IT was sent to Bulgaria in parts to be assembled in the 1990s but now, more than 20 years on, the Maestro returned to its Cowley birthplace ahead of trip of a lifetime.

‘Manuel’ the Rover Maestro will make a 16,000-mile journey to Mongolia – and hopefully back again – to raise funds for charity.

But prior to its mammoth journey on the Mongol Rally, which starts on Sunday, the classic Rover took a pit stop at the place where its parts were made: the city’s Mini Plant.

The Maestro was among a batch sent to be assembled in Varna, Bulgaria, as kits after Cowley closed its production lines for the model in 1995.

Rolling off the production line on foreign shores in 1996 and registered in 1999, Manuel travelled many miles before current owner Max Holder, from North Oxford, spotted the left-hand drive on eBay and bought it for £510 last year.

The 24-year-old, along with fellow Exeter University student Matt Smith, 20, will depart from Goodwood on their eight-week trip, which will see them cross Europe, Kazakhstan, Russia, into Mongolia and on to the Siberian town of Ulan-Ude, 400 miles north of the Mongolian capital Ulan Baatar.

Its return journey will take them across the Artic Circle.

Mr Holder, from Woodstock Road, said he was “absolutely car mad”, adding he had always wanted to do a Top Gear-style trip like this.

He said cars were a ‘passion’ for him and his father Nigel, adding: “Dad taught me to drive when I was five. I love mechanics and tinkering with cars.”

The pair will take the trip in their ‘psychedelic’ Maestro along with more than 200 cars. They have also raised more than £1,000 for Cool Earth, a charity which campaigns against man-made climate change and the destruction of rainforests. 

Mr Holder said he wasn’t expected a problem-free journey to the other side of the world.

He added: “Maestros are known for rotting really badly, but this one is absolutely immaculate.

“It’s quite slow, though. It’s got the same engine as a Morris Minor. I’ve been working so long on this car as there are so many parts that could break.”

Steve Houseman, general manager at the Mini Plant, was in charge of the logistics and supply operation to Varna in Bulgaria the 1990s.

He said: “This brings back a lot of memories – memories of what was definitely quite a bizarre, but pretty exciting project for Rover at the time.

"I wish Max and Matt all the very best of luck on their mammoth road trip.”