Here’s a precious one – produced at the Proto-Build Shop at Canley in 1987, our MG Maestro Turbo is a one of a kind…
Does that mean we’ve got trouble in store, or will our hand build AR pocket rocket be a lesson in hot hatch nirvana?
Big boy’s toy
IT came like a bolt out of the blue. AR site contributor (and all-round good egg) Simon Weakley dropped a bombshell email into my inbox. ‘Would you be interested in my prototype MG Maestro Turbo – for free?’ Consider that for a moment. Here was a car that had generated significant interest during its eBay sale a couple of years ago, and which Simon had picked up for around £700… something of a bargain, given its provenance – and now it was being offered my way, for the price of a tank of petrol and a morning off work.
Can you imagine how long I pondered his offer? Never mind moments, think microseconds!
A swift email was returned, a date was arranged, and I headed up to sunny Scunthorpe, to meet the great man and take a gander at the car. It’s fair to say that when I arrived at his place, the gleaming Moonraker Blue MG was a long was from being the beaten-up old heap I’d been expecting. It looked fine – and, sitting on its original (Montego-spec) alloy wheels, sporting red seatbelts, I was instantly won over.
As you can read from his piece about Rover Group sales and marketing, Simon has real ARG form. He was around in those wonderfully optimistic days when it looked as though the company was actually going to pull it off – and owning this car was a logical extension of his ongoing passion for the marque, which originated a long time before he joined the company. Handing me a bunch of documentation (and an internal telephone directory), lovingly retained from his time there, it was clear that his passion runs deep. But then, so does mine… and, I’m guessing, yours, too…
As for the car – according to the Canley documentation that came with it, the Maestro was built by the Proto-Build department in 1987. Essentially, the engine, rear brakes and wheels had been donated directly from an MG Montego Turbo. To all intents and purposes, this was the company’s first attempt at making a turbocharged Maestro after Harold Musgrove had left Rover. The only external modifications were the body-coloured aerodynamic addenda, and new tailgate-top spoiler. Even the EFi badging remained in place. Perfect, if you’re into Q-cars.
Most interestingly, under the ‘budget’ section of the documentation, it states that precisely none would be allocated to the project. In other words, the Canley engineers were doing this as a ‘what if’ exercise. Good on ’em. As for how it eventually escaped the crusher, we’re still not sure – the first owner was a dealer principal, who we assume, could exert some influence back at HQ. Obviously impressed, he took on the car and kept it for a very long time, keeping the miles down and not allowing it to rust. From there, it went to Simon, and now it was heading our way…
We chewed the fat for a bit, then it was time to take the old girl home. Except it wasn’t – without an MoT certificate, I’d booked it in for a test, and would instead be driving it straight there, on trade plates. Very carefully indeed. In a gentle run on mixed A-roads, it was clear that this was a very healthy example indeed – the engine was quiet and smooth, the turbo near-silent, the gearbox tight and accurate, and the steering sharp and responsive. With a very easy life, and 42,000 miles on the clock, I’d have been mad to expect anything else.
The brakes were a bit of an issue – even as I drew up to the end of Simon’s road, I knew they were going to need overhauling. Yes, Maestro Turbo brakes are legendary for their uselessness, but even so, one doesn’t expect to need to apply what felt like 100kg of pressure to bring it to a gentle screeching halt. Once I’d readjusted my driving accordingly, though, I never gave them a second thought – driving old heaps teaches you anticipation and defensiveness.
But as the miles passed, the braking improved (well, it stopped being shocking in its ineffectiveness), and by the time I’d reached the MoT station, it wasn’t actually that bad at all. Well, it was, but at least I wouldn’t need ministrations from my psychotherapist.
A quick once-over before the test revealed that there was little to worry about. The brake lights weren’t working (a fuse), the emissions were over (a carb adjustment) and there were a couple of bulbs to replace. And that was it. Quite how it passed with such weak brakes, I’ll never know – perhaps the tester was adept at ramming the pedal through the bulkhead. Either way, with 12 month’s ticket and a fresh tax disc, the world was very much my turbocharged oyster.
Turbo in action
Pressing the car into daily use did uncover a number of problems that will need to be dealt with. The first – an ill-fitting sunroof – was sorted out, but only after I was given a damned good dousing on one frisky drive home. The second – those brakes – have been sorted, with me sticking new pads and shoes in, as well as flushing the hydraulics and replacing the rear wheel cylinders. The job took longer than expected, thanks to a rusty handbrake cable that took an age to get off…
The interior’s pretty good, but not perfect. The dashboard top is starting to develop an R17-like yawn above the instrument binnacle, the headlining was sagging (I’ve quick-fixed that, though), the wiper relay packed up (they now don’t auto-park), and the washer is controlled by an after-market toggle switch. Nice. Oh, and the carburettor fan has developed a fault, so that it’s on all the time, regardless of whether the ignition’s on or not. Oh, how I laughed.
However, the best thing of all has to be the almighty misfire that has developed.
