Blog : Raise a glass to… 30 years of the MG Montego Turbo

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Launched 30 years ago today, the MG Montego Turbo offered five-seat luxury and astonishing performance which created a welcome boost in sales and interest in the brand. Mike Humble raises his mug of tea in honour of yet another BL Birthday.

April the 3rd 1985 saw the public launch of what was then, the worlds fasted four door mass produced saloon - The 150bhp 126mph MG Montego Turbo.
3 April 1985 saw the public launch of what was then the world’s fastest four-door, mass-produced saloon – the 150bhp, 126mph MG Montego Turbo

Ah… the Montego, a car I have so many memories of both good and bad. One particular model is celebrating another Austin anniversary this week and that’s the MG Montego Turbo.

April 1985 saw the Montego Turbo boost the saloon model’s seemingly pedestrian image to new levels of “coor!” with its top speed nudging almost 130mph and that industry standard traffic light Grand Prix 0 – 60 time coming up quicker than you can read all of this out loud – 7.3 seconds. The Montego now had a range spanning from a 1.3 base model in prosthetic limb beige to a fire-breathing sports saloon in blood red. Their marketing department told the world “now we’re motoring” and their British saloon for the ’80s now appealed to drivers in their 30s and 40s, too.

By nailing on a Garret turbocharger and intercooler, the 1994cc O-Series engine spooled up a credible 150bhp yet, oddly enough, Austin Rover saw fit to keep our old friend – the 44mm SU HiF carburettor in charge of distributing the incoming petrol rather than fuel injection. Regardless, the Montego Turbo had some serious get up and go – even if it did have an image rather like your Grandad wearing Reeboks. Everything else in the specification was little altered from the rest of the range and, from 50 yards, you had to rub your eyes to separate it from the MG Montego 2.0 EFi model.

Road testers of the time panned the car for its torque steer but sang like birds over its terrific performance and reasonable fuel economy. Engineers tweaked the front suspension here and there to reign in the incredible torque and, at best, made it acceptable. I once drove a D-plate example I was thinking about buying some years back. The oil-soaked front suspension bushes had gone so soft that, under power, it stormed away from a standing start with the visual grace of a shot Giraffe – the owner glibly turned to me and said “hmm… she does squirm a tad.”

There was also the brakes, too – or rather a worrying lack of them. Regardless of the Montego being an A+ powered 1.3 or the sporting Turbo, the pads and shoes were the same part number – but at least the 2.0 models had vented front discs. If you really worked the Turbo to gas mark six, it was easy to send Red Indian smoke signals from the front alloys. If you failed to notice that, the worrying smell of burning asbestos reminded you to turn down the heat. It was nowhere near as well engineered as something like a SAAB 900 Turbo but it came in at a fraction of the Swede’s opening gambit… and with a dealership in almost every postcode.

Equipment levels were respectable. All-round power windows, central locking, power steering, alloy wheels, faux Recaro front seats and a decent electronic tune wireless were all standard. The usual roomy Montego interior and spacious boot with fold down rear seat backs made the Turbo a true British family flyer or executive express. It had the performance and the technology, it just lacked that certain sparkle or visual aggressiveness you would have liked for something so vocally marketed as the fastest accelerating four-door saloon of its time – in the world.

For the face lifted Montego range, gone were the idiosyncratic metric wheels and tyres. The above Rover Group publicity image shows the last version of the MG Turbo just a short while from the models deletion.
For the facelifted Montego range, gone were the idiosyncratic metric wheels and tyres. The above Rover Group publicity image shows the last version of the MG Turbo just a short while from the model’s deletion

New owners for 1985 were treated to a few special touches. A driver’s pack with polishing cloth, special key ring and a VHS video featuring race ace Steve Soper and, Mr Simon Templar himself, Ian Ogilvy welcomed you to the world of turbocharged four-door luxury from the comfort of your living room. Austin Rover were finally getting to grips with customer service and doing their hardest to portray themselves as a forward-thinking, technology-led company. Far from being a fully-rounded and honed sporting saloon, the MG Montego Turbo created much interest and footfall traffic into the showrooms at a time when Austin Rover needed it most.

I still have my A4-sized fold out brochure in my archives and remember being treated to a high speed drive around the Suffolk back roads 30 years ago – it seems like yesterday. So charge your glasses, raise them aloft and give them a little wiggle to the MG Montego Turbo.

Happy 30th old chum!

You can enjoy the cringingly cheesy Montego Turbo driver’s video with Steve Soper and Ian Ogilvy featuring a Turbo being thrashed at Thruxton by pulling up a comfy chair and clicking here – it’s so bad, it’s brilliant.

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

20 Comments

  1. I lusted after one of these in the later 80s. A (better off) cousin had one from new and I had a plan to ‘get a deal’ when he came to trade it in. Never happened.. .

  2. Some Vauxhalls had problems with disc brakes wearing out after asbestos was banned from brake pads.

  3. Certainly an image booster.

    I remember reading about the incredible performance and the torque steer. Maybe not the best engineered performance saloon but I remember it being fairly well regarded.

    Both the EFi and Turbo benefited visually from the MG trim.

