Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 1
The Austin Maestro was a very important car. In fact, it was the key to the continued existence of British Leyland itself; the Metro was the first step along the road to recovery, but complete salvation could only be achieved if the more profitable Maestro became a success.
The British Leyland project team had come up with a car which was fully in line with then current thinking. The budget didn't run to a new power plant, so the car used the existing version of the A series engine which had been used in Austin cars ever since they really were Austins, and which was then known as the A-Plus in its 1.3 litre version.
Also available was a modified version of the overhead cam "E" series engine introduced in the Austin Maxi, however this was dubbed the "R" series in its 1600 cc form for the Maestro. Power available ranged from 64 hp in the economical 1300 version to 103 in the high performance model with its MG badge.
Budget constraints also led to the decision to buy in a gearbox from VW rather than developing a new one, and British Leyland used four versions to achieve the same ends as VW did with their Golfs - from a 3 + E in the economy model to a GTI five-speed in the MG.
Strangely, British Leyland also abandoned their gas and fluid-based suspension
systems for coil springs all round, the semi-independent rear layout being very close to that of the Golf. In the body, however, BL at least expressed some individuality. Available only as a five-door hatchback, the Maestro had lines which, while echoing all the other cars of its type and generation, were nonetheless unique.
Designed just before the days when weight-saving was everything, the spacious passenger compartment had big windows, a styling feature which was by 1983 considered a sin, because even thin glass was a heavy material. The result was a car which had a passenger compartment of 1.6 litre size attached to a 1.3 litre-size engine compartment.
The compact lines of the front box were helped by the use of then new Lucas "Homofocal" headlamps which gave the same amount of light from a much narrower lamp. Despite the need to base the car on what might be regarded as outdated mechanical elements, British Leyland incorporated much that was then state of the art in the Maestro, including the first electronic engine management system to be applied to a carburettor-equipped engine and a solid-state liquid crystal instrument panel in the luxury models.
The Maestro made its public debut at the 1983 Geneva show and, like the Renault 9, came with a voice synthesizer in the dash of the top models. The ladylike, but somewhat robotic, tones of the Maestro's synthesizer tended to hog the interest of the popular press when the car was announced, but there were much more important aspects to the British Leyland creation, with the continued existence of BL riding on the new 4 coil suspension
There were other new and rather novel features too, such as the bonded laminated windscreen, homofocal headlamps, body-coloured plastic bumpers, an electronic engine management system, a five-speed gearbox, adjustable front seat belt upper anchorage positions, an asymmetrically split rear seat, and a 12,000-mile (19,300 km) service interval. The MG (released in 1985) and Vanden Plas versions had solid-state instrumentation with digital speedometer
and vacuum fluorescent analogue displays for tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges, trip computer and a voice synthesis warning and information system.
Was The Maestro A Success?
The answer is yes - and no. Immediately after release there was a sales boom, which peaked in 1986 and 1987, however after 4 years of healthy sales the Maestro went into decline. It wasnt simply a case of the design going stale, rather the cars reputation for poor build quality and unreliability were putting nails into the Maestro, and effectively British Leylands coffin. The biggest problems centred around the 1.6 litre R-Series engine, which had been hurriedly transplanted from the Austin Maxi because the under-development S-Series unit was not yet ready for production. R-Series units suffered from hot starting problems and premature crankshaft failure.
The new S-Series engine eventually appeared in July 1984, these being fitted to all existing 1.6-litre Maestros. The new S-Series engine also came fitted with electronic ignition. At the same time, some minor equipment upgrades were made across the range. The 1.3 litre base model gained head restraints, a passenger door mirror and a radio. The 1.3 litre 1.3 HLE, 1.6 litre 1.6 Automatic and 1.6 HLS all gained a radio/cassette player. In October 1984, there were more equipment upgrades made across the range. The 1.3 base model gained reclining front seats, door bins, locking fuel filler cap and a clock.
