Always rare, the MG Maestro Turbo remains largely unknown even among MG owners. Unveiled without fuss at the 1988 Birmingham Motor Show, it was Austin-Rover’s superficially dignified response (they could afford dignity — they knew what they had created) to doubts that they could compete with the growing number of high-performance 16-valve hot hatches in the late 1980s.
Production began in 1989 with the slogan ‘Faster than a Ferrari’. It was, too, but the lack of fanfare accompanying the claim meant that only the cognoscenti could appreciate it; and more than two decades later, its spreading word-of-mouth reputation still has the glow of a legendary secret in the telling. The MG Maestro Turbo was a limited edition of 505 including prototypes. Tickford, already collaborators on the suspension tuning and handling, performed the conversion.
Stylistically, the visual balance was a big improvement on the conventional Maestro or even the Maestro EFi, the Turbo’s nearest cousin. The bumpers were much deeper (the front looked especially bold), and with full-length side skirts and a new tailgate spoiler collectively incorporating improved aerodynamics, the Maestro Turbo looked solidly fit for purpose. It was a genuinely practical daily car, but its purpose was acceleration and speed.
It pulled like a train and then kept going. It produced more torque than a Ferrari 246 Dino, but no sign of torque steer during hard acceleration, which must have been a first for a front-wheel drive, transferring both the steering and the full force of its 150 bhp to the road. And it was, indeed, faster than a Ferrari Mondial. It could see off its obvious competitors (VW Golf GTi. and Ford Escort versions) but reliability problems sank any rallying or racing ambitions. Even so, it was MG’s fastest production car to date, and one of the hottest hatches ever built.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: UK
FIRST MANUFACTURED: 1988 (until 1989)
ENGINE: 1,994 cc Straight Four Turbo
PERFORMANCE: Top speed of 132 mph (213 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 6.6 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Ferrari Mondial could only do 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.0 secs. It remains a mystery why Austin-Rover didn’t trumpet the comparison — but Austin-Rover’s ‘Three Ms’ (Metro, Montego and Maestro) have always been seen as unloved outsiders. Branding psychologists (as arcane as any tuning specialist) say it’s because the names feature ‘soft’ consonants.