Something old, something new! Archibald Vicar, Dip. Eng. tries the latest sensation from BLMC, the Austin Maxi.
From “Today’s Driver” February 1969. Photography by Patrick Lamperay. Due to liquid spillage to the original negative source, stock photos have been used.
Editor’s note: This transcript of the Archie Vicar original first appeared on Driven to Write in November 2013.
There it was, an Austin Maxi, Leyland’s latest motor car. And we were in Dublin, Eire, to test it. It was eight o’clock in the morning and photographer, Lamperey, and I were at British Leyland’s small factory in the middle of what was once the Empire’s second city. While I ought to have been taking in the generalities of the Maxi’s technicalities I was more cognisant of my rather delicate physical state, that of a rotten hangover.
Said hangover was largely as a result of my failed attempt to anaesthetise myself during the festival of mal de mer that was the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin. The duty-free Guinness was at least remarkably cheap so the experience was merely disagreeable and not costly. I was also able to acquire my full allotment of Sweet Aftons and the tame photographer was able to double the amount on my behalf. Splendid chap!
Prior to our voyage to Hibernia, Mr Slade (the editor) and I discussed why British Leyland might want to send us all the way to Dublin to assess the new Maxi. Which qualities would the Irish road conditions show to the best effect, we wondered? Was it the five and a half foot turning circle we would admire? Was it the uncannily exact similarity of the Maxi’s doors to those found on the imposing Austin 3-liter?
Was it the not-quite-11-gallon fuel tank that would charm us? Or perhaps it was something about the nineteen and a half cwt weight that we would notice. It was quite beyond us but perhaps as the test wore on all would become clear.
Before beginning a fuller enumeration of the Austin Maxi’s technicalities, I should explain to some readers that the Maxi is a motor car that has been designed by the renowned Mr Issigonis, father of the popular front-wheel drive, Hydrolastically-suspended Mini.
He is the same creative fellow who has supervised the successful Austin 1300, which is a front-wheel drive car with Hydrolastic suspension. And his new creation demonstrates that an old dog does not need to learn new tricks since the Maxi looks very much like a longer and slightly taller Austin 1300.
“…a scattering of switches across a centre console…”
We collected the Austin Maxi from British Leyland’s warehouse having been appraised of the controls by BL’s local representative. This process was as necessary as having someone explain the method of operation for a tin-opener because the Austin Maxi is to all intents a Mini (albeit one that has been unevenly magnified by 25 percent). There’s a scattering of switches across a centre console and one of those odd ashtrays that rotates about a central axis. I think we saw this idea already on the Ford Escort.
I interrupted the redundant explanation and drove off to find the hair of the dog at one of Dublin’s famous pubs, one pointed out by the photographer a little earlier. Seated at the front of Doheny & Nesbitt’s, with the Maxi parked outside on the rain-drenched street, it was a simple matter to wait for the Guinness to settle and gather my strength.
“…fried egg, white pudding, eggs, sausages, bacon and more eggs…”
The third Guinness finally knocked the sharp edge off the headache but also made the idea of driving the Maxi (one of only four in Eire) somewhat unattractive. So, with the help of Lamperey who has a greater capacity for stout than I, we wandered the short distance to Buswell’s Hotel to eat some vittels and recover the sleep lost on board the ferry. I can exclusively reveal that a large plate of black pudding, fried egg, white pudding, eggs, sausages, bacon and more eggs are of tremendous help in restoring the constitution.
So it was that instead of having a little rest, I fell into conversation with a painter chap by the name of Freud who I chanced on meeting in the bar. Generous to a fault, Freud offered us additional pints of plain and invited us to a festive gathering in the mountains of County Wicklow. I think he just needed a lift for himself and his two leggy blonde girl friends. With the car thus crammed we set off into the hills.
“Lamperey did a fair amount of the driving.”
If the reader is wondering when we will hear a little about the motor car, I must candidly reveal that the friendliness of the locals, the dreadful weather and the remarkable smooth quality of the Guinness meant it was surprisingly hard to put much time in behind the overlarge steering wheel. Lamperey did a fair amount of the driving and, according to him, the gearchanges weren’t much to write home about.
BLMC has used a cable-operated gearshift, I would have thought. This is probably a good idea that just needs a little bit of working on. There’s a fifth gear but I think nobody needs this. Why stop at five, I ask. Why not six or even seven? Madness. A fifth gear is simply something extra to break and, as it is, the bolshie communists at Longbridge find four cogs hard enough to glue together. Five is asking too much.
“…an idea dreamed up by some cove in marketing…”
The roads in Eire are as rotten as the climate there so it would be reckless to draw any conclusions about the quality of the Maxi’s ride. Rubbery, I suppose you could say. One interesting thing about the car is that it has a fifth door but as the Renault 16 also has one, I’m not clear why BL feels the need to try this as well. One fifth door is more than enough in our little world.
It would appear to be an idea dreamed up by some marketing cove who’s been to Le Havre and taken a fancy to Gallic traditions among which are flawed sanitation and mistreatment of their monarchs. Like the Renault, the Maxi has a rear seat that reclines back to make a very uncomfortable camp bed. So, instead of going to a French hotel to experience a terrible night’s sleep, one can doze in one’s Maxi on the front drive and awake with a bad back without travelling a single mile. That’s progress, I would assume.
“…the gearbox can share its oil with the engine…”
Finally, the Maxi has a transverse-engine layout. The main consequence of this is that the gearbox can share its oil with the engine. As long as the clutch oil seal doesn’t leak this ought to be a perfectly reasonable compromise.
A choice of new colours (mustard, brown and umber) will add to the car’s appeal. Austin believe the car will compete well against the Ford Consul and Vauxhall Victor.
A 1750 engine is believed to become available at some point.
An edited version of this also appeared in Dublin’s evening paper “The Hibernian Times”.