The Austin Maestro is a compact five-door hatchback car (and two-door van derivative) that was produced from 1983 to 1995, first by the Austin Rover subsidiary of British Leyland (BL), and from 1988 by its successor, Rover Group. The car was produced at the former Morris plant in Cowley, Oxford. It was first sold as an Austin and a MG. Later models have sometimes been referred to as the Rover Maestro, but the model never wore the Rover badge.
British Leyland was created in 1975 when the bankrupt British Leyland Motor Corporation was nationalised. In 1977 the South African-born corporate troubleshooter, Sir Michael Edwardes, was recruited as chairman to sort out the troubled firm. Part of Edwardes' plan was to introduce a completely new range of mass-market models to replace the current offerings, designed and built using state-of-the-art technology. The new range eventually decided upon consisted of a new vehicle for each of the small, lower-medium and upper-medium market segments.
The new cars for the lower and upper medium segments were to share a platform, with various trim and styling differences to distinguish the two different models. The two models would in effect replace four existing vehicles that had been in production since the early 1970s – the Maestro would simultaneously replace both the Austin Allegro and Maxi, whilst the Montego replaced the Austin Ambassador and Morris Ital, these latter two having been recent facelifts of the Princess and Morris Marina. Since all but the Allegro, were made at the Cowley plant, this rationalization would give the cost benefits of production automation and flexibility. This common platform was given the project name LC10, using the Leyland Cars project sequence (LC8 became the Austin Mini Metro, LC9 became the Triumph Acclaim). Preliminary design work for LC10 began in 1977.
LC10 was styled by Ian Beech under the direction of BL designer David Bache. Two main body variations were provided: a five-door hatchback and a four-door notchback. It was a departure from previous front-wheel drive cars from the company in dispensing with the famous Issigonis transmission-in-sump powertrain that had been pioneered in the Mini. Coupled to the A-Series and R-Series powerplants was an end-on transmission (as pioneered by FIAT with the Autobianchi Primula), bought from Volkswagen. The sophisticated Hydragas suspension system used on previous BL models was sacrificed on cost grounds, with a conventional MacPherson strut system at the front and a Volkswagen Golf style torsion beam at the rear being used instead, (but with long travel rising rate springs), despite the compromise in terms of lost load space. Prototypes were even tested with actual Golf suspension components. This may have led to the early cars being prone to front wheel bearing issues. The Maestro was larger and heavier than the first VW Golf.
It was decided that the five-door hatchback version would be engineered first. It was given its own project designation, LM10, with this version to be launched as the Austin Maestro. The booted notchback version was to follow and it was designated as LM11, although its development was to diverge from the original path, it was later launched as the Austin Montego.
The Maestro incorporated many novel and pioneering features for its class. It had a bonded laminated windscreen, homofocal headlamps, body-coloured plastic bumpers, an electronic engine management system, adjustable front seat belt upper anchorage positions, an asymmetrically split rear seat, and a 12,000-mile (19,300 km) service interval. The MG and Vanden Plas versions had solid-state instrumentation with digital speedometer and vacuum fluorescent analogue displays for tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges, trip computer and a voice synthesis warning and information system.
The Maestro was launched in March 1983. In its summing up of the new car the Consumers' Association, in the June edition of its Which? journal, described it as roomy, comfortable, and nice to drive, and said "If you are considering buying one now, our advice, based on our first impressions, is to go ahead". In January 1984, after testing the car, they concluded: "In comparison with opposition of a similar price and body size, the Maestro has a clear advantage on room for passengers, with few cars equalling it for comfort either in the front or back". They also considered it to be a serious rival to the higher-segment Vauxhall Cavalier and Ford Sierra, apart from its smaller boot space.