Dep-O-tees may recall me mentioning that I drove this Maxi last year, for a feature in Classic & Sports Car magazine. Well, come the 9th March 2013, it will go under the auctioneer’s hammer at Historics At Brooklands – its estimate being £19-24,000.
Thankfully – then as now – I’m potless, because otherwise I would be pummelling the plastic.
The Maxi is one of those BL cars which is frequently mocked, scorned and lambasted, but not by me. We had a 1750 P-regger in the late Seventies and it was the first car the old man bought which didn’t involve me feeling like death and wearing my own lunch each time we ventured from A to B. The Maxi was light, airy, spacious and came with – for a travel-sickness sufferer anyway – all-important opening rear windows.
Sexy, it wasn’t – nor was it stylish, sassy or remotely ‘aspirational’ – but it remains one of the few cars in which I could travel in the rear without feeling like a post-scoff glutton on a rollercoaster. Memories include the useful underseat storage, the way the Hydrolastic used to get confused by cattle grids and riding around on the vast roof-mounted luggage rack during a balmy holiday before the era of ’elf ’n’ snivelling. It was also very reliable – with its only RAC appointment being when the rubber stay for the exhaust’s back-box perished.
I can still remember being genuinely upset when it was chopped in for an Alfetta (cue headrests and many unwelcome return visits to chundersville). Anyway, I digress…
The differences between this Maxi in its World Cup Rally battle dress and our old 1750 are legion and go far beyond a few rally lights and alloy wheels. Benefiting from a recent re-commission and a tune by the original builder, Peter Baldwin, MCE 7G is one of the first 500 Maxis built.
In 1970, Sir Alf Ramsey’s England football squad, was preparing for the Word Cup in Mexico City. The Daily Mirror, in conjunction with the Royal Automobile Club, announced a special motor sport event; a rally which was to be waved off by Sir Alf from Wembley Stadium on 19th April 1970 to finish in Mexico City on 27th May to coincide with the start of the tournament. The rally was named the ‘Daily Mirror World Cup Rally’ and the route passed through Munich, Budapest, Monza, Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago La Paz and Panama.
Four BLMC Austin Maxis were prepared for the event; two Works cars and two private teams – one of which was entered by The Royal Hussars/17/21 Lancers with Capt HRH Prince Michael of Kent and a further private entry prepared by Marshall of Cambridge which was driven by three ladies – Tish Ozanne with Bronwyn Burrell and Tina Kerridge as co-drivers.
The gruelling event consisted: 4500 miles in Europe and 11,500 miles in South America with tight schedules demanding a high pace in order to make each timing point – and the crews also requiring oxygen whilst travelling above 15,000ft in the Andes. Out of 106 starters, only 26 finished.
Hannu Mikkola won the event; Rosemary Smith finished 10th in the Works Maxi taking the Ladies prize, while the other Works Maxi finished 22nd. Capt HRH Prince Michael of Kent went off the road at Ltuporanga, 10 miles from the start at Rio, smashing his drive shafts in the process, and withdrew. The Marshall’s car sadly lost time by getting stuck in mud after leaving Buenos Aires and also had to withdraw. Understandably, they were devastated to have come so far only to fail to finish.
Of these four cars, only two are known to survive today – the Prince Michael car belongs to the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon and MCE 7G.
BLMC was keen for all the Maxis to do well and shared details of the works car preparation with the private teams; therefore, MCE 7G, prepared by Peter Baldwin, apprentice Ray Brand and painter, Richard Watts of Marshall’s of Cambridge, is very much a Works spec Maxi.
The difference between this Maxi in its battle dress and a standard car are legion and go far beyond losing bumpers and gaining magnesium alloys. The bodyshell was been extensively reinforced and lightened. The rear hatch and its rear vents have been welded up above the window-line and now, courtesy of Mini boot hinges, the boot is a conventional notchback and is filled with a flexible 29 gallon fuel tank. The side windows are Perspex and the door skins and bonnet are glass-fibre, whilst the drivetrain and rear suspension units are all protected by undershields.
Closer inspection of the anti-glare bonnet, also betrays changes to the heavy-duty Hydrolastic suspension too – those raised ‘nipples’ actually provide clearance for the Koni dampers’ top mounts.
Lift the bonnet and there now resides a twin-carb 1748cc E-series (complete with rod-operated gearbox) which dates from 1972; fitted at the behest of Tish prior to the 1972 Sherry Rally because she wanted the better gearchange of the later car. Meanwhile inside and behind the rear seats, there is a Hydrolastic pump to adjust suspension ride height.
Both the event’s regulations and endurance experience – underlined by a carburettor altitude compensator and manually adjustable ignition – conspired to make the specification of this E-series nothing terribly exciting. Still, originally, the 95bhp 1485cc engine was tuned according to established know-how from Basil Wales’ department at Abingdon, Special Tuning. It had a standard-fit camshaft in a gas-flowed 9.7:1 cylinder head that was fuelled by a pair of 1.5inch SU carburettors. These HS4s were fitted to an adapted Janspeed MGB manifold because, only the later 1750HL came with factory-fitted twin SUs. Bolt on an oil cooler and an auxiliary water radiator, and that was pretty much it.
If you’ve been lucky enough to drive other old unmolested contenders, then you’ll know what to expect – a gloriously original if shabby interior packed with safety equipment and gauges.
The steering wheel is lower than normal thanks to a steering column lowering bracket, but the rest of the controls are true to Issigonis FWD norm – off bonk. The five-speed gearbox is fine and very familiar to my Landcrab conversant left-hand, but I do wonder how bad the cable-operated original must have been.
Torque delivery and throttle response from the long-stroke E-series is good and on cam, between 3-3500rpm, it emits a lovely warm, sporty timbre. It is more refined, smoother and devoid of the clackety racket generated by the OHV A and B-series in BMC’s older models, whilst at the same time it really does fly along too.
Compared with its Issigonis brethren, the Maxi feels more like a 1300 than the larger 1800. Possessing a far quicker and feelsome steering rack than the 1800, also contributes toward the Maxi’s lighter, more alert feeling. The other being, its smaller dimensions and lower weight, which mean it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a studio flat.
All of which leads to a chuckable car with plenty of grip and little roll due to the Hydrolastic suspension. The addition of dampers to the system means that ceaselessly corrugated roads are ridden well without Hydrolastic’s characteristic rebound float.
The brakes are seldom bothered for a Maxi will always clearly signal its limits with a controllable sideways scurry – part waddle and part shuffle. Not though in this car, given its chunky rubber wheelware and provenance.
All in all, this Maxi is great fun. The standard car is enjoyable, yet when exposed to the magic of Comps and Special Tuning, it moves even closer in spirit to its legendary little brother. Given there is only one other rally Maxi, this highly original and enjoyable machine – looks most certain to realise its estimate.
For more information on Historics at Brooklands next auction on the afternoon of Saturday March 9th, call 0800 988 3838 or visit www.historics.co.uk.