Our Cars : Mike’s Montego – supreme reliability forces reluctant sale

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

The Project MintEgo has been thrust into daily use for a good while now. Don’t we just hate totally reliable cars? 0urs went on public display at the NEC recently and we were taken aback at the positive comments, but is it time for something different?

Allow Mike to explain…

The MMOC stand just after setting up but before the swelling crowd.
The M&MOC stand just after setting up but before the swelling crowd

I knew it… I just bloody knew it; I was convinced there was a cracking car just waiting to get out. Well, keep it between you and me, but, after an initial – near vertical – learning curve, that seems to be the case with the Montego. Okay, I’ll admit there were one or two moments where selling my old Project 75 was regretted bitterly. But I persevered with the Montego, knuckled down, isolated each issue in turn and finally cracked it.

It’s now covered more than 3000 miles without fault since I bought it and, although that may not seem that impressive to some, just a few months ago, a simple trip to the paper shop could be fraught with fear and adventure.

Dependable cars don’t exactly make for good reading on these pages – you like to hear about breakdowns, puddles of coolant and other motoring misery in our incumbency. That said, though, I think a car that once had a reputation for being more fragile than a wine glass deserves one or two words of praise.

Not since I bounced around in a Triumph Dolomite many years ago have I been flattered by the comments and attention the Montego has received. Every journey or trip to the petrol station ends up in dialogue with someone who owned one or has a personal anecdote about Rover’s misunderstood Montego.

This was once more proved recently up at the NEC. The car spent a pair of days basking with glory under the spotlights during the Practical Classics -sponsored Restoration and Classic Car Show. As part of the Maestro & Montego Owners Club display, my Monty was one of four cars on our small but incredibly busy stand.

We had two of each that included a leather-clad VP Maestro that turned into a four-wheeled Burco in the long queue to enter the hall and a genuine barn find, ultra-rare Montego GTi estate. The latter had never been run for two years and came in on a trailer but drove out under its own power on the closing day.

"how long did it take to restore this?" said Mr Anstead. He was blown away with the Montego and turns out his Dad ran one, same model... same colour!
‘So how long did it take to restore this?’ asks Ant Anstead. He was blown away with the
Montego when told it was all original – it turns out his Dad ran one, same exact model,
same exact colour!

Caption: ‘So how long did it take to restore this?’ asks Ant Anstead. He was blown away by the Montego when told it was all original – it turns out his Dad ran one, same exact model, same exact colour!

The ethos of the show is to undertake jobs or attention (where HSE rules allow) and our stand’s tasks included renovating a roof lining, fitting a Kenlowe cooling fan to the aforementioned VP and swapping a replacement rear wiper motor over on a 1.3 Special.

My Montego received another new timing belt and some old stock brand new KYB rear dampers during the weekend, so now it actually rides like a medium saloon should do – it’s a far cry from the rear end feeling like a water bed when cruising at high speed. What made the event all the more memorable were the visiting punters’ attitudes and comments about the Maestro and Montego.

To say that time heals old wounds is an understatement – not one single person was heard to be laughing at or dissing our bandy gang of clunkers. If I had been given a pound for every story or tale about Monstro motoring during the two days I’d have had enough to cover the fuel and accommodation costs.

The atmosphere was full of love and affection, not just for our display but for every single item on display. I spoke with former owners, mechanics, track workers and adults whose only experience was travelling in the back of Mum or Dad’s 1.6HL. Even Ant Anstead came over to speak with me and sat in my car – it turns out his father had exactly the same model in exactly the same colour!

John Batchelor in split personality role represented the SD1 and Rover 200 / 400 clubs.
John Batchelor, in split-personality mode, represented the SD1 and Rover 200 & 400 Clubs

Other BMC>MG Clubs were also in full attendance. John Batchelor was there in dual mode representing the Rover SD1 Club and Rover 200 & 400 Owners Club. It was here I swapped tips about K-Series engine rebuilds with a smashing bloke whose name escapes me. Personally, the only problem I have with this kind of event is that more time is spent gassing than actually meandering around the cars themselves.

Every year, I promise myself more time looking than chatting – every year nothing changes. I did, of course, get chance to sprint round the cars and the autojumble eventually. It was rather like a scene from Treasure Hunt – although an out-of-breath fat bloke doesn’t quite cut the same visual image as that of a younger Anneka Rice or Annabel Croft.

Anyway, the Montego performed brilliantly both there and back, the public seemed to appreciate it – as do I, but there is another problem. Again, I have gone as far as I can so far as mechanical integrity and reliability are concerned. It’s perhaps time for someone else to maybe enjoy the fruits of my labour.

Not only that but, with ‘er indoors moaning like a blocked-up Hoover about its lack of power steering and other items like cruise and climate control, I am now swinging towards another luxo-barge… and a type I have never actually owned before. Oh, and while I think about it, I’ve often been asked about the number plates, so click here if you fancy something similar for that all important attention to detail.

Watch this space!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

9 Comments

  1. If its not already sold Mike, I could well be interested in buying your Monty, its just the sort of long term keeper I have been looking for having owned 2 Montego and 1 Maestro in the past. Drop me a line if its still available.

  2. You’re not the only mechanical masochist, Mike. Motor Sport magazine printed a letter circa 1969, from someone who loved challenging mechanical problems; so given that Vauxhall Victors had a dreadful reputation for reliability, he bought a new one, to see what broke, and how he could fix it. It was a 1600 estate, probably the least able to take a pounding in the whole range.
    Some time later, having thrashed the car mercilessly, and neglected it as much as he could, he was very disappointed to say that it had never broken down!

    Back to Montegos – for all the bad press they have received, they were more durable than Sierras or Cavaliers back in the day – I remember two Lucas pool cars, an 84 and an 85; each had about 110k on the clock and had dull and dented bodywork, but drove well. In the late eighties, that was a lot of mileage – especially with lots of different drivers, most of whom cared nothing for the car.

    One of the Montegos had a coughing fit after filling up at a local petrol station. So we put it on a ramp, and drained out some petrol underneath. Our factory chemical lab’ confirmed our suspicions – the petrol had been diluted with chip fat! Maybe they thought it was the diesel tank?

  3. @ Ken Strachan, you sure FD Victors were that unreliable, yes they could rust and weren’t very well made, but mechanically they were quite solid for that era. It used to be said in the sixties that Vauxhall’s main selling point were their robust and tuneable engines.

  4. Please, please, please let me know if you want it to go to a good home in the Cambridgeshire countryside where it will be kept in a warm garage, taken out for shows in the summer, polished and throughly looked after. Think of it as a retirement home for BLs finest!

  5. Mike, if you want a luxo barge what about a Vauxhall Senator? Shocking how few of those remain considering how common they used to be.

  6. Glenn, Vauxhall engines were certainly tunable, a Ventora with triple Webers being a fearsome beast; but in my experience, both the slant four engines and the cars surrounding them were a challenge to keep running. Particular memories include a Firenza wiring loom failure in Galashiels and a Viva 2300 door latch mechanism coming to bits in Bedlinog.
    As the distributor was mounted above the oil pump, both my slant fours had a habit of cutting out (due to pressurized oil creeping up the dizzy driveshaft and insulating crucial parts of the ignition) just as I was committed to a daring overtaking move.
    The Firenza had a Y-piece in the exhaust in front of all the silencers, which split its front joint three times between Chichester and London – in the end, fed up with lying in the road re-assembling clamps, I got the two parts welded together. A bit like BLARG – final development done by the customer!
    They don’t make cars like they used to – thank goodness.

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