Austin cars of the 1980s

Austin Metro Vanden Plas
The Metro was the most significant car for BL/Rover Group in the 1980s. The top of the Metro range was the Austin Metro Vanden Plas

Austin started the 1980s as part of British Leyland (BL). In 1986 BL became the Rover Group. British Aerospace bought the Rover Group in 1988.

Austin was the brand name for the group's family cars.

It began the decade with a range of 1970s' cars. Most of the older models were killed off by 1984, but the Mini continued until 2000.

The big news was the Metro which BL launched in 1980. Two other major ranges of the 1980s were the Maestro (family hatchback) and the Montego (saloon). The Montego range included 2-litre engine options, but sporty versions were marketed under the MG brand. Metro, Maestro and Montego all had luxury Vanden Plas derivatives.

A complete list of Austin cars from the 1980s is:


The Mini was never badged as an Austin in the 1980s (or 1970s), but simply Mini.

BL and Rover Group made the original Mini throughout the 1980s. However, with the launch of the Metro in 1980, the Mini range was reduced. The new rationalised line-up from 1982 comprised the basic Mini City and the more luxurious Mayfair. There were numerous limited-edition Minis.

The launch of the Metro caused many buyers to switch away from the Mini. Sales fell from 150,067 in 1980 to 69,986 in 1981. [1]

The Mini Metro owned by Lady Diana Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales
The Mini Metro owned by Lady Diana Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales
Image by Draco2008 licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

Austin (Mini) Metro

The Metro was meant to be the car that saved BL. The Mini had opened a new section of the car market in 1959 for BMC. Their successor, BL, was slow to move into the super-mini market of the 1970s.

When BL launched the Mini Metro in 1980, it was a huge success. One of their first customers was Lady Diana Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales. She bought a red Mini Metro L in 1980.

The original Metro line up was:

The standard Metro was well equipped for the time. It had an electric rear window and an electric fan. Prices stared at £3,045.

Austin Metro Vanden Plas interior
Austin Metro Vanden Plas interior (c1987-8)

A luxurious Vanden Plas derivative and two sporty MG-badged versions were soon added to the range.

The Metro was an excellent car. It was probably the best of the super-minis. For a BL car this was a first; the press loved it. However, the Ford Fiesta still beat the Metro in sales.

By 1987 the Austin Metro range was:

The Mayfair and Vanden Plas were luxury versions. The Mayfair had a 1.3 litre engine, velvet seats, central locking, tinted glass, an electronically programmable stereo system, chrome trim and intermittent wipers. The Vanden Plas had all these plus burr walnut facia and door trim, electric front windows, optional leather seats, sunroof as standard and a leather-trimmed steering wheel. The last update to the Austin Metro range was the GT-a which offered MG-style performance at a lower price.

Austin Maestro 1.3L
An early Austin Maestro 1.3L

Austin Maestro

The Maestro was a replacement for the both the Maxi and the Allegro. Both ranges were struggling in the 1980s.

The Maestro offered a host of technological features. There was a digital dashboard and upmarket Maestros had an optional voice synthesizer. It could remind you to put your seatbelt on or turn the lights off. It was not popular and was soon dropped.

Nevertheless, the Maestro was a modest success, but it did not trouble its Ford and Vauxhall rivals.

By 1986 the Maestro range comprised:

The Maestro Vanden Plas offered luxury from another age which included leather seats, walnut door cappings and cut-pile carpet. Although the picnic tables from the Vanden Plas 1500 were not carried over to the Maestro.

As with BL/Rover's other ranges, the sporting version was an MG, the MG Maestro 2.0EFi.

Austin Montego
An early Austin Montego
Image by TuRbO_J licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

Austin Montego

The Montego was the largest of the three new cars. It had engine options from 1.3 litre to 2.0 litre. The range went from basic to luxurious. The Montego Vanden Plas topped the range on the luxury side. As with the Maestro the top performance cars were badged as MGs.

By 1987 the Montego range comprised:

The range started at basic 1.3 and 1.6 litre cars. There was mid-level HL trim and luxury Mayfair and Vanden Plas versions. The 2.0Si offered near MG performance.

As with the Maestro the Vanden Plas had a very high level of luxury with an old-style leather and walnut interior. It also boasted electric front and rear windows, power steering, a Dolby stereo system, shag pile rugs and special alloy wheels.

There were also estate versions which revived the old Countryman name.

Austin Ambassador 2.0HL, 1983
Austin Ambassador 2.0HL, 1983
Image by Kieran White licensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)

Austin Ambassador

The Austin Ambassador replaced the Princess in 1982. It had a similar body, but with a hatchback rear door. Despite the similarity most of the body panels were different.

The full range was:

Read more


[1] 'Mini after 25 years' by Rob Golding, published by Osprey in 1986, page 220

By Steven Braggs, June 2022

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Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles

Retrowow - vintage, retro and social history

★ Mid Century ★ Facts & Figures ★ Collectibles ★