The L models gained cloth door trim, upgraded upholstery, and a remote-adjustable driver's side door mirror; the 1.6 L gained a 5-speed gearbox. The 1.3 HLE gained a 5-speed "4+E" gearbox with overdrive
5th gear ratio, side mouldings, tweed cloth upholstery and a remotely-adjustable passengers' side door mirror. The HLS and 1.6 Automatic gained tinted glass, central locking, electric front windows, velour upholstery and an upgraded radio/cassette player. The MG Maestro gained an electronic fuel-injected 115 bhp (86 kW) version of the 2-litre O-Series engine, uprated suspension
and ventilated front disc brakes, colour-keyed exterior trim, tinted glass, central locking and a leather-trimmed steering
Also in October 1984, the existing Maestro line-up was joined by the 1.3 HL and 1.6 HL. These models fitted between the L and HLE models.
August 1985 saw the arrival of the 1.3 City and 1.3 City X. The 1.3 City was similar to the previous 1.3 base model. The 1.3 City X added full carpeting, cloth upholstery, head restraints, a rear parcel shelf, a radio and a manually-operated choke.
Shake, Rattle and Roll - Not How You Would Like Your Dashboard Described
The original dashboard was of a multi-piece construction, and gained a reputation for being flimsy and prone to squeaks and rattles, so in February 1986, this was replaced with the more conventional dashboard from the Montego. At the same time, yet even more minor equipment upgrades were made across the range. The City X gained door bins and rear wash/wipe. The L and LE gained tweed trim. The HL and Automatic gained velour trim and additional brightwork. The Vanden Plas gained part leather trim and uprated electronic stereo system.
Following BL's sale to British Aerospace in 1986, Austin badges were dropped in 1987 for the 1988 model year, and the range was sustained by the noisy but economical direct injection naturally aspirated Perkins diesel unit launched the previous year. Unfortunately, without a turbo
this model was rather slow.
In 1992 the 81 bhp (60 kW) high revving Perkins turbo
diesel unit from the Montego was launched, in the now reduced Maestro range (after the launch of the Rover 200/400), as a Clubman or DLX. The turbo
improved refinement, as well as performance, at no cost to fuel economy. It was very competitively priced, it was about the same price as the Rover Metro and Peugeot 205 non-turbo
diesel superminis that were a size smaller. The only other engine option was the elderly 1.3 A-series.
In 1993, What Car? buyers' guide section said: "Yes, its old, but nowadays it's also very cheap. Popularity of noisy but economical and surprisingly rapid turbo
-diesel is what keeps this roomy car going." Also in 1993, The Automobile Association road tested the Turbo
Diesel. Their Verdict: "You're hardly likely to buy a Maestro diesel to improve your street cred! For turning heads, the 218/418 diesel is a much better proposition. However, disinterested passengers love the back seat, while the driver can relish the model's marked reluctance to visit filling stations. Here's a hatchback for buyers who are really serious about the substance rather than the image - and with a price tag that's thousands of pounds lower than most of its rivals (shown in our comparison chart), you start saving even before your first forecourt stop. Unless you're averse to gearchanging, this unpretentious Maestro turbo
-diesel, at its competitive price, can't seriously be faulted."
In September 1995, production was transferred to Varna, Bulgaria, in complete knock down (CKD) kit form. Around 2,000 vehicles were produced before the company (Rodacar AD) ceased production in April 1996 due to high import costs of the components and little demand for the cars. The majority of the Maestros produced were exported to other countries, including the UK. A small number of these were sold by Apple 2000 Ltd. of Bury St. Edmunds, and registered on an "N" prefix.
Sold To First AutoWorks (FAW), China
In 1997, Parkway Services of Ledbury, Herefordshire, purchased a batch of 621 Maestro cars and vans in CKD kit form. These had been stored at Cowley, Oxfordshire, since their production in mid-1996, when they became surplus to requirements. The company built up the cars and converted the majority of them to RHD form using up Rover's supply of parts. The National Database for Motoring Insurance has records of models registered between "R" and "51" number plates, meaning the overall period of Maestro availability, new in the United Kingdom, was from 1983 to 2001.
The tooling was then sold to First AutoWorks (FAW), China, where the Maestro was available to the Chinese motoring market in both hatchback and van models. A new addition to the range was the FAW Lubao CA6410—a Maestro hatch with a Montego front end. A handful of Chinese-made parts were imported into Britain whilst these cars were in production, which itself ended in 2005.