Earlier Montegos… you can shove ’em. When I say earlier, I mean anything prior to the 1989 model year. Once the revised cars came along, the Montego became a dependable car thanks to a decent gearbox (on the 1.6) and, more importantly. superior electronics overseeing matters under the bonnet. Prior to this, they were pretty dire in terms of reliability – it’s just a shame it was left so late to be addressed. Don’t shoot me down in the comment box below, deep down in your hearts, you know I’m right.
The 1.6-litre S-Series engine is rather like the K-Series, insofar as that, even today, it’s a very misunderstood engine. Okay, so it never won awards for its smoothness – a Blackpool hen party is more refined. Once Rover had seen fit to throw away the Volkswagen-sourced gearbox and fit the T5/PG1 transmission, it gave a pretty good account for itself. In terms of economy, torque and motorway cruising the S-Series, in my humble opinion, was light years ahead of the 1600cc ‘Pinto’ you found in the Ford Sierra at that time.
No longer would the automatic choke kick in accompanied with a flashing red overheating LED on the temperature gauge when driving down the motorway in deep winter. No more would the engine hunt for an idle speed as if it was running out of petrol. This was all due to the riddance of the terrible Lucas programmed ignition system with its countless operating modules replaced by a thoroughly well-developed single ECU process called ERIC (Electronically Regulated Ignition and Carburation).
‘Rough running on a petrol Montego of this vintage nearly always happens as a result of something life-expired.‘
Anyway, I recently spoke on the ‘phone to an old work chum who sticks his toe in the retro car scene now and again. Normally, he’s a total sucker for a Vauxhall Cavalier, but this time he’s moved away from Luton and headed for Cowley after picking up a J-plate 1600LX Montego. However, as according to my friend, it’s not been without trauma as he discovered that the car wasn’t running particularly well. Rough running on a petrol Montego of this vintage nearly always happens as a result of something life-expired.
What’s not needed to get an S-Series running right
After changing the plugs, leads, rotor arm and cap, he mentioned it still felt sluggish and a bit hesitant under part throttle. Now, my money is riding on a gummed-up carb and/or perhaps a carbon build up in the combustion chamber – I’ve seen it a hundred times or more. Being a have-a-go hero and no more, he knows his limitations and so he entrusted a well-known chain of garages to look into the poor running so long as it wasn’t going to break the bank.
He’d done his research and knew all about the engine management system, and before handing the keys over he asked if they had the tools to diagnose any error codes. Satisfied with their answer, the car was left with them for a couple of hours. However, on collecting the car he was alarmed to notice no difference – more to point, it ran even worse than before. Aggrieved at parting with £90 for an almost undrivable car in return he went to the garage for a word or two.
‘Unless you have COBEST, Microcheck or other specialist Rover tools, meddling with the carb on an ERIC-equipped Montego is about as effective as playing an LP under water.‘
Among the troubles, was a too-fast idle speed that caused the engine to run on after switching off (a common trait) and even more hesitancy when trying to maintain a cruising speed on a part-throttle. All the garage had done was wind up the idle speed and lean off the mixture. Unless you have COBEST, Microcheck or other specialist Rover tools, meddling with the carb on an ERIC-equipped Montego is about as effective as playing an LP underwater.
What is needed to get an S-Series running right!
Thankfully, after a heated conversation, the garage manager was summoned and his money was refunded, but he’s still left with a poor-running Montego. All is not lost, as I’ve put him in touch with a garage that used to be a retail Rover dealer in the south Midlands, which I know still has the required equipment to tune the engine quickly and correctly. Once in a blue moon this kit pops up on eBay and, if the price is right, it’s worth investing in.
But it doesn’t stop with Montego or Maestro. Pre-OBD-equipped Rovers rely on software such as Microcheck right up to 1999. Owing to the sharp decline of these cars on the roads nowadays most garages simply throw this equipment away.
Older Ford and Vauxhall drivers also suffer the same problems when it comes to software interrogation so it’s not purely just Rovers. The best advice I can give is check out the owners’ clubs – there’s always a helpful member who has a box of electronic magic tricks.
We have spoken again this evening and it turns out he’s sorted the car out. The mixture was over-lean, the idle speed was too high and there was no oil in the carburetor dash pot either. The garage attended to the aforementioned, sold him a bottle of nuclear-strength fuel treatment, and instructed him to, ‘give it a good hiding’. This has been duly adhered to and my pal, Chris, reports that it’s running fine.
Top marks go to P.J Green & Co of Flore in Northamptonshire – a former Rover dealer of high repute!