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1988 MG Maestro – Project Profile

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By Chris Pollitt

The Maestro is one of those cars that people like to mock, but look beyond the typical derogatory banter and what you’re presented with is a car that was actually rather good. Released in 1983, the Austin Maestro took over duties from the Allegro, which meant it didn’t exactly have to work hard in order to better. But even so, BL didn’t just phone it in. The Maestro was a considered, well-engineered, comfortable and practical car. It was better than it had any right to be. The motoring press was quick to point out and praise the Maestro for being bigger and more comfortable than the key rivals from Ford and Vauxhall. In fact, many even said it would be a rival for the Sierra and Cavalier – cars a class up. 

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Of course, we’re talking about the Austin version there. So take that car, which was pretty good, and slap an MG badge on and that’s what you’ve got here. MG was to Austin what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz, but in a more Midlands way. It was a bit faster, a bit more sporty looking, there were more red stripes and a lot more red piping on the seats. It was very ‘80s, but it was also very good. Again, the press praised the MG Maestro for its handling and pace, especially in 2.0EFi guise, which is what this car is. It was a serious hot hatch, and a proper contender against the likes of the Escort XR3i and the Astra GTE. 

What is it? 

Happily, this particular MG Maestro is indeed the better 2.0EFi model with the 1,944cc O Series four-cylinder engine. It packed, before it was put in a barn, some 115bhp at 5,500rpm, which was delivered through the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. On paper, it could hit 60mph in 8.5 seconds. Impressive now, let alone back then. 

Of course, those figures are all meaningless at the moment, given the condition of the car. The vendor states it’s part of a deceased estate, and has now been freed from its barn-based slumber. Apparently, it’s been laid up for fifteen years, which by looking at it, we don’t doubt. 

Apparently, the Maestro could be a one owner car. The original owner bought it and used to commute from Devon to London before deciding to squirrel it away. The car is complete apart from, weirdly, the front carpets. Though, the vendor states that the V5 will need to be applied for. Normally, we’d advise against a car with no V5, but the nature of this car’s origins suggest there is nothing untoward here other than some lost paperwork. 

Why is it a project? 

Well, just look at it. Everything needs doing. The vendor says it needs some welding, which isn’t at all surprising for a Maestro. Probably the sills and around the rear arches as a minimum. You’d have to strip it down to get a good idea. Then there’s the engine that hasn’t turned in fifteen years. To be honest, we wouldn’t even try. Just strip it and build it back up. The carb is probably a mess, so there is no chance it would run anyway. Happily, parts are still out there for the trusty O Series lump. 

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This is no weekend project. For someone to take this on, they would have to be very passionate indeed about the humble Maestro. But, we reckon it’s worth it. The MG version was a damn fine car back in the day, and this one has the potential to return to its former glory. Buy it, strip it right back and build it up from there. 

Five things to look for:

1) Rust

It’s a British Leyland product at heart, so it’s going to be rusty. Sills, arches, the bulkhead, the scuttle, the A-pillars, the boot floor – they can all rust away quite happily. Hopefully fifteen years in a barn has spared this one.

2) Parts

The vendor states that the car is complete, but it’s actually missing a few bits. Or at least, it seems to be in the images. The wheel centre caps are going to be hard to find – those wheels are VERY rare. Also, the rear arches should have front-edge spats on them. Again, these are hard to find. 

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3) Trim

There are no interior pictures for us to look at, so we’re not sure if this Maestro has the conventional clock dash, or the talking (no, really) digital dash. If it’s the latter, repairs are going to be expensive. Also, check the seats and door cards, as these are going to be a nightmare to replace.

4) Engine

That O-series engine is a strong old lump, and while there is no doubt that this one is a non-runner, it won’t hurt to check it over. Stick a spanner on the crank pulley and see if it’s free. Check the condition of the carb, too. It’ll probably need a rebuild though. 

5) Glass

Again, glass is one of those things that’s hard to find. The side and rear windows are all there, so that’s good. Any imperfections on there, you can cope with. The screen however, if damaged, is going to be tricky to replace. 

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What should you do with it? 

It all depends on how bad it is once stripped down. Being eternal optimists, we’d like to believe the car is going to be solid at its core, but it might not be. If it can be saved, the direction the build takes can go one of two ways. If the trim and so on is good, then go for a full restoration. If not, why not build it into a race car? Don’t scoff, there was an entire MG Maestro cup. In fact, people still race them today. Hopped up with the right parts, the MG Maestro is a formidable force out on track. And what an exciting way that would be to resurrect this tired, forgotten gem!

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