Jonathan Musk was steered away from his two-wheel dream to four-wheel reality by a 1988 Austin Maestro. Aged 15 at the time, it was destined to be his first car but he never got to drive it on public roads.
In 1998, aged just 15 years old, I desperately wanted a 50cc ‘super’ bike come the time of my 16th birthday. Dad, ever the negotiator, knew that my insatiable appetite for the bike, that he feared would be the death of me, wouldn’t go away easily.
So, one Sunday afternoon, he took me over to the local Jaguar garage to take a look at the part exchanges out back. There, gathering dust in the corner was a matt red 1988 Austin Maestro City X, similar to the one pictured above. I suspect the new Jag had been a bit of a step up for the previous owner.
I’d been fooled into thinking this would be a new car for dad, so it seemed perfect – one owner from new and fewer than 20,000 miles on the clock. And the best part was that it was available for the princely sum of £200. That’s when dad broke the news to me, that the Maestro would be my car. Okay, so I was only 15, and unable to drive it on the public road, but the gesture had the desired effect in taking away my need for two-wheeled speed.
And, other than a sagging headlining, it wasn’t in bad shape either. A couple of pots of T-Cut, and a whole lot of elbow grease later, and the car looked new. I even took a toothbrush to the headlights to clear away green goo that had built up between them and the grille. The headlining was stuck back up with some spray glue and, over time, I replaced the seats that had been perished in the sun with a much fresher cream set from a local breaker’s yard (those were the days). But that’s all it needed.
Though I never drove it on the road – for reasons I’ll come to – it had a snappy little four-speed Volkswagen-derived gearbox. And the A-Series motor, that filled all of a quarter of the under-bonnet cavity, sung along gloriously. I’ve no idea what fuel economy it offered, as my dad drove it around mostly until such time as I’d be able to pass my test, but it can’t have been too bad considering its small capacity, featherweight construction and maximum speed of around 60mph (mostly due to gearing).
It was a genuinely good little car. It had a practical interior that was comfortable and offered fold-flat rear seats (something missing from many of today’s cars), as well as manual winding windows (saves weight and complexity over electric types) and, of course, no central locking nor electric-adjust mirrors. It was great. The only thing about it that proved a pain. time and time again. was the fast-fade red paint that I think single-handedly kept T-Cut in business.
My dad and I used to travel up to Middlesbrough from the south (an adventure in any car). On one occasion, we bought a set of roof racks from IKEA in order to stack three flat-pack wardrobes, three mattresses and a heck of a lot of bravery atop its roof (these were to equip student accommodation, in case you wondered).
So, although the Maestro isn’t regarded by anyone as anything special and everyone will tell you that its European rivals were superior in every way, it genuinely was a reliable little family car.
Unfortunately, it’s at this stage where the story takes a turn for the worse as my eldest sister borrowed the Maestro and someone ran into the back of it. Fortunately, nobody was hurt but this spelled the end of the car for our family and, indeed, scuppered any chance of me driving it on public roads.
The car did not die though. A friend of the family bought it, fixed it and eventually sold it on to an engine research facility that apparently used the car to test prototype engines. Such was the simplicity of the Maestro that it could accept any powerplant without affecting anything else thanks to its lack of electrics..
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