Austin Maxi

The Maxi

Imagine a world where your everyday family hatch came with more interior room than a Rolls Royce yet took up the same road space as an average family car. What if it came with a couple of novel firsts that no other manufacturer had installed in a basic family car?  Now let’s imagine its May 1969 and you’ve just been handed the keys to the new Austin Maxi, the big brother of the hugely successful Austin Mini.

In my last blog I talked lovingly of my current classic car, this time I wish to talk about my first, my Tara Green Maxi, lovingly called ‘The Bean Can’. It was 1800cc’s of pure British Leyland and everything that went along with that. Soft suspension, wooden dash, velour seats and a poor reputation for reliability although it has to be said it was far better than everything else they were building at the time.

I bought it over the internet for a small sum of money on a Friday night, flew to Southampton on Saturday morning and nervously drove it back to Tipperary by Sunday morning. Madness by anyone’s standards, an adventure worth having by mine!

So what made me buy it, well it was practical for a start as it came with a 5 speed gearbox (all part of Austin’s 5 policy for the car, 5 speed, 5 doors, 5 seats) so it wasn’t going to cost the earth to run. It was very different as I hadn’t seen any on our roads at the time. It stood out with its colour. But most importantly it had something which modern cars haven’t, charm! It was sprightly enough and could be driving at the maximum legal speed for hours without breaking a sweat.

For all its failings however, and the Austin Maxi had many, my friends thought it was lovable and different. The girls loved it as it was cute and the guys loved it because it was hilarious to drive with its roly poly gas suspension. The more I drove the more I became confident in what a classic could do. It was very smooth, very easy to drive and proved to be not too troublesome. Although it’s much maligned gearbox forced you to concentrate on every gear change for fear of wrong slotting it.

Seat lay out

It wasn’t an aspirational car like my SD1 but it was all the better for being an honest family car. Having said that it was certainly designed with teenagers in mind or wayward husbands, as the seats inside all folded down into a double bed…….useful for those occasions when you feel tired from driving I’m sure!

The faux wooden dash board looked well and after 132k miles everything inside worked as it should. The original radio had been replaced with a modern unit but I didn’t care. The car cost very little and all these faults could be fixed in time.

As has always been my experience people seem to be more considerate to you while you’re on the road in a classic. I’ve never been tailgated or cut up. Getting let out at a junction is easy and no one seems to rush you, knowing that you can’t go that fast anyway! Middle aged parents laugh and point while their kids look on in awe.

Having said that I did get reminded one morning that not everyone is so kind. I was ran off the road by a lady in who was ‘at speed’ in her much larger 4×4. She refused to give way or space as you would with any car, I hit the brakes hard and that’s when I learned just what happens when you don’t have any modern comforts or safety features. The wheels locked and I went straight for a ditch. To this day I don’t know how I avoided what should have been the end of me and the car but I did! Classics are loads of fun, but you must always remember what you’re driving. Modern driving attitudes just don’t cut it.

In the end I had to part company with the Maxi to finance a return to UCD. I miss it an awful lot, for that reason alone I wasn’t present when its new owner picked it up. My mother was left to explain my absence and that as part of the deal I was to have first refusal when it came up for sale again.

Austin-Maxi interior

However a smile was brought to my face last March when I was attending the St.Patricks day parade in Nenagh and there was my ‘Bean Can’ and its smiling new owners driving up through town bringing smiles to other people and indeed sparking a few memories from the past. I had many people stop me with stories such as the car dealer in Carlow who told me he made good use of the fold down seats to the woman who told me it was the worst car she ever owned.

You can’t please everyone, and while the Maxi did test my patience by self destructing its rarest parts I would still recommend people to buy one for a first classic. It was cheap and cheerful and if you realised classic cars weren’t actually for you afterwards you wouldn’t be much out of pocket.

John O’Sullivan