Car of The Month : August 2015 – John Pollard’s Montego 1.6LX

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

There’s something uniquely appealing about picking up a low-mileage classic car. It’s having all the joy of a new car, without, er, having to own a new car. 

John Pollard’s Montego 1.6LX was pretty much a new car when he bought it 10 months ago – and today, it still feels and smells, like a box-fresh example, with a little more than 20,000 miles on the clock.

Words and photography: Keith Adams

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By 1990, when John Pollard’s stunning Montego 1.6LX rolled out of Cowley, it’s fair to say that all of the production and engineering ‘issues’ which affected the original cars had long since been ironed out. With the 88.5MY facelift of 1988, the uprated switchgear, seats and improved colour pallette had breathed new life into Rover’s very capable, but hardly sexy, midliner.

Today, unless you’re an early car fetishist, these late-spec cars really are the most appealing. This one, for instance, comes with a tilt/slide sunroof, electric front windows, electric sunroof, electric mirrors and central locking – and that all important duotone paint job, which was all the rage back in the late-1980s. John has owned this car 10 months, and he’s clearly attached to it, as it’s polished to within an inch of its life, and aside from a single blib of rust on the rear screen base, it is to, all intents and purposes, a two-year old car.

We love it. So much so, that as we pore over it at the BMC/BL Rally at Peterborough, Mike Humble begins to talk Stevenage man John into selling it as it sits gleaming on the Maestro and Montego Owners Club area. Blimey!

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S-Series engine is like new, with nary an oil leak to spoil the as-new feeling of this car

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The ‘Roverised’ Montego came with Roveresque badging – but it was still an Austin

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The 1.6LX was intended as the main ‘fleet special’, which meant equipment galore

John says, ‘I’ve done about 1500 miles in it since I’ve had it, and it’s given me trouble-free motoring. As I’ve taken early retirement, it’s nice to have a car to play around with and, although I’ve always had Triumphs, it seems that I have now become Montego man. And you can’t argue with the fact they’re easy to work on.’

Being the quintessential company car from the 1980s, you’d think that ex-fleet car man John is nostalgic for the Montego through having them back in the day. ‘I never used to like the Montego back in the day when I was on the company car ladder,’ he smiles. ‘I was a Cavalier man back then, I’m ashamed to say. But now I have one, you don’t see many on the road, it has a bit of character, I love it.’

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Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007.

Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Classics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent...

Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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19 Comments

  1. Still got a soft spot for the late model Montego.

    The seats in the ’89 Monty I ran for a couple of years still rank as probably the most comfortable in any car I’ve ever owned.

  2. Oh yes! A Montego as Car Of The Month! I have a soft spot for them, especially the facelift cars. At the time, the trim on the post ’88 cars exuded Rover class. Saw one at POL and I still thought ‘quality’.

    It was an appealing car in the late eighties, early nineties. Its new found quality added so much.

  3. One of my colleagues had a facelift Montego 1.6LX Estate like this (also H reg, same colour & with the Rover shaped badging etc). It ran well, was fairly pacy and well equipped. He liked it so much that he bought it from our employer when he retired and kept it a few more years.

    As stated here, the later Montego’s were much better cars after the earlier problems were ironed out.

  4. Ran three Montegos from ’93-’98

    The first an D reg 1.6 L estate – had probably been clocked and was running a (badly fitted) later engine. Once the engine was properly sorted it was an ok car, even went on holiday down to the South if France, with my mate in his new Cavalier 1.7TD. Big problem with the electronic controlled carb though, when changing down to a junction or roundabout etc. it would ‘fluff’ and then once back on the power it would blow grey smoke out – just like a smoke screen. It brought much amusment that holiday, although we were a bit concerned that every time, would be the last – but not in a good way. Never did get to the bottom of it but always wondered if it was early ecu and later engine mismatch. Got rid when the rear arches rusted away and also the gearbox was tired – traded it for –

    A G reg 2.0 GTi auto estate in BRG – a great looking car and in a different league quality wise. 89-90 really was Rovers highwater mark. The comment about the seats prompted this response, they really were excellent. This was a good car to drive and clocked 130k miles and that O series was still one of the smoothest British engines I’ve known – although with the autobox very thirsty – winter running saw 16mpg. Got rid because of more rust and the dreadful mpg.

