The Maxi (code name ADO14) was the last car designed under the British Motor Corporation (BMC), and was the last production car designed by Alec Issigonis. Originally under BMC's plan it was to have been called the "Austin 1500" and a saloon version the "Morris 1500" was to follow in the Autumn. However upon the merger of BMC and Leyland the new management ditched the 4-door saloon notchback and develop the Morris Marina instead. Lord Stokes the new chairman decided to also change the hatchback's name to the Maxi in homage to the Mini 10 years earlier.
It was launched in Oporto Portugal on 24 April 1969, to a blaze of publicity being one of the first cars to appear on the BBC's new car programme Wheelbase, a forerunner to Top Gear. It was also the first car after the creation of British Leyland. It followed the five-door hatchback pattern of the French-produced Renault 16, which was European Car of the Year in 1966 following its launch in 1965.
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, where the gearbox and engine shared a common oil supply. The clutch oil seal was also prone to leakage.
Power came from a 1485 cc, later 1748 cc (from 1971) E-Series petrol engine which would later find its way into other British Leyland products like the Austin Allegro. The 1750 and twin-carburettor 1750 HL models offered good performance by the standards of the day.
Despite the new platform, the Maxi's styling suffered from the decision to save tooling costs by carrying over door panels from the BMC ADO17 "Landcrab", which compromised the design. Another styling ambition for the car was a 4-door saloon counterpart — a prototype was built badged as a Morris, but it never made production.
The Maxi featured a spacious interior, comfortable passenger accommodation, competitive prices and reasonable running costs. But it was let down by a dull interior and poor build quality, although it was not quite as notorious for its downfalls 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".
End of production
On 8 July 1981, the Austin Maxi's 12-year production life came to an end. Its effective replacement, the smaller Austin Maestro, which also replaced the smaller Allegro, was introduced in March 1983. The next new model in its sector was the Austin Montego saloon, launched in April 1984 and designed to fill the gap in British Leyland's Austin Rover range left by the demise of the Morris Ital and Austin Ambassador.
Despite its practical design and remarkable space efficiency (it is shorter, narrower and lower than the current model of Ford Fiesta) the Maxi never came close to reaching its projected sales targets, it being one of many 1970s Leyland models that came within a whisker of being world beaters. BL management decisions involving the Maxi had significant knock-on effects to the rest of the car line-up. BL marketing decreed that the Maxi should be the only car in the range to feature a hatchback. This stance was continued until the 1980s and prevented the Morris Marina, Austin Allegro and Princess models gaining hatchbacks despite those designs all being capable of receiving them. The only other BL car to have a layout approaching a hatchback was the Rover SD1 which was a large '4-door coupe/hatch', leaving the company without a car to compete with an up-coming generation of hatchbacks from Europe (most noticeably the Volkswagen Golf) and squandering the lead that BMC and BL had gained in this field.
Austin Maxi "cable-change"Austin Maxi 1750 (LHD)Rear end of the 1980 Maxi 2 Laxi 2 HL*May 1969: Introduction of the Maxi 1500 5-door hatchback with transversely-mounted 1485 cc E Series engine and 5-speed manual gearbox driving the front wheels, independent suspension with hydrolastic shock absorbers (often referred to as "The Cable-Change" models).
- October 1970: Revisions: redesigned front grille with centre badge, bodyside strips, gearchange rods (instead of previous gear cables), better sound insulation, new seat facings, all-new veneered wood dash design and smaller steering wheel. Introduction of the Maxi 1750 with larger 1748 cc engine and revisions as for Maxi 1500.
- 1971: Alternator fitted to all UK Models, revised direction indicator circuit, matt finish wood dash, 1750 now has its own gold/yellow chequered grill badge.
