anglo Jap Rover 213 which proved to all Austin Rover were sunk without joint collaboration!

Not quite the miracle it claimed to be!

Pictures: Thanks to the MMOC

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

103 Comments

  1. My Dad had a ‘C’ reg one of these, horrid little car! He managed to convince my Mum to swap it for her Rover 216 SE, which was also a ‘C’ reg and much better! Great memories of it though, although we always tried to get the econometer into the red!

  2. BL’s 1980s Bluemotion… VW are still trying the same thing now, with over the top gearing “although they have fitted an extra Cog” Still penny pinching with Only 5 speeds instead of more realistic 6, (though they have fitted them to some models) Coupled to an engine with Bugger all Torque means an absolute chore to get anywhere, rendering it useless in hilly areas like Co Durham. As for the benefit of Economy…Ours still drinks far more than it should do.

    It was a shame the Maestro was practically abandoned early on in its life, It never received the S series EFi engine from the Rover 216, nor its Honda Gearbox which would of solved many problems, Only later on in its life did the Maestro get better but by then did anyone care?

  3. In Ireland, British cars still had a fairly loyal following at this point. Indeed one of my parents’ friends changed his 1970 Minor for a Maestro. There would have been a particular population segment who would have stuck with British cars, rather like many of the people on this site, through a sense of common culture and loyalty etc.

    Cue unending trouble, even basic trouble with the engine, something to do with the piston rings. How in the name of god that went wrong on an engine they had been making since the ’50s?

    So, like most others, these people bought a Japanese car and have stayed with Japanese cars to this day.

    They drove their customers away. Can’t see how they lasted until 2005.

  4. I actually like the Maestro, despite its poor build quality, poor public perception and the overrated drivel about how good the MG Turbo was over the more convincing 2-litre EFi version.

    I have been driving one since 1989 and still love the slightly soft ride of the EFi version, the commanding, almost Range Rover-like driving position, the low level dashboard and the flexibility of the interior. Things definitely did improve from early 1986 with the introduction of the Montego dashboard fascia.

    Then again, from approximately 1988, Austin Rover Group no longer bothered painting the bodyshell before fitting items like the door hinges, so no wonder they rusted there. Talk about penny-pinching cost savings!!

  5. We had a base 1.3. Roomy and it had decent economy – when sorted. However it had unhappy electronics. The temp gauge would dip to cold mid journey this resulting in the choke being put on. Took it back. They fixed it but their explanation just didn’t make sense to me (electronics teacher) Later when leaving reverse gear the connecting bar would spring off – leaving the car immobile.

    Its finale was, on starting, to decide it was hot. Gauge up into the red – and yet the choke worked as it should.

    So, possibly to my shame, I removed the offending bulb and sold it.

    Not much good on rubble car parks as the twin down pipes caught bricks etc.

    cp

  6. I loved the MG EFi’s I drove in the ’80’s, but it didn’t stop me laughing at this article! Nicely written, thanks 🙂

  7. Forgot to add – as I remember it had one trick other cars struggle to replicate – cold air in ones face and hot feet. Why can’t newer cars do that?

    cp

  8. Just remembered.When I worked for Land Rover as a graduate trainee in 1998, I worked for a while with an engineer who had a new Maestro.

    He said it was no problem to operate this car. All you had to do to get it to run was open the bonnet, remove the dashpots from the SU, start the car, reinstall dashpots and off you go.

    And he was an engineer in charge of resolving faults found on cars out in the market.

    I had to leave. Could not have faith in such a company or such an approach. Having said that this particular man was one of the kindest, nicest men I have ever met.

  9. I wonder if the Maestro wore a VW badge you lot would all have been whinging about it… probably not.. “pretty handy little family car with bild styling and a handy econometer on the dash” it would have read, all its faults ignored…

  10. I can’t help but feel the poor HLE is getting a bit of a raw deal in this article! My period of HLE ownership – I took the picture at the top of the page, that was my HLE! – wasn’t anywhere near half as bad as you make out. Yes, the ratios were a bit odd before you’d got your head around it, but once your driving style changed to suit, the HLE is no slower than any of the ‘normal’ four speed Maestros…and in my experience it wasn’t any more or less economical either.

    As an ‘economy’ vehicle, I suppose it was like most others; just a fad with no real benefits over a normal version – but with aerodynamic rear strakes and the Econometer, I suppose you stood half a chance of kidding yourself.

    Incidentally, before the HLE lost its ‘H’ and became the LE, it gained a 4+E gearbox, which I can only imagine addressed some of the problems with the massive leap between 2nd and 3rd in the 3+E version.

  11. The first time I saw an econometer with the flashing bar of coloured LED lights was in a Renault 18 estate dashboard.
    On the go it just looked comical displaying yellow to red and back down to green I was 11 years old at the time.

    Flashing things just distract I once looked after my friends Volkswagan Passat a few years back and his none standerd fitted stereo with a screen face just showed F1 race cars,chequered flags with firing pistons type graphics over and over again. Something to watch in traffic jams listening to radio 2, cant remeber the make of the stereo.

  12. @Chris Pryor (8)

    My trusty old banger Cavalier can do that. A great feature that many cars lack.

    I’m glad I now have clarification of what a 3+E / 4+E gearbox actually is. I remember thumbing through Parkers years when I was a little un and wondering what on earth it meant!

  13. Takes me back.First drive in a new HLE whilst working at BL dealer,wondered why it wasn’t ready for change into 4th until 80!.Two best Maestro models – MG Efi and the diesel van.A real Q machine.

  14. @11 “I wonder if the Maestro wore a VW badge you lot would all have been whinging about it… probably not.. “pretty handy little family car with bild styling and a handy econometer on the dash” it would have read, all its faults ignored…”

    If you read the article you’ll see that the article is reasonably positive towards the range, except the HLE. The maestro was never a boldly styled car (it was 70s styling in the 80s) and while it was a good solid design underneath too much of the car was rush job. By the 1989 facelift montego and the single ECU carb they’d mainly sorted the problems, but not before many people (my family included) had suffered them first hand. After the fun and games of a three year old montego my parents never bought ARG again (we were given a later one many, many years later though).

  15. The MG Maestro EFI was a lovely car, good performance, thirsty when pushed hard, but it was a pleasure to drive and sounded good too.

  16. Please, don’t ever forget two things about the Maestro: 1) Edwards held the car back for about two years, to allow the Metro to launch first. He then refused to sanction spending money on freshening the car prior to launch. That’s why it looked out of date at launch. 2) The engineering of Maestro was the entire responsibility of Spen King. It was the comedy money pit that most of his jobs were.

  17. We were spared these in NZ though we did, in the mid-80s get batches of two-litre carby Montego wagons which had a habit of catching fire…

    “that ingenious engine top mount that bolted right through the alloy thermostat housing causing fractures and coolant leaks” reminds me of the Vauxhall slant-four OHC from the ’68-on Victor/Viva which we also got in thousands of Bedford CF 2-litre vans. Some genius decided to put one manifold bolt in the thermostat housing. You could always tell when someone was dismembering a ‘Siff’ engine for the first time; they would take forever to find that last manifold bolt.

    Then there was the Triumph 2000 exhausts that ran through the rear suspension with no joints and had to be gas-axed apart. Gotta love British engineering; it was no wonder we went Japanese ‘down under’. Their bodies rusted faster but at least the mechanics were far more DIY-friendly.

  18. We had a base model 1.6 while I was worked the Met Police as a pool car,found ir to be nippy, I always fancied a Vanden Plas, seen some nice examples on Ebay, like an MG also, but could not work out that electric windows was on option but standard on the MG Montego. Regards Mark.

  19. Remember the HLE’s distinctive rear side spoilers fitted to the D pillars, rather than the tailgate?

    Amazing how it was seen as more outwardly upmarket just by different shaped holes in the steel wheels, compared to the lesser L model. Wonder if it was a copying Uncle Henry, who’d made the GL model of the Mk3 Escort look more desirable by the same trick?

    IIRC the HLE cost about £3-400 more than the L, and most were in metallic colours, pushing the cost even higher. The claimed mpg gain was never achieved in practice due to the odd gearing; all in all, not a cost-effective spec.

    That ‘a for asbestos’ sticker on the slam panel takes me back. Did anyone take them seriously back then?

  20. Bizarre that they should market a car which was awful to drive on the basis that it was highly economical, if when you tried to drive it normally the mpg was no better than the lesser models. Bet it achieved good government-published mpg figures though. Manufacturers are still doing that aren’t they? Witness Fiat 500 twinair.

  21. Good old Meastro….certain style to the base ones @17 is right, a mid 70’s design really, but ageing well?

    I guess at the time, the 3+E ‘box and econometer was quite cutting edge, it’s thinking of these cars at the time of the launch and their contempotaries, were they really any worse than the MkIII Escort?

  22. @Big H (26).
    That’s bit unfair. I think that the MGs deserve more credit. A number here have been enthusing about the 2.0 EFI model,( I agree) but let’s not forget the newly-won long-distance endurance rally kudos of the 1.6 MG, too.

  23. George Harriman and Lord Stokes were always pleading with government to provide the right economic conditions for them to sell lots of cars .
    That scenario came true in 1983 when new car sales soared to a new record. This explosion in UK car buying lasted for the rest of the decade , topping the 2 million mark in 1988.
    Unfortunately Austin Rover were not invited to this car buying party . The demand for new cars was there , but not for the Maestro and Montego .
    In 1983 the pundits talked of Austin Rover needing to achieve a 25 per cent market share , or sell 600,000 cars a year to become viable . They could only sell 450,000 by 1985 .
    At the beginning of 1978 they could sell 750,000 cars a year with a 25 percent UK market share . The tussles with the combined BL shop stewards comittee in the 1979/81 period seems to have irrevocably shattered BL’s brand values and reduced its UK market share to below 20 % . These tussles were over bonus payments , the dismissal of Derek Robinson , BL’s refusal to re-instate Derek Robinson , the managements imposition of new working practices , the 1980 pay dispute , the Metro seat dispute , the dismissal of several shop stewards over the Metro seat dispute , the Longbridge tea break dispute , the 1981 pay dispute , the 1983 Maestro tea break dispute etc.
    Whether Sir Michael Edwardes , Ray Horrocks and Harold Musgrove were too heavy handed and confontational in these disputes is open to discussion . Certainly the Labour party once in opposition after May 1979 vilified Edwardes as a symbol of all that was bad with management and Mrs Thatchers Britain . Check out an article by Brian Gould MP on the Tribune website ( they appointed Edwardes ) .
    Could the Maestro have been launched earlier ? Possibly 1981 ? The answer is yes , but that would have meant expecting the Mini to continue as BL’s small car . Actually I think the Mini could have soldiered on for another couple of years . In the UK it was not overhauled by the Ford Fiesta in sales terms until 1980 , and that was because the Metro went on sale in October 1980 . The basic Mini in 1980 was an amazing car . It just kept on selling despite being outdated .

