Home » Forget Sleeping In An Airstream When You Can Buy A Groovy Camper Made Out A Tiny British Van

Forget Sleeping In An Airstream When You Can Buy A Groovy Camper Made Out A Tiny British Van

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Summer is coming, which means Americans are about to fill up the nation’s beautiful highways with gigantic and usually boring RVs, many of which will cost you more than a nice cottage in the Midwest. Forget about those rigs because I found some with some British charm. This 1986 Austin Maestro 500L Countryman is a surprisingly practical camper made out of a small delivery van and it can be yours for the princely sum of $8,844 or so before importation.

This groovy camper was spotted first by the folks of Silodrome and it’s going up for auction by Historics Auctioneers in the UK. The camper will be featured in the auction’s Farnborough International Exhibition Centre event happening on May 11. Despite how awesome this vintage machine is, it’s expected to go for the equivalent of $6,317 to $8,844. From there, you’d have to pay extra fees to import it into America.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

But once you do that, you’ll have something you won’t see elsewhere on American roads. I mean, just take a gander at this little guy.

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Designed To Compete With The VW Golf

The best source for the Austin Maestro appears to be the British car historians of AROnline, and this one is a doozy. This story takes us back to 1977. Just two years earlier, British Leyland Limited was created after British Leyland Motor Corporation Ltd was nationalized after its collapse. British-South African business executive Sir Michael Owen Edwardes took the helm of the beleaguered automaker. His mission was a difficult one as Edwardes had to pull British Leyland out of its 1970s slump.

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Edwardes’ ambitious plan called for bringing British Leyand’s cars into the modern era using cutting-edge technology. He started with the 1980 Austin Metro small car, then set his sights on a new line of mid-range cars. As AROnline writes, engineers Spen King and Gordon Bashford began development on a mid-size hatch began in mid-1975. This new car was a conventional front-engine, front-wheel-drive car with a regular suspension for the day. Reportedly, King said they had no reason to do anything special. It just followed the same idea as the early VW Golf. Designer Harris Mann sketched a futuristic hatch for the program, one that was far ahead of the Golf. However, progress was slow.

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Austin Rover via eBay

Eventually, Edwardes saw this vehicle as something British Leyland could use to secure its future. Thus, the ADO99 development program was given the backing and a new name, LC10. This car would be available as a hatchback and notchback, replacing the Allegro, Marina, and Maxi. Edwardes also scored government funding, too, so the car was primed to become a reality. Reportedly, getting the LC10 into production was so important that Edwardes canceled other projects that got in the LC10’s way.

AROnline notes that the decision to focus on a five-door hatchback, codenamed LM10, was strategic. While Brits still loved their sedans, Europe was seeing a storm of hatches like the Volkswagen Golf. British Leyland didn’t just have to attract customers in the UK, but it also had to court buyers all over Europe. Front drive hatches were hot, so a front-drive hatch they would get.

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Austin Rover

And like the Golf, the Maestro wasn’t anything too amazing. It was given a two-box design, a small engine, and a standard layout. British Leyland even resisted being cute and didn’t give the Maestro the company’s Hydragas suspension. Instead, it got MacPherson struts up front and a trailing arm rear, nothing too special.

Even the engine wasn’t anything crazy, as engineers took the existing E-Series four-cylinder engine, resized it to 1598cc, and called it the R-Series four. Eventually, the Maestro was available with a number of engines ranging from the 1.3-liter A-Series engine to a 2.0-liter diesel four.

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S L1600 (27)
Austin Rover via eBay

 

The Maestro made its debut in 1983 and while it didn’t look like a spaceship like the initial sketches, it was still somewhat advanced. It featured a flush windscreen, integrated body-color bumpers, and a coefficient of drag of 0.36. Some versions even had a voice synthesizer to tell the driver to put on a seatbelt or to warn about vehicle issues.

The Maestro launched for the 1984 model year to a decent amount of success. It seemed that Britain matched the Germans at their own game. Then, reportedly, the cars gained a nasty reputation for unfortunate build quality and poor reliability. British Leyland sold over 80,000 Maestros in its second year of sales, then the vehicle went into a demand decline.

The Camper

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Soon after the Maestro car was launched, a commercial van followed. Some builders took these vans and turned them into tiny campers. One of these builders was a company called Tandy, which made quite a few Maestro 500L-based campers. Phoenix Motorhomes also made campers based on the Maestro van.

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In case you were curious, the “500L” relates to the van’s 500-kilogram (1,102-pound) carrying capacity. A previous auction claimed this van is powered by the 1.3-liter A-Series four and bolted to a four-speed manual. If true, this engine is sending about 68 HP to the front wheels. It’s moving a van that measures about 14.2 feet long and has a curb weight of around 2,116 pounds. However, that weight is without the camping equipment. So, it’s not going to be a fast van, but it should still go highway speed.

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It’s unclear which company made this 1986 Austin Maestro 500L Countryman camper. I couldn’t find any other Maestro camper that looked exactly like this one. Also disappointing is the lack of identifying marks inside of this camper. In my search for answers for this van I found that it sold for £3,575 in 2019 in a Hobbs Parker auction and was listed for sale again in 2020. It was sold on Historics Auctioneers in 2020 as well for £4,980. The vehicle was noted to have 90,000 miles in 2020 and now it’s claimed to have 96,600 miles, so it isn’t driven much.

