Essay : Austin Montego – The case for the Defence

Mike Humble sticks his head above the parapet to come to the defence of the Austin Montego and its marqueless later versions.

After years of running and servicing the 1980s ARG midliner, he’s come to the conclusion there’s a great car waiting to escape its frumpy outer skin.

Austin Montego: defeat snatched from the jaws of victory

During one of my sales visits many years ago, I came upon two cars from the 1980s which set me thinking. One was a neglected Lotus Excel and the other was a blue B-registered Austin Montego 1.6HL. Suffice to say, it was the Montego which was still in daily use at the time and, to be fair, it wasn’t in that bad a condition either. Sitting there in a barn on a concrete floor, it had every tell-tale sign that a ‘Monty’ resided there – various vintage engine claret spattered on the floor!

The car belonged to one of the engineering staff and had done for a good number of years I was told. It still seems like only last week the Montego came onto the market, ushering in a new era for BL of high technology and angular styling. Brochures spoke of all sorts of wizardry like Homofocal headlamps, LCD dashboard displays and some very clever, yet simple, ideas like height adjustable seat belts with anchorages that sprouted from the seat.

The Montego officially replaced the Morris Ital but was a world apart from the elderly Marina-based four-door saloon. Sales staff would no longer be embarrassed by the pre-Iron Age suspension system that would lurch, bang and crash over anything but a billiard table smooth road – points, condensers, leaf springs and grease nipples were nowhere to be seen on this seemingly up-to-date car from Austin.

A world away from the Morris Ital

Simple yet so chronically out of date, the Ital died along with the Morris brand in 1984

The Ital, in fairness, was a truly horrid car. Mind you, I owned one and, indeed, had a soft spot for both the Marina and the Ital. The Ital was the one car I owned which truly kept me busy at weekends. The Montego and its sister car launched the previous year – the Austin Maestro – had the right ingredients to succeed and yet, in darts terms, missed the bullseye by a mile.

The Montego and Metro baffled me with their silly metric tyres – a total waste of money and resources, just like the Dunlop Denovo tyre some years before. However, in that case, at least, British Leyland had the common sense to make the Dunlop Denovo an optional extra.  The result was that, while your Ford Fiesta or Cortina cost no more than average to re-shoe, the TD and TDX  rubber on the Austin cars cost much more, with little real advantage other than a much lower risk of  a tyre coming off the rim in the event of a puncture. They were sods to fit too – just ask any seasoned Tyre Fitter.

Anyway, through the eyes a 12-year old schoolboy, the ‘Monty’ seemed sleek, sharp and bristled with showcase features showing that Austin Rover could mix it with imported technology from the Germans and Japanese. The performance from the 1600 variant was totally superior to the gutless 1.6-litre Pinto in the Ford Sierra and was on a par with the quick Vauxhall Cavalier Mk2 with its OHC Family II unit.

Competitive technology under the skin

The known issues of broken crankshafts and vibration of the hashed up R-Series of the Maestro were history with the S-Series engine having a quality eight-web counterbalanced crank and strong block. Unless pushed to its limits, the S-Series, for all it being a most basic engine design, was a willing and smooth running engine, vastly more thermally fuel and power efficient than the Sierra.

Fuel economy was also equally impressive, with a figure not far away from the magical 56mpg at 56mph – all this from a five-seat saloon. Additionally, in true British tradition, the engines were biased towards the stroke rather than the bore and so delivered good torque at low revs. What we had here then was a range a of high-tech and fuel-miserly saloons designed with the driver in mind – and with yearly servicing schedules. Success?  Sadly not!

Wonky electrics, the occasional engine fire, water leaks and even exploding oil filters wrecked the car’s reputation in no time. Motor magazine ran a 1.6L on a long-term test. I recently re-read that article with sadness at the long catalogue of problems with patchy build quality and shoddy dealers, problems which dogged Rover right to the bitter end.

Variable, mostly poor-quality build

Montego Turbo: fast but fragile with entertaining road manners!

It seemed that no two Montegos were the same. My father bought a Targa Red example when it was just a few years old, ran it for four years and – with the exception of a juddering clutch and minor top end oil leak – the car never missed a beat. However, a friend’s dad ran one too and it did nothing but dump oil all over the drive and constantly break down. My own 1990 1.6 LX was as oil tight as they came and dependable, but a near-neighbour ran an 1988 Mayfair which frustrated him to the point of near lunacy. Having myself driven dozens of Montegos over the years, the earlier pre-1987 models especially, could be as different and chalk and cheese.

The MG Montego Turbo of 1985 (above) was a really fast bit of kit, but suffered from too high a ride height, alarming torque steer and bad turbo lag when first launched. Mind you, there again, the whizz bang first generation turbos of the 1980s all had a similar trait – ask any early 16-valve Saab 900 Turbo owner.

Once you were into third gear and above, the Montego Turbo just flew and flew. Sadly, though, cost cutting measures made sure the Montego never had that raw image of power, quality and speed that the Swedes captured so well. The Saab used Bosch fuel injection with the turbo, whereas the Montego Turbo’s under-bonnet view was ruined with its single, ancient SU carburettor.

A truly flawed gem

Montego featured an LCD display that was vastly superior to the Maestro, but was soon deleted

Yet, I had a fascination with the early 2.0-litre EFi. The LCD dash and display was far superior to the solid state Texet calculator affair in the MG Maestro. The nearby push button function panel had nice feeling pads whereas the Maestro had a nasty looking panel which was more akin to something from Radio Shack. Its voice no longer sounded like a submerged woman –  it really felt like the future, the future was here and it was a three-box shape.

The MG Montego 2.0EFi’s imitation Recaro seats were not quite the genuine article, as found in the Cavalier SRi and Manta GTE, but they were comfy, not over hard and trimmed nicely with plain velour on the bolsters while, in a tradition which was started with the smaller MG Metro and Maestro, red carpets and seat belts were fitted along with an MG logo moulded into the driver’s carpet heel pad.

The early Maestro had a strong prototype feeling inside with its woefully underdeveloped fascia. The Montego had a one-piece dash that actually felt of decent quality with soft action push-on push-off switches that had a nice damped action. Column switches that illuminated with fibre optics and simple, yet brilliant height adjustable belts, front-wheel drive, remote boot release and as for that cradle method of removing the spare wheel? Ingenious, the Montego was a car that had some serious thought designed into it and, to drive, was better than any BL car that had come before. How and why, then, did it fail so miserably?

So, why did the Montego fail?

Well, with regard to the car’s performance, handling and ride, accommodation, fuel economy allied with its impressive driver aids and features, upon its launch at least, the Montego was up there with its main rivals. Unfortunately, with the Montego, a reputation for fragility and dismal reliability once again reared its ugly head. It seemed that every aspect of design was flawed with issues of cracking bumpers, snapping door handles, oil leaks, electrical problems, suspension wear and, even on occasion, serious fires wrecked the car’s credibility from an early age.

However, one point needs to be remembered: the car was developed on a budget which was a small fraction of the size that both Ford or GM were accustomed to. Indeed, a Ford sales executive told me some years back about how amazed he had been by the amount of technology featured on both the Maestro and the Montego. Dealers struggled to get to grips with what customers expected in a car as the 1980s progressed – many simply failed to match the car’s forward thinking, technology-based style. Honda was making inroads with its Accord and Nissan’s Bluebird (below) was setting the trend with features and rock solid dependability.

The easiest analogy I can think of is this: to make the best cake, you need the right ingredients, but if you can’t cook, you’re half-baked. The Montego was the right car at the time, some of the right ingredients were there, but the car lacked development. It was taken out of the oven before the timer buzzed.



The background noise of failure

Events before its launch, countless managerial shuffles and re-organising throughout the whole group did a great deal to ruin the product-led revival that the former Chairman Sir Michael Edwardes had envisaged some years before. Austin Rover was battling against the world with the popular Austin Metro, but, as salesmen will testify, small cars equal small profit. Success in the mid-range sector was vital for Austin Rover to survive, let alone prosper, but the Montego was looking like an own goal before it could prove itself.

Mind you, the Ford Sierra was far from being a hit at first but, by the mid 1980s, keen pricing and vivid advertising made sure it quickly gained respect and racked up some formidable sales. Vauxhall had the same situation with the Cavalier – fast, frugal and a keen driver’s car – as a result, within 18 months of launch, the Montego and Maestro were dragging the company down rather than making it fly. ARG used what limited funds were available to shake up the Dealer Network and, where needs be, franchises were terminated.

A programme of improvements and refinements along with service bay modifications went some way to making the car better for the customer, but problems including regular failing of wheel bearings, disgraceful gearchange quality on 1.3- and 1.6-litre cars, oil leaks and electrical glitches still hounded the car. The overhead cam engines of the 1.6- and 2.0-litre cars were willing performers but never were the first word in refinement – I’ll never forget CAR magazine‘s capsule description of the Montego:

For: Torquey Engines
Against: Talky Engines

Moving on from the Montego

Very soon it became apparent that the Montego was well below par considering the bullish marketing and personal statements issued by the then top ARG man, Harold Musgrove. The engine management system designed by Lucas was prone for making the temp dial misread and, without warning, the engine would go onto choke and hunt badly. Other electrical nightmares included wipers that wouldn’t park, its eccentric ‘double twitch’ action when on flick wipe or intermittent would cause premature wear in the wiper linkage, hence why you would see many a Montego with skew whiff wipers. Valve covers, especially on S-Series engines, would weep oil and often this would burn off on the manifold and downpipe giving a horrible smell in the passenger compartment.

There were some major problems in the steering and suspension area too, most fabled of all with the front wheel bearings. Over the lifespan of the Montego from 1984 to 1989, the front hub and bearing design was changed three times before a suitable solution, once again this only was the case with the 1.6-litre. You only had to bump the kerb or drive over a rough pot hole and it would be enough to ruin the bearing. Front shock absorbers had a very short lifespan – they would either knock or leak, sometimes needing to be changed twice a year, and it was not unheard of for the anti-roll bar drop link to snap off.

The problems didn’t end there either. The torquey nature of the engines made the Montego, on paper at least, an ideal towing car, yet the 1600cc version with its Volkswagen-sourced gearbox and clutch struggled to cope with the extra demand of towing, therefore clutches on these models were prone to overheating, juddering and premature failure. The Volkswagen Golf Mk2 with the same gearbox had a sweet precise gearchange, yet the 1.6-litre Montego had a cheap selector assembly that was cross braced onto the steering rack, this made for one of the most unpleasant gear change qualities of any car I have driven. One Montego 1600 I drove would baulk and clunk into gear accompanied with some nasty creaking noises – most unsatisfactory.