  24. Those meastro’s burned pretty good also when unleaded fuel was introduced… They had to fix a lot of “plumbing” back then, but the damage was done… If you have a problem like that within a year o introducion of a car it kinda damages it’s reputation with the buying public…

  25. The maestro sadly came good too late when the diesel versions were launched and quality across the board at Rover improved in the late eighties. For all the diesel was sluggish, 55 mpg and a tough Perkins engine that could run for over 150,000 miles with no problems if it was serviced correctly, were its main selling points. However, by then, except for the enthusiasts, the Maestro was seen as on a par with a Lada in the desirability stakes.
    I often wish the Maestro had launched in 1983 with a Peugeot XUD mated to a Honda gearbox. This would have defeated most of the quality arguments and helped the car sell in Escort like numbers.

  26. I am afraid Austin Rover could blame no one but themselves . There seemed to be a culture at Longbridge of hostility to others for the firms problems , whether it was Morris Motors , Triumph , Leyland , government , British Aerospace or BMW .
    The firm produced grey porridge before Issigonis designed the Mini and resumed producing grey porridge after he retired .

  27. The only really desirable Maestro seems to be an MG 2.0EFi or Turbo. This HLE sounds good in its badging (HLE = highline equipment?) Obviously not. The engine looks very sparse and small compared to todays power plants.

    Another Maestro that came in for criticism was the Clubman D. I heard a story on tv about a Rep who went to collect his new company car expecting and hoping for a Rover 200 and ended up with a Clubman D Maestro. He went home and apparently he and his wife spent the night in tears!

  28. @Grey Rover – endurance rally cred for the 1.6MG? Sorry, but the only MG bit on that car was the grille. It started as a 15000 mile Austin 1.6L.

    @Richard Gelder – I agree, it’s a tiny bit unfair to the HLE. I actually think that for driving quickly the HLE is BETTER than other 1.3s due to the taller top ratio, though with the detuned lump and mad gearbox it ain’t exactly set up for eco-driving. 4+E may be better.

    I wonder how much better it could have been with an MG Metro spec engine and that gearbox?

  29. I remember my friend’s Mum’s car had one of those LED econometers.

    VW also had a thing for econo-spec cars in the 1980s.

    The Mk2 Polo Formel was available with a 3+E gearbox & lean tuned carb.

    Some bangernomics buffs have often replaced this type of carb with one that allows them to run on unleaded.

  30. @ Hilton D

    I remember that programme! It was broadcast in the 1990s and the chap with the Henley Blue Maestro Clubman D felt he had been “**** on” by his company, because his previous company car had been a Cavalier SRI. I certainly did not feel sorry for him, although the Maestro did create a massive dent in his ego and his wife refused to go out in it.

    Hopefully he left the company soon after that and someone a little more grateful got the Maestro instead.

    But was the name of that BBC2 programme? Please can someone enlighten me?

  31. Funny, I owned a low mileage HLE 6 or so years ago, and enjoyed it. ~The automatic choke worked ok, I liked the leggy gearing, and it was definitely very economical (and that was with a lead right foot)… The interior didn’t rattle/squeak/self destruct either. Makes me wonder if I imagined it all, going by the piece above and the comments below it, perhaps the admittedly absurd econometer lights hypnotised me, leading me to lose my hold on reality?

  32. @25.

    Except the 500 TA isn’t bad to drive – you *can* achieve economy if you drive carefully, but it’s zippy and fun when you want it to be, having more torque at lower revs than the 1.4, and not that far off the same power. A long way off an economical Maestro.

  33. “Remember the HLE’s distinctive rear side spoilers fitted to the D pillars, rather than the tailgate?”

    Strakes I think they were called and was it not meant to make it more aerodynamic?

  34. Remember there is a ‘guilty’ button to extinguish the Econometer lights!

    At Launch the ‘HLE’ was the top model of Maestro with the 1300 engine, I am sure this fact sold more HLE’s than it’s claims of economy.

    Perhaps AR should have offered a 1.3HLS too, same trim but with a conventional 5 speed box?

    I agree with Richard @ 13, it was easy to become accustomed to the ‘high gearing’ and having done so driving an HLE was no big deal.
    We ran our HLE for 22 years and in that time it was driven by most members of the family and neighbours, mostly with favourable comments.
    Our next door neighbour could not understand why his son wanted a mk3 Escort when he could have had a Maestro, because he felt the Maestro was superior!

  35. Actually managed to spot a Maestro Van derivative this week, driving through the City, which made things even stranger due to the fact that usually nothing cheaper than a C-Class comes down through my part of the City. It was quite an early model, with neither Austin, ARG nor faux-Longship badges. In good condition too, similar to the one in the pic, only in a light red (not sure what the official colour was).

  36. 36 @David 3500
    “But was the name of that BBC2 programme? Please can someone enlighten me?”

    It’s my pleasure David!

    It was called “From A to B – Tales of Modern Motoring”.
    Some of them were repeated recently on BBC4.

    Here’s the Maestro clip in all its glory. Check out his gold digital and analogue combi watch! The rep episode was by far the funniest, including a prat of a badge-obsessed Cavalier GL driver, who wouldn’t let a Cavalier L past! He would always move over for a CD or SRi though, as that showed respect to their superior version of the Cavalier, or some such b*11*cks. Sample quote: “The big difference between a Cavalier GL and a GLi is the i”. And perhaps the status-obsessed idiot driving it, methinks.

    Mr Maestro:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nMCFeoR9oSg

    Mr Cavalier:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hEGNclTEcFs

    There’s loads on YouTube – well worth a look.

    • Thank you, I enjoyed that link! How sad, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
      What a way to motivate your sales staff; if he was any good, he should have been on the look out for a new job with a better employer….

  37. My first car was a Meastro HLE with the 3+E box. I sold it after it had travelled 190,000 miles 140,000 which I drove. I always maintained the car keeping it in good condition and it never ever broke down without get-home ability.

    I ran with 165 tyres wider than the original 155 fitment, these should have been fitted as standard as it gave the car excellent balance.

    The gears were so long legged you drove the car in a different way, I think Mike is being harsh on the 3+ gearbox. I liked it.

    You want 0-60 quickly just use one gear 1st (high rpms add to the excitement). You want to overtake just use 2nd gear. The car would almost stall running less than 40mph in E gear. Fuel economy was utterly outstanding when driven with one eye on the econometer. Fuel economy remained excellent with ocassional tinkering.

    Of the 1.3 special, HLE, 1.6R and 2.0i meastros I had or had use of. The HLE and the 2.0i were by far the best cars.

  38. @10 A new Maestro in 1998, five years after UK production had finished?

    My first Rover management car was an MG Maestro EFi. Apart from this and the Tickford built Turbos, they were difficult cars to like. As far as the HLE was concerned, I can be seen in the Maestro Economy Run story next to a pair of the then new HLEs, with the voice of the talking Maestro, Nicolette Mackenzie. It’s so long ago, I can’t actually work out where I am in the picture!

  39. @ Steve Bailey:

    Thank you, thank you for putting me out of my misery! I have actually been thinking about this very series for the last few months but could not recall its name.

    I will now watch it with pleasure.

  40. Agreed – I remember that programme from 1994 and prayed that it would be repeated sometime.

    Thank you for posting the link. It had me in stitches (I was part of that crowd back then and had a Peugeot 405GR Injection – i for important) at the time, and it’s even funnier now.

  41. Its possible that the poor sales rep ended up with the Maestro Clubman D after the Cavalier SRI due to the high insurance costs on sporty badged/spec cars back then and the Clubmans group cheaper by comparison for his work/company to save money.
    Early 1990’s was an awful time of high car insurance costs for any motor for the 17+ age group at the time.
    What caused it was the joy riders stealing them and getting in the BBC news showing images of burned out and crashed cars of there handy work.

  42. @43 I like the way he’s constantly being overtaken by lorries on the motorway:)

    It sounds like his employer was trying to send him a message with the choice of car for him.

    Wasn’t that shade of blue which the Maestro was known in the trade as ‘Death Blue’ or something?

  43. Mike is a bit unfair to the poor little HLE IMHO…

    Small errors: The HLE had a clock, just in the same place as on any Maestro.

    And the changes were quite a bit deeper than just different 3rd and 4th gear ratios.

    The gearbox had the same top gear ratio as 5th had ont he 1.6 models (except MG) – so the later 4+E was exactly the gearbox from a 1.6. The 3+E box its own set of ratios, as none of the gears were the same as in any other box. Being for speeds with a very tall top ratio made if wide spaced, but it was fairly even spaced. Many cars from VAG in the 80s had such gearboxes when a 5-speed box was an option.

    Other changes: The rear strakes on the sides of the tailgate reduced the drag by about 5% – the funny spoiler across the MG’s hatch was a gimmick, the strakes on the sides not. The econometer was in fact a vacuum gauge, similar to the ones fitted to Triumph Saloons of the late 60s. Here in Germany it came on 165-80 low rolling resistance tyres, I think the UK got a radio, but measly 155-80 wheels…

    Bigger changes were done to the engine: The HLE (and LE) had a different camshaft, running the engine with no overlap of inlet and exhaust timing. This is no good for top end power, but can create an engine with very good low and mid-range torque, low emissions and good economy. Carb needle, Fuel ECU and distributor were adjusted accordingly and were particular to the HLE. Due to the HLE engine running smoother and/or to save a little more fuel, the HLE had a lighter flywheel (at least I assume this, as it has a smaller clutch plate and was from all production 1275 engines I have the fastest to rev up when blipping the throttle).

    When driven accordingly, the fuel consumption was significantly better than on a 1.3 with normal engine and normal 5 speed box.

    From the Maestros I’ve had I personally think the very early 1.3LE (same as HLE in the UK, just a different badge here in Germany) and the 2.0EFi are the best. The HLE had the sweetest engine, the gearchange on very early Maestros was somewhat better than on later cars with VW box, the tall gearing made it into an excellent motorway car. It was quiet too – sound deadening was much better than on my 1987 1.3L with standard 5 speed box. I got my LE given for free 1999, got it repaired and it went on to give very good service to me, my two brothers and a friends nephew until 2006. All got very good fuel economy. I would like to have it back – with a de-rattled dash it would beat my current 1.3 in almost every respect, except loosing a few mph in top speed. A 1.3 with standard 4-speed box must be quite dreadful im comparison I imagine… at least once out of town.

    It was funny to read that the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport came to the same conclusion when trying the new range at launch in Germany 1983 (1.3 base, 1.3 LE, 1.6 HLS and MG 1600). They found the LE to be the best package…

    • Don’t forget the Metro HLE, same ideas, 3 + E gearing, I think the sizing and therefore gearing ratios of the alternator pulleys were amended over standard cars to compensate for the lower revving of the high-geared HLE models

  44. Thanks for that Alexander. The clutch on the HLE was a miserable 7″ affair compared to the usual 7.5″

    All the bits and bobs seemed a faff, considering a 1.3 HL with optional 5 speeder was only a cats whisker more thirsty with an engine in a higher state of tune… strakes or comedy tyres aside. There’s about 2mpg in it I think and the HL gets a rev counter and no farting machine (econometer)

    • Mike, I’m running a clutch destined for my old LE in my 1.3LS with 5 speeds since years, but I am easy on clutches and they last very long (when I got the LE my garage reckoned the clutch would fail soo – it lasted something like 60 or 80k kms until the car was scrapped). Of course the gain in MPG is not astronomical, but it bettered my similar driven 1.3LS consistently by 10-15%, at times even more. Not too dissimilar from results that can be had from todays economy cars when compared to normal models – or in fact VAG’s “Formel E” cars back then in the 80s. I fitted a rev counter to my 1.3 – because I preferred the back-lit instruments. A rev counter as is, is the most useless instrument in a car if you ask me, a vacuum gauge offers some real information instead (a bit limited in shape of the econometer). Once day I might fit the 1.6 gearbox, as I liked the high gearing.

      BTW, you’re right about the quality of this final installation of the A-series. A friend used to ADO16s was recently quite surprised how refined it is in the Maestro with the end-on gearbox. And servicing costs are really next to nothing…

  45. I thought these were actually quite good when they first came out together with the Montego. Unfortunately they dragged them on for years and I remember, after the tougher company car tax rules came out in the early 1990’s, reading about some travelling salespeople being absolutely gutted that their BMW 320’s and Mercedes 230E’s were being called in and replaced by shiny new Maestro Clubman diesels. Hand-cranked windows all round!

  46. I often wish the Maestro came with a diesel option, preferably from Peugeot Citroen, right from the start. This would have really given the car an advantage as this was one of the first diesels and had a reputation for longevity and smoothness in use, as well as 50-60 mpg economy. With a full range of trims from City X to Vanden Plas, a diesel Maestro would have been a far better alternative to the extremely rough Escort and Astra diesels of the time. Also ideally using the 1.3 Honda engine over the A plus would have scared Ford to death.
    Could you imagine all the hype about the Maestro being the future of British Leyland being true and Ford running for cover. However, British Leyland/Rover did get their revenge when the 1990 Escort was seen to be a disaster and their 200/400 range were the most desirable new car on the market.
    Grrrr, the Mark Five Escort surely this must be Ford’s Allegro moment, a car that looked awful, was terrible to drive and soon developed a whole heap of faults. My dad has one as a company car in 1992 and it refused to start if the weather was anything other than mild and sunny, had absolutely no go at all, guzzled petrol and just looked cheap and nasty. No surprises he jumped for joy when offered a Rover 214 Si.

  47. I can sort of see the repmans point, he had a Cavalier SRi and then gets a Maestro diesel, not even the DLX! It didn’t even have the brilliant Turbocharger so it was slow. However he is some kind of drama queen going on and on about it. Its a free car so what if people comment on it, its not like you have to keep it forever!

    As for company cars I don’t agree with people being paid vast amounts of money, lets say £50k+, AND getting a free car. Fine if you need it to do the job but if you’re a manager who uses the rail network to get to all your meetings then frankly you don’t need it, in these situations I would tax the purchase price off the wages and then see how long people keep the things!

  48. I remember driving a Cashmere Gold HLE in the early days and rather liked it as an upmarket change from my Metro 1.0L. Nice long legged gearing, decent suspension, driving position etc. So there.

  49. Oh, to be able to go back in time and to tell them to restyle it…

    Someone mentioned earlier that the car was delayed for two years by the Metro restyle after the little car’s disastrous customer clinic results. Did they bother to clinc the Maestro? Surely not? Could they have effected a Metro-esque last minute restyle of the car if they didnt feel it necessary to restyle and re-engineer the Princess at the same time?

    On the other hand, few cars in its market segment were what you’d call desirable: the Delta was neat, so was the Alfa 33, and the MK3 Escort, but was the Golf Mk2 any more desirable than the ridiculed LM10?

    Did wonder if the MG1600 was such a good idea, that perhaps the old A-series was the answer here, once again. I’m referring to the turbocharged variant, which pumped out all of 93bhp in the Metro turbo, but which in prototype form was considerably more powerful. It was only the need to protect the Metro’s in-sump transmission that the wick was wound down, but that wasn’t necessary in the Maestro with its robust VW end-on transmission. So why Weber-up the E-series?

    Shame they didn’t manage a much-need facelift or plumb in the K-series, and the M16. An MG Maestro 16v circa 1986 might have had more cachet than the later turbo, if only because 16 valves were sexier in marketing terms. And a budget K-series engined car might have picked up sales in the early 90s from those folk for whom the Rover Metro was too damned small. Sort of like Peugeot’s 90s strategy – with small 106 and the bigger 306 – but on the cheap. Don’t suppose a K-engined Maestro would have been any worse than the 1990 Escort and its interior would have been less frangible than the Tipo’s…

  50. @ Keith Adams:

    I have just checked the registration number of that Henley Blue Maestro Clubman D on the DVLA website and its tax expired in October 1994, which was just after the programme was screened, and so remains unlicenced.

    The Maestro was in nice nick when it filmed for the programme, so I am wondering what happened to it.

  51. Dont knock it, its easy to forget but the Maestro was a good car compared to the modern equivalent available nowadays.
    NO stupid emmision systems and warning lights, NO complicated electrics that can only be fixed by a specialist or respective main dealer, NO unreliable REMOTE central locking problems, NO expensive anti theft keys or complicate alarm systems.NO expensive dual mass flywheels and clutch, NO ABS pumps…..in fact a very simple, cheap and easy car to fix in its day!.

    • Except for the fact that the Perkins diesel engine was prone to high rates of valve guide wear causing heavy exhaust smoke,…. 50,000 miles. The Perkins cylinder head was a two day job to remove and refit, and don’t mention the hassle of valve shimming and injector leakage, the worst engine I have ever known.

  52. CAR – December 1982

    State Of The Corporation
    Gordon Kent , concerned , checks the pulse of Austin Rover

    Sir Michael Edwardes , when he was still boss of BL , insisted that the LC10 range was more important to the group than even the Metro . The rest of the industry agrees with that sentiment . Indeed , many remain puzzled about why the first of the range , the LM10 , has been so long in coming .
    Should not the new Edwardes team when it first took over in 1978 have concentrated on a new medium size car ?
    As one of his rivals put it :
    “ Any motor industry man would have looked at the market and seen that 60 per cent is taken by medium sized cars . When Edwardes found that BL had nothing planned for that sector until 1983 he should have shoved everything else aside to get a medium car to the market as early as possible . He could have asked for the moon at that time . “
    Sir Michael admits that BL would be in a much better financial position – and might even be profitable now – had they first launched LC10 . But when he arrived at BL , engineering of the Metro was so far announced that he gave the go-ahead .
    He remains convinced that BL would not have survived as a volume car producer without ‘Metro year’ –1980 – and insists the LC10 programme could not have been brought forward for a launch earlier than the end of 1981 .
    To gain economies of scale BL have been reducing the 13 model car range Sir Michael found in 1978 to three model ‘families’ centred around the Metro , the LC10 range and a revamped Jaguar .
    By the mid-1980’s the Ambassador , Ital , Rover SD1 saloons and Mini will have been eliminated from the range , following the disappearance of the old MG’s , Triumph Spitfire , TR7 , Dolomite , Maxi and Allegro . The new cars will incorporate as many components as possible that can be used not only across one ‘family’ but two or three .
    The first of the £200 million LC10 range , the LM10 , will be launched on March 1st in time for the 1983 Geneva Motor Show . It is a five door hatchback seen as competition for such cars as the Volkswagen Golf and the Ford Escort . It will be assembled at Cowley . LM11 will follow .
    Initial output should run at an annual 3000 rising quickly to 6000 a week if Austin Rover have their marketing plans right . The potential capacity for the Metro is 6500 a week but even if the small car does no better than its current 4500 a week , the Metro and LC10 ranges should push Austin Rover’s output from Cowley and Longbridge above 500,000 .
    This summer , Austin Rover chairman Harold Musgrove said his company were still on target to produce 450,000 to 500,000 cars in 1982 , up about 10 per cent from the 1981 level.
    Continental sales , which should be about 100,000 , have been offsetting the lower than expected UK volume .
    Austin Rover suggest that output from their two plants should reach around 540,000 a year in the mid-1980’s and this fits a broad picture that has the company taking a 25 per cent share of a 1.7 million units UK market and making around 120,000 cars for export .
    So that Austin Rover can compete in those Continental markets where diesel engines are popular , there is an agreement with Perkins jointly to dieselise the O-series engine . If the deal gets approval in the 1983 corporate plan , the idea is that engines of 1.7 litre capacity would be built on existing Longbridge lines , side by side with the petrol units . Capacity is no problem because the Longbridge lines could produce 250,000 units on a double shift system and have recently been turning out only 70,000 .
    At one stage , Austin Rover attempted to persuade Volkswagen that they should jointly develop an engine ( petrol with diesel potential ) which the British group would then manufacture and sell to VW . This would have eased the import bill considerably , for Austin Rover are buying four speed , five speed and automatic gearboxes from Volkswagen for the LC10 range – not an example of collaboration but simply a buying in arrangement which will have a considerable adverse impact on the on the profit per car .
    Austin Rover had developed their own new gearbox but it was decided the £75 million required to get it into production should not be spent . Ray Horrocks ; chairman and chief executive of BL Cars , believes that the uncertainties about the direction the industry will take with gearboxes and engines are so great that Austin Rover simply cannot justify any substantial investment in either .
    The BL corporate plan already includes provisions for more LC10 models . There is still LM14 , a replacement for the Ambassador and the LM15 , scheduled to supercede the Rover SD1 saloon .
    But whether those go ahead depends on the outcome of the negotiations with Honda about the XX . If that deal is signed – and the signs seem favourable – the two companies would jointly develop a car comparable in today’s terms with the Audi 100 or the smaller BMW’s – the Rover’s patch .
    However , if the first LC10 models do not prove to be successful then the later ones probably will not appear . Cash flow from the early cars is expected to finance the investment required for later ones .
    Austin Rover’s future , therefore , is riding on the reception the fleet buyers who take at least half the new cars sold in Britain , give the LM10 and LM11 .
    The fleets want to buy British but the competition is getting ever more fierce . Fleet managers are under intense pressure to buy the Cavalier because that is the car the ‘reps’ love at the moment . Ford’s marketing power will ensure the success of the Sierra here .
    Austin Rover want to break even at pre-tax level in 1985 when they should have full benefit of LM10 and LM11 . The prices AR can squeeze out of the home market will be a vital element .
    But it is not just weak demand and over supply all over Europe which is holding down UK car prices . It is also the widespread publicity given to the fact that Continental prices are much lower than those in Britain . If , as we must expect , car prices in the UK and on the Continent gradually drift closer together , the room Austin Rover will have to put a premium price on the LC10 range will be minimal .

  53. CAR – December 1982

    Maestro !

    It’s owning up time at BL Cars . The exact worth of the past three years recovery operations is about to be evaluated .
    The first of the LC10 cars , the Austin Maestro , is about to be launched .
    In a sense , the company have spent the past couple of years in a kind of limbo . To the public’s eye that is . There has been frenetic work going on within the firm’s confines to effect the Edwardes led recovery , but the twin public activities associated with BL – rationalising , and spending Government funds – have become so usual that the Great British Shareholders have stopped noticing .
    Of course , the BL managers have from time to time been seen doing sensible things – building the Acclaim , launching the Ambassador , consolidating the existing cars into models like the recent Rover Vitesse and MG Metro Turbo . They’ve been promising profits before long , too , but not they said , before the lifesaving new middleweight saloon , the LM10 , comes out . Nothing has been possible until that debut .
    Now the middleweight car is here . It is production ready , and it couldn’t be substantially changed now , even if the engineers had not done their job properly . It is locked into a launch at the beginning of March next year , and to a Geneva show debut .
    You can depend on the fact that the salesmen are getting anxious ; they must put 100,000 Austin Maestro’s into new owners hands before 1983 is out .
    The LM10 will need to be a better car than the Metro . In 1980 there was tremendous sympathy and a good deal of pent up demand for any ‘buyable’ BL car . The Metro arrived , it was a world beater in key respects and because it was so good , people tended to forgive some of its awkwardness of style and harshness of powertrain . Since then , the Sierra and Corsa and BX and 100 have happened . Cars have changed . Second time around , they’ll be far less understanding for faults . BL have had the time , they’ve had high British purchase prices , they’ve had our development money and they’ve had their Metro experience . This time the car must be just right ; just as good as a Ford would be .
    The LM10 is a product of just three years work . It is well known that when Sir Michael Edwardes came to the firm at the end of ’77, the middleweight cupboard was bare of forward plans . The final LM10 shape was designed by David Bache who has now parted company with BL . He was the man most responsible for the shapes of the Range Rover , Rover SD1 and Metro . His LM10 concept was chosen ahead of a similarly practical but slightly more rakish and GM-like shovel-nosed car , produced by Princess and TR7 designer Harris Mann . The BL managers chose the Bache ‘upright’ .
    For the first time in a decade a big selling BL car will have a really nice gearchange ; the Cowley robots and the revitalised workforce will see it is well built .
    We can remember ending one of our pre-release Metro stories on the note that here , for the first time , was a car which kept up with the best opposition , a car for which nobody needed to apologise . This Maestro seems much the same , proof that there is real car building understanding still here in Britain .

  54. @71 The M16 engine fitted in the LM10, this was done to produce the powertrain simulators for the Rover 820E. Not sure how doable this was on the assembly track at Cowley. Whatever the excuse, the real reason stuff like this never happened was because of a lack of investment funds.

  55. @Ian Nicholls. Interesting that you say it was the sacking of red robbo that took the company down. I think that most would argue that the management’s unwillingness to get rid of the shop stewards and deal with them head on was sowing the seed of the problems.

    The maestro was a half decent car but too late, too long & too twee

  56. Duke , I agree with what you are saying , it was just the negative publicity that resulted from these confrontations that reduced the company’s market share below 25% which ultimately made the firm unviable .

  57. Hi guys i owned a Maestro 1.3 HLE same colour as this back in 1997 only paid a fiver for it yet its was the best car you could get for a fiver only sorted the brakes out and past MOT first time reg number was A200BWF was a good town car had the mickey taking out of me being 17 at the time and first car was told should put a granny power sticker in the back but was not a bad car

  58. The Maestro suspension was very well sorted – absolutely pee’d over the Escort of the time and a better handling/ride compromise than the Mk2 Golf (GTi aside) – Top Gear just slated it, which isn’t fair, a decent 1.6 S series was a quiet, quick enough, practical, economical car. The Maestro gave us mass-production bonded-in windscreens (which is probably why the Maestro handled so well compared to it contemporaries) a massive leap forward in car design, immediately copied by absolutely everyone. Can you say the same about anything on a Golf, Astra or Escort? The “flatpack” wiring was another universally adopted first.

    Still, it’s fashionable to slag off anything British.

  59. A three legged dog would handle better than a MK3 Escort and the MK2 Astra had the build quality of an airfix kit, but here lieth the rub!

    Ford and GM had superb marketing and PR machines, why else would the truly awful MK5 Escort continue to sell in such high numbers.

    It matter not one iota how bad your cars are, get the marketing right and know your customer base and your’e there. Its the Billies with the bunce who decide how good you are, not the journo`s.

    Public perception Steve… public perception!

