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.
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.
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.