There’s nothing like a good road trip to form a lasting impression of a vehicle. Since Sunday, I’ve driven over 47o miles in the Maestro van, which is plenty of time to get a feel for it. I can’t say it’s necessarily good news either. Unsurprisingly, an unladen van is bouncy, noisy and those stupid Rover seats are uncomfortable. The handling is atrocious. Also, the worn gear linkages make fifth gear occasionally disappear, the brakes are awful, the wipers infuriating and the orange beacon fell off.
It wasn’t all bad news though. Far from it. On the run over to Luton (via Gaydon and Birmingham) it averaged 41mpg. (I’ve not calculated the return leg yet but it does still have fuel in it). It utterly failed to break down. It didn’t leave any puddles anywhere at all – owning an oil-tight European car is a bit of a novelty. The headlights proved surprisingly effective. It can be hustled quite quickly and doesn’t fall off the road (it just feels like it will). The heating/ventilation system can do heat to the windscreen and cool air to the face. Awesome!
But my main focus for this Blog will be the engine. By the time the Maestro was launched, the A-Series engine was already 30-years old. A lot happened in those 30 years to further engine design. In 1952 (and indeed until 1959), Ford still considered a side-valve engine good enough for a small car. Austin didn’t though, and the legendary A-Series was born. First fitted to the A30, it soon found its way into the Morris Minor – following the merger of car giants Austin and Morris. The engine found itself under more bonnets than a period actress over the decades that follows, often mounted transversely. From 803cc, the A-Series was stretched to 848, 948, 997, 998, 1071, 1098 and, ultimately in production form, 1275cc. It powered the giant-slaying Minis that triumphed on track and in rallying, but it also powered the humble Austin A35 van, Marina van and Maestro van. From baby Austin A30 to Austin Montego, that engine saw a hell of a lot of use before finally retiring with the Mini in 2000 – almost half a century after the first A-series had been built.
It’s a good engine too. In the Maestro, it develops a healthy 68bhp. It also produces a lusty 75lb ft of torque at 3500rpm. The mid-range grunt is fabulous for its size. Ford, ever behind the times, was producing a 1.3-litre engine as late as 2002 that only produced 59bhp. It is also a very simple engine. There’s a timing chain, overhead valves and that’s about it in the complexity stakes.
Enough raw stats though. The real surprise for me is that the Maestro van is actually quite brisk. The engine sounds quite rorty too. It demonstrates that this engine really could still be competitive 30-years after it was first foisted upon the world. It’s pretty efficient too – I wasn’t expecting over 40mpg. If I was a more relaxed driver, I could probably nudge it closer to 45mpg.
I think it’s definitely the right engine choice. Much quieter than the diesel and not desperately more thirsty. Overall though, my advice has to be to not buy a Maestro van if you want a comfortable cruising machine. Perhaps this was already obvious…