“Special” might not be a term that many would use in its positive sense to describe a Maestro of any kind, but I think this one deserves a mention as part of this month’s thematic celebration.
I like to think that this was a car marketed with a twinkle in the eye of those involved. It was as if they knew that the public and journalists in particular would scoff at the very notion of it, and so they just added a little wry smile to the way that it was presented to the market.
The car was introduced to an unsuspecting public in a corner of ARG’s stand at the 1988 NEC Motorshow. It was a response to hotter hatches of the time – the VW Golf GTi 16v, Astra GTE 16v, etc. – and a pretty thuggish one at that. The 1,994cc, 4-cylinder, 8-valve, Garret T3 via a single SU carburetor, “O” Series engine produced 150 bhp at 5,100 rpm and 169 lb/ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. This engine had been tested – sorry – proven in the Montego, a car which quickly gained a reputation for rampant torque-steer and unruly chassis behaviour. In the lighter, shorter wheelbase Maestro, the prospects for this latest MG seemed seriously scary.
As if to signal this, ARG arranged for the car to wear a very individual, butch body kit. Cars were assembled with other Maestros at Rover’s Cowley facility before being shipped to Tickford’s Bedworth plant for application of the five-piece body kit and graphics. They were returned to ARG before being despatched to dealers. The list price was £13,529.
Although those power and torque figures are unremarkable today – my Mazda3 2.2L diesel matches the power and delivers almost 120 lb/ft extra of torque – the car was obviously light because it could rocket to 60 mph from rest in 6.7 seconds on the way to a claimed 132 mph top speed, making it at that time the fastest production MG ever built.
And this is where I think the twinkle came into way ARG decided to market this car. Remember that, by 1988, the Maestro was a thoroughly spent force in the market. Indeed, the car had looked old-fashioned even when first introduced in 1983 – a factor of an extended development cycle courtesy of Government/ Management/ Union/ Shop Steward interventions. So, the marketing team must have cried and then laughed at the idea of having to shift 500, high priced, extreme examples of a car deemed dumpy and unsexy by an indifferent public.
The first clue is in the body-kit and, more specifically, the graphics. At the core of the attitude were bold front and rear bumpers – the front carrying integral Lucas-sourced driving lamps – and rather obvious side “TURBO” graphics. Here, someone was clearly having a chuckle to themselves as the script was a rip of that used by Porsche on a number of its models. Second, press ads, which often covered a twin page spread and must have cost a bomb, explicitly compared some aspect of this turbocharged MG’s performance (the 40-60 mph, or 50-70 mph sprint, from memory) favourably to that of “a Ferrari, a Porsche, a Lotus, a Lamborghini …”. This pure act of bravura was worthy of an award on its own. I can picture the team gently wetting themselves every time they caught sight of it in the FT, or Times, or – heaven forbid – Car Magazine.
I never got to drive, let alone own, one, but this is the kind of stupid car that appeals to me. I once owned its French near-equivalent, the Visa GTi, and my parents did own an MG Maestro EFi, which was far better than you will be sat there imagining. I am sure that not everyone got that it was a bit of a joke, though. I once saw a red example in the car park under the BZW (‘90’s predecessor to Barclays Capital) building with the doctored number plate “A1 1N FX” which suggested that individual thought the Turbo capable of carrying a serious personal statement.
500 were commissioned, although Tickford’s records indicate 505 passed through their facility. Of these, 149 were in extra-cost metallic BRG, which must have gone a little towards recovering the cost of those ads. To those who still own them, I envy you; to those who did the marketing, I salute you!