I moved to Edinburgh in 1981, and before long bought myself a car - the first one I had owned. Before that I’d owned a series of Lambretta motor scooters and small to medium powered motorbikes. I’d been using a bicycle a lot after that.
The car I bought was an oldish Peugeot 104, small, not very powerful, but it did the job. It was fine for driving around town and I used it to go and visit my parents in Norwich, England a few times, a long journey. I once drove north, up to Ullapool, a shorter drive, but it wasn’t the car for long journeys. Mostly it was used around town.
As the Peugeot started to give me trouble I looked around for a replacement. I was visiting my parents and went to a car dealer in Norwich and was shown an Austin Maestro. It was newer than the Peugeot and seemed to be in good condition, so I bought it, trading in the Peugeot as I did so.
The Maestro range was seen as reasonably good as far as I knew, but this one suffered from some design flaws, in my opinion.
The car I bought was only a few years old and had a fairly low mileage. It was the HLE model with a 1.3 litre petrol engine. It had 4 doors and a hatch at the back giving access to a reasonable amount of luggage space (often such hatchbacks are called 5-door cars in the UK). All Maestro models had front-wheel drive, and this one had a manual gearbox. Automatic British cars were not common at that time.
The Maestro had a bunch of economy features:
- a 4-speed gearbox with some economy gear ratios
- an econometer on the dashboard with green and red LEDs indicating how economically the car was being driven
The Maestro seemed to have been designed to be driven as empty as possible. As soon as there were any passengers, or luggage, or both, the car was a nightmare to drive.
There were models in the range that performed well, I think. Being passed by them on motorways and when trying to drive up any kind of hill showed this to be true. I’ve read that the standard 1.3 model was pretty good without the economy features, but I never experienced one.
The problem was that the gap in gear ratios between the second and third gear was enormous, as if you’d accidentally skipped a gear. The fourth economy gear could only be resorted to on flat roads – or going downhill – or with a tail wind – or with the car completely empty.
I was happy to find a link describing these problems when doing research for this show. The description of the car made me laugh, but also brought back memories of the extreme frustration I experienced with this car!
So, I conclude that this particular Maestro was a failure. It might be the reason I got it at a good price; the previous owner was probably keen to get rid of it. Also the car dealer knew a sucker when he saw one, and I was that fool!
I kept the car for a few years, did very few long journeys in it and eventually replaced it with a Vauxhall Astra Mark III, which was in a totally different league!
- Peugeot 104
- Austin Maestro:
- Vauxhall Astra: