Technician’s Update: Monte’s back from the dead!

Even small but reputable garages can muck up even the simple and routine tasks, but this one caused much head scratching for all involved…

Words & Pictures Mike Humble / MMOC

The Montego 1.6 Estate - A Mechanics dream - but sometimes a nightmare!
The Montego 1.6 Estate - A Mechanics dream - but sometimes a nightmare!

 A great car just dying to get out?

In the past, I may have made the odd pithy remark about the Maestro and Montego, but readers with their heads screwed on will know it’s only a little fun. Otherwise, why would I have owned numerous examples of both types over the past 23 years? Removing the rose tinted glasses, both the Maestro & Montego were far from being bad cars, but there again, they were also far off being excellent ones either. Both variants were a joy to work on, and yes there were major quality issues throughout the lifetime of both models, but both Maestro and Brother Monty, had strong engines with bags of torque and plenty of space to attack the wonky parts with a hammer.

Once any model becomes obsolete and the warranty has expired, the number of that type on the ramps would quickly dwindle away to penny numbers. Unless your customer was mad, loyal, and fussy or had extended cover, they simply went elsewhere for servicing and repairs – dropping out of the dealer network mainly on cost grounds once the 12 month/12,000 mile warranty ended. But even now, you still find the odd emergency job fluttering through the doors which bring a nice fond cry of ahh to some – including me, and every now and again, the odd Maxi and even a Triumph Toledo occasionally would limp into the car park.

A common practice you still find today is sub contracting a job out from one place to another, and one such job I recall well caused much head scratching for a local back street garage involving a truly immaculate Austin Montego 1.6 estate that was owned by a family run funeral director. For the benefit of those who don’t know, not every car on the fleet of said firms are black hearses or limousines. Discretion is key, so when you call upon their services, you will be visited by the director at home in his everyday car which invariably will be in superb condition both visually and mechanically which in this case, was stunning silver Montego.

The Austin Rover S series plant - The forgotten rough diamond engine?

The job sheet mentioned poor running at high revs and because the car arrived on a Saturday morning, there was not a great deal of time to be spent – surely it be no more than a dodgy lead or spark plug. At this time, I ran the parts counter but would often roll my sleeves up in times of all hands to the pump, and this one such occasion. Popping the bonnet and peering inside revealed an engine unlike anything else you would normally see on an S series engine like bone dry cam covers and an engine block so clean, it could almost be mistaken like a factory fresh unit. All the leads and plugs were O: E and like new, ticking over it sounded perfect – until revved up high.

The car would not run over 4500 rpm, and if you tried, the engine would pop and blow back through the air cleaner and even try to backfire, but anything under this speed resulted in a sweet and perfect running engine. Everything was checked and fiddled with but because it occurred at a precise speed, we were convinced it was something electrical and even swapped over the ECU – with identical symptoms. Very soon, we were back on the phone to the other garage for some more probing questions such as how long has this been happening, they seemed unsure but more interrogation later revealed the facts.

They had booked the car into their usual garage who had poked, prodded, come to no conclusion and were starting to look defeated. Towards the end of the call, the other garage chap blurted ‘last time we saw that ruddy car was doing the clutch a few months ago”. By now the pieces were fitting together, the Montego, as do all modern cars; pick the timing points via the flywheel – or in the earlier S series engine, from the clutch cover. The other garage told us to simply get on with it and cure the fault so the Montego stayed on the ramp. I was asked if I wanted some overtime as the service manager was staying on a while longer. Consequently, I jumped at the chance partly due to having a soft spot for the often unloved angular Austin.

It transpired that the fault had become apparent due to the Undertakers deciding to sell the car to a member of staff who had took the car out for a test drive and given it some beans. During company ownership, the car had rarely been out of the local area let alone had a good hard blast through all the gears, maybe this is why since the clutch had been changed no problem was ever noted. Delving deep down in the engine bay, I unbolted the crank sensor from the bell housing to find the probe snapped clean off. Turning the engine over with a socket while carefully inserting my little finger into the hole where the sensor fitted, it quickly became obvious what was wrong so I got the OK to pull the VW sourced gearbox from this otherwise immaculate car.

The clutch cover reluctor teeth as can be seen here - Had been bent by a clumsy fitter.

The Montego 1.6 is a lovely car to work on, and the gearbox was off in an hour finally revealing the nature of the problem. The clutch cover has dozens of teeth called reluctors which pass over a crank sensor; each tooth resembles an angle of timing thus firing the plugs. The tiny crankshaft sensor was broken owing to bent teeth on the clutch cover. This proved that someone had used a tool or a screwdriver to lock the cover while bolting it to the crank, thus bending the parts mentioned, so a new clutch kit was pulled off the dusty shelf along with a used crankshaft sensor. The gearbox was back on by around 4.00pm and the car lowered to the floor.

Turning the key and allowing the engine to warm up, I gave it a foot full and the engine revved right round the dial – success indeed and we managed to collate the (somewhat expensive) bill only to hit problems once again. Upon calling the other garage owner at home to advise him of the issues, he hit the roof and refused to accept the bill or our account of work done. He was round like a flash and all the parts were neatly on display on a paper floor mat on the service reception counter, once we had fully explained and shown the problem he reluctantly settled up. I also recall his threat of breaking his fitter’s legs too!

Mike Humble


  1. That photo is very nostalgia inducing! That’s so similar to my old 1.6HL Montego estate, owned from new 1986-92. Loved that car right up to the body rotting away at around 6 years old!!

  2. Looking at the photo of the S Series, they are so compact by modern standards. Economical too, I seem to remember mine returning around 38 to 43mpg; considerably more than I’ve achieved in any modern turbo diesel I’ve owned over the last 8 years! It’s odd the see an S Series that it’s covered with oil leaks though.

    I do find it spooky how much my current Freelander 2 reminds me of my Montegos, especially the 2.0 that replaced the 1.6. Put photos of them side by side and it looks like they might have been designed by the same person. The driving position, the view from the driver’s seat, the seats themselves and the way it drives, all strangely similar! Give the Land Rover straight to rust bodywork, short lived wheel bearings, shock absorbers and exhausts, along with the more traditional Land Rover panel gaps and the similarities would be complete!

  3. Sounds like the kind of ‘anything but straightforward’ tale from my motoring history!!

    Oh, but I did like the ‘Mon Mon’ as I used to call them!
    The photo, above, takes me back to a time when I was knowledgeable of every latest trim, bodywork modification.

  4. Extremely rare cars now, but I always liked the two litre Montego estate in British racing green. Nice to see one in daily use.

  5. Lovely story and a lovely car, shame the garage owner quibbled over the bill and the threat of breaking the fitters legs. what a rotter, but these cars in this condition are as rare as rocking horse plop…

  6. My old employer had a couple of Montego Estates (a C reg 1.6 base) then an H reg 1.6LX. The latter one was a nice car from new – metallic blue with the 1.6 S series engine. Went well and pretty fast on the motorways and didnt give much trouble as I recall.

  7. They’ve all but disappered off our roads. Seen a grubby estate quite recently but can’t recall the last time I saw a saloon out & about – Wish I’d paid them more attention at the POL.

    I would hardly expect them to be a frequent sight but I don’t even see the odd cherished example – not even a Countryman!

  8. I have not seen any Montego or maestros recently. There used to be a few Ledbury Maestros around here (Worcestershire), but even they seem to have gone now too

  9. A large number of ancient Ford Fiestas, Escorts, Orions and Sierras have reappeared on the roads round here lately. I’ve also seen several early Metros back on the streets. I eagerly await the reappearance of the Monty and Maestro!

    I had no idea that the S Series used such a system for timing, very interesting another great article.

  10. The S-Series always had “mapped” ignition, one of the differences to the short-lived R-Series. The under-bonnet picture is a later car with the combined ignition and carburetter controller (clearly visible just behind the battery), so none of the problems of the edge connector used on the earlier electronic choke unit, but still the potential for bent reluctor teeth.

  11. Thats right Landyboy

    Though the picture was just a general S series shot. The 89MY S series had a MEMS system known as ERIC (electronicaly regulated Ignition and Carburation) which also nulified the Fast Check and Cobest systems of workshop diagnostics, the later system had full interrogation capability and stored fault codes in a similar but more basic way than the current OBD types.

    The later ERIC MEMS system was actually very very trustworthy and was joint development between Rover & Motorola.

  12. When I fitted a new complete new Unipart clutch to my 1.6 Maestro last summer, I discovered some of the reluctor teeth were bent when I took it out of the box…

  13. Wow.. I love the old M-cars – they were so unbelievably simple to work on and so easy to tune – Spen King and his team really did well to make a great simple car rather than a dodgy advanced car – they only real downer were the obvious stories we’ve read about all along.

    Anyway, I cut my teeth on a 1.3 M car and I would argue that they were much more simpler to work on than a Minor or Mini.

    No points, no lever arms, no rubber cones, bolt on wings (in fact most of the front end could be sorted out with a 10mm spanner), no propshaft, and in the case of the 1.3’s, no ECU, especially if you converted to manual choke. In fact literally everything you needed (and nothing you didn’t need) was pretty much all in that cavernous engine bay. Good stuff.

  14. ooo Thats my monty Ive had it since 1988 Its a great car and is used every day and the dogs love it to.

  15. David Dawson and others hoping to see hoping to see a countryman still on the road are likely to be disappointed as the engines tend to be worth more than the cars due to people putting them in Landrovers, and even in Sherpa Camper vans. If anyone wants the remains of an engineless Montego DTi (the underside was undersealed so pretty good last time I saw it. Contact Sam the drummer in Fowey ;¬)The engine managed 670000 miles before getting too smokey for my MOT man, and once taken out for repair unfortunately never went back in :¬(

  16. My beloved Monty DLX Estate got traded in in 99. The dealer was close to a canal and one of the lads wanted the engine for a barge. As far as I know, it’s still chugging up and down the water. At least it lives on…more than can be said for the body shell!

  17. The Montego was a great car,when you consider the alternatives available in 1984.Fords,vauxhalls,all reps cars the Montego at times out sold all of them and still looks modern today!!SOOOOOOO where are all these cars????

  18. I came across a very original brown, D Reg, 1.6L saloon in Plymouth last week. I used to love my Montegos (late 80’s, very early 90’s) abd loved them, but time has not been kind to the styling.

    The estate was by far the best looking, but the saloon is pretty hideous by modern standards. Definitely one for fond memories that don’t bear close inspection!

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