Essay : Not their finest hour – Austin Montego 1.6 (to 1989)

Once again we drive down Shattered Dreams Parkway, and this time Mike Humble wonders for a while about the car that was earmarked to be the all-conquering saloon of its time which promised the earth and delivered hell.

Mike Humble

austin montego saloon

If a car could ever be as far from the name in terms of the image and mental picture of the word, then surely Montego is it. Oh, but thinking again, maybe our dear friend Morris Ital ranks as another failure in terms of matching the car to aspiration – Ital being as Italian as a fish and chip supper whilst waiting for a bus – in Stoke – in the rain. But was the Montego actually a bad car or was it just poorly executed? That last word is quite fitting for some people. Either way, the Montego was to be the dying breaths of British Leyland and should have done so much better.

Heralded as ‘the car that puts the driver first’ Montego, on paper at least, had every winning ingredient to go to war with the Cavalier and Sierra. A spacious interior, a huge boot, the promise of good economy and favourable performance were all there for the taking. The only problem was that owing to a cock up in the kitchen, someone fiddled with the knobs on the oven and the end result turned out to be half baked. So, why single out the most popular model for some light hearted and nostalgic ribbing and why not the awful 1.3-litre version? Because it was meant to be the mainstream top-selling model in both retail and fleet.

Well, simply because of the staggering amount of time it took Austin Rover to get the damn thing to be a solid reliable car that behaved itself. To be really fair to dear old Monty, ARG Engineers begged and pleaded with sales and marketing for a little more time to get the wrinkles ironed out – in the same vain as they tried with the Maestro. Right from launch, some truly dreadful tales of woe became known from problems with its engine management system developing psychotic tendencies, disgraceful customer satisfaction levels and a whole myriad of other misery.

Montego was comfy and spacious for the driver. Early build quality and reliability was gut wrenchingly poor!
Montego was comfy and spacious for the driver. Early build quality and reliability was gut wrenchingly poor!

Early build quality tended to make cars like the FSO 125p look Bavarian in comparison as drivers glumly looked down at their hand holding a snapped door handle in mid winter. Those sleek colour coded bumpers were produced wrongly thus causing huge cracks and peeling paint just by looking at them and front shock absorbers would wear out at a rate faster than a disposable razor. Should you have been unlucky enough to traverse a deep pot hole or mount a kerb with zest, the chances are you would find yourself waiting at Dutton Forshaw for your front dampers or wheel bearings – or both, to be replaced.

In fact, it took two or three attempts to finally calm down the famous Montego front wheel bearing problem. And even then was only really solved in 1989 after standardising the front hubs and gearboxes with the 2.0-litre version using the decent T5/PG1 developed for Austin by Honda. Those wheel bearings were truly prone to failure and it was not uncommon for them to overheat and almost weld themselves into the swivel hub resulting in a very expensive repair. Main dealers would always keep bearings and hubs on the shelf and one main agent I had extensive personal experience with – Henlys Northampton – would go through two or three sets a week in the heyday.

The S series (Maestro shown) had a bloodline that dated back to the "E" series Maxi 1500. It was prone to oil leaks, breather problems and engine management faults. Breakdown patrols would call the hard shoulder "Montego Bay" thanks to the terrible reliablity record these early versions were known for.
The S-Series (Maestro shown) had a bloodline that dated back to the E-Series Maxi 1500. It was prone to oil leaks, breather problems and engine management faults. Breakdown patrols would call the hard shoulder ‘Montego Bay’ thanks to the terrible reliability record these early versions were known for

You soon knew when your bearings were gone as your car imitated the noise of a child’s humming top as you gained speed allied to a worrying vibration felt through the steering wheel. And what about Austin Rover trying to re-invent the wheel – quite literally with those damn metric Dunlop TD tyres? They had failed with the Denovo ten years earlier so why try again? Bloody awkward to remove and fit as well as being as expensive, they were more of a hindrance than any value to the customer – if they were that brilliant then why did no other manufacturer cotton on and try the idea on a grand scale.

Shockers, bumpers and bearings were only the tip of the Iceberg and general reliability was nothing short of awful. The patrol guys of the AA and RAC nicknamed motorway hard shoulders as ‘Montego Bay’ thanks partly to misbehaving under-bonnet electrical components causing regular breakdowns. A particularly good Montego party trick was detaching its gear linkages when waiting to turn right, manoeuvring in busy car parks or tight spaces owing to tight synchromesh rings of the VW-sourced gearbox and a poorly designed under floor selector mechanism that bolted onto the steering rack.