Best of the bunch: the 2.0-litre

The 2.0-litre cars, powered by the O-Series engine fared much better. In single-carb form, 102bhp was on tap and the long-legged fifth gear made for a pleasant drive at high speeds. Using the T5/AR or PG1 transmission, they had a lovely slick changing gearbox and beefier clutch, but non-assisted steering cars were heavy to manoeuvre at low speeds owing to the extra weight of the engine. Even so, though, the 1.6-litre outsold the 2.0-litre throughout the car’s lifespan. Braking systems differed over the 1.6-litre with the addition of ventilated front discs.

Many of the aforementioned problems were down to poor supplier quality, but also down a lack of testing and proving – it just goes to show how desperate Austin Rover really was to get the car out on sale. As dealers heavily discounted cars to gain orders, in the service bay, technicians were having a nightmare as once again the dealers and staff were forced to do the developments and modifications that the factory should have incorporated from day one.

A seasoned, time-served man I once worked with, who dealt with cars going back to BMC days, only recently told me that Montego service update bulletins from Austin Rover Service at Cowley would come through every week, sometimes on many pages with service bay modifications taking longer than the actual servicing at times.

Montego: its own worst enemy

Smaller and less practical than the Montego, dealers steered customers into the superior quality 213

I know an ex-ARG salesman in Suffolk, now retired, who back then, would do everything in his ability to usher customers into the smaller, less practical yet vastly better engineered Rover 213. He ran a small retail dealer where customer loyalty was the lifeblood and had a rival Ford agent nearby. Crazy yet true, within one year of the car’s launch, many ARG salesmen had little or no desire to sell the car that was planned to save the company. Needless to say it was not long before sales of the crisp Honda-based 200-Series eclipsed both the Maestro and Montego ranges, especially after Rover launched its bigger-engined brother, the Rover 216.

The Montego’s one and only major facelift came with the improved MY89 model range. At long last, the useless ageing and asthmatic 1.3-litre A-Plus model was killed off. Another welcome feature was the smaller engine gaining the excellent T5-AR gearbox of the 2.0-litre model, now known as the PG1. This transmission was robust and renowned for its accurate and slick gear change quality.

A whole host of improvements – including a totally new engine management system, brilliant multi-density foam seats, repositioned switchgear and the ability to run on lead free fuel without modification – breathed new life into the Montego. The diesel, which used an engine which was jointly developed with Perkins entered the Guinness Book of World Records for fuel economy, was not the first thing in refinement but it was strong and would take a good hammering.

Coming good in the end

The 1989 Montego facelift saw quality and engineering improvements

Oddly enough, the Austin Montego Estate went on to become the best-selling family estate car in the UK and soon outsold its saloon brother considerably. The Sierra Estate never really caught on and, be honest, how many Cavalier Mk2 estates did you ever see? Yes, the Montego Estate sold very well, especially in diesel form. The facelift of 1989 was really the last time the car was improved. By this time Rover was preoccupied with the 200/400 (R8) and it seemed the Montego was living on borrowed time. Such a shame the company never got to grips with corrosion problems.

The rear wheelarches were notorious for going grotty, thanks to a cost-cutting lack of sealing the inner and out arch panels after welding and painting on assembly. They went all grotty around the front and rear screens subsequently costing the company a few pennies in warranty claims.

All in all, the Montego never really went on to prove its worth even though the post-1989 models drove very well and became reliable cars. Most of the previous faults were banished to history. No longer did you have to replace your front wheel bearings as often as you changed your razor blade or replace the gear linkages halfway over a box junction in Friday evening rush hour traffic. Sadly, though, the nicknames such as Rustin Mont Wont Go or Monty No Go never went away.

A quiet later life

Rover seemingly found its Mojo as the 1990s progressed, but the Montego carried on living in a quiet corner of the Cowley plant with the saloon latterly being only built to fleet order and the Estate being the only volume Montego available in the end. Its rivals went through never-ending revisions and updates, but the poor old Montego only ever gained one new engine – the Perkins Prima.

The run out-model was the Countryman, offered only in 2.0i or 2.0 diesel estate form. Rover added a dash of walnut inside along with a leather steering wheel and seven seats. Some dealers were still being asked for this model some time after deletion, and keen pricing of unsold stocks saw the last of these cars snapped up quickly. The ever-persistent problem of corrosion and the Scrappage Scheme have almost removed the Montego from the roads of the UK – but, like the one I fell upon in South West London, one or two have a loving owner.

Mike Humble’s Montego adventures

On a personal note, I ran two Montegos. The first one was a 1993 diesel estate (below) which had well over 250,000 miles on the clock when I bought it from a colleague’s Hyundai dealership for small change. I drove that thing for six months with a blown head gasket before it seized on me outside the house. After removing the head, replacing the radiator and water pump, it went to run and run without a murmur. It was sold on to a work colleague, who scrapped it with almost 290,000 miles – and that was only after another vehicle hit it.  The car was as rough and ready as Ozzy Osbourne’s vocabulary, but I loved it so much!

After the diesel estate, came a 1991 1.6 LX, which had been traded in for a vehicle I can’t remember. It was in such good condition that I bought it and ran for a few months treating it to to some walnut trims from a Countryman and a reflective boot trim as fitted to the earlier, facelifted Montego. The engine was bone dry to look at and, for a saloon with a smallish engine, delivered very good fuel consumption. After that, I ran a factory-fresh 1.6LX nicknamed Mintego in 2015-2016, which you can read all about here. It was boringly reliable and an absolute joy to run.