It happened on the A1 south on a rainy evening… all of a sudden, my pocket rocket wouldn’t manage more than 50mph – and even that was only if you were very, very considered with the throttle. Any more than a tickle on it, and it would cough and bunny hop, any less and it would coast to a halt. Never mind, it was raining and I assumed water had got into the electrics, so there was nothing more to do than soldier home, park it up and let it dry out.
That I did… but the next time I ran it, the situation was exactly the same. Initial thoughts were fuelling, so we swapped the fuel filter and checked for leaks. This made no difference, so the next thing was to look at the distributor car and rotor arm, as well as the HT leads, and see if anything was amiss there. A quick look revealed they were corroded and in pretty poor shape, so a new set has been ordered from Rimmer Bros.
Once they’ve arrived, I’ll plonk them in, and then let’s hope that’s the last of it. Because I have a very special trip lined up for it in a few weeks’ time, and I’d hate for the old girl to show herself up. More soon…
23 September 2007
HERITAGE is a wonderful thing. That is until it strikes against you – leaving your pride and joy moribund and pathetically helpless. Allow me to explain – the concept of Heritage (with a capital ‘H’) is a simple one – if you own a British car and something stupid goes wrong with it, leaving you stranded, the best way of dealing with it is to shrug your shoulders, kick back and mumble to yourself, ‘Ah that’s Heritage’.
K-Series head gasket failures? That’s Heritage. Princess collapsing Hydragas? That’s Heritage too. Misfiring Maestro Turbos..? Well, you get the idea.
When my Turbo was hit with that malady that left it misfiring on the way home from work before my holiday, I smiled to myself, knowing that heritage had gripped its icy fingers around my throat. However, I also knew that a misfire wasn’t going to proved too difficult to track down – after all, what can possibly go wrong with a carburetted Maestro? Exactly.
Anyway, with the new distributor cap and rotor arm, I got down to the task of changing them. Well, John at the PC workshop did. On most cars, you’re looking at five minutes’ work to do this – tops. However, on the Maestro Turbo, there are intercooler hoses to remove, otherwise you’ll be cursing. Once removed (yes, John, that’s not a prototype installation, they’re all like that), we got to changing our bits.
The cap relinquished grip easily enough, but the rotor arm proved a pig. We teased, we lubricated, and we generally cajoled it into coming off… and when it did, it brought the camshaft drive off with it. Oh bugger.
So, time to take off the cam cover, and put it back together. Except that once, we’d got the camshaft out, it was clear that there was no way of knowing in what position the drive should be bonded back onto the end of the ‘shaft – and that meant, frankly, we were knackered. Ah well, time to order a new camshaft (yes, it seems excessive, but without a way of accurately lining the drive back on the old shaft, we’d never get that timing sorted).
So, a couple of days later, new camshaft, oil seals, and belt, in hand we set to work again. Well, John did. A couple of hours later and with it all working again – and the new cap and arm on (the reason why we ended up undergoing this apalling odyssey), it was time to try again. Because no car should have run at all, looking at the cap and arm. No sir.
Confident, we fired it up again – and initially, it all looked good. Until the engine warmed up slightly, and the misfire returned with a vengeance.
John then removed the turbo hose (turning it into a low-compression, 2-litre normally aspirated MG), and all of a sudden it was running as sweet as a nut. That’ll be fuelling, then, just as he had said right from the outset… The current prognosis is that there’s either a blockage in the carburettor, or that the fuel valve is banjanxed. Either way, it’s leaving me with an MG that won’t run on anything other than idle or the lightest of throttles, or we turn it into a normally asprirated carburetted model.
That’s not good when we’ve got a European trip planned on Friday.
Any suggestions from Maestro/Montego Turbo gurus out there would be most appreciated – please don’t let me do the damned trip in a Saab… again!
Update: 4 October
Chasing your tail to fix an annoying problem is never the most satisfying of things to do, especially when you’re running out of time. We faced a ticking clock when trying to sort out the misfire on the Maestro – not least because we had a PC trip planned to the Nurburgring… and my back-up plan was to use a 1984 Suzuki Swift SA310GL. Now you can see why my anxiety was creeping up.
With the new camshaft and electrical components fitted, it was still playing up, and we were running out of options. A second pair of hands was called in – and another diagnosis was forthcoming. Have I checked the Turbo Balance pipe?
If I knew what one of those was, it would be a help – but as soon as the little rubber pipe connected to the carburettor was pointed out, and the splits in it spotted, the rest came quite quickly. A thorough clean of the carburettor, and a new bit of hose fitted, and the Maestro was running a treat. We would be going to the Nurburgring!
As it happened, the trip went pretty well – you can read all about it in January 2008’s issue of PC, but needless to say my car didn’t encounter any major problems, and as it’s now sat in my garage and up for sale, you can assume it got home in one piece. With all the jobs done (and a few we didn’t need to besides), this has been one of the site’s quicker and more successful projects.
Will I miss the old girl? Certainly… but at least I can be happy in the knowledge that we got it up and running again, and it’ll end up in the hands of a true enthusiast.
Maybe it’ll be you!
Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...
Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.