That said, this rad camper appears to be in great condition and features side windows and a high top. You won’t be able to stand up in this van, but it looks pretty cozy for the size.

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The interior features two cushioned benches that turn into a bed. Historics Auctioneers notes that the cushions have their original covers, but new padding. In the center of the floor is a mounting point for a dinette table. It’s unclear if the table comes in the sale or if it is missing.

Also unknown is what’s under the counter on the right side of the van. What we are told is that you get a two-burner gas stove and that the camper is still in original condition after all of these years. That’s amazing. If you want in on the camper, the Historics Auctioneers Farnborough International Exhibition Centre event runs on May 11. The van is being sold at no reserve with an expected sale of around $6,317 to $8,844.

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Overall, it seems like a pretty cool camper van. Sure, it’s not a fancy Airstream Interstate, but it doesn’t cost $200,000 either. Even if you paid the $8,844 high-end estimate, you could probably get this van landed in America for less than $16,000. You can’t get a new van for that, and no used van will look like this one does.

(Images: Historics Auctioneers, unless otherwise noted.)

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Phuzz
Phuzz
2 months ago

This van hasn’t had an MOT since 2021, so I’d be expecting a number of problems have built up while it’s been off the road.
(You can look up the MOT history of UK vehicles, direct from the DVLA’s website).

Mind you, being a Maestro is a big enough issue all on it’s own. They were distinctly average compared to other cars from the mid-seventies, which was a bit of an issue, because Austin started selling them in the eighties.
That some were still on sale in 2001 boggles the mind.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 months ago

We had an Austin Maestro in the early 90s. The entire front wheel assembly on the driver’s side fell off whilst turning out of a parking space. The Allegro was actually better built than these things.

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
2 months ago
Reply to  Gilbert Wham

I’ve got an Allegro and a Maestro. In my experience each is worse than the other.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Yeah, you are a brave man alright.

Cautionary Tail-Light
Cautionary Tail-Light
2 months ago

I learnt to drive in two vehicles in England in the early 1990s; a 1984 Lada Riva (not Niva) estate, identical to this one:

https://live.staticflickr.com/7156/6699724131_90f047147c_b.jpg

and a 1985 Maestro 1.3 hatch that looked like this:

https://live.staticflickr.com/5133/5524229902_53a419050b_b.jpg

Even as complete car noob I could tell the Maestro was a better car, but not by much. The Riva had a gearshift action that felt like stirring a box of hammers. Driving it around in a bumpy field, it could take so long to find second when shifting 1-2 that the car would actually come to a stop…

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
2 months ago

The Maestro’s styling looks conventional at first glance, but Harris Mann couldn’t stop himself from adding a quirk somewhere. If you think there is something odd or ill-fitting looking about the front doors, it’s because he gave the Maestro a reverse wedge in the beltline.
It looks bad enough on the van but, when BL realized they needed a three-box saloon after all, the designers needed something to try to match the beltline to the boot and added massive lumps of plastic to the tops of the doors.
https://www.autocar.co.uk/sites/autocar.co.uk/files/images/car-reviews/first-drives/legacy/main-pic.png

David Frisby
David Frisby
2 months ago

That’s a great write up, thank you. Some random facts about the Maestro van.
The A Series Engine is the same as the Mini Cooper, MG Midget, and Morris Minor and many others
The 4 speed gearbox was actually supplied by VW, so it is part Golf.
The rear lights of the Maestro van were used for the Land Rover Discovery 1,
The 2.0litre diesel engine was the first high speed direct injection diesel, very economical and powerful but loud enough to wake the dead!

Arrest-me Red
Arrest-me Red
2 months ago

While interesting this a rolling tent with very low ccc once you add in the passengers, you can your favorite half empty Kleenex box

I like to have a bit of room and would go for a used Cruise America RV or lottery winnings a Super C. It is pretty much bring your house, pets, food, along for the ride

Granted I would not fault someone for buying this, just not for me.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
2 months ago

How available are Maestro parts these days? Asking for a friend. 🙂

Mike Harrell
Mike Harrell
2 months ago

As the current owner of this 1983 Austin Maestro Vanden Plas:

https://live.staticflickr.com/7307/8819450566_6ce401ee81_c.jpg

I’ll say that, depending on the parts, they’re about as easy to find as HMV Freeway parts. I haven’t yet had to pay international shipping for Freeway parts, though.

OverlandingSprinter
OverlandingSprinter
2 months ago
Reply to  Mike Harrell

Oh, ouch.

The Maestro is a neat-looking car. The camper feature on this page is quite fetching.

Jim Stock
Jim Stock
2 months ago

I love it. Not sure about using that stove bent over that far.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
2 months ago

This would make a pretty decent 2 person camper, as long as you weren’t in a hurry.

And handy with tools.

And not afraid of death.

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago

This is a good size for a camper van, short enough to fit in normal parking spaces and not be a total handful driving around town, likely fits in a normal garage, and the fuel economy penalty shouldn’t be too bad. You could drive it as a semi-daily, which would avoid the issues that happen with motorhomes that sit around too long, rotting, and there’s still enough open floor space in the back that you can haul stuff with it from time to time.

Only issue I see is that the back seats don’t seem to have seat belts, so probably not legal to take more than one passenger, at least in most jurisdictions

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