Blog : De-scolloping the Maestro

Austin Maestro (LM10)

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

Austin Maestro

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.

Austin Maestro without scollops
Rob Gould smoothed off the flanks completely, giving the Maestro a descolloped and quite organic look. A little too bland?
David Arnold retained the feature lines, but lost the scollops thus retaining the original style but without the awkward shadows they cast
David Arnold retained the feature lines, but lost the scollops thus retaining the original style but without the awkward shadows they cast
David Arnold then added a side-rubbing strip to his design, this making his descolloped Maestro less fussy and more contemporary
David Arnold then added a side-rubbing strip to his design, this making his descolloped Maestro less fussy and more contemporary

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?

Keith Adams

34 Comments

  1. It looks best in the bottom picture than what we got, but still has issues as the drooping window line still makes it look odd. I think Harris design was better looking more like gm’s mk2 astra.

  2. In the real world – where parking space is so often limited – why do ALL car designers not incorporate ‘rubbing strips’ – in fact, anti-dent strips – on all their models? Along with fitting – to prevent those dents produced by careless door opening in supermarket, etc carparks – a soft edging to all the doors. I bought a roll from Halford’s and fitted lengths to my VW Fox’s two side doors. They also help when parking at home, with a narrow driveway. Too simple? Or just designers and car buyers not willing to admit the truth?

    • Designers started removing rubbing strips and went for ‘clean’ flanks in the early noughties, almost exactly when cars began getting much wider and parking spaces seemingly much narrower. One would be forgiven for thinking that the guild of panel beaters had some influence over that!

  3. I find this really interesting, as I had always thought it was the scollops that dragged down the styling of the Maestro. Looking at the mockups above though I don’t think they do really improve on the original. If anything, they make the oversized glass area and stumpy front end stand out even more.

  4. Very personally, there are three detailed styling features I detest. 1) Scollaps down the side of a car – just looks cheap and nasty to me. 2) The clam bonnet like the Renault Fuego – always with a huge gap that destroys any other line on the car 3) The cam tail – it rarely looks right especially from three quarter rear view. 4) Vauxhall Chevette headlights with the black surround – that looks like black electrical tape.
    OK – rant over.
    I was only looking at the CAR Magazine with the Maestro on the cover last night!!!

    • Re: old CAR magazines……I’ve got a lot from that era and only recently I was looking at the one (Feb 77) with the first images of the Metro.

  5. Always liked the Strada. Pity it was a Fiat with all the attendant rust and quality issues. I felt it had a style that set it apart, and I mean in good way. The later “facelift” lost that distinctiveness.

  6. The Chinese made “Monstro” notwithstanding, it would be interesting to see the Maestro given a slightly lower bonnet line and a longer more tapered nose akin to the Maestro (that was built around the S-Series engine).

    Also as was the case with the Series 3 Allegro, would a twin-headlight treatment have also worked for the Maestro in the absence of a lower bonnet line like on the Mad Maestro one-off?

  7. Styling was not the Maestro’s thing. Had a couple of them and loved the glasshouse for its excellent visibility.
    The design with the rubbing strip looks really good. I am a big believer in rubbing strips as they are so useful in everyday life, especially car parks. As a Maestro man I prefer practicality over headline figures and so the 1% loss from having the strip is preferable to a scratched door.

  8. Looking at the Maestro’s rivals from the late seventies, it’s amazing how crisp and modern the Chrysler Horizon looks, considering many cars in this class were still three box saloons. The Horizon might have been knocked for its ability to rust and poor quality, but it looks quite futuristic for 1978, considering its main rival in Britain would be the conservative rwd Escort saloon. Also this angular, crisp styling has been picked up by the Mark 1 Astra, which proved to be a big leap forward for Vauxhall.

  9. The latter of the three designs in the more pleasing one, although I think this is more about the fact the add-on side strips have aided to its appeal. Using secondary trim-related items to add more conviction to a design isn’t usually a good approach to resort to as it implies the body’s overall design is deeply compromised from the start.

