This week marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Austin Maestro. It was a make or break car for Austin Rover, and unarguably a whole lot more important to the future success of the firm than the Metro ever could have been.
Alongside the Montego, it was going to bring profitability to Cowley, as it was a far more profitable car than its smaller, and highly successful, cousin. Of course, we know it didn’t end that way…
Remember the weeks leading up to the Maestro’s launch? It was the era of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and Kajagoogoo’s Too Shy ruled the charts. Britain’s great white hope, the LM10 was heading for production, and the weight of Britain’s expectations lay heavily upon Austin Rover’s shoulders. Ever since the first accurate scoop images of the LM10 were released to CAR magazine in January 1980, the press had been speculating about the next mid-sized Austin, and how good it was going to be.
I remember seeing that December 1982 issue of CAR with the LM10 on the cover, and extensive pre-launch Maestro coverage. They got some of the finer technical details wrong, but the blurry images were spot on. As a 12-year old car enthusiast who used to digest and analyse every piece of car information, I could get my hands on, I was swept up by the Maestro’s pre-launch hype. I still vividly remember staying with relatives on a late-year holiday, excitingly thumbing through that issue, wondering why the styling wasn’t exciting me.
Maybe, it was those grainy photos…
In the run up to the car going on sale on 1 March 1983, the press got to drive the cars in Spain, discovering the joys of the Spen King-designed suspension and drivetrain, fully appreciating the car’s excellent dynamics on challenging roads. Our friend, Denis Chick, shared with me this vignette from the launch – and how it didn’t entirely go to plan.
‘Did you hear the story of Chris Goffey rolling an MG on the driving route?’ he said. ‘As the dust settled the electronic voice from the wonder dash could be heard saying “low oil pressure – low oil pressure”!’
We’ve dissected the Maestro many, many times on AROnline, so I’m not going to do it again here. The initial euphoria, the niggles from the early cars, the disappointing sales and the eventual decline into sad, neglected banger – it’s a sad epitaph for a car that the hopes of the British motor industry once rested upon. And I sincerely hope that, thanks to the efforts of its fans today, the remaining few nice examples get appreciated for being the excellent piece of industrial design ruined ever so slightly by those side scollops.
This past month, we celebrated the 30th birthday of the Peugeot 205, and it’s interesting to see how the two cars’ fortunes compared, four decades on. Most of us ended up marvelling at how the French got it right first time; how well the baby Pug has aged, and how quickly three decades seem to have passed. The Maestro has now crossed the same landmark, and it’s difficult not to draw some very painful conclusions for the firm. Anyone who says style doesn’t sell is talking out of the back of their head…
We’ll be revisiting the Maestro more throughout its birthday month.
- Concepts and prototypes : Hyundai/Rover Oden (1992) - 9 November 2023
- Opinion : So, maybe the Montego was the best they could do… - 8 November 2023
- The cars : Austin Montego (LM11) development story - 7 November 2023