Technician’s Update : More Montego mayhem!

If it’s body filler filler in the sills or exposed stereo wiring insulated with sellotape, most of us at some point have enjoyed a good old fashioned bodge up. Especially if it actually works too…

Mike Humble

The Montego 1.6L - One of the few cars that were a mechanics dream to maintain or service
The Austin Montego - One of the few cars that were a mechanics dream to maintain or service

Working in around the motor trade ever since leaving school, I have met all kinds of fitters, mechanics, grease monkeys, technicians and tyre fitters by the score. On the whole, and in all honesty, most of them are salt of the earth people who know their craft and ply their trade with honesty and decency.

Of course, there are also a handful of people who are barely capable to make toast, let alone put a spanner anywhere near the family car. Now everyone who reads this I’m sure, has been on the receiving end or has been guilty of, a nice old fashioned bodge – and to be fair, its what makes the world go round in the motor trade, but sometimes a bodge is the fine line between waiting for the relay truck or actually getting home, or in other words – an evil necessary.

I have ended up doing all kinds of lash ups in the past which have included using cable ties to make good a snapped throttle cable on a Fiat 131 and getting a borrowed Talbot Solara (all the quality motors eh folks) back from Great Yarmouth by wrapping a large open ended spanner and clutch cable up with insulating tape after the latter decided to pull straight through the bulkhead which crippled the car just outside the village of Attleborough – at 3.00am.

Now a bodge or lash up is one thing at the side of the road – many of you will appreciate the misery and desperation of being hungry and tab-less, especially with your girl / boyfriend sitting with a face like a smacked bum in the passenger seat and only the clicking of the hazards to keep you entertained. In a dealership though, it’s not encouraged – but once was widespread!

I once worked with a lad with the surname of Watts– or as we called him – five, owing the fact he was not very bright. Suffice to say I have enjoyed a more stimulating conversation with last weeks TV times, but he was sheer entertainment, and between us both had some rather unconventional solutions to the various problems you would find now and again in the workshop.

One such example came in the form of a part-ex Montego saloon that our sales manager had sold to a friend, and the Montego in question was a very late early series 1.6L something like an F plate. This had been supplied with a nudge wink warranty, you know the kind – a pop it back and we’ll see you alright kind of arrangement. Sadly, it turned out that this friend of the aforementioned sales manager was bit of a moaner, and indeed popped back – every other week!

Time erodes how many bloody times this Montego came and went with the manager winking and slipping the odd fiver into our hands in exchange for a tap or tweak during lunch periods. After various visits on an unofficial basis, our service manager Pete, who was a top man and great to work under, became tired of turning a blind eye to this gentleman’s agreement and told us all in no uncertain terms that any further work would be through the books or there would be hell to pay.

Undeterred by this, the Sales Manager opted then to have the car visit on Saturday mornings when the aforementioned Service Manager was not on site, once again bribing us with 20 smokes or a few bob. On one such occasion, the car was returned with a difficult gearchange and even by early Montego standards, the shift quality was truly awful.

To those who don’t know, early Montego 1.3 or 1.6 models used a VAG-sourced gearbox and the linkage was fitted to the passenger side of the steering rack by means of a clamp. The clamp had cracked and therefore had little holding action so as you stirred the gear lever, the clamp would be disturbed, thus giving an awful and creaking gearchange. I discovered this matter and mentioned that a new part would have to be ordered, and after being told by the gaffer we would be in for a kick up the flue if anymore free work was to be carried out, I was told to do what was needed to lash it up instead.

It turned out that the Sales Manager was also getting bored of his mate moaning and whining with every problem he encountered with his Montego, after all it was an old car and bit leggy too (high mileage). As the saying goes – never get involved with family and friends over cars!

Once all the service work had been cleared, the Montego trundled back in to the workshop and I had a peer under the bonnet. Being responsible for our tiny parts dept, the microfiche was scanned for a part number, luckily, the part was the same item fitted to the Maestro van, equally lucky was the fact our Maestro 1.3 van was off the road with a blown up engine and was awaiting scrappage.

Sadly the part did not cure the problem owing to the rack being ground away where the clamp had been slipping and sliding for god knows how long. Retiring to the edge of the car park armed with a coffee and a fag, I had a brainwave and hot footed back to the workshop to implement my cunning almost Baldrick esque plan. Out came the MIG welder, and the clamp was placed where the best gearchange quality could be found.

After a shower of yellow sparks and blue flashes, the clamp was allowed to cool naturally and given a few liberal dustings of satin black aerosol paint to hide the bodge. The Linkages were re-attatched and the car driven round the car park, the difference was amazing. The Monty now sported a gearshift that was still clunky as all Maestro and Montego 1.6 tended to be, but now it actually went into gear with no horrible creaks or resistance – in fact, as good as I had ever known them to be when new.

Another £5 note was slipped into my top pocket and that was the last time we ever saw the red 1.6L Montego. The Sales Managers unorthodox practices eventually caught up with him following an audit and his services were no longer required – to put it mildly. Those days of back handers and bodges are just a fading memory in the dealer environment, but the story just goes to show that even the most quality orientated of us….

Love a good lash!

Mike Humble


  1. Another first class article Mike!
    Apologies for the anorak moment, but unless I am mistaken, the photo is of an HL, not an L.