    Personally I like the scalloped sides of the production car as in the right metallic colour and when viewed in bright light, you see some interesting shadowing and colour travel to bring out the feature detail in the body’s surface form.

    The main issue of the Maestro was always the frontal design which was too linear and upright and did not lend itself to offering effective updates (unlike the Montego). Redesigning the grilles for both Austin and MG variants might have helped, but it was never done after 1984.

  10. If you put you hand over the glass house of all three and the actual car they released there is a likeness to the Allegro especially with those wheel trims and colour…

    I am not sure if it was a real car or photoshop but there was a green Maestro on the net totally De scalloped and that looked good…

    But not as good as the Montego relain would have looked if it had a hatchback version.

  11. Those descolloped Maestros are an improvement, but seeing the photos of its rivals just highlights to me just how “weird” its styling was, for a car designed to take on the mainstream family hatches.

    Apart from anything else it bears little resemblance to the Metro or even the earlier AD088 which by 1977 had already got a “modern” sloping back nose

    Seeing that both the Allegro and Maxi were disappointing sellers, the last thing you want is a family resemblance to them anyway…

  12. The Horizon was a good design, looked sharp (especially from the side), was roomy inside and had a good stance,
    If only it didnt rust like an empty can in the rain, have steering as heavy as a Lada 1200, and had the Avenger engine. Although the Simca engines were powerful for their size and economical, you could hear them coming from a couple of streets away, rattling like an explosion in a dustbin and gravel factory.
    I followed Jonboy4969’s suggestion, and am staggered at the similarity to the Allegro.

    • The Horizon survived in America until 1990 with few changes to the 1978 design, apart from Federalised bumpers and side marker lights. However, the American version used different engines and had better rustproofing, and in its later years was marketed as a budget car.

      • The US and European cars were completely different other than the body. The Euro Horizon was just an adapted alpine platform, which in turn was a Simca 1100 stretched. The American Horizon had a completely different platform.

  13. De scalloping the Maestro ? The result is indescribably awful, even making allowances for the deficiencies of artificial artists’ impressions

  14. I had just finished my apprenticeship at the Swindon plant when we were all given at sneak preview of the new car. I can still remember sitting in the cafeteria, getting the sinking feeling I had seeing the Maestro for the first time. The unmistakeable similarity to the dreadful Allegro, dumpy and frumpy looks that even a MG badge and trim could not hide. It’s positive qualities such as great visibility and generous interior space are totally irrelevant when buyers wouldn’t go near the thing. The Golf, Escort, Astra et al were stylish and desirable. The Maestro was a corporate suicide note.

  15. I like the scallops. I like them now and I liked them when I was buying these cars new in the 80’s.
    Without them, the car looks podgy and bland and far too close to a dumpy Allegro. The bold horizontal lines even detracted from the huge panel gaps that these cars were cursed with.

  16. For me the problems with the Maestro’s styling are:
    1) As has been mentioned the car is too high with the lower edge of the door too far from the road
    2) The relationship between wheels, wheel arch and body is visually poor. The body needs to be closer to the wheels (lower) and the wheels set slightly further out. The Allegro was similarly poor in this area as were those other automotive turkeys – Chrysler 180 and Talbot Tagora.
    How about one of the Photoshop experts playing about with this area…..

    • Its a shame as a little more development and attention to detail before launch could have really helped the Maestro sell a lot better; though to be fair that applies to virtually everything that came out of BL … and at the end of the production run they usually developed it into how it should have been to start with. I had an 88 E plate Maestro City x and though it was roomy and not bad to drive, the reliability and build quality was dreadful. After 7 months of constant garage visits I traded it in for a Fiesta… what a revelation! I vowed to never buy another BL car. Many years later I broke my promise to myself at bought a new Rover 400, and I have to say it was rather good! Sadly the dealership experience was little improved, and though my car was a good one it put me off buying another. So many lost opportunities right to the very end.