  4. It’s great to see the Montego starting to get some recognition in classic car circles. Like John, my cousin had a MG Montego Turbo in Azure Blue, I’m sure he bought it to get one over me as I had a Zircon Blue MG Maestro EFI at the time. Both great cars and we would take it in turns to make regular visits to our local Austin Rover dealer to have front wheel bearings replaced! This was my introduction to the injected “O” Series and PG1 gearbox. A combination I stuck with for a period of 14 years across 3 “M” cars. The MG Maestro was followed by a Montego 2.0GSi Estate that did 225K miles in 6 years with the engine and gearbox never being touched apart from routine servicing. It was a robust engine and gearbox complimented by a good handling and ride combination. It’s just a shame that the mechanicals always outlasted the bodies. My first Montego needed a plate welding on the sill for it’s first MOT at 3 years old! Even this seemed to improve towards the end as my Countryman 2.0i was far more resistant to rust than the earlier models but by then it was too late.

  5. I see a black MG montego turbo on my daily commute street parked near Kew Gardens, it has an expensive private number plate. Can’t be many left.

  6. I remember test driving a new one in 1986, alongside a MG Maestro EFi.
    I wanted to like it, but the standard fit sunroof robbed all of the headroom and the B road handling was shocking! Using the performance in a straight line was similar to the Suzuki GSX400F that I had at the time, but God help you if you tried to use the performance in a corner!!! The otherwise reasonable Montego handling was completely overwhelmed and this car was destined to wind up in a ditch…
    Truth be told, the Maestro was the much better car and the decision was easy.

  7. “Hail” to the mighty MG Montego Turbo.
    Those performance figures would still be very respectable even for today!

  8. A flagship MG for the times when it was needed, I suppose it was the 80s equivalent of the later MG ZT260. I didn’t realise it had a carb rather than injection back then. More hidden info courtesy of Mike…

    I remember those red seatbelts,they still look good on some of today’s motors.

  9. The thing I remember was the accelaration in top gear,unlike the efi with its close

    ratio box the turbo had a very high top gear and would still pull hard. The needle on

    the early 130 mph speedos would bend and 150 speedos were fitted on later models.

    I found the car handled well and the early ones with the TD tyres hand better handling.

    Unlike the lotus designed metro the Montego had 10 pounds boost with a proper intercooler.

  10. The Montego turbo always gave the impression it was a rough and ready man in a shed tuning job, just like the other Turbo conversion companies that existed in the 80s. Torque steer and massive lag certainly didn’t give the impression it was the work of a mainstream manufacturer. Would (the admittedly very small) development budget blown on this not have been better spent on making the cooking 1.6 and 2.0 models more appealing? God knows they needed it.

  11. BSD

    Indeed,the Montego Turbo earned it’s glass raising rightfully!

    I know this model only from british car magazines i used to buy because it was never sold in ISRAEL (only the 1.3L&1.6L and later after the 88.5 facelift that arrived to ISRAEL only in 1990 (…) only the 1.6:&SL arrived)!!!

    It’s a great car with great performance&handling,and was well equipped for it’s time.

    Well done,MONTEGO TURBO DEAR!!!

  12. Remember it well – worked at the time for Greater Manchester Police editing ‘Brief’, its monthly in house magazine and always looked for an excuse to escape the Chester House office for a decent front page pic and story; we staged a police dog and handler pic at the show and if memory serves the Montego Turbo took a bow at the same time as the Mitsubishi Galant Turbo which I’ve always thought was an infinitely better car…

    Renee and Renato were both there serenading the punters for the Galant launch; one abiding memory of the Montego Turbo was its flimsy front spoiler.

  13. that would be the Manchester motor show by the way – in Platt Fields I seem to recall … anyone remember it before it moved to G Mex? They were the days of proper regional shows with lots of support from local dealers.

  14. If memory serves, wasn’t the normal MG Montego replaced with a Montego 2.0 Si? at the time that the Austin name was getting dropped. I might be wrong though…

    • The Si was a cut price version of the MG to appeal to fleets. Insurance might have been lower, because it wasn’t an MG.

      I remember driving a Montago Turbo from work. I took it back and commented on the vigorous torque steer, commenting that “it was a good job they’d fixed that”. I was then informed that it was the improved model… on the same drive, I saw a Metro spin, due to petrol spilling out of the filler pipe onto the back tyre. Two Austin Rover fails in one 5 mile drive!

  15. Apparently some brave – or foolish – hire car company bought some Montego Turbos. One driver punched a hole in a motorway service area sign (you know, Welcome to Pigswill Services), due to leaving the motorway at warp speed. When the police turned up, he said “no brakes”, and pointed to a brake pedal hanging limply in the footwell. So far so good, but the insurance company investigated. When they removed the remains of the front wheel from the brake caliper, there was a loud metallic shriek. The caliper, which had been wedged open by the damage, closed suddenly, returning the brake pedal to its normal position – prosecution of the driver followed.
    Wheel bearings were replaced with great regularity by a South Coast taxi company who ran Montego diesels on a 3-shift “slip seat” system. They also tried to pin faulty brakes on Lucas, but we knew the score.

  16. I bought a 1988 MG Montego Turbo back in 1991. I was after a car to replace my Ford Escort and spotted it at a car dealership. It was finished in ‘white diamond’ with matching white alloys. I had just turned 19 and it looked the dogs nuts at the time. It would eat Ford XR3i’s and Vauxhall GTE’s for breakfast. Sadly it was nothing but trouble. Turbo blew, exhaust fell off, front wheel bearings kept failing and within 6 months of ownership, rust started to attack the bodywork just about everywhere. (The car was still under 4 years old at the time and it was kept in a garage!). By the time I sold it a couple of years later, it must of had about a bucket load of filler in it. Shame, because when it was working, it was a good car, but it just seemed to fall apart.

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