On the whole, I liked the S-Series engine as it was simple to work on and nice to look at. I wonder what a K-Series Montego would have been like – some may say unreliable – but, if anyone has experience of the prototypes produced at the factory, please let me know what they were like.

Rough round the gills but refused to die: my old 1993 2.0D LX

Conclusion: they served me well

There we have it, then: the Austin Montego became a decently reliable car – especially the diesels – but, as was the case with many Austin Rover Group cars, it was renowned for lacking development from the start. Sadly forgotten and left to fend for itself by Rover until BMW came on board, the Montego, in my opinion, could and should have had the potential to be a life-saver for Austin Rover.

It was reported that when Bernd Pischetsrieder, the CEO of BMW, arrived at Cowley he was dumbfounded to find the Montego and Maestro still in production – when he was asked for his views on these aged cars still being in volume production the reply came with an abrupt ‘not for much longer.’ After what seemed an eternity in production, the Montego was killed off in 1994. The last saloon ever built was a 2.0 DLX and is part of the National Heritage Collection at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon.

Defeat, once again snatched from the jaws of victory…

MG Montego Turbo

Mike Humble


  1. Thanks for sharing your detailed stories about Montegos, Mike. My old firm, as mentioned previously, ran two Monty Estates in the mid/late 1980s and both were relatively trouble free despite their high mileages. The second one, a 1.6Lx in two-tone, was a nice looking car and rather comfortable.

    I was at the opening of Nissan in 1986 and, in the factory, they had on display a Bluebird saloon alongside a new Montego and a new Sierra. That was presumably done to highlight Nissan’s build quality at the time…

  2. @Hilton Davis
    It was also known that, soon after build up commenced at Sunderland, the Quality KPI was better than on an equivalent product assembled in Japan.

    The Montego on the whole became a decent car as said, but its styling, which was okay on launch, soon dated more quickly than a laptop. Unfortunately, as a result, the Montego and Maestro became “journeyman” cars or “also rans” – residual values plummeted like a stone in a bucket with only estate cars having any real kudos in the market place.

    Cars with GSi or Vanden Plas trim were a lovely drive and smelled great with leather but ARG soon lost out to the Ghia and trims of Ford and GM.

    A real shame!

  3. I learned to drive on an MG Montego EFi – a 1984 B-registered example which was originally owned from new by an employee of Austin Rover Group based at Cowley. Downhill in fifth gear, the digital trip computer advised that it was doing nearly 200mpg! A very fast and reliable car to drive and I loved the voice synthesiser too.

  4. @Mike Humble
    I agree Mike – that was a feather in the cap for the new Sunderland UK factory. They’ve come a long way since…

    I also agree with you about the Cavaliers and Sierra. The Cavalier always seemed to find more favour with fleet buyers. Many would prefer a Cavalier SRi to an MG Montego – a shame really.

    I love reading your anecdotes.

  5. The Montego was a looker in its time, but it dated very quickly when Ford and Vauxhall moved the game on.

  6. I’d much rather have an MG Montego to drive – I’ve driven an SRi 130 and had an MG Montego 2.0i and I much, much preferred the Montego in almost every respect.

    That’s in the context of driving… um, I think, a new Peugeot 306 and the last of my CXs when I had the Monty (think that was swapped for a Skoda Rapid) whilst the SRi 130 was when I was in full Vauxhall-obsessed, FE-Victor/VX1800-owning, Manta-driving, Chevette-reminiscing mode.

  7. I used to hanker after an MG Montego Turbo but, alas, that never happened.

    I did own a Vauxhall Cavalier SRi, but with the far superior (according to those in the know) 1.8 litre engine. The SRi 130 2 litre was apparently a let-down in comparison.

    I still trawl eBay looking for that elusive MG…

  8. I know my Manta’s 1.8 OHC engine felt a lot sweeter (with a nice Weber carb and setup by the local rally racers – C40 TSH went on to be a Practical Classics staff car for a short while in the care of Nick Larkin) than the 2.0 GT/E I considered replacing it with half-way through my ownership.

    I never did like the CIH engines much, but what I’d probably have really liked was a Manta with a 2300 slant four in it.

    I’ve never really liked FWD Vauxhalls of any flavour, which is probably part of the problem!

  9. The “torquey/talky engines” comment appeared in Car magazine’s “The good, the bad and the ugly” back pages. (It still seems a most reasonable comment though!)

    And the 1.3 engine punched WAY above its weight in the Montego. Coming from a 1.6 Montego, it wasn’t much different to drive and still held its own in normal driving on all roads…

    I also had no trouble with the clutch on my two Mk I 1.6s – despite comedy towing such as an MG1600 on a 400kg trailer for several hundred miles behind my 1.6 saloons (“suggested 85% weight limit” – what’s that then?). The clutch is also less painful than those of the great majority of its contemparies to replace anyway (the Cavalier Mk II is the exception), as the clutch is “inside out” and there’s no need to remove the flywheel (still a gearbox-off job though, like the rest except the Cavalier).

    Also the gearchange quality is “variable” between cars, admittedly, but once one gets used to it it’s fine – it’s a case of adapting to the car and not expecting it to be like a brand new ‘un and thus devoid of any faults (a.k.a. character?).

