In Memoriam : Austin Maestro 700L Van

Mike Humble

A look at some of the less likely extinct cars in the UK, according to data supplied by the brilliant How Many Left? website based on DVLA data.

 5: Austin Maestro 700L Van – just 13 remain today

Once the backbone of British Gas,  BT and Royal Mail, the Maestro van is now rarer than getting your post before 2.00pm. The more comfortable 700L is now banished to the annals of history – just like the Second Class mail they were famous for carrying!

Howver, soon after the car version was launched, the Maestro van came onto the scene offering the improved A+ engine minus its electronic  carburettor and  transmission came via a Volkswagen sourced four- speed gearbox. Shortly after, the van came with 2.0-litre diesel power from the Austin Rover MDi/Perkins Prima engine offering unheard of fuel economy and performance, at the expense of noise! A Post Office worker once told me that driving a diesel Maestro van was akin to climbing into a wheelie bin whilst two friends brayed the sides with hammers. For me, the noisiest vans I have driven are the aforementioned Maestro and the Leyland Daf 200 Sherpa – both were alarmingly noisy, both were nippy and both had the same power unit.

After the mid-1980’s facelift, the Maestro also came with the 1.6-litre S-Series engine with optional five- speed box and the 700 became a higher capacity vehicle offering a 700kg payload from the original 500kg. The L also had more standard kit included in the price with features such as better sound insulation, a five-speed box, cloth trim, a cigar lighter, floor carpet and head restraints. Some features differed from its hatchback sister: the headlamps were recessed tungsten units from the Metro City rather than the larger halogen items you would find on the car, its rear suspension comprised of a dead beam with leaf springs rather than struts and the front bumper was a simple rolled steel item with replaceable plastic end caps rather than the ‘E-Zee Crack’ styled plastic bumper as fitted to all but the basic Maestro car.

There was a decent floor pan underneath which had a robust chassis under the load bay area that seemed more resistant to rusting than the cars’ but, unlike the Ital and Marina van before it, the 500 and 700 vans were never offered as a utility pick up. Most of the public services used the Maestro van – British Telecom, British Rail, the Royal Mail and the Gas Board wereall  loyal users of the Maestro van, but one wonders if they were bought purely on cost with a massive discount from Austin Rover rather than on merit alone as the private customer and business user tended to opt for a Bedford Astravan or Ford Escort. Sadly, as with many other Austin Rover products, issues of quality became known with these otherwise decent vans.

Clutches on the 1.3-litre models were simply not up to the job of the day to day rigours of business life, nor was the starter motor or most of the vehicle electrics. I knew a chap with BR who was an on-call Signal Engineer and would often be hammering up and down the East Coast mainline in his 1.3 Maestro – he told me that you only had to drive over a pothole or rut in the ground at anything slightly more than a snail’s pace and you could either wreck the front damper or render a front wheel bearing unserviceable.  He once sarcastically told me: ‘The time and money spent on the vans was more than the trains.’ The petrol-engined vans were not really manly enough for the job, but the 2.0-litre diesels had uprated hubs, springs, wheels and the slick shifting T5AR gearbox – which morphed into the PG1. I remember reading a copy of Perkins’ in house newsletter and learning of a courier who ran a diesel Maestro van that racked up an astonishing number of miles before it went west – if I recall, they bought him a new van!

Sadly, the last experience I had with a Maestro van was not a happy one – not because there was anything wrong with it ( this one only had just over 800 miles on the clock), but simply beacuse I haplessly drove it into a stone wall and an apple tree returning from Leamington Spa on an emergency parts mission – the classic case of not enough experience and too much speed. The end result was eight stitches in my bottom lip and a badly sprained ankle.

That’s why, every time I brush my chipped and cracked front teeth, I remember with fondness… the Maestro Van!

Mike Humble


  1. Isn’t it strange how we remember the Maestro Van with nostalgic fondness now while not normally giving it a second thought when it was a current model? I still see one regularly which is owned by a local Decorator’s shop.

    Anyway, as Mike says, most of its bulk sales were to the Utilities and the Post Office, so they were probably driven hard anyway – like today’s breed of white vans!

  2. I worked for a Rover Dealer and bought a Maestro 500 parts van which had expired. I exchanged the engine for a Montego Turbo Diesel – that made for interesting getaways from the lights and it would still do 50mpg! Anyone who bought a 1.3-litre A+ must have been paid off by the sales team as the diesel was a no brainer!

  3. I recently spotted a T-reg Maestro van – was that likely to have been a leftover Bulgarian CKD version?

    • Just seen a W reg Maestro van, which was what brought me here … not found an answer as to how/why

  4. I have and still use a Maestro 700 Diesel van on the farm – it is a K-reg and I’ve owned her since 2001. It’s virtually bullet proof! It’s had trailers backed and into it, cattle pushing it, been loaded up to the gunnels with seed, tools etc. and still she lives! It’s been the most reliable van I have ever had. She almost starts before you have finished turning the ignition key and you can load much more stuff into the back of it than say either a Discovery or Land Rover. It is also bloody brilliant in the snow!

    Okay, so she is a bit basic in terms of comfort and driver environment, but that makes it simple and easy to repair if anything goes wrong. One thing I do miss, though, is power steering!!

  5. Group 4 had a large-ish fleet of Maestro 700 City diesel vans used for various duties – they were stupidly fast and had a far better payload than an Escort. Yup, they were bloody loud and very basic with vinyl seats, but had a Philips digital radio cassette when, at the time, the boggo Escort had a push button radio.

    A lad who owned a Pet Shop where I used to live had a 500 D that he MG-ised with the e-z crack bumper, alloys, car headlamps, MG seats/door cards and red belts. It was also re-sprayed navy blue, with the silver MG1600-style front grille.

  6. The How Many Left? website is totally inaccurate for every make and model and so cannot be taken seriously.

  7. Long ago, in a former life, I also drove a British Rail Maestro Van. We had one of the very first on a B-plate in early 1985 – it replaced a Bedford HA van and ran alongside a fleet of Ital vans. The Maestro van felt like a huge leap into the future in comparison to those! However, first time out, the gearbox (a VW component, of course) expired.

  8. Many years ago I worked for GEC Reliance and they had a fleet of 1.3-litre petrol-engined, four-speed Maestro vans which, at the time, felt like a step up from the Simca vans we had previously used.

    However, after many journeys up and down the motorway, I can safely say it made me change my job. The noise was deafening at motorway speeds, it bounced around quite a bit too and rust started to appear pretty quickly. It never let me down, though!

  9. @MGSteveT
    I am with you on this one because the compilers of this data have not provided a definitive explanation about their data collection strategy and methodology used.

    They seem just to be looking at vehicles currently registered and SORNed with the DVLA (which is essentially a glorified snap-shot approach) but that clearly does not take into account vehicles which have fallen between these two nets (i.e. the current status of which is ‘unlicensed’).

    The current attitude of the DVLA is not to pursue the keepers of vehicles which were categorised as unlicensed before 2005 so this leaves a significant number of vehicles which may not ultimately be accounted for in their data, let alone in the How Many Left? figures.

  10. “Shortly after, the van came with 2.0-litre diesel power from the Austin Rover MDi/Perkins Prima engine offering unheard of fuel economy and performance, at the expense of noise!” “Unheard of performance”?

    Since when? I used to work for a hire company which had a fleet of about 20 Maestro vans, all but two of which were diesel. They were ALL gutless! They were very noisy though… but performance was about the same as the contemporary Escort van/car models (1.6 diesels) and the Peugeot 309 diesels of the day. Slow, very slow!

    I understand the turbo versions fitted to the cars later on were a LOT quicker, but definitely not the original n/a version. The fleet were all on D/E plates so would have 1986/1987 models.

  11. @Paul
    I never had a British Rail Maestro but, Paul, did you get any of the F—BOK Escort Combis or the G—RKR Astras? Veering back on topic, I had a nice blowout in a remould-wearing ex-Electricity Board 1275 Van about 15 years ago…

  12. @David 3500
    I’m partly with you on this, but how many unlicensed Maestros are there? Two or three hundred? Maybe. Thousands? Probably not.