  2. Made a few tools in my time to do a specific job, bent spanners etc. I had a mini once and found a old beer can under some filler on the wing!

  3. In 1983 as a 17 year old I had a 1970 ‘H’ plate Mini, one Saturday night driving through the Goyt valley with a young girly there was a loud bang and the old heap lurched to the left, we thought a tyre had burst but that was not the case and we happily drove home talking about nameing the old heap Ilene. On Sunday morning with the NSF wheel off I could see the problem, the ball on the bottom of the rubber suspension had snapped off and needing the heap for work on Monday morning I wedged a lump of 2×2 wood between the lower suspension arm and the subframe, it was actualy smoother than it was before with its new wooden suspension system. I drove it like that for several weeks until I was ‘forced’ to fix it properly before I sold it!

  4. Oh the good old days, I do remember having a SEAT Ibiza where the aerial was knocked off by some kids kicking a football about, making a decent replacement out of a broken umbrella. I wasn’t prepared to pay for the replacement and the metal spoke did the job adequately for two years.

  5. yme402, I believe it may even be an HLS! It has chrome door handles, lower models were black. I do miss my days on maintenance in QT Block…
    Incidently, every car had almost a role of gaffer tape used on them, wiring harnes taped in, holes covered etc.

  6. Cable ties and gaffer tape for when it shouldn’t move, and WD40 for when it should move.

    Held together the handbrake cable on the Orion with cable ties.

  7. Another montego bodge was when the rear strut turret caps rusted out and the shocker shaft came through, then penny washers were the ‘substitute’ as they were never stock items at the factors! 30p fix

  8. That pic is just like the one I had. A 1.6L in opaline green. My first brand new company car.

  9. Talking wooden bodges – we had a Morris Minor turn up in the workshop with a bit of a lumpy misfire. One of our regular customers had acquired it as a cheap runabout for his wife.

    We thought it would a straight forward fix so started with the obvious stuff = HT leads, plug. Those were all fine so we did a compression check. This indicated one cylinder was down. So the head came off to reveal……….

    ……a wooden piston in number 3

  10. Once blew the top hose on an Astra years back. A repair was made using a bicycle inner tube and generous helpings of duct tape. Quite impressive watching that thing literally expand like a balloon. But the rapair held (for 300 miles!) and the car miped home. We later discovered the head gasket had gone, before or after the hose blew we just don’t know.

  11. I don’t know what “rapair” or “miped” means, but it should be “repair” and “limped” – my keyboard (or me) is having a senior moment.

  12. Once filled the rusted out wings of an ’87 Metro LE with Polyfilla and newspaper back in the mid nineties, the repair looked half decent for a few days till the rust started coming back through again!! Sold it to a friend who had the whole car stripped, fitted new wings and a complete respray only to write it off crashing against the side of his house the day after he got it back from the paint shop!!

  13. keep em coming Mike! Remember my pre-driving days sitting in the driver’s seat as a kid: Maestros were obstructive, FWD Cavaliers were notchy yet Nissan wotsits were lovely. Anyhow Granddad succumbed to a 1991 Maestro Auto 4-star petrol guzzler in the end, Madness…

  14. I had a Morris J4 van in the sixties, the front shock absorbers went, I drove it around for a few weeks but before I could repair it the spring plate failed and the spring fell out while I was driving. The body dropped onto the wheel and I spun round and came to a stop. I jacked the van up
    and put a log where the spring should have been, that got me home and to the garage the next day.

  15. My Uncle once had to fix a worn exhaust joint on his Alpine with an empty rice pudding tin wrapped around the 2 sections with some cable ties.

  16. Reminds me of a crooked dealer I had the misfortune to work for in Leeds,used to be Lotus but lost the franchise over unpaid bills,couldnt get parts anymore but sold a second hand Lotus Elite with a broken engine mounting-he instructed the service manager to cut a block of wood to shape and drill bolt holes through it and voila!!

  17. I remember jacking up my first car, a 10 year old, K-reg Austin 1300 in order to inspect the rear brakes or something. Slight upward movement of car, accompanied by crunching noise. Wound the jack back down and a large wodge of chicken wire and filler dropped out. Straight down to Les Smith’s (the motor mart for every part) for a pack of Isopon fibreglass which was then used to bodge it all back in. Covered with a helping of black tarry underseal of course.
    Happy days!

  18. I remember on the A to B programmes there was a teenager who bought a VW Beetle only to find most of the floor & front suspension mounts were patched up with fibreglass & bodyfill.

  19. Being an ex mechanic, I don’t like to advertise my bodges and jerry-rig fixes as it makes us sound like cowboys, However, one Friday afternoon I noticed a friend of mine driving his van towards my garage, his Astra van was making a hell of a racket and traveling very slowly.

    On inspection, a piston was holed, (although all the valves were OK) and there was a tremendous amount of piston slap.

    All I had in the garage was a set of +30 rings and an old diesel engine with a seized crank. I had to used the pistons out of the diesel, and after running a glaze buster down each cylinder for about an hour an a half each, I filed down the +30 piston rings to ensure the correct gap.

    I explained that this was a temporary fix, it should last him a week so long as he doesn’t rev the engine too hard. 3 years later he was still using the same van, the raised compression ratio of the diesel pistons gave it a turn of speed that he liked and it didn’t use an drop of oil.

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