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
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 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 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!