Bangernomics: Meet Skippy, the AutoClassics Maestro
Most people would look at a beige Austin Maestro in a skip and laugh. We rescued the unloved BL stalwart with plans to donate the vehicle to charity Starter Motor – here's what happened...
To someone who already knows the story surrounding ‘Skippy’ the Maestro, his rescue was a necessary duty. That’s why, when no one else would rise to the challenge, I felt the need to step in and prevent the world’s most abused Austin from an undignified end. Witnessing its little beige face being fed into the crusher after such a hard life would have been similar to watching someone give Gandhi a thorough kicking while standing idle.
Protruding from the yellow skip on Haverhill Vauxhall’s forecourt, advertising their new hellish scrappage scheme, Skippy was destined to become bean tins. And probably Lidl ones, at that. After residing in various scrapyards and being used to teach various unsympathetic teenagers to drive, the Maestro was in a hell of a state. Worth a whole £10, its fate was sealed.
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However, after an email from Tanya Field of the Montego and Maestro Owners Club explaining the situation, I weirdly found myself in a friend's Jag XJ hurtling south to reach the dealership, only minutes before the scrap man arrived with his low-loader of death. There, on a blisteringly cold December morning, Skippy found a new home. You may laugh, but the humble Maestro lineage has quite the following – and there were plans for Skippy's use.
Could this be the worst car ever?
We only got a quick glance over the Maestro when still in the skip, but what was witnessed rang alarm bells. The interior was held together purely by hope, while the bodywork appeared to have been styled by Father Ted with his hammer. Nonetheless, we agreed on a collection date with the help of Thistle Towing to assist Skippy’s escape.
Except, when turning up the following Sunday, the Maestro had already been ejected from the skip and hidden away at the very back of Vauxhall’s staff car park. The roof had fresh damage, while the windscreen had cracked, leaving us with a fear that the subframe could be twisted; probably from its rough exit at the hands of an unknown party.
Finally able to inspect the underside and open the doors, we discovered that the Austin’s A-pillars were all but a memory and rust was rampant over the body panels. I was advised to walk away but could see the glint on those square headlamps like the eyes of an abused dog. He was coming home with us. Even if, with all the photographs being taken, it was only just sinking in that this was my vehicle. What the hell was I doing?
Would it start?
That pleading look turned into one of terror upon arrival in at Skippy's storage facility as the bonnet was swiftly crowbarred open and a new battery connected up for an immediate health check. Injecting the fuel straight into the carburettor and cleaning the spark plugs left us only one problem – finding something to fit the damaged ignition, seeing as Skippy’s keys had long been lost before we got our mitts on him.
Using a spoon twice the value of the actual car, the ignition lights flared up and, unbelievably, the engine spluttered into life on two-cylinders, then three, then the whole whack after a prolonged turn of the spoon. The exhaust reek could have floored a rhinoceros, but Skippy was alive. The mushroom cloud could be seen for miles, but there was life under the bonnet.
There were no brakes and the clutch biting point was almost in the dashboard, only discovered after stupidly taking the car for a quick test drive down the garden – and through the fence. All four tyres boasted enough canvas to paint on, but Skippy still hauled himself out with gusto. Sadly, one tyre slipped off the rim on the return leg back to the courtyard, leaving a deep trench in it's wake. My housemate of the time was far from amused.
That was nearly a year ago, over which time the Maestro has sat idle in a courtyard due mainly to a lack of time on my behalf. Not to say he hasn’t been anywhere, trailered to the NEC Restoration Event in Birmingham to rust all over the Federation of Historic Vehicle Clubs' stand.
The car seemed to be quite an attraction, but this left a lasting problem I couldn’t seem to escape. Nearly all persons viewing the Maestro expect to see him transformed from a deathtrap with seats into a concours, mint-condition vehicle for show stands and club outings. That would be a mammoth task and, seeing as I’m downright dangerous with a welder, probably fatal for anyone within a mile radius of my house.
A new home with charity Starter Motor
It was after putting out the latest welding fire that the penny dropped. While I couldn't singlehandedly bring Skippy back to life, there was a charity on site at Bicester Heritage that would do the car justice. Starter Motor is dedicated to providing younger folk with access to old cars in which to hone mechanical skills. Always on the lookout for a vehicle yet with little budget to play with, gifting the Maestro to the charity would find a second life for Skippy and provide a basic vehicle for teaching vital skills to teenagers.
Starter Motor's head honcho agreed to take the vehicle with a huge grin – not the response I was expecting. Though tough to see Skippy off, I'm certain that he's in better hands than I could offer.
Photos by Gillian Carmoodie