    Next was a very late M reg TD Clubman estate – bought privately from the first owner with only 30k, remember it being a good price – I think he’d valued it from an offered but not not taken trade-in. Low spec but good mechanics, although these last of line seats were awful, so bad in fact that I completely swapped the interior out of the GTi. It made a great selling feature – interior almost like new! This car was to be a keeper and 30k later just after a full (expensive) service it was twocked and written off……..

    Montegos were so ‘nearly’ cars, it was surprisng what a difference (at the time) the budget 88.5 facelift made, but the rust was always the biggest problem.

    Replaced with R8s, 800s and even a ZTT 260(this put me off British cars for good). Now the wife drives SAAB and I’ve gone over to old Hondas and Toyotas.

  5. It’s 1988 and you can choose a Montego or Cavalier. The Montego drives well but the engine of the Cavalier is smoother and revs more readily. For me, Cavalier by choice. I was there in the company car park full of leftovers at the time (Christmas 1988) and unfortunately I had to have the Sierra as that was the car for my grade. Horrible car and I would have had a 1.6 Montego if I could.

    In 1990 the Monty was up against the revised Cavalier. The handling of the newer model never felt secure to my steering hands and although the GM engine was still a honey I think I would go for the Monty.

  6. Perhaps if the Montego had been available from day one with the PG1 gearbox in 1.3 & 1.6 form, car salesmen might not have steered people with great success into SD3s instead fo Maestros & Montegos.

    • Indeed. If only there was access to a time machine, but just imagine how much of a real competitor they’d have been if they’d launched in ’80/’81?!?*

      *Roy Axe tweaks & PG1 included of course

  7. Always quite liked these but never driven one (would love to tbh) but given the year would I have one of these or an early r8, what I think I need is……a double garage

  8. Bought an F reg MG 2.0efi for buttons about 15 years ago. Not perfect condition but handling and engine were the best, especially around Devon country lanes. Never enjoyed a car as much before or since. Had a Rover 600 which was close, but not quite.

  9. The 1989 estate in British Racing Green with a 2 litre engine was a nice looking car, really made the Montego look upmarket. Even without the GTI engine this was a nice car to be in and the quality problems had been mostly beaten after 1988.

    • But all of the 2-litre injected models had the same engine?

      The GTi benefited from a close-ratio ‘box and that was it.

  10. But all of the 2-litre injected models had the same engine?

    The GTi benefited from a close-ratio ‘box and that was it.

  11. Its a pity the 88.5 facelift couldn’t have gone a bit further and tweaked the body more – taking out the scallops for a start. Also the no make badging associated with Austin’s – or where they Rovers? – at this time did nothing to help the car buying public or company car users understand what the Montego, or Maestro for that matter stood for. What marketing genius came up with that idea?

  12. I bought a 1989 BRG 2.0GSi estate at two years old with 94k on the clock. I ran it for 4.5yrs and took it up to 225k miles. Great car and I didn’t touch the engine and gearbox apart from routine maintenance. It did fail it’s first MOT on a rotten sill though! I followed it up with a very late Flame Red 2.0i Countryman and put 120k on that in the next 5.5yrs. So overall I did 250k in Montys over 10 yrs. The Countryman was not as good as the GSi. The combination of the Catalyst, close ratio gearbox, cheaper carpet and trim made it a less relaxed and noisier drive.
    The 88.5MY models, particularly the estates with the 2 litre injected engines were very under rated cars.

  13. Same old story with everything that Austin Rover made, fundamentally good cars that had a terrible start and came good when it was too late. Had I bought a Rover era Montego over an Austin one, I would have had a much better car than the awful Austin one I had in the nineties.
    Mind you, when these cars did come good, Ford went really backwards with the 1990 Escort, which was a disaster, and the 1989 Fiesta, which offered nothing over the previous model, not to mention newer engines in the Sierra that were completely unreliable and the less than thrilling Mark 3 Granada.

  14. Someone I worked with had an L reg Montego diesel estate that was a hand me down from his Dad which he thought was great. Like Glenn mentioned it took too long for many BL / AR cars to come good.

    Ford seemed to get in a mess for a few years which helped things for Rover, but when the Mondeo came along & the Mk5 was relaunched as it should have been in the first place Ford bounced back.

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