News : Cowley celebrates Montego 30th with a VIP

Words: Dave Richards Photography: Dave Richards and Tanya Field

Nicolette Mckenzie, the voice of the Maestro digital dash - is united with an ultra-rare early Montego...
Nicolette McKenzie, the voice of the Maestro digital dash – is reunited with the car she helped define…

On 27 April members of the Maestro & Montego Owners Club met at MINI Plant Oxford for their Drive It Day gathering, but the occasion being celebrated was the 30th birthday of the Montego, launched on 25 April 1984, and built at this site, formerly known as Austin Rover’s Cowley works.

Keen enthusiast Tanya Field had put together a spectacular day for fellow club members, which included access to the small museum on the site and a special display of material loaned by stunt driver Russ Swift, who admitted that a TV advert for the Montego featuring him driving the newly-launched car on two wheels was ‘my big break’ and has resulted in a long career of display driving since.

Cars from all eras of production were on view, but included the rare early MG models featuring the famous ‘talking dashboard’, voiced by actress Nicolette McKenzie. Nicolette herself travelled up from London to meet the owners of the cars keeping her voice alive. She entertained everyone by giving live renditions of ‘The boot is open. The boot is OPEN. THE BOOT IS OPEN’ as she had to record them.

She also cut the celebratory cake, made in the shape and colour of the oldest remaining Montego, registered A122TOO and owned by John Corbett. He travelled up from Brighton in the pre-production car. He told AROnline: ‘It was made before the car was launched and, interestingly, doesn’t have the same type of rear seat belt trims in the parcel shelf as the rest of the cars still in existence.’

Tanya Field said: ‘A really enjoyable day with double the number of Maestros and Montegos that I was expecting – a great sight to see. We were also visited by other classics taking part in Drive It Day and lots of former employees – you can’t beat exchanging stories with those who built the cars. Our VIP, Nicolette McKenzie, was just perfect, it really was a joy to meet and speak to her.’

Visitors in other classics – and not all made by Austin Rover – popped in to the celebrations during the day, as part of the FBHVC’s Drive It Day, but at Cowley Works, it was the Montego’s day in the limelight.

Left to right: Jeff Armitage, Jason Field, Nicolette Mckenzie and Tanya Field cut the special Montego cake for the benefit of the Oxford Mail's photographer.
Left to right: Jeff Patterson, John Corbett, Nicolette Mckenzie and Tanya Field cut the special Montego cake for the benefit of the Oxford Mail‘s photographer
Keith Adams


  1. I do believe the blue one is Sam Skelton’s. Don’t recognise the registration but that trim around the ‘opera’ rear window marks it out as yours!

    An interesting day, especially with Nicolette McKenzie there.

  2. M534MDA – It looks lie it wants to be a Countryman, but I don’t think it is? The missing coachlines and black plastic mirrors are the giveaways.

    Looks an incredibly decent example for something knocking-on 20 years old.

  3. Dave – yes, that was me. There both socially and professionally.

    Matth – it is a Countryman D – and it’s totally standard. Coachlines are there, and Countrymans had black mirrors at that time.

  4. I wish I could have made it as this looks to have been a fantastic day for anyone interested in Maestros and Montegos or simply wanting to learn more about how Austin Rover Group’s Marketing department conceived and launched the voice synthesiser messages.

    It really does make me appreciate the MG Maestro 2.0i I have awaiting a ground-up restoration and the level of quality enthusiasm there is for them these days.

  5. Matth – M534 MOA (looks like a D but it’s an O) is mine and he’s a Countryman. I think the black plastic mirrors are standard but yes, for the coachlines, when he was resprayed by his previous owner, only one of the two colours of coachline were replaced so putting the coachline back on is on the never ending job list! It’s hard to see in the pic, but he does have a single coachline.

    Thanks for your kind words about his condition. He’s in remarkably good nick thanks to the work carried out by his previous owner and I feel very fortunate to own him. He’s parked to a very lovely early 1.6L estate and it was great to have the opportunity to put and an early and a late estate together.

  6. Be interesting to know the technology behind how the voice recordings were stored. Of course now it would be some .mp3 files in a flash memory, but in 1983 maybe they had to invent the sound format from scratch and burn the encoded data into a ROM?

  7. I had a BBC computer with a voice synthesiser program in 1984, perhaps they used the same technology as this?

  8. I always remember the thing played up at the Maestro launch was the talking dashboard, very advanced for 1983.

    The Mattel Intellivision games console had a voice synthesiser accessory in the early 1980s, so the technology was around.

  9. Great event by the look of it… good to see Nicolette there too after her defining role in early Montego’s production.

    Seeing the Monty Estates pictured reminded me of the two examples my company operated. Funny how the previously much criticised Montego is attracting affection now.

  10. @3 – Yep, sorry – forgot the mirrors went “black” on 91J-reg onwards, for the twighlight model year. At the same time it’s when they increased the choice of colours and added the burr walnut.

    I’m not sure if it was entirely progress as it had what could have had what could be best described as “Project Drive” modifications carried out on it.

    My old’s had a 91H-reg, which in some ways seemed better. I learnt how to drive (and how not to drive) in it. It was touch and go, but the bodyshop man got it repaired. Rot Finally killed it of in 2001.

  11. A friend of mine worked at A-R in the early 80 as an electronics engineer on the talking dashboard. They tested it in depth in the lab as it was such a high profile feature, but there is nothing to trump real world testing. He said that a common issue was that it jumbled up the messages (e.g. “You have not closed the oil pressure”) and they could not find the reason for this in the lab. Eventually it was traced to electro-magnetic interference caused by driving under pylons – but by then its credibility was ruined!

  12. @11, David Walker,

    I recently picked up a car (think it was an Insignia) with a (non audio) warning message that ‘it could not find the tyre locations’.

    I’m pretty sure the tyres were where they ought to have been, as the car didn’t make any funny noises whilst driving up the M40!

  13. ” Eventually it was traced to electro-magnetic interference caused by driving under pylons – but by then its credibility was ruined! ”

    So really we had another case of the motoring press and press in general continuing to “BL Bash” . Car magazines would have joked about the talking dash and implied poor build quality, bad design. In fact, Maestros issuing confused messages could more readily be forgiven – you can see how track testing would never have shown interference from electricity pylons.

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