The new Austin Maxi, announced last week, is not a car which we as enthusiasts are likely to rush out and buy, but there is little doubt that British Leyland have produced a car which will appeal to the family man. We never got excited about the Austin A60, for instance, but it has found a huge sale amongst the non-enthusiastic driver. The Maxi, though it supplements the range, is a very great improvement on the A60 type of car.
We are sure that quite a lot of British motorists know little or nothing about the Renault R16, although this sort of car would appeal to them. The Maxi does everything the R16 does and just as well. There is a door at the rear, the back seats fold down to make room for luggage in the back and they even convert into a double bed.
To introduce the car to the motoring press, British Leyland ran an excellently organised trip to Portugal based on Estoril. Here on roads ranging from Motorway standard to non-tarmacadam tracks we were given the chance to drive the machine for a day, some people following the route and others, like myself, rather more ambitiously were able to fit in 250 miles of varied motoring.
The Maxi scores on road-holding, for it is a front-wheel-drive, transverse-engined machine in Mini/1100/1800 tradition. Surprisingly the road-holding fell much nearer the Mini mark than that of the larger cars so it can be driven along twisty roads with a good deal of enterprise and speed. Naturally it had hydrolastic suspension which gave an excellent ride at all times and, though others found it a little harsh, Motor Sport did not share this view.
The engine is the long-awaited E series 1,500 c.c. cast-iron unit with single overhead camshaft. Leyland have not followed the popular trend of driving this with a belt but instead have retained a chain drive. The tuning people are not terribly enthusiastic about the possibilities of the engine, although the cast integral exhaust and inlet manifold could certainly be superseded by something more efficient. No doubt Daniel Richmond will have an antidote up his sleeve.
One feature we did not expect to find on the car was a five-speed gearbox—such luxuries usually only being found on Porsches and the like. We came to the conclusion that there will be a Joe Muggins somewhere who never even discovers fifth gear or at least never gets into it. There is a normal straightforward gate with fifth being tacked on as extra, forward and towards the driver. The gearbox, which is operated by a system of exposed cables running underneath the car in a vulnerable position, was rather vague and owners will certainly take time getting used to it. Fifth is in effect an overdrive gear for Motorway and similar work and gives a top speed around 85 m.p.h.
Acceleration is moderately good, the brakes are excellent and the finish is to a good production car standard. Interior noise is perhaps a little high, but the seats are very comfortable indeed. Fuel consumption is a most personal thing and few people will drive the car as hard and fast as we did in obtaining 26 miles to the gallon.
If the car proves to have the qualities of robustness and longevity it could prove to be one of British Leyland’s most popular cars for many years to come. No doubt the Editor as a family man but also a great enthusiast will give the Austin Maxi a full road-test as soon as he can obtain the car and we refrain from further judgment until then. On the face of it, however, a car that has a very large market potential.—A. R. M.