  10. Your comment about the salesman discreetly directing customers to the more reliable 200 made me smile. I can remember going to an agricultural show with my dad when he was considering a Montego. The local ARG dealer had a stand there. Dad poked and prodded over a Montego for a while, until a salesman walked over, nodded at the 213 next to it and said, “So, you like the wee Rover, then?”

  11. Something curiously appealing about AR base model cars in unloved colours these days (to me anyway) Must be medication time again!

  12. My pal Rich ran a Monty diesel estate for mega-miles until it died from terminal rust with about 150,000 on the clock. He often reminisces about how good it was with 55mpg a reality on long trips and the carrying capacity.

    Must admit that it would be a Cavalier Mk2 for me, hatchback with the early 1.8i (as mentioned above better then the later 130). One of my friends saw 132mph indicated on the clock of her company Cav 1.8CDi – I saw 125mph indicated on it when I drove it.

    TBH the Monty saloon always looked awkward with the strange protruding back window. The estate was a bit of a sleeper, especially in one of the higher spec diesel versions and many people hung on to theirs grimly.

    Another BL story of what might have been.

  13. Its a real shame Roy Axe didn’t manage to delay the Montegos launch and sort it out properly. In 1984 the Ambassador was only a couple of years old, the SD3 Rover 200 was about to launch and the Maestro had only gone on sale the year before so dealers had plenty of new metal in the medium saloon/hatch market to be getting on with. Roy Axe showed how the Montego could look with the AR9. A crash reskin programme similar to that given to the LC8 Metro a few years before could have transformed the car.

    • @ Paul, the Montego had been in development for several years, and when it was launched, seemed like a decent enough car with the same engine configuration to its rivals, at last, but was such a badly made car, buyers ran away. The Ambassador was a decent enough car, but lacking a five speed transmission and being a leisurely car at the best of times to drive, it was bound to fail against its rivals. That said, the Amby rode extremely well. was massive inside and the O series engines were far more reliable than the S that the Montego used.

    • Am I alone in thinking that Roy Axe hardly had the talent to even begin criticise the work of David Bache?
      Axe, the man behind the Hillman Hunter and Chrysler Alpine, hardly style ikons comparable to the P6 or Range Rover, while the relatively bland looking 800 was a big improvement on his previous efforts, it was a poor effort after the, still pretty to this day, SD1.
      His last minute reworking on the Montego’s rear window and the awful plastic window surrounds were not good ideas.
      I take Issue with the idea that the 1989 MY facelift was a good thing. Having bought a new 1.6HL estate in 1986 and a near new 1988 2.0HL estate in 1991, it was the headroom robbing now standard fit sunroof, the uncomfortable front seats and the tacky interiors of the later cars that made be buy used the second time around and eventually drove me away to my first Citroen XM estate in 1994.

      PS My 1986 car stayed in the family until about 1993-4, when it was sold on as a complete heap of terminal rust. A sad end to a nice car.

  14. Rewatching old episodes of Minder, at one point this is DI Chisolm’s car, it actually looks the part, it has aged well.

    I think a lot of cars from this era have aged well, they have a simplicity and delicateness to the design that is missing in modern ‘flame surfaced’ slab-sided tall, wide, aggressive looking vehicles

    • The Montego was a lot better looking than the Sierra, better to drive with fwd and newer engines, and was more economical, but terrible reliability on some early cars made buyers looks elsewhere. I bought one of the last Austin era Montegos and fair enough, it wasn’t exactly new, but a heap of problems and rampant rust made me ditch it after 6 months. Had I bought the facelift model, then I’d probably ended up with a much better car, as people who bought Montegos made from late 1988 onwards generally found them reliable and better rustproofed. Always found the 2 litre estate in British Racing Green from the latter years rather attractive.

    • I must have underestimated Roy Axe’s previous efforts on the Hillman Hunter, Chrysler Sunbeam and Alpine – they must have been much more stylish and imaginative than their ultra conservative designs would initially appear to have been. Axe certainly knew a straight line when he saw one and was able to make good use of a very similar ruler, from the Hunter, right through to the 800. On the plus side, at least he managed to blend Bache’s SD1’s nose and hatchback side profile into his, ultimately Hunter inspired, 800.

      Poor old Bache, with only the diverse and timelessly attractive P6, Range Rover and SD1 to show for his efforts. I can’t defend Bache’s haircut though!

  15. I ran two facelift Montegos over a period of 10 years, a 2.0GSi Estate in BRG that I took to 225K miles the time it was six years old and then one of the last 2.0i Countryman’s in Flame Red that I did 115K in and they were both fantastic cars. The 2.0EFi engine was very reliable and economical and plenty fast enough. The first car suffered with severe rust by 6.5 years but it had done mega miles. The Countryman was much better for rust although I did have a new tailgate under the rust warranty.

    • @ Montegoman, the O series was generally a better engine than the S series and had caused few problems in the Ambassador and Princess. In both carburated and fuel injected form, both were nice engines and could power the estate to at least 110 mph, and by 1989 most of the known Montego faults, ECU failure, electrical nastiness, rust, wheel bearing failure and transmission problems, had been beaten. Then there was the almost unbreakable Perkins turbodiesel that could last 200,000 miles if it was looked after.

      • The Montego managed to be quite a good car by the end of the 1980s, but too late to grab too much of the Sierra / Cavalier market.

        • @richardpd, it always failed by not having a diesel model from the start, when these were available on the Sierra and Cavalier( admittedly very rough in the Cavalier), and by not being available as a hatchback. Yet like the Allegro and Princess before it, when the Montego came good with a turbodiesel option and vastly improved quality, the market had moved on.
          On a different note, I never cared for the Sierra in 1.6 or 1.8 form( the bigger engined cars were better). Both were noisy, thirsty and not very powerful, and later models developed a reputation for poor reliability.

  16. I’m hoping that the Perkins engine will last 2,000,000 miles if looked after..mine is up to 1,230,000 . I rebuilt the gearbox a while ago (bearings worn out, but otherwise in good nick), it had one piston replaced by a previous owner (old piston melted, possibly due to doing a bit of towing) and a replacement head after someone turned the key with the timing pins fitted. My future plans do not include opening the bonnet for anything but maintenance…

  17. In 1985, when working for a National Motoring Club I had the choice of Company Cars, Sierra 2.0, Carlton 2.0, or Montego 2.0
    Being from Birmingham, my choice was a 2.0HL Petrol Montego. I arrived at a management conterence and it became apparent that mine was the only Montego in that level of probably 80 cars on the fleet!
    I liked the car but felt I had to justify its existence.
    The Warranty Claims I remember in the first year was Vehicle Off Road for at least a week while they located a fuel pump taken off the production line and even better, a full respray as the paint started peeling off.
    I wish I could say that I kept away from Rover Group products after that but still support them and only a couple of weeks ago bought a very late Rover 25 for my 17 year old Great Nephew and I might be repurchasing my MG ZT 260 V8
    Happy New Year to all at AROnline

    • That’s an interesting choice, as to me the Carlton is a class above the other 2. I assume the spec was lower than on the Montego HL you chose?

  18. Usual for a press shot that the registration numbers on the cars are Greater London normally they are Oxfordshire or Birmingham.

    • Normally the press fleets were based at Longbridge or Cowley, which explains the Birmingham or Oxford registrations.

      The pre-production Wedges were London registered for some reason, possibly to disguise their origins in road testing. Maybe something similar was happening here.

      Often Rovers in publicity shots were Coventry registered, even after they were built away from Solihull. I have a magazine from 1987 with several pictures of 800s with Coventry coded plates.

        • That’s probably right, In the last two years I’ve been buying a lot of car magazines & noticed press cars from certain manufacturers tended to be registered in particular places.

  19. Great article. Always seems that the most interesting models are the launch lineup yet the later ones are the better cars to live with

  20. I took delivery of a new MG Montego Turbo in 1987, here in New Zealand. Maybe I was lucky, but the car was very reliable for the approximately 40,000 km that I had it. It was a great and very comfortable tourer, and once you learned to plan ahead to allow for the turbo lag, it was a good performer – quite quick for its time, especially when you had 3500 rpm on the dial. It did have a bit of torque-steer, but certainly not the worst I’ve encountered (an Alfa 164 V6 got that award). The brakes were not the greatest, having discs front and drums rear, and lacked stopping power from high speeds (the car would do over 200 km/hr). The only problem I had with the car was fuel starvation after heavy braking followed by a sharp left-hand turn – the engine would cut out for a couple of seconds. The dealer never managed to get to the bottom of that problem. Otherwise a good car.

  21. The Montego was designed to take on the Cavalier and Sierra and had a coherent range of models and engine sizes( no more 1.5 and 1,7 litre engines) and was quite a good looking car and good to drive. The car’s serious reliability and build quality issues are well known, I owned one of the last Austin era cars and it was awful, but had I bought a car made after 1988, then I would have found the Montego far better. Also in 1989, a turbodiesel Montego was launched that was capable of 60 mpg on a long journey and had a Perkins engine that could do 200,000 miles. Then the estate saw a big increase in sales with the turbodiesell and the car looked quite classy in British Racing Green. My opinion of the Montego is it was a car that came good, but came good too late.

    • A lot of BL / AR cars seemed to be like this, when the first few years of customers had to do the test & development work.

      • @ Richardpd, no wonder buyers changed brands then. You could buy a Japanese car that worked straight from the box, so to speak, and would give years of reliable service. Also the hundreds of dealers that were culled in the eighties often switched to selling Japanese cars or emerging brands like Hyundai and Proton. They knew they were selling a reliable product that customers would stay with and irate customers complaining about their new Maestro failing to start would be a thing of the past.

        • Yes that’s true.

          Even in the early 1970s BL were de-franchising smaller dealers, who often switched to the Japanese brands when they were expanding.

  22. Apart from the Sierra and Cavalier, the Peugeot 405 came out in 1987. Far more stylish, the excellent XU diesels AND made in Ryton

    • I always had the xud down as one of the most overrated piles of junk ever created, replacing the prima with the xud in the 200 series sherpas transformed them from reasonably rapid unbelievably frugal vans into gutless thirsty prams. I never had a 405, but the diesel engine was the worst feature of the citroen bx I had. The later engines in the xantias were much better, but that was much later.

    • The Peugeot 405 was something of a game changer as it was far nicer to look at than its rivals and had a diesel version that didn’t sound like a tractor. I did hear the build quality was slack on some early cars, but mechanically the 405 was rock solid and the car matured very nicely with few changes to the original design. Then there was the Citroen BX from the same company with its legendary ride and similar unbreakable XUD engines. Also by 1987 the Cavalier was looking tired and the Sierra still relied on some very rough and thirsty engines.

      • Being a mechanic, I probably saw the worst of the xud, but from what I did see they seemed to be cheap and nasty with weak and easily destroyed cylinder heads. The ford 1.6 and 1.8 may have been even slower, but were a lot harder to kill.