Gearboxes were bought in from V.A.G and were fairly robust. But B.L designed and cheapened linkages and modified syncro's meant the shift action and quality was as pleasurable as placing your fingers in a food mixer.
Gearboxes were bought in from VAG and were fairly robust. But BL designed and cheapened linkages and modified syncro’s meant the shift action and quality was as pleasurable as placing your fingers in a food mixer

The 1.6 S-Series unit had a pedigree going back to the late 1960s. It too suffered plenty of quality related issues like cam cover gaskets that point blankly refused to seal, engines that sounded top end rattly even when in good fettle and a dismal breather system that would deposit handfuls of mayo like sludge into the oil filler tube in cold weather. The latter could often be diagnosed wrongly as a blown head gasket but left unchecked in a worst case scenario could cause the oil pump to fail or rupture its seals. Other horrors included a hopeless auto choke system that would often switch off then come back on again once hot giving poor starting, sooty exhausts and excessive fuel consumption.

But just to prove how poor the quality could be at Austin Rover and its suppliers, one of the best (or worse) faults the engine could be known for in early guise was faulty oil pressure release valves. The well-known publication CAR magazine ran a 1.6 HL on long-term test that, even now many years later, makes me cringe in horror. There was a batch of faulty pressure valves fitted to the Montego 1.6-litre that caused their test vehicle’s oil filter to explode on more than one occasion – laughable now but back then utterly unforgivable and a huge slap in the chops to Austin Rover.

The estate was better proportioned than the saloon by a long chalk. Early exterior trim fit was dreadful - look closely at the fit of the indicator to bumper and rear door top sill trim to the back window!
The estate was better proportioned than the saloon by a long chalk. Early exterior trim fit was dreadful – look closely at the fit of the indicator to bumper and rear door top sill trim to the back window!

The car was so poor in the long-term test that it provoked a response from ARG boss Harrold Musgrove who apologised at length for the poor performance from the car, the manufacturer and the dealer – the car even came with poorly repaired accident damage at the point of delivery. Once the Rover 213 came into the showrooms, dealers would try to place potential Montego customers into the new joint Honda produced pocket sized Rover – a plan that worked as the 200 soon eclipsed the Montego in sales numbers. Once the word got around about the dealers lack of confidence in the car, Montego’s residual values dropped quicker than a falling boulder.

If time and sanity allowed, I could extol further about the wipers that would fail without warning, the boot that turned into a kiddies’ paddling pool after a downfall, rampant rust, poor external plastic trim, twitching and ticking speedometers or front indicator lenses that would fall off if you slammed the bonnet too hard – is it any surprise that Cavalier and Sierra just walked away hand in hand many a loyal Austin customer. By the time the Montego was treated to a whole raft of engineering and technical upgrades including an intelligent and reliable engine management system and vastly tightened up quality, it was past its sell by date selling purely on cost alone.

The facelifted model for the 1989 model year put right many of the wrongs of the Montego - but it was too late to make an impact or significantly boost the models credibility.
The facelifted model for the 1989 model year put right many of the wrongs of the Montego – but it was too late to make an impact or significantly boost the models credibility.

But was it a bad car? Well, on reputation most certainly but as mentioned, it should have done so well. Drive a well built and sorted car even today and they don’t really disappoint. They are smooth, reasonably refined,  have good use of interior space and the gutsy 1.6 has a decent turn of speed. But one very important lesson was learnt from the Montego, it was simply not acceptable to allow such an under-developed car to be launched into the market. The failure of the Montego and Maestro became blood on the hands of the sales and marketing executives and top brass who insisted against many cries from engineers to rush these cars into the showrooms – they should have been put on trial for this massive waste of money and lost custom.

One of my own Montego memories was becoming the parts manager for a small retail dealer and enquiring about a dusty cardboard box full of dashboard temperature clocks and speedometers. My trusted colleague informed me they were warranty returns that never went back to Cowley – there must have been dozens of them on that dark dusty shelf. I also recall an estate spending two weeks in a body shop having wheel arch and sill repairs being completed under warranty – all on a car less than two years old. We loaned him an R8 414 for the duration and a couple of days later he called by to say “keep the bloody car… I’m having this”.

In summary, the early Montego 1.6 was too criminally under-developed and hopelessly unreliable to pose even the slightest threat to Ford or GM throughout its ten-year lifespan. Only the diesel estate became a model of note towards the end with the Countryman Turbo D almost becoming a cult classic Monty. Such a bitter shame for such a vitally important car that, on launch and in theory, promised so much!

Engine: 1598cc S-Series OHC with SU HIF44 carburettor with electronic control and Lucas programmed ignition (Motorola/Rover E.R.I.C management from 1989)

Max Power: 86BHP

Body: Four-door saloon or five-door estate

Transmission: Four or five-speed manual with three-speed automatic option

Produced: Austin Rover Group Cowley

Timeline: 1984 to 1989 (pre-facelift)

Mike Humble


    • WE had a 1.3 Montego on the fleet, it used to have an issue with “running on” … switch off at the ignition switch and the engine would cough and splutter until shutting down. Very unusual fault for an A+ engine, I cannot recall the dealer repair fix for this problem, can anyone recall this as an issue?

      • This was a common problem with the A+ series in the metro as well. They even fitted a vacuum relