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!