Austin Maestro Buying Guide
Infamous, great value for money and now with a cult following, here's what to look for when buying an original Austin Maestro
How much to pay
• Project £200-£350 • Good £400-£800 • Concours £900-£1500 •
Running costs ★★★★
DIY friendly ★★★
Successor to the ill-fated Allegro, company car of choice, and familiar family hatchback in 1980s Britain, the Austin Rover Maestro was never born with glamour and show-biz in mind, despite the initial marketing campaign showcasing a Maestro rolling out of a UFO.
Now, only 1% of all Maestro’s produced remain, in part thanks to being labelled ‘worst car ever produced in Britain’ in the past by the motoring press.
The Maestro was yet another British Leyland project that was designed too early, and put into production too late. With some notable features such as the infamous talking dashboard on early models, Maestros are slowly becoming a more abstract purchase for the discerning automotive enthusiast.
Even in 2018, a Maestro offers a unique and compelling package if you can bear the badge that adorns it. Admittedly, quality of materials leave much to be desired, but the build quality itself appears robust. The driving experience offers comfort, frugality and a ride quality that modern cars seem unable to match. Even the raw driver inputs can be surprisingly rewarding; quite a laudable feat from a car with the sportiness of an asthmatic chain smoker.
That said, trying to find a good one will make needles appear abundant in haystacks. Its undesirable image and cancerous addiction to rust mean most were sent to the big car park in the sky, rather than receiving the care and attention they were worthy of.
Your AutoClassics Austin Maestro inspection checklist
The faithful A-series engine joined the R-series at the Maestro’s launch in 1983, where the R-series was dropped the following year in favour of the S-series, the lazy development schedule of which cost the Maestro its encore. A Perkins-developed O-series diesel engine was introduced in the Maestro van from 1986, finding its way into the hatchback from 1991.
As anyone who considers petrol fumes a cologne replacement will tell you, the A-series is as hardy a power plant as you can find in a classic car. Spares galore, aftermarket support rarely seen outside of the JDM crowd, and upkeep fit for a child to undertake, makes it a reassuring choice if you are in the market for a Maestro. That said, be wary of potential head gasket failure, and a propensity to burn oil – take a thorough look at the colour of exhaust fumes when deciding upon a purchase.
Sadly, the same durability cannot be said for the R-series of early cars, a rushed re-development of the outgoing E-series from the Austin Maxi; running problems and big-end failure are not uncommon, so tread carefully. S-series engined cars from 1984 onwards, although less collectable, will provide more trusting reliability. It is worth noting that A-series and R-series engine camshafts are chain driven, with S-series cars being belt driven. The largely bulletproof, if a bit tractor-esque, O-Series units also use a cambelt rather than chain.
Three gearbox options existed across the entire range, featuring a VW-derived five-speed manual gearbox, as well as a far rarer Austin-Rover three-speed automatic.
VW gearboxes are known for their notchiness, and can implode without warning. Check for crunching (worn syncromesh) or any undue whines from the differential.
Due to the length of service in the Maestro, and use in the Mk1 Golf, gearbox replacements and parts are readily available. Automatics are more difficult to source parts for; however they were never known to cause headaches during their lifespan.
Suspension and brakes
The unusual Hydragas suspension set-up was dumped in favour of another VW Group inspired design, using a torsion beam rear axle design, which originally employed Mk1 Golf components in the development phase. MacPherson struts take care of the ride and handling.
The set-up is robust, and offers fantastic ride quality. Handling by modern standards is wobbly with a significant amount of lean, in part due to the soft dampers and tall ride height.
A simple visual test is simply to look for signs of leaking dampers prior to a road test. Problems can be confirmed further by applying pressure to each corner to confirm normal operation (ie the car should settle after only one and a half bounces).
Front, solid discs were fitted with single piston calipers, along with drums for the rear axle. Servicing is as easy as it gets, with parts remaining readily available due to continued use in later Rover models.
This is where the Maestro meets its downfall. Rot can appear anywhere and everywhere, so be sure to decipher if there has been some pragmatic flexing of the MOT regulations by means of body filler.
Front wings are bolt-on items, and as such can be repaired or replaced easily. Door skins are infamous for rusting inside out, and a careful inspection of the lower sections can determine their condition.
Due to the ‘modern’ robotically assisted manufacturing process, bonded windscreens have been known to cause headaches from rusting frames to water ingress, so be sure to check these items as replacement is difficult.
As with all modern classics, checking the inner and outer sills are a must, along with the rear valance and boot floor. Bulkheads are also known to rust badly, in addition to front valances, bonnet lips and boot lid edges. Checking rear strut mounts in the boot is crucial, due to awkward locations for structural repair if rust has taken hold.
Due to the value these cars offer, seeking out a solid example is prudent, as investment in structural repairs is unlikely to yield returns for the foreseeable future. MG models are more soughtafter though, and prices are slowly beginning to climb above scrap values for Austin Rover variants.
Compressed cardboard dashboards are the bane of any Maestro owners existence, and acceptance of the fact it will be unsightly is a given in ownership. Due to the construction, warping and cracking is unavoidable unless seeking a concours example. Re-shaping warped dashboards is not a possibility due to the materials used, so treat it as character building.
Aside from the dashboard, early cars featured split construction dashboards that are known to sqeak and rattle, whereas second generation models are far more secure in their fitment.
Seats remain exceptionally comfortable and surprisingly supportive for second generation models, with first generation models being less so, and sometimes without head restraints, depending on trim level.
Discolouring of interior trim is a given, and the colours used for the second generation cars is an interesting mix of brown and grey, reminiscent of brand-free cigarette packets – a colour picked for being scientifically the most unattractive colour visible to the human eye (well done, British Leyland).
First generation models featured a plethora of colours and trims, just short of offering an avocado bathroom-inspired palette. All models suffer headlinings that sag, to resemble harem tents.
As with the other sections, second generation parts are more readily available, once more down to their continued use in the Austin Rover parts bin. Instrument binnacles, indicator stalks, ventilation controls, air vents and pedal covers (to cover a few) were used in anything from Minis to Land Rover Discoverys, and even LDV products.
- 1983: Launched in Spain.
- 1984: R-series engine replaced by S-series.
- 1986: Second generation introduced.
- 1994: Production ceases.
- 1995: Production re-starts in Varna, Bulgaria, from CKD kits exported.
- 1996: Production ends in Varna.
The desirability of a waterborn disease aside, the Maestro is genuinely a very good, very charismatic little car. Look past its badge and the comments of the press; it’s delightfully simple, with an unfortunate propensity to disintegrate when one's back is turned. It makes for a fantastic entry opportunity into the classic car world, assuming a solid example is found.
Prices are easily negotiable still, and A-series parts are surprisingly easy to seek. Bodywork is the main concern, and although service history is always a pleasantry to the budding automotive enthusiast, one can make a fairly thorough assessment using the senses when inspecting a potential purchase.
MG Turbo variants command a significant premium over their Austin Rover counterparts, and body parts and interior trim can be significantly harder to come by, but sometimes a red seat belt can make it all worth it.
|1.3 litre (A-Series)|
|Top speed||96mph (if you are brave)|
|1.6 litre (R-Series)|
|Top speed||102mph (if you are really, really brave)|
|1.6 litre (S-Series)|
|2.0 litre non-turbo diesel (O-Series)|
|2.0 litre turbo diesel (O-Series)|
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