20 June 2014

CARS THAT GOT A SECOND LIFE: Austin Maestro

It lived up into being 'The Miracle Maestro' Austin Rover claimed it was.




WHEN the Austin Maestro went out of production in 1994. It was already an elderly design that spawned from the late Seventies. It was around for over a decade, as the Maestro first went into production and on sale back in 1983.

When the Maestro was pensioned off, most folk would have thought that would have been the end of it. But few would of expected the Maestro to remerge from the graveyard in the following years after it was dead and buried.

After the last Maestro rolled off the production line in Cowley. Rover soon set out on sending the tooling and assembly operations for the Maestro overseas in Bulgaria. Where the cars would be built in CKD (Complete Knock Down) kits.

Rover and the Bulgarian government had high hopes for the Maestro. The annual target was to build 10,000 cars. Sadly, Rover's Eastern Promise didn't go to plan because the deal turned sour. The Maestro's production at the plant in Varna came to a halt. The plant was closed, which that meant 250 workers had lost their jobs after building 2,200 cars.

You're not seeing things, it is a T-REG Maestro!

The remaining Maestros returned to the UK. The tooling production kit went to a small factory in Ledbury - which is where the Maestro would be assembled. The cars were converted from Left Hand Drive (LHD) to Right Hand Drive (RHD). With the majority of RHD dashboards, windscreen wipers, mirrors and steering components brought in new and sourced from Rover. It is noted though, that some of the cars were converted to RHD, had LHD wipers and mirrors.

The reborn Maestro came on sale from 1997 until 2001, and these 'new' cars were sold and registered with R to as late as 51 numberplates. These Maestros were sold (in RHD) for £4,995, making it Britain's cheapest 'new' car at the time. The LHD cars were even cheaper, and they were roughly £1,000 cheaper than the right hookers.

The range of models wasn't as big as the previous Maestro as they were only available with one engine. All Ledbury Maestros were powered by the tried and tested, 1.3 litre A+ Series engine, mated to a Volkswagen-derived five-speed gearbox.

The 'new' Maestro was a bare back-to-basics car that provided no-frills motoring. You can forget the infamous talking dashboard older Maestros had. Spec-wise, the Ledbury cars were more like the Clubman models from the late 1980s and early 1990s. They had metal bumpers, and also had the same interior trim and equipment.

While the Maestro was an archaic piece of kit. It did have its advantages being that it provided low cost motoring. A car that was cheap to buy, cheap to run, cheap and easy to maintain as well for the DIY mechanic. Furthermore, the Maestro is also a practical and spacious car.

Maestro with a Montego nose. Is it a Monstro or a Maetego?

By the time the Ledbury Maestros were put out of the grass – and out of the UK in 2001. Most would be forgiven for thinking it was dead and buried, but the Maestro lived on. Estong, a Chinese firm, acquired the rights of the Maestro (and Montego) along with the production and tooling kits.

Estong made prototypes of the Maestro, on the surface which looked like very little had changed from the original car. But there were minor changes, a revised dashboard and they were powered by Toyota engines.

This time round, the Maestro van also made a comeback. These were in production and on sale for a short period. Though production dates are not known for these Maestros – but I suspect these were between 1998 and 2003 – when Estong owned the rights of the Maestro.

Once again, the tooling and production rights of the Maestro and the Montego moved over yet again. Sold by Estong, and passed over to the Chinese motoring firm, First Automotive Works (FAW).

FAW made a raft of changes on the Maestro. The most notable was a revised tailgate and a new front end from the Montego was grafted on. The FAW Maestros (also called the Lubao CA6410), made it into procudtion and on sale in 2003 until 2008. Once production halted, they sold the rights of the Maestro to another Chinese company, Yema.

Believe it or not, this is a Maestro under the skin.

FAW sold the Maestro and Montego to Yema in 2008 – who are currently own the tooling and production rights today (at the time of writing). The car remained in production and on sale. Even though the Maestro was very long in the tooth, it soldiered on...

It is unknown if Yema still make and sell the Maestro today. If they don't, then the Maestro still lives on in one form or another. The Yema F12, a crossover which is a mash up of Subaru Forrester and Kia Sportage – a shameless rip off from both cars.

You probably wouldn't believe this, but this car actually sits on the same platform as the British Leyland relic. There's also an Audi rip off Yema make that's also based on a Maestro. How bizarre!

To conclude this, the Maestro just refuses to die.

Pictures credited to AROnline

6 comments:

  1. Japanese used auto public auctions offer you the possibility to obtain a high-end automobiles like Toyota, Nissan, Honda or Subaru and other prominent brand names at a cost that you can locate at your neighborhood dealers.

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  2. A much maligned car but at the end of the day it was a pretty good one, good story, thanks.

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    1. The Maestro wasn't really a much-maligned car. I can see why many disliked it and there were a couple of reasons behind it. Firstly, it looked dumpy and dated next to rivals like the Astra and Escort of a similar vintage. Even when new.

      Other than that, it was also down to the reputation that its maker, and many had burned their hands from BL cars they might have had in the 1970s. All in all giving the Maestro an iffy image that it carried.

      Despite this, the Maestro that had its merits in being a cheap, practical and comfortable family hatchback. Rust aside, they're also cheap and simple to maintain.

      In recent times, MG Maestros (especially the Turbos) have become sought after. Prices of them have rocketed. At the time of writing, a pristine MG Maestro Turbo commands a £7,000 price tag. So there is some appreciation for the Maestro. Whether other Maestros like the Vanden Plas and Clubman models gain appreciation remains to be seen.

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    2. P.S: Thank you for your comment by the way Chris. Glad you enjoyed reading my story about the Maestro.

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