Tuesday November 13, 2018
If you are devotee of archive television (which I certainly am) one of the major fascinations is the street scenes. Just look at the backgrounds of The Sweeney, Terry and June, Some Mothers Do ‘Ave Em and so many British television programmes of the 1970s and 1980s and you are virtually guaranteed to find at least one Austin Maxi.
Today they are guaranteed to attract attention whenever they pull up at a service station and the rarest versions are the original 1969 – 1970 1500 versions.
In fact, you are more likely to see a Ferrari Berlinetta Boxer or a Jaguar XK150S than to encounter another example of the first-generation Maxi, which is why the G-registered example owned by Stephen and Susan Rose is all the more desirable.
Just imagine the impact at your local Austin dealer back in April 1969 when the A60 Cambridge was replaced by £978 16s 11d worth FWD transverse engine hatchback – one that even boasted the first five-speed gearbox to be found on a mass-market British car. Indeed, many traditionalists would have been in shock at the lack of a starting handle bracket, let alone the new OHC power plant and the seats that could recline to form a double bed.
October 1970 of an extensively modified Maxi with a 1,748cc version of the E-series engine and rod (as opposed to cable) operation of the gearbox. The original transmission had not proved to be devoid of problems and Stephen observes that ‘you’ve got to be careful’ with the system.
However, he regards much of the criticism aimed at the early cars as ‘unjustified’ and he cites the many advantages of the Maxi. It was a car renowned for its ride qualities plus ‘there is good all-round vision, the spaciousness of the cabin is superb - and it is such a usable classic’.
The Roses first encountered this 1969 Austin ‘ten years ago this October; we are only the second owners and it has just 32 thousand miles on the clock’. Today it goes by the nom-de-Maxi of “Robert” and ‘it is now part of the family’.
Robert is regularly driven – ‘we like to enjoy being out and about with the car’ – and still proves his worth by transporting sheets of glass on occasion. ‘We have also been camping in the Maxi’ and in terms of fuel, 97 Octane seems to do the trick.
Production of the Maxi ended in July 1981 and by the end of the 1990s they were fast becoming an unusual sight on British roads. Cars such as Robert are a reminder of how bold a design it appeared nearly 50 years ago, and how the basic formula – five doors, five gears, FWD – is now seen in cars built around the world.
Equally importantly, this Austin is a classic that so many people have an emotional connection with in a way that would be alien to a more exotic machine. And, naturally, whenever the Rose are at a garage forecourt or a supermarket, they are guaranteed to be approached by a passer-by uttering the line ‘My dad had one of those’…