13 Mar 2013

MG Maestro Turbo - The Forgotten Hot Hatch

In 1983 British Leyland introduced a car called the Austin Maestro.  Frankly, the Maestro was about exciting as that first sentence.

The Maestro was a bit dumpy to look at, the interior was spartan and the paint colours ranged from beige to white.  It did have a few things going for it such as McPherson strut suspension at the front, body coloured bumpers, electronic engine management, a five speed gearbox and a talking dashboard -  on the top models.

An MG Maestro was available with a 103bhp, 1.6 litre engine, taken from the Maxi.  It was wheezy and suffered hot start problems as well as crankshaft and regular head gasket failure.  Oh, and the front wheel bearings didn't last long.  And the driveshafts needed replacing quite often.

A year later, in October 1984, a 2 litre engine was introduced in the MG Maestro.  It had 115bhp and featured uprated suspension and brakes.  This was an improvement.  The MG Maestro was finally a serious rival to the Golf GTi.

Then, in 1989, the MG Maestro Turbo was revealed.  A Garret T3 turbo was added to the 2 litre engine.  The resulting 150bhp gave the Maestro Turbo a top speed of 123mph and a 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds.  On top of that a decent set of alloys and a bodykit, designed and built by Tickford, were added.  Tickford also tuned the engine and suspension.  These modifications transformed the Maestro from a slightly dour hatchback into an aggressive looking hot hatch - that had the power and handling to match it's looks.

Indeed the MG Maestro Turbo was, for a time, the fastest front wheel drive car for sale in the UK.  It could out accelerate a brand new Ferrari Mondial, which did 0-60mph in 7 seconds.

505 MG Maestro Turbos were made but the first was registered as an MG Maestro EFi, so technically only 504 ever hit the road.  Between 1989 and 1991 British Leyland produced 215 in red, 149 in British Racing Green, 92 in white and 49 in black.

500 of these were sold to customers whilst 5 were made available to the press.  Unfortunately BL 'tuned' the turbos in the press cars and those that didn't blow up were crashed by journalists.  They didn't need to do this because the 500 non-tuned cars were plenty fast enough.

According to www.howmanyleft.co.uk there are only 25 MG Maestro Turbos licenced and on the road today, with another 59 on SORN.  So, of the original 504 only 84 are still in existence.

One of those still on the road today is owned by Michael Matthews.  The photos in this article are of Michael's Maestro - number 435.  Michael has owned the car for three years and says, "I wish I could say the car's maiden voyage was astounding.  I wish I could, but I can’t. The Maestro Turbo drove hideously.  It was misfiring, the headlights didn’t work, it was losing coolant at an alarming rate, the brakes were crap and it was pulling to one side, not to mention the plethora of concerning noises."

"Once at the garage the work commenced and hasn’t stopped for over 3 years, you know how it is.  Everything has been done, from wheel cylinders to Head Gasket, radiator to water pump, you name it it’s been done."

But as well as repairing the car Michael has modified it.  Mods include new alloys, uprated springs and shocks, uprated discs, an upgraded turbo, an LSD gearbox, an intercooler and uprated clutch.  Power is now up to 187bhp.

Maestro sales peaked at 101,000 units in 1983 and declined thereafter.  The MG Maestro Turbo was well received but, with it's limited run, couldn't halt the Maestro's decline.  Production of all MG Maestro models, including the Turbo, ended in 1991 when Rover introduced the 200 GTi and the last Maestros hung around in showrooms until the mid 90s.

Today it is almost impossible to find a Maestro Turbo for sale.  With only a handful on the road they come on the market infrequently.  The MG Owners Club racing championship ran MG Maestros, alongside ZRs and MGFs, until recently but the rules only included 1.6s and 2.0s.  No Turbos.  They would have been too fast.  A stripped out, race prepped 1.6 litre weighed in at 800kg and produced 110bhp in race trim.  Even in standard guise the Turbos would have beaten the entire field, including the ZRs and MGFs.  Which is probably a good job because the racing was hard and most Maestros ended up damaged.  

The MG Maestro Turbo is indeed the forgotten hot hatch.  The Golf GTi, Peugeot 205 GTi and Escort XR3i eclipsed it in terms of sales, popularity and prestige but, with the benefit of hindsight, we can look back on the Turbo and say it truly was a hot, hot hatch.  And for a while, it was the fastest.

With only 84 left on the road it is up to people like Michael Matthews to take care of the last remaining MG Maestro Turbos.  Right now, people are beginning to appreciate them for what they were.  In a few years they'll be recognised as bona fide classics.

Have a look at the video below to see an MG Maestro Turbo outdrag a Subaru Impreza WRX over a quarter mile run.

Photos and quoted text courtesy of Michael Matthews.  More information and photos can be found here.