  60. Might the Maestro’s launch have been sullied by a five week strike over working hours at Cowley that proved British Leyland still hadn’t rid itself of the professional Marxists that had ruined the company in the seventies? For all this proved to be the last major strike the company had to endure,it mustn’t have done much for the Maestros launch.

  61. “but this gadget rather like the arcade game digital dashboard seemed just a pointless gimmick.”
    That was an advance design in it’s day. Moving on over 20 years I suppose you do not like instruments on a lot of top-end cars either. LEDs with 20 years of development.

  62. Just when you thought this thread wuz dead , I’ve found a June 1983 interview with ARG Director of Product Engineering , Joe Farnham .

    MOTOR – Does he regret that the 1.3 litre Maestro is not available with a five speed gearbox ?

    “ Maestro buyers do have the choice of four speed or five speed but , of course , the latter is only available with the 1.6 litre engine . The 3+E has been an innovation for Austin Rover and it contributes towards the good fuel economy of the HLE model . In fact , the official fuel figures for the urban cycle is better with this gearbox than it would be with a five speed . I would prefer the customer to be given more choice , in a marketing sense , but I look forward to the day that he won’t have to play with that stick any more and will do it all with things like CVT ( Continuous Variable ) transmissions . The five speed is only of great advantage to people who do a lot of motorway driving although , again , the 3+E is good in this respect . We think that with the Maestro we are offering him a combination which provides the best fuel economy .”

  63. I’m surprised that they didn’t just fit a normal four speed ‘box as standard and offer a five speed as an option like everyone else at the time (or even fit a five speed as standard) rather than no doubt confusing and thus deterring potential customers with 3+E gearboxes.

  64. Old thread, but great nontheless!

    The A to B of modern motoring series is excellent, I just wanted to thank those that linked to the vids 🙂

  65. I just had a quick look via the DVLA to see if the deisel clubman J773 AWG was still going (OK being optimistic)
    Must have crashed it as it wasn’t taxed after 1994!
    Date of Liability 24 10 1994
    Date of First Registration 25 03 1992
    Year of Manufacture 1992
    Cylinder Capacity (cc) 1994cc
    CO2 Emissions Not Available
    Fuel Type HEAVY OIL
    Export Marker N
    Vehicle Status Unlicensed
    Vehicle Colour BLUE
    Vehicle Type Approval Not Available

  66. Hola soy de Uruguay y tengo un rover maestro nafta 1300 y necesito comprar el carburador stromberg para el,me podran pasar la direccion para que yo desde uruguay y via on line poder adquirir dicho respuesto

  67. Anyone get the feeling the Maestro is a friendly looking car, a car that wants to be liked? I still think it’s a good looking and very spacious car for the time and a lot better looking than the Escort, which with its 1986 facelift became old fashioned and bland looking and lingered on way past its sell by date until 1990 when its nasty engines, indifferent reliability and ancient styling counted against it. People might knock Austin Rover’s products in the eighties, but Ford by the late eighties had a very uninspiring and unreliable range of cars.

    • Have to agree, the Mk3 Escort was a nasty looking car, even when it was launched; the fact that the nearest equivalent to the “bustleback”, that Ford was so proud of, was the ancient Volvo/DAF 343 didn’t help either! The Maestro was a better looking car AND I liked the scoops in the side!

      • Well said! The Astra was a flimsy, boxy mess too, with horrible handling and awful driving position. Also the shell of the MK1 and MK2 Astras were so weak they used flex and bend when driven, leading to all sorts of rust spots and traps in the frame, awful cars…

  68. If they’d come up with the last of the line maestro turbo diesel a few years earlier it could have made all the difference. With that turbo perkins they went like stink with 55 mpg.
    I always liked them, 1.3 was an economical car and I knew of several people running 1.6 models who got them to 200k miles

  69. Why must reviews of AR products on this site always be negative? We have all seen enough BL bashing outside of this community without the writers of reviews doing it! Maestros (and most other AR/BL products) had their faults but they were no where near as bad as people make them out to be. I owned a few early Maestros and found no problem with them apart from rusting on the sills and door bottoms, they were handsome, spacious and cheap unlike the awful rattly and rusty Escort of the same era…

  70. I have to say that he got so many things wrong about the car I question if he’s actually even sat in one less driven one.

    And I don’t mean opinions about things either, I mean just getting things utterly wrong, say for example the engine mount thermostat plate causing coolant leaks (the engine mount didn’t attach to the thermostat housing on the Maestro 1.3) and the econometer taking up the place of the clock (the clock lived above it.)

    The comedy noise from the vac line is a work of fantasy, and the electronic carb control system only stopped working if the thermostat was knackered, the system relied heavily on the stat being healthy.

    He also seems confused about the engines offered in the Mk3 EScort, the CVH was actually a nice, quiet smooth power unit, the ‘Valencia’ 1.1 was the relatively noisy engine.

    Small points but still valid.

  71. How’s this for a find!! A 1984 Maestro 1.3 HLE with only 102 miles on the clock. Yes, one hundred and two!!

    It’s on ebay – ebay.eu/1YTW4hU or just Google ‘Austin Maestro HLE’

  72. It’s sad that the A pius engine was unreliable in early Maestros, probably due to flaky Lucas electronics than the actual engine utself, as the A plus proved to be an extremely tough and durable engine in the Ital and Metro. I do recall the 1.3 A plus coming out in 1980 for the Ital and compared with the A series used in the Marina, the modified engine was significantly quieter and offered 6 mph and 6 mpg more than the old engine, in the days when this was a big improvement.

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