British Leyland unveiled its new 1500 Austin saloon, called the Maxi in a blaze of publicity in Oporto Portugal

Thursday 24th April 1969

British Leyland unveiled its new 1500 Austin saloon, called the Maxi in a blaze of publicity in Oporto Portugal. It was the first British five-speed five-door hatchback and was one of the first cars to appear on the BBC’s new car programme Wheelbase, a forerunner to Top Gear. Underneath the Maxi’s practical and spacious bodyshell lay an all-new front wheel drive chassis, which was interlinked with an innovative five-speed manual transmission. The latter suffered from notorious problems with its control linkage, especially in early models which had a cable-operated linkage prone to cable stretch and other problems. These were noted by autotesters such as Vicar in Today’s Driver (1969), who wrote: “This is probably a good idea that just needs a little bit of working on.” The later rod linkage was less problematic. All models were prone to problems brought on by the “cogs in the sump” layout, whereby the gearbox and engine shared a common oil supply. The clutch oil seal was also prone to leakage. Power came from a 1485 cc, E-Series petrol engine which would later find its way into other British Leyland products such as the Austin Allegro. The 1750 and twin-carburettor 1750 HL models, added to the range in 1971, offered good performance by the standards of this era, with a top speed of 97mph, while the smaller-engine version could exceed 90 mph. Despite the new platform, the Maxi’s styling suffered from the decision to save tooling costs by carrying over door panels from the Austin 1800 “Landcrab”, which effectively made the Maxi resemble a scaled down version of that car – a design which was by then five years old, at a time when curvaceous “coke bottle” styling (typified by contemporaries such as the Ford Cortina Mk III and Hillman Avenger) was very much in vogue, contrasting sharply with the Maxi’s very obvious mid-1960s looks. Another styling ambition for the car was a four-door saloon version, to compete directly with the Ford Cortina. A prototype was built, badged as a Morris, but it was not put into production, since the booted extension made the Maxi almost the same size as the 1800 model. The Maxi featured a spacious interior, comfortable passenger accommodation, competitive pricing and reasonable running costs, but it was let down by a dull interior and poor build quality, although it was not as notorious for its failings as the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina were during the 1970s. One unusual feature of this car was that the rear seat back, as well as folding forward as in a conventional hatchback, also folded back. In combination with fully reclining front seats this gave satisfactory, if spartan, sleeping accommodation. Towards the end of the Maxi’s life, in 1980, a lightly revised model was marketed as the “Maxi 2”.

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