The Maestro and Montego

Codenamed LM 10 and LM11, the cars to replace the allegro and the Maxi and become Austin Morris's new volume selling cars eventually were released as the Maestro and the Montego, though not without some difficulty.

Late in the design process, a new designer was brought in for the Montego and made a few small changes but was never happy with the overall design, the cars were built form the same platforms and share a number of panels and components, but never really sat well together in the showroom but worse than that, as the cars were being designed and built, the motoring world changed around them and new designs like the Vauxhall Cavalier and Ford Sierra were pushing the boundaries of mid-range car design, making the two new cars start to look dated.

Which was a shame as besides the usual Austin post launch reliability issues, these were pretty good and solid cars.  Good job there was a culture of Badge Engineering in the group at the time...

Enter MG...

The cars were given an MG makeover and launched alongside the Austin cars and after some initial teething issues, the cars began to sell well.  One thing though, the cars were not all that different in terms of power, despite having tuned engines, so turbo versions were launched, and what a difference they made...  For a while, the MG variant cars were the fastest production cars available.

It was a shame though that the cars did not get the success that was hoped for them.  While they sold in steady numbers throughout their production life, they never hit the numbers needed to increase market share for the BL Group.

Ambitious new world

One thing that was put together for the Maestro's top of the range options was the digital dash, a futuristic dash with a number of features and functions.

While it was an ambitious idea, it was let down by its implementation and was derided by the press of the time, noting that on occasion the car would tell you that you had run out of fuel rather than warning you that fuel was low.  By then it would be too late anyhow, you would pretty much know you had no fuel!  Other issues surfaced and soon the dash was relegated to an optional extra, then quietly dropped in the hope no one would remember.

Like most of the mid-range cars at the time, with a little more thought and a little more taking notice of the markets, these cars could have been the market leaders that they were hoped to be.  While they have their charm today, at the time of launch they were considered dull and unexciting, despite the Maestro effectively being mechanically similar to the VW Golf in terms of suspension layout, it did not have the forward thinking looks of the Golf, or the fiesta and this also hobbled the Montego which could not match the looks of the new Escort and Cavalier.

This was a shame, but the cars were made and kept in production, even after the marketing budget was effectively cut and the newer Honda derived cars were taking the limelight.  In fact they were still in production when British Aerospace sold the company to BMW, admittedly only a few hundred a month and all pretty much hand built.  Even BMW did not realise this until they visited their new UK acquisition, at which point the cars finally left the stage.