- 1972: Introduction of the Maxi 1750 HL, with twin SU HS6 carburettor version of the 1748 cc engine, which gave a higher output of 91 bhp (68 kW) at 5250 rpm. Other additional features for the HL were 165 x 13 radial ply tyres, black grille with chrome upper and lower strips, with red "HL" motif fitted, red chequered front badge, front bumper under-riders, chrome exhaust trim, black rimmed hub caps, body coloured mouldings along the sides and rear, electric windscreen washers, 3 spoke-alloy steering wheel with leather-bound rim, padded vinyl dashboard, dipping rear view mirror, vanity mirror on passenger sun visor, front door pockets, simulated wooden gear knob and brushed nylon upholstery.
- 1973: Hazard flashers introduced on UK models. Also with the Austin/Morris 1800, there are body changes to the Maxi to simplify production and reduce costs (the A posts are no longer lead loaded).
- 1974: Optional 4-speed automatic transmission available on 1750 & (from May 1979) 1750 HL.
- 1975: Fuel tank enlarged, revisions to the rear squab bed adaption facility. All models now feature cigar lighter and heated rear window as standard.
- 1976: All export LHD Models now designated "Maxi HL" with specification similar to UK 1750 HL without twin carburettor or 3 spoke-alloy steering wheel.
- 1977: Austin name officially dropped by BL under recommendation by the Ryder Report. Model now officially designated Leyland (Austin / Morris Division) Maxi. The only subtle difference to the owner was the rear tailgate badge along with the handbooks, so general public and dealers unofficially still called it the same name. Dual circuit brakes now fitted to UK spec cars.
- 1978: All models now have hydragas suspension instead of previous hydrolastic system, and all models now feature electric windscreen washers. The HL loses its 3-spoke steering wheel and a walnut finish dash replaces its padded dash.
- May 1979: Introduction of the Maxi 1750 HLS with walnut dash and twin carburettor 91 bhp (68 kW) engine previously restricted to the HL (HL now with the single carburettor and wood dash). All models now feature the same copper colored front grill badge, black wipers and door mirrors,the rear tailgate badge is now located below the trim line, also revised switches/instrumentation and the 1500/1750 now have 'Marle' fabric seat facings as to the previous PVC basketweave. Single rear foglight now fitted across range.
- Dec 1979: Maxi 1500 discontinued.
- Aug 1980: Introduction of the Maxi 2 range in 1750 L, 1750 HL and 1750 HLS variations. All models feature new revisions including new bumpers incorporating indicators (front) and reversing lights (rear), new side repeaters, full cover plastic wheel trims and broader side moulding inserts, Inside the instrument bezels where now in matt black, the switchgear was also again revised, the headlight switch was now on the steering column and there was a choke warning light. The L replaced the previous Base model and added LM/MW push button radio, nylon trim, door bins, laminated windscreen and walnut veneer dashboard. The HL gained intermittent screen wipe, velour seats, tinted glass and extra sound insulation. The HLS gained a burr walnut veneer dashboard.
- 1981: Chrome bumpers replaced by Matt Black.
- July 1981: Last Maxi 2 rolls off production line, its place at Cowley taken by the new Triumph Acclaim. The very last Maxi, a champagne L model, is now housed at the Gaydon Motor Heritage Centre.
- 1969 BBC Wheelbase, Tomorrows World and The Money Programme
- 1971 BBC Doctor Who (Terror of the Autons)
- 1971 BBC Out of the Unknown (Deathday)
- 1974 Film Deadly Strangers
- 1975 LWT The New Avengers, Thames The Sweeney
- 1975 Film Carry on Behind
- 1976 BBC Fawlty Towers, Survivors, HTV Children of the Stones
- 1977 BBC King Cinder
- 1978 BBC Z-Cars, Film Sweeney 2
- 1979 BBC Fawlty Towers (2nd Series), LWT The Professionals (Dead Reckoning)
- 1980 BBC Dave Allan (Death/Drink Driving Sketch)
- 1981 LWT The Professionals (The Ojuka Situation)
- 1983 Thames Jemima Shore Investigates
- 1985 Film National Lampoon's European Vacation
- 1990 BBC The Sharp End
- 1993 BBC One Foot in the Grave
- 1996 BBC Our Friends in the North
- 1998 BBC The Lakes
- 2005 Film Munich