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The Story of the Austin Maxi

The story begins in 1964. The British Motor Corporation (BMC) was under some pressure to replace (and supplement) its aging product range. The Austin Maxi was an attempt to address both issues.

The car was very much seen by BMC as the latest generation of their transverse engine, front wheel drive range of cars e.g. Mini, 1100/1300, 1800/2200 series. Work began on the car (then known by its code name ADO14) round about 1964/5. The design team was headed by Alec Issigonis designer of the Morris Minor and Mini.

The power unit for the car was initially a problem. The A and B series engines fitted to the 1100 and 1800 series did not meet the cars specification. Head of BMC George Harriman felt he had no option but to design and build a new engine for it….. the E series engine.

The car was new from stem to stern, it had a new engine and transmission (5 speed gearbox), new body and layout (5 door vehicle with fold down seats). The only thing that wasn't new were the doors which belonged to the 1800 series. Having said that the car was a typical BMC design of the time, unitary steel body/chassis unit, transverse mounted engine at the front, hydrolastic suspension, front disc brakes, rack-and-pinion steering,

Design of the car and its production facilities were hit by a series of delays caused amongst other things by financial problems which culminated in 1968 in a merger with the Leyland Motor Group.

The new management that took over the running and launch of the Maxi were decidedly unimpressed. The car was judged very much a BMC product and before and after launch they let it be known that it was not one that they wished to be associated with ……. hardly the premise for a successful launch.

The original prototypes were apparently under-powered and extremely spartan. Launch day was delayed whilst the car had a makeover. When it was eventually launched it was immediately criticized for excessive noise, a poor gearchange and lethargic performance. The criticisms stung the new company into action. In 1970 they replaced the cars notorious cable gear change, improved the cars interior and offered a more powerful 1750cc power unit. A twin carburetor version followed in 1972 as did automatic transmission. Hydrolastic suspension was replaced by Hydragas suspension in 1976.

The sad thing about the car was that apart from a few minor changes to trim levels most notably in 1980 the car received scant attention from British Leyland and was left to soldier on as best it could. A sorry demise for the first British Hatchback.

The 1500 cc version was discontinued in 1979, the 1750 and HL in 1981. Altogether 486,273 were built. The vast majority of Maxi's were produced at BL's plant at Cowley.

Click the icons below for more information about Austin/ BMC/ British Leyland/ Rover and to take a nostalgic trip from 1969 through to 1981 - The Maxi years





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