Back in 1976, when the automotive world was deep into its origami phase, somewhere in the bowels of Longbridge and Solihull, a design competition was going on. Two design teams, led by Harris Mann and David Bache, were working on their themes for the upcoming LC10 mid-sized car. The new hatch was intended to clean up the mess in the middle of the BL range – to replace the Allegro and Maxi with a contemporary Volkswagen Golf competitor.
At the time, rival companies were working on their own Golf rivals. Dutifully, they appeared one by one, looking remarkably similar in the profile view – just their detailing separating them. In quick succession, we saw the Chrysler Horizon, Renault 14, Fiat Strada and Opel Kadett – and the family car market adopted a new orthodoxy as a consequence. This was the backdrop for the design and subsequent development of the Maestro and, as such, you can see that BL was trying to create something that not only stood out from the opposition, but had clear and unambiguous BL DNA.
So, when BL was coming up with its own interpretation of the Volkswagen Golf, it needed to incorporate typical Issigonis tell-tales, such as a large glass area, long wheelbase and bags of interior space. When Ian Beech (for Bache’s Solihull studio) and Harris Mann (for Longbridge) both presented their LC10 proposal for sign-off by BL’s senior management in 1976, they looked rather different to what would emerge as the default family hatchback template established by the Golf.
Solihull beats Longbridge
Both Harris Mann and Ian Beech produced six-light proposals and, as discussed at length in our Maestro: styled to lose feature it was Beech’s proposal that was given the nod. And why wouldn’t it have done – the Solihull studio had created the Rover SD1, whereas the Longbridge one was responsible for the Austin Allegro. In the context of the mid-1970s, both new designs were unconventional, with six-light window arrangement, and a low shoulder line for a massive glass area – the polar opposite to most rivals of the time.
Beech’s LC10 design was trim and finely chiselled, reflecting the zeitgeist of the mid-1970s, and added more than a casual nod to the Rover SD1 and Range Rover, as well as its BL and BMC predecessors. It wasn’t entirely successful – the dropping window line for a hyena look, and the chiselled off corners were challenging. Overall, though, it was neat, contemporary and not displeasing on the eye. The major styling feature, and one that caused controversy throughout the Maestro’s life, were that side scollops, or flutes, which run along its flanks.
There are many reasons why this feature is a practical one – the top half of the car stays cleaner thanks to these dirt traps – and they undoubtedly add structural integrity to unstressed panels. It was a nice styling trick on the Rover SD1 and Triumph SD2, but the Maestro’s wider incarnation of the feature stopped being a design flourish. Instead, it became more dominant than it ever was on its larger cousins – even so, it looked modern and trim in the mid-1970s, and compared with its rivals above, it could have cut quite a dash had it been launched in 1978-79.
Styled for the 1970s, launched in the ’80s
However, by 1983 and the Maestro’s eventual launch, the world had moved on somewhat. The Audi 100 and Ford Sierra ushered in a new world of organic styling, and aerodynamic detailing. With its flush windscreen, body-coloured bumpers, clear indicators and lack of rain guttering, the Maestro had some fine 1980s detailing, but the chiselled flanks were rapidly falling out of fashion. And it’s not as if the writing wasn’t on the wall for origami styling – the aero-themed concepts that started appearing from the late-1970s showed the wind was changing direction. Ital Design’s Medusa, the Mercedes-Benz Auto 2000, Opel Tech-1 and Ford Probe III were all early – and not so early – warnings to BL.
But could the removal of those awkward flanks have improved the Maestro’s overall appearance, and made it more fit and tidy for the 1980s? To test the theory, I asked social media to come up with some de-scolloped Maestros based on the sketches that appeared in the September 1981 issue of CAR magazine and on some actual photos which were leaked from the inner sanctum in Longbridge. It’s something I’ve wanted to do – to see if the Maestro would be improved by the removal of it’s most controversial styling feature. Two people submitted proposals – Rob Gould, friend and former Octane colleague (as well as the designer of the cover of my Roy Axe book), and David Arnold.
What have we learned?
So, there we have it – the Maestro without the scollops certainly looks different. For me, this turns the car into a far more contemporary-looking 1980s hatch, and should be viewed as a success, even if there are other visual issues to sort, too.
In the post-Sierra world, anything that made the Maestro looked more modern would have benefited in the sales department – even if this wouldn’t have fixed the car’s quality and refinement issues…
Over to you – what do you think? Better with or without?