      • I had thought the XUD was popular with bangernomic buffs because it could cope with a lot of use.

        Certainly I remember a lot of 405s being used as minicabs where I lived well into the 1990s.

        • The ultimate in durable engines had to be the engines used in the Toyota Carina E, another popular choice for taxi drivers in the nneties. These could quite easily reach 200,000 miles with no problems and the excellent build quality and strong transmissions were another selling point. In fact all the British built Japanese cars of this era( Nissan Primera, Carina E, Honda Civic and Accord) were known for being almost unbreakable and loved by the taxi trade.

          • They were reliable, my Uncle’s lasted as a taxi for ages, but having driven the Carina E and the next gen (same car new name) Avensis, it was asthmatic and if you had this as a rep mobile you would have been disappointed. I didn’t find it very comfortable either when I drove them – lucky for me it was only a couple of times and I got to drive the other pool cars which were much nicer.

  23. I have fond memories of my late 2.0 SLXi K109PGV. My new company car on 1st August 1992 when I worked as an Auditor in the pub trade. I’d had umpteen Cavaliers and Sierras, and just wanted to give the Monty a try. After all, I’d only have it a couple of years and if it broke, it wasn’t my problem.
    I have to say it was an absolute trooper. Other than routine servicing, it never, ever saw the inside of Hartwell’s workshop, and clocked up 93000 trouble-free miles in 18 months. It met an untimely end when it was stolen and used in a ram-raid.

  24. The ultimate British/ Japanese car from the nineties was the Honda Accord. This was aimed more upmarket than a Carina E, had a nicer interior and was an excellent drivers car, capable of swallowing up the motorway miles effortlessly and being as faultless as an S class Mercedes. Some did become taxis when they became older, as they were quite expensive new, and those kept by private motorists could last over 20 years.

  25. I liked the XUD Turbo in my Rover 218, over 50mpg and tons of torque. It felt quick when clogged,and would set faster times point to point than the Omega diesel which replaced it because of the Rover’s excellent steering; unlike the extremely vague recirculating ball setup in the Omega, which gave no confidence in cornering. It would also struggle to do 40mpg, and was much less reliable than the Rover. The X type which followed the Omega put it to shame – far more stylish inside and out, and drove like a sports car, as opposed to a truck. But like the Omega, it was expensive to run.

  26. I had 2 mg 2.0i montego s……fantastic workhorses…….never went wrong in nearly 10 years of ownership….comfortable….good performance…….bags of room….economical…..looked forward to driving them……mark 2 montego was well put together too
    I truly miss those mg s and look back with fondness….shame there s not many left now

  27. The Maestro failed (along with Maestro) because it was an appalling ownership prospect compared to the Ford and Vauxhall products. I believe there are two main reasons:
    1. Style. The Austin brand was still associated with Allegro, Princess, Maxi. The Ford brand had Cortina, Capri, Granada which were respected a decade earlier. A rebrand or better styling may have helped but the perception of the Ford and Vauxhall brands was so much stronger and marketing played to this well.
    2. Reliability. As a child in the 1980s my parents and family had a mix of ARG, Ford and Vauxhalls which we usually either company car or 3 year old used purchases. The ARG products were always breaking down or making unscheduled visits to the garage. Ford and Vauxhalls may have had lesser engineering or performance when new, but they were more robust and as an ownership proposition when turn key reliability became the norm.

    • @ John Penk, the only problem the Cavalier had was a weak camshaft, that could fail at 80,000 miles, but as a newer car, they were generally reliable and well made for the times. Rust could hit the wheel arches after about 7 years old, as I found out with mine, but this wasn’t unique to the Cavalier. Also as a driver’s car it was a lot better than the 1.6 Sierra, which felt underpowered against a 1.6 Cavalier and noisier at speed.

    • @Steve:

      The Blue (Greyish) tint on the car in the last photo, which an MG Montego Turbo, is called Moonraker Blue metallic.

  28. Also, we had a Maths teacher who drove a Clan Crusader. But he also had a Liftback Montego Saloon.

    Don’t know if had done it himself or if it was a factory prototype.

    Used the same struts as the Maestro.

  29. I had a MG turbo Montego Estate rental car, whilst working at BAe.

    It went like a rocket and burnt fuel to suit! Handling seemed better than my rover 827 rental car however.

    I had a power on oversteer once turning to leave the company car park. Foot down and nearly went round to right angles into the parked cars next to the exit road. I have never put full power on whilst the wheels were well turned (in any car) ever after.

    The abiding family memory is of the two kids in the jump seats in the back/boot – two feet from the rear window, without seat belts (from memory) or any hope in a rear end shunt,

    The three girls saw it as seriously uncool – I thought it was totally honest!

    Happy memories rekindled!

  30. I remember my Dad hired an estate Montego when his Cavalier was being repaired and we were going on a family visit.

    He wasn’t impressed by the road holding, and it was it was not brilliant cold starting.

  31. If only BL had the money to put the “800” style revamped Montego into production, maybe as a Rover 516/520. Always liked the Montego TDi, had lots as cheap 2nd hand bargains (when expectations were lower), and as seen in later Rover models there was a lot of potential to match a VW 1.9 TDi.

  32. I can understand the logic of the Montego estate, there was plenty of room to carry luggage, but saw no sense in the Montego saloon, the boot space in the saloon was minimal, a single large suitcase and that was the boot filled!. The Maestro made more sense for luggage space than the Montego. Some friends arrived from the USA landing at Heathrow, the hire company gave them a Montego saloon, it had to be rejected, the Montego was exhausted with half of their luggage still to be loaded, they were offered a Fiat Uno hatchback, the Uno swallowed the lot!

  33. I worked at the SU Technical Center (Ashold Farm) in the eighties as a fitter/tester. I remember problems with the 1600 S series going onto full choke by itself.This was traced in the end to the coolant temp sender going open circuit. Not sure if it was purchasing buying cheap senders, or Lucas quality being poor, but it was sorted eventually. The game changer was the 2.0 Litre EFI engine. Power. torque, economy. A big step forward from the 1.3 A Series.

  34. @ Phil Hughes the 1.3 was an entry model aimed at the poorest Montego buyer, or the fleets who wanted a cheap family sized car. Ford had the even more uninspiring 1.3 Sierra, a real motorised slug, and the Cavalier came with a 1.3, but since this was the Family 2 engine, it was quick for its size. None of these sold in great numbers and were axed by the late eighties

  35. They did the same with the SD1, put the 2.0 Litre O Series engine in for the company car market. Trouble is it sounded like a Ford Transit and went as quick as one.

    • @ Phil Hughes, I wouldn’t be that harsh on the Rover 2000 SD1, it could still do over 100 mph and was an OK drive, but if you downtraded from a Rover six, you’d notice the drop in performance and the poorer refinement at speed. Also the 2 litre Granada of this era was quite sluggish.

        • @ Richardod, this was an awful engine that few buyers opted for and was a tax break special. Far better was the 2 litre, which had fuel injection and a five speed transmission and was the biggest selling engine in the Granada range.

    • And indeed with the Land Rover Discovery, with the 2 litre T series engine available briefly in the mid 90s!

  36. If that’s the case for the defence, I’d hate to hear the case for the prosecution. FWIW I drove three Montegos. B299DAX (red) and C113xxx (white) had been reps’ cars and had over 100,000 miles on them (each). They were used as pool cars, i.e. they were abused by one and all, but still drove well – scruffy on the outside, but nice to drive. Sierras and Cavaliers were not necessarily as durable at that time. I also drove an early Montego Turbo – the suspension and steering were “adjusted” shortly after launch to quell rampant torque steer. “Good job they improved that”, I said when I took it back. “Er – that’s the improved version Ken” was the reply!
    I nearly bought an MG Maestro because all the Manta GT/Es I looked at had been used and abused – parts missing, resprayed over rust, more dogs than Crufts. Then I found the Manta for me, and was very happy with her until I wrote her off.

  37. Anyway back to the Montego, the turbodiesel estate was its salvation, even if it came five years too late. This was a superior diesel estate to the Sierra and while not the most refined engine on the market, it was a decent competitor to Peugeot Citroen, who were the leaders in this sector. By 1989/90, the Monty’s quality issues had been mostly resolved, issues with the ECU and the wheel bearings had been beaten, and rust proofing improved. You could now buy a Monty and not lose sleep, and the estate kept the car alive until 1994. I did hear as well the Perkins Prima engine was good for 200,000 miles, a big leap forward over the leaking and overheating S series.

  38. However good the Montego became, it could never rival my favouriite diesel estate, the turbodiesel Citroen BX Break. This was old school Citroen, quirky styling married to the hydropneumatic suspension, but better built than previous Citroens and with a turbodiesel engine that was unbreakable if looked after. Buyers who would run a mile from the GSA, which to be honest was too weird for anyone but Citroenistes and not particularly reliable or well made, were buying the BX Break in big numbers.

  39. My former company had a H reg Montego 1.6LX estate which seemed well built and didn’t suffer engine issues in the time I knew it up to 1993.

    A colleague also had a firms Citroen BX Leader. Don’t know its mechanical history but it remained on the fleet for quite a while so must have done a high mileage.

  40. I owned two Montegos: a 1987 1.3 saloon with 5-speed gearbox and a 2000 DLSX estate. Both were good cars that gave little trouble generally. The estate was brilliantly practical and useful – comfortable for the whole family, great economy, good traction on snow and ice, great load capacity and could carry 7 people in tolerable comfort when required. The only problem was rust at 8 years old. The saloon was good too and with the 1.3 A-plus engine it was economical and went surprisingly well. However with a 5-speed gearbox and the 1.3 engine the speedometer over-read by a ridiculous 15%. (At first I wondered why journeys were taking longer than in my previous Cavalier until I calibrated the speedometer against distances calculated from motorway 100m posts.) I assume that Austin Rover hadn’t bothered to work out the correct final drive ratio for the 5-speed gearbox (!). Once I sorted that out, I would set the speedometer at ’80mph’ on the motorway, journey times reduced to normal and everything was OK …

  41. Once it came right, the Montego was as good as the compettion and better than the late eighties Sierra with its reclaimed steel that made it a rustbucket and temperamental new engines. The turbodiesel was a big deal at the time, but a late model two litre petrol Montego was a good motorway car and injected versions could reach 120 mph. I can remember a friend at university, whose family were from a well off part of Cheshire and her old man was self made, whose mother had a really mint BRG Montego 2.0 SL estate and her dad had a Rover 827 SLi. Obviously not swayed by German cars like so many well off residents of Cheshire then and keen to support the British car industry.

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