      • I’ve noticed similar things with a lot of BL cars, where the first few years of customers having to also be development drivers & quality checkers.

        Normally by the final facelift the cars were where they should have been when they were launched in terms of build quality & styling.

  17. Interesting images, but I like it as it is. Everyone takes the p, but that’s half the appeal. It’s of its design time on the outside and airy, light and practical inside. Despite its comedic appeal to many, someone will always ask to sit in it at shows, often because dad or uncle had one. Mine is easy to own and simple to repair. The Horizon was a fine looking car but, like the German-built Mark One Astra (Kadett) we owned from nearly new, rusted in no time. Twenty eight years later, the Maestro is still going and earns its keep.

  18. They did make a prototype version without the scallops, there are a few photos of it around. I think there is a photo of a white one during some kind of water test on the Maestro delevopment page. Personally I think the car would have aged better without the scallops.

  19. Quite a few cars from the 1980s seemed to look scruffy after only a few years on the roads, & seemed to last even shorter on the roads than many from the decades either side.

    I did wonder if the switchover to unleaded petrol speeded up the demise of many cars from this era that couldn’t be converted.

  20. I don’t mind the scallops. However the front and rear lights on the Maestro always looked appalling, stuck on at the rear with no apparent attempt to integrate them with the surrounding bodywork. The front indicator lenses similarly sticking out – Why? It just seemed to add to the middle aged appearance.

    My family had a 1979 Horizon 1.1 GL, it lasted till the early 90’s – slow but comfortable. I learnt to drive in it.

    • I agree, the complete lack of integration of the rear lights in particular is shocking, and again to repeat what I said above, unlike that of the Metro or even ADO88. Or the Morris Ital!

      Indeed the front and rear styling of the Ital is far more modern than that of the Maestro, strange that the money was found to visually modernise the ancient Marina, yet the Maestro was launched looking years out of date.

      • Seconded on the lack of integration at the front and rear end of the Maestro, in the case of the Ital the integration of the rear lights was very well executed (although less so at the Ital’s front).

        In some respects the original Maestro’s styling would have probably been more suited to the Allegro (albeit in Series 3 form), particularly at the rear had the latter featured a hatchback.

        Quite like the more integrated look at the rear of both the Renault 11-inspired and Volkwagen-like* the hatchback sketches found in the 3-door Maestro article, as for more integrated front lights would an upscaled Metro (like the Nova to the mk1 Astra) or downscaled Montego solution have been better approach to take for a properly styled Maestro?

        *- Cannot decide whether the Volkswagen-like 3-door hatchback sketch is similar to the mk2 Volkswagen Scirocco or the Brazilian-built Volkswagen Gol (with shades of the Alfa Romeo Alfasud Series 3).

  21. I do not find the body scallop an issue, it is an engineers solution to stiffen the sides and doors at minimal cost.
    The grille and bonnet are the issue for me, the car lacks a face when viewed from the front,. The stylists and tool makers could easily solve that problem,

  22. Sorry to say, but I think better with. It made the car stand out as different, and I went to a dealer launch as a young man and loved the style. Give me an MG version today and I’d be very happy 🙂

  23. Here’s a stat for you. Maestro cars production between 1984 and 1994 was 605,000.
    Montego shifted another 571,000 in the same timeframe giving just under 1.2 million for the pair in 10 years.
    You could say thats not bad for cars sold mainly in UK market but on a European scale it is poor.
    Example: Renault 14 as illustrated above is regarded in some quarters as one of the Regie’s less successsful models. Nevertheless it sold 993,000 copies in 7 years between 1976 and 1983. One body style and just 1.2 and 1.4 litre petrol engines (OK that was before Diesels took off). R14 is virtually extinct in UK now but Renault is still with us.
    At the end of the day its about numbers. As in selling lots of your product and making money on each one. Neither Maestro nor Montego did that.
    Later versions were much better of course but by then the rest of the market had moved on.
    And as for the ‘scollops’, they’re a sideshow (!)

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