On this day in auto history – April 24th

Sat 24th Apr 2021

It was on this day in 1969 that the recently-formed British Leyland unveiled its first new car - the Austin Maxi - in a blaze of publicity when it was featured on the BBC’s new car programme, Wheelbase - an early forerunner to Top Gear.

In an era dominated by saloons, the Maxi became the first hatchback to be mass-produced in Britain from its Cowley base in Oxfordshire with its practical and spacious bodyshell being its main selling point.

Though early sales were encouraging, the Maxi suffered from indifferent reviews which criticised its dull interior, poor build quality and general unreliability - problems which seemed endemic with British cars at the time.

Though sales never hit their initial projections, the Maxi, buoyed by several facelifts, remained strong enough to enjoy a 12-year production run before it was discontinued in 1981.

Its successor, the Austin Maestro, also fell short of expectations and was discontinued after just five years under intense pressure from new hatchback competitors like the Vauxhall Cavalier and Ford Sierra.