Speak to me Maestro!

The style of the car, from the pen of Ian Beech under the supervision of David Bache, was very simple, characterised by large glass surfaces and, at first glance, it was almost dated already at the time of its launch. Despite this, the Maestro also introduced interesting elements for its time, such as body-coloured bumpers.

It certainly cannot be said that the Maestro was a product of Leyland’s best period; in fact the group was in the throes of restructuring after the 1975 bankruptcy, which had led to the company being nationalised. To solve the group’s problems Michael Edwardes was appointed, and he started the design of a completely new range capable of covering the main market segments, from the city car up to medium high. The first model of the new strategy was the Austin Metro in 1980, which was subsequently joined, in 1983, by the Maestro. The saloon was developed on the same platform as the later Montego, launched the following year. Both cars were charged with the job of replacing multiple models at the same time within the company: the Maestro had to cover the market share of the Austin Allegro and the Austin Maxi, whilst the Montego was to replace the Ambassador (the latest evolution of the Leyland Princess) and the Morris Ital (a major restyle of the Marina and the last car to be produced by the Morris marque). Replacing four models with two was an obvious sign of cost cutting and simplification, aiming to return the accounts to surplus. The cuts were not, however, limited to models on the price-list, but the crisis situation also had repercussions on the design of the Maestro, internal code LM10, and the first to suffer was the innovate Hydragas suspension, which was replaced by the more mundane MacPherson strut scheme at the front with the rear wheels interconnected, similar to those of the Golf.

It was front-wheel drive, initially driven by the 1.3 A-Series and 1.6 R-Series engines. The latter was a fallback choice, as at the time of launch the new S-Series engines were not yet ready. Hence it was decided on the modified Austin Maxi E-Series engine, which led to the hasty birth of the R-Series, produced only as a 1.6 which, right from its debut, suffered from ignition problems and header gasket failures. Although the S-Series engine finally saw the light of day in 1984, the unreliable name the car had earned had already affected the Maestro and sales suffered.

The R-Series engine was also fitted to the sports version, the MG Maestro, which added to the problems already mentioned because of the two Weber carburettors fitted, which the dealers were not familiar with and weren’t able to adjust, only being used to SU carburettors. The R-engined MG only remained on the price-list for a year, after that being revived with a new 2.0 O-series engine with more power. The style of the car, from the pen of Ian Beech under the supervision of David Bache, was very simple, characterised by large glass surfaces and, at first glance, it was almost dated already at the time of its launch. Despite this, the Maestro also introduced interesting elements for its time, such as body-coloured bumpers (only in the better-equipped versions). In addition to this, the MG Maestro and Vanden Plas versions were equipped with digital instruments and voice synthesizer that provided information and reports on the car; very futuristic stuff if we consider the era of the project. The range also included the commercial version, the Maestro Van, in the end. In 1988 the Rover Group was bought by British Aerospace. A name-change took place in 1987 following a further reorganisation that led to the demise of the Austin marque. The range, though, which included Metro, Maestro and Montego (saloon and estate) was not subjected to rebadging, but instead of the Austin name the cars just bore the model name, thus leaving the cars on the Rover list but without a brand of their own. So Maestro and Montego remained in a kind of limbo, repositioned on the market as cheap cars, sort of entry level, with simplified equipment levels, within the Rover range and, again in the same year, were subjected to a minor styling update involving the bumpers, trim and interior details. The Metro also remained “unbranded”, but only until 1990 when, after a major restyle, it officially appeared on the Rover list as Metro / 100 Series.

Together with the Montego, the Maestro was produced until December 1992 at the Cowley South Works factory, after which the production lines were moved to the Body Plant in Oxford (today the MINI Plant Oxford where BMW Minis are produced), where production continued until 1994.

The production history of the Maestro in Britain ended shortly after the acquisition of the Rover Group by BMW, but in 1995, thanks to an agreement between the British group and the Bulgarian government, assembly of CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits was restarted in Varna. This adventure was short-lived, however, since activities ceased in 1996 after just 2200 had been built. This failure was caused by the arrival of cheaply-priced cars such as Daewoo and Skoda on to the Bulgarian market, preventing the Maestro from carving out a niche.

Subsequently 621 left-hand drive Bulgarian Maestros with saloon and van bodywork and 1300 cc engines were bought by Trans Europa Trading, which operated from Parkway Services near Ledbury in Herefordshire. From 1997 this company converted the vehicles to right-hand drive using parts purchased from Rover. Ledbury Maestros are all identified by VIN chassis numbers not Rover. The Maestros completed in Bulgaria with Rover chassis numbers were instead purchased by Apple 2000 of Culford, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, who converted most, but not all, of them to right-hand drive (but without changing the screen wiper arrangement…)

In 1998 the Chinese company Etsong bought the Maestro production lines and started production in China in 2000. They later sold the factory to FAW in 2003. Since 2008 the heavily revised Maestro, relaunched on the Chinese market by Yema under the name F12, has remained on the price-lists to this day.

There is also the Austin Maestro and Montego Owners Club website, for fans of the models.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

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