This Austin Maestro Countryman Is a Tiny Camper for a Tiny Price

One of the most stylish camper vans of the 1980s wasn't really a van at all.
Historics Auctioneers

If the only thing holding you back from living the #VanLife is a disinterest in vans, then the perfect camper for you is hitting the auction block soon. It’s not what anyone would call a van at all, but a rare 1986 Austin Maestro 500L Countryman conversion, which is based on Austin Rover’s hatchback from the 1980s. It’s one of the rarest iterations of the Maestro, according to Silodrome, and I’d add that’s it’s one of the raddest, too. Because, really, when was the last time you were able to draw the curtains in your hatch or wagon and kick back reading a little Bertrand Russell?

Car-based campers like this Maestro Countryman are largely unheard of in the U.S., where passenger vans or chassis cab trucks are the most common platforms for RVs. But conversions of cars like the Ford Escort, Volkswagen Golf, and Seat Marbella are common overseas and have yielded models like the Seat Terra, VW Caddy, and the Austin Maestro Van.

This Maestro Countryman just takes that further to become a two-door RV with authentic retro flair. Outdoor lovers in the U.S. might shy away from the idea of a car-based conversion due to the cramped living quarters a hatch or wagon might offer, but the Maestro got around that with a higher roofline than the standard model for increased headroom—although it’s unclear just how short you’d have to be to comfortably walk around the cabin. The Maestro Countryman comes with a kitchenette, gas stove, and twin sofas. Its versatile space serves as a living and dining area as well as a bedroom, since the sofas can be combined into a bed. Similar models as this 500L Van were powered by a 1.3-liter inline-four engine, although the listing doesn’t specify what engine is in this camper. Other unique bits are the Maestro’s tail lights shared with the Land Rover Discovery.

Historics Auctioneers calls it a “portable studio apartment” and goes on to say the Maestro has been mostly garage-kept since being built at Morris’ former plant in Oxford, where BMW now makes the Mini. The Countryman still has its original interior with flat brown curtains and plaid upholstery. It’s also been treated with Waxoyl to stave off rust, and generally looks solid for its age at 38. The camper has been kept as close to stock as possible, which is notable given the odometer reading of nearly 97,000 miles. It’s hardly a high-mileage hero, but the camper has seen its share of driving despite these Austins being infamous for their lackluster reliability. That means someone (or five someones, according to the auction listing) loved this camper and took proper care to preserve it.

The Maestro Countryman auction is projected to close at a price between £5,000–£7,000, or about $6,300–$8,800 at current exchange rates. That’s not a ton of money for a rare camper conversion, let alone for a rolling studio like the Countryman. It’ll cross the block on May 11 in the U.K., though it’s obviously well past the 25-year exclusion for legal import to the U.S.

Of course, I am biased towards small cars, as you may have learned by reading about my BMW 318ti at Jalopnik. That bias extends to something as unique and stylish as this small camper. I’ve slept inside my hatchback on more than one occasion while car-camping in Big Bend National Park and beyond. I can tell you that I would’ve loved a kitchen and bed all to myself on those trips—cramped though they would’ve been, as in the case of this rare and unexpectedly affordable Austin Maestro Countryman.

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