MG Maestro finally

hit right note

MG Maestro

DURING the 1980s there was an attempt by the ill-fated British Leyland company to puta British sports hatch on the world map of performance fame.

The company decided to make an MG version of its Maestro hatchback and at the time it seemed a perfectly logical development.

The Maestro began in 1983 and was built at the Cowley plant in Oxford where BMW now makes the MINI.

At the time I had my doubts about an MG version because the Maestro was, without doubt mediocre.

I had, and still have high standrds where MG is concerned, being an absolute devotee of the 1956 MG Magnette ZB - in my view one of the finest ever British sports saloons.

So did the MG Maestro win me over? Definitely not in its first incarnation.

Rushed into production against engineers' advice at the launch in early 1983, the original MG Maestro was without doubt under-developed.

The main problem was that its 1.6-litre R-Series engine ran roughly, was difficult to start when warm, and its twin Weber carburettors proved problematical for some dealership workshops, who were used to SU carbs.

The R-Series model was replaced in July 1984 with the short-lived S-Series model which was built until October 1984.

But despite reliability issues, more than 15,000 MG Maestro 1600 examples were sold which was more due to the impressive marketing and sales skills of the company than thecar itself.

The big break for the MG Maestro came on the launch of the the EFi model.

Launched in October 1984, the EFi featured a fuel-injected 2.0-litre engine that gave considerably better performance than its predecessor.

Handling and performance were rightin the fun zone and British Leyland found it had a viable competitor to the VW Golf GTI, not to mention the Ford XR3i.

I have to admit a grudging respect for the EFi because it had great potential, and in my view a good future.

British Leyland was only a few months away from becoming part of the Rover Group when it played its final trump card, the Maestro Turbo which raced onto the scene in 1989.

This was the final flourish of the old Austin Rover team and it used the already impressive 2.0 engine and fitted it with a combination of carburettor and turbocharger.

The result was a top speed of 128mph and a 0-60mph sprint of 6.7 seconds. This made it faster than most of its competitors, but it was still very much a Maestro, which was then old hatand did not attract mega sales.

The MG Maestro was finally reversed into the garage of doom in 1991 as Rover produced fast versions of its 200 and 400 models.

We shall never see its like again and some would applaud the fact. But for me, even though I have standards firmly set in past days of glory, I had respect for the EFi version.

The horrors of the Government's scrappage scheme tore massive gaps in the ranks of the dear old Maestro, but a few survived this terrible automotive cull.

There are only around half a dozen early MG Maestros on the road but there are nearly 40 EFis still zipping around in the hands of caring owners.

And there is a fair number on SORN notices for restoration or spares so a fast Maestro may soon behurrying intofocus in our rear-view mirrors for some time yet.

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