A happy misunderstanding

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With many manufacturers withholding further road-tests from us until after the Show was over, it was pleasing to receive a letter from Patrick Lee of BL’s Longbridge factory, in which he said that, although the year was almost over, he wished those writers who wanted to drive hitherto untried BL cars to contact him and establish bookings. Too late did I realise he meant bookings for 1972 and to humour this unexpected demonstration of pleasant co-operation I asked my secretary to write and book a Marina—to see if the later versions are any better than the thoroughly disillusioning 1.8 coupé I tried when the new BL model should have been a sensation—and an MG-B, because I have long had a liking for BL’s “vintage” sports car.

As the letter was being typed a colleague came to my office to ask whether I could lay-on a car to take him to the Barcelona 1,000-km. race. “Have the B”, I said, being a generous-hearted Editor. It transpired that Mr. Lee thought the MG an unlikely car for so long a journey and, anyway, small mods. would appear on it at Earls Court. They eventually fixed our reporter up with a Triumph 2.5 PI which promptly hit a fox and wrecked its radiator. But that is another story….

My request for a Marina—any model Marina—also brought a problem—there weren’t any. I hoped because they were all sold out—3,699 went in the first six months of this year, which is a start, although the figure has to be compared to 4,792 Minors (!), 5,506 Sports MGs, 49,594 Minis, and 73,941 1100/1300s. While the BLMC Press people were finding me a Marina—I felt I should use a British people’s car during Show-time instead of a delightful Italian small saloon, as last year—they lent me an Austin Maxi.

This proved interesting, too, because I had been very disappointed with both Maxi and Marina as new models and BL, engineers have had second thoughts about both of them. The Maxi I was now to sample came from Special Tuning at Abingdon, which is why it was a very smart white and blue job with the £66 twin-SU stage of tune. It was also embellished with BLST badges that I could have done without, as I have recently acquired a licence endorsement after 40 years’ driving (which shows that, like you, I am human!) and I think these “speed-stickers” attract unwelcome attention.

Anyway, this very smart Maxi took me the 170 miles home from the office most pleasantly. Its five-door body swallows goods as well as luggage. It is very spacious within, thanks to being constructed to the much-imitated Issigonis formula. It goes round corners as fast as most cars, grip being enhanced by Goodyear Custom G800 Rib radial-ply tyres. The gear-change for the five-speed gearbox has been improved, although it still isn’t really nice—due to long movements, a difficult-to-find reverse (until you lift the lever) and a tendency to not go into 4th every time. The car is noisy; but anyone buying a BLST kit presumably has tolerant ears.

What is important is that this Maxi becomes more enjoyable the faster it is driven, which is how it should be with a souped-up car. It will top the ton, yet is essentially predictable and safe. It is not thirsty for fuel—I had no time to experiment before writing this, but they talk of around 25/26 m.p.g. It commences fairly quickly, if you use the choke. The eagerness of its pick-up and freedom of revving makes this Austin Maxi with the C-AJJ4050A tune a very pleasing car to use when many miles have to be covered as quickly as possible, and the 5th gear then comes into its own. Earlier criticism of Maxi sluggishness was countered by a change from 1,500 to 1,750 c.c. and the twin carburetters and polished exhaust system of the tuned car further improve the performance from the long-stroke engine, to 0-60 m.p.h. in 12.7 sec., for example. The transverse engine snatches violently under sudden throttle opening but the afternoon crawl out of London up the ghastly A40 road had no dire effects on the eyeable little “racer”. I rate this Maxi a good British Buy, at £1,193.—W. B.