    Anyway, search results depend on what was written on the original reg docs – I note that looking for a simple term such as ‘Maestro’ rather than any specific derivative flushes out all the Maestros rather than just some of them.

    What is clear, though, is just how fast the ranks of these vehicles have thinned over the years as they got pranged or descended through the ‘drive and bin’ category and into the crusher.

  13. It’s quite sad that there are so few roadgoing Maestro vans left – these were always one of those motors I wanted to modify, in a kind of guilty way.

    There was one of them on my street when I was growing up – that one was in our Local Authority’s colours which were a sort of pale yellow a little lighter than the BT vans with red bumpers and had similar ladder racks, amber lights, etc. The Local Authority’s bigger vehicles, 7.5tonners, had red wings, grilles, chassis etc. too.

    I always imagined having a sort of sleeper Maestro van, looking as close as possible to the one described above, but with an Impreza STi’s engine, running gear etc.

    • Several years on from most of these posts I would point out that I am the sort of proud owner of a 1991 1.3 Rover Maestro van. Still running well and has only covered a recorded 39000 miles from new. It was originally owned by Cyprus postal services and only worked in the Nicosia district. 9 years ago it was taken off the road and stored in a warehouse as these models were replaced by more up-to-date vans. It was then purchased by one of the staff who eventually sold it to me. I am on the log book officially the third owner. I have just needed to order a new fuel pump from eBay at a staggering cost of 9.99 plus 4.00 postage. This van is indeed a very rare site here in Cyprus and I understand it is the only one left on the road. The climate here is very kind to cars and it shows as there is not a single bit of rust anywhere in out top or bottom. The seats and dashboard are not good at all, these parts don’t fare well in these extreme temperatures but hay ho, can’t win them all. Happy motoring 🙂

  14. @Andrew Elphick
    No, I’d moved on by then. We had Bedford HA Vivas, Itals, Transits, Sherpas and Commer vans and Ford Escort Mk2 and Mk3 pool cars. I worked for London Midland region and all our vehicles where registered in the Derby area on RA, RC and RE plates etc.

  15. I had a G-reg Maestro diesel van for work. The seat was twisted, the heater blower didn’t work (in winter I had a rag soaked in de-icer inside to clear the windscreen, with the window open ‘cos of the fumes!), the noise was deafening but it would do 90mph, over 40mpg and pulled like a train.

    The head-gasket went, (you could see water coming out like a waterfall twixt head and block) the clutch was so bad I had to kill the engine at junctions to stop it creeping forwards but it just wouldn’t die – it was like Christine in the Stephen King story!! We even got a decent wedge back on it – if it hadn’t been a wreck it would have been brilliant!!

    I had an Escort Mk3/4 1.6 diesel afterwards – that had a turning circle like the Queen Mary and the pace of an asthmatic tortoise. The petrol-engined Astra Mk2 1.6 HC which followed that was faster and more fun to drive but never had the carrying capacity or feeling of indestructability.

  16. @Will
    No, British Rail always had a darker, orangey shade on Firm products and Bedfords, though the Escorts seemed to be in the standard factory pale yellow.

    • The Bedford HA seemed to last a lot longer than it should have( really the Chevanne should have killed it off around 1977) because penny pinching fleet managers at British Rail and some other public sector organisations liked it as it was cheap. By then, most people in the private sector would run a mile from such an elderly, crude vehicle.

  17. @Brian
    I ran a K-plate Montego DLX estate 10 years ago with a blown head. I only gave shirt buttons for it and thought I would run it until it blew up – which it wouldnt! However, in the end, I did the head and slung in a new waterpump and the bugger ran like a dream (a noisy one).

    Incidentally, when visiting the Perkins plant in Peterborough a few years back, I mentioned about the seemingly unburstable Prima to one of the line foremen. He told me the design brief was so strict that the overspeed tests on the dyno would often exceed the design criteria with + 35% governor cut-off speed regularly done with no harm whatsoever.

    Primas could be sods for the head gasket though – the problem was often found to be where drivers/owners had been using only tap water for coolant because. as often as not, the fire ring on the head gasket would corrode through.

  18. @Andrew Elphick

    Not sure about that. As I recall it was the same Yellow. There was a Britsh Standard code for the colour that all manufacturers used. I think it was know as Highway Yellow

  19. @Andrew Elphick

    When I worked for BR at Waterloo we had a F— BOK Escort Combi 1.8 diesel in a pale yellow which was fitted with a rear seat and it was lovely to drive and was just like a car.
    However when I transferred to Wimbledon we had two very battered Maestro 500 vans in the E— MJD series, these were good to drive and the Perkins Prima Diesel sounded great! I really missed them when they were sold off in 1999, However the heating in both vans was totally useless and you could only have warm (Not Hot) on the screen or to your feet, the four main vents were just for fresh air. We also had a Freight Rover Sherpa 200 Minibus with the same Prima engine but it was one of the nastiest vehicles to drive with a notchy and uncooperative gear change and because Sherpa 200s are so narrow you always felt as if it would tip over side ways if you went around a bend too quickly.

  20. Ran a 1.3 Maestro van for 4 years back inthe late 80s on a farm I worked at, never gave any problems at all and it was abused, I can tell you!! (Oh, apart from the crappy VW box that was an awful, notchy unit to use…)

  21. For the sake of volume, economies of scale, could a van of some sort not have been kept as part of the range, suitably distanced from the premium image Rover of course. Could even the Maestro Van not have been kept running for longer, even revised?
    And what of the R25 van? I never saw one on the road. Was it pushed hard enough? I’m sure it’s classier image would have suited many businesses.

  22. @David Dawson

    The Rover 25 Commerce van actually sold fairly well considering the numbers made. I sold two to local florists and one to a local printer.

    They looked smart with hairpin alloys on them too – a popular upgrade.

    As Shaw Taylor used to say “keep em peeled” — you will spot one here and there!

  23. To me, oddly enough, the Maestro is one of those vehicles BL/AR produced which actually looked just about right in van form as opposed to car form. The other, for me, was the Marina/Ital. i can’t quite put my finger on it but they just look like they both have a certain ‘rightness’ as vans.

    My father worked on a local paper and the distrubition was handled by drivers caning about the local area in Marina vans, then Itals, then Maestros before they pensioned them off and started using Tranny Connects. They used to sell the old vans off to staff once they reached a certain age and my old man put his name down on the list to try and bag an Ital for me as a first car. Luckily, he didn’t succeed and I got myself a Mini. Fond memories of riding about on top of newspapers in the back of one of the vans when scrounging a lift with one of the drivers though. happy days.

  24. hi there well me dad has a maestro 700 l 2.0 diesel 1994cc its brite green 🙁
    me dad has now given up driving so will be saleing it any ider how much these go for ?? no mot or tax but she still drive well and passed the last mot x

  25. My brother still has a 1.3 four speed. As for the pickup, London Borough of Redbridge had some Maestro Pick Ups in blue and cream, I had to have a second look when I saw it, I didn’t think they made them either.

    • Many of the pick-ups were sold by a BL dealer called the Bletchley Motor Co. and they probably did the body conversion. The Forestry Commission ones, however, were converted at their own plant and transport workshop in Scotland. There were also a few Maestro ice cream vans but there seems to be little information on who made these.

  26. Used to be a service engineer on petrol pumps,garage forecourts, and went from an Ital van to a Maestro 2.0 diesel van.I loved it.Great economy and rapid,compared to the Ital.I was sorry to hand it back when I left the company and more sorry I didn’t get one for myself but had 2 small children so had to get an estate car instead.

  27. MY MAESTRO van has done 370,000 miles…same clutch so that was complete bollox about them being no good…then again i’m a great driver unlike most on the roads

  28. Did they ever install or consider installing the improved turbo diesel Prima in the van?

  29. The vans section mentioned that both Royal Mail & BT started using Escort van as they had better diesels, so a Perkins Prima fitted Maestro van would have been a good idea.

  30. Just bought an ex BT Maestro. It’s been off the raod for a while. Once Yellow,it was re-srayed grey. Still has the ladder rack,and partition behind the seats. Looking for rear door security grills,and link mats for the cab. Took it for an MOT today, a little welding on the o/s inner wheel arch required. Now has a full MOT. Any Royal Mail survivors ? Never knew they made a pick up,interesting.

  31. ive got one of the 700 vans with the prima diesel miles better than my belingo,
    as to how many left its thought to be around 300

  32. Hi, I own an ex BT maestro 500city van, now white, 1299cc, C reg (1985) and had the pleasure of using it virtually every day for past 20 years. It has never let me down, starts first time even though it has to stand outside in all elements. A little rust at bottom of both doors and near wheel arches but other than that a fine specimen. It is part of my family and not looking forward to losing it when the time comes. Went through last mot with flying colours just a couple of simple advisories. Keep going gal!

  33. Coming to this late, but this really brings back memories. I worked for BR on the west highland line in Scotland in the 1980s as a permanent way inspector and had a succession of Maestro vans, initially a 1.3 petrol and then a diesel. It was a horrendous job for any van – 30-40,000 miles a year and bouncing down unmade tracks to get to out of the way places (sometimes even running down the ballast by the side of a line.) The 1.3 didn’t last well, it had new bearings and a gearbox and was rusting after just a couple of years, so it was taken back and given to somebody with less to do. The diesel was as strong as an ox. I did 75,000 miles in it (which was more than we were meant to) and it never let me down. Very loud, but great for heading up and down my ‘beat’ and with enough power to do some proper overtaking on the A82 before such behaviour was abolished. I once (and only once) wound it up to ‘see what it would do’ and managed to get the needle pointing to 95mph on the flat, at which speed she was wandering around a bit. It was replaced with an Astra van, the estate version rather than an Astra Max, which was far quieter but slower and didn’t have the ground clearance to go where the Maestro did. Thanks for the memories!

  34. I owned a 2.0 diesel maestro van, not what I would call quick but not exactly sluggish either, it was adequate in performance but exceptional in economy. The turbo prima from the Montego is basically a bolt in swap, only the down pipe needs to be changed for the turbo one. But they go like stink in the lighter maestro van body, I carried out the swap on mine. The difference was unbelievable, if they’d made the vans with the turbo engine AR could have cleaned up in e light can market.

  35. I have owned two Maestro vans in the past, both ex Water Board. The first was a 1.3 petrol van. Well, it was ok but nothing to write home about. The other one was an ‘L’ reg diesel on 14 inch wheels. What a delightful machine to drive! It was not perticularly fast, but the low gearing combined with a five speed gearbox made it a lovely van to drive around Wales, A lot of folks complain about the noise that the Perkins Prima made. I found this to be a pleasure! The sound of a diesel Maestro van with its long induction tract was awesome. When my van expired I would have loved to buy a brand new one, but sadly they where no longer in production. I purchased a new Citroen Berlngo which has given me ten years of trouble free service but it does not put a smile on my face like the Maestro did. As they say “It ain’t what you do that counts ,it’s the way that you do it”.

  36. i’ve seen one of these driving around kingswood in bristol in the last couple of weeks. it’s yellow with the ladder on top so i guess it’s ex-BT

  37. my first AA van was a 2.0ltr diesel maestro I joined back in mid 90’s and they were being phased out of the fleet at that time, being replaced by the vauxhall bravo!! happy days!!

  38. Just bought a Ledbury van. Yet to drive the thing, but rather looking forward to it. Cleaner than Mother Theresa’s bedside cabinet, so I couldn’t say no.

  39. I have had a few maestro vans and still own the last one I had on the road it is a diesel and it will be going back on the road this year I pulled a car transport trailer with all of the vans a couple were 1.3 petrol and for the size of the engine they pulled very well better than most that I tried. the diesel is in my opinion an excellent van I will never part with it. it had stood in my garage for about 15 years and started almost immediately when I went to start it last year it just looks and drives like a small van should and I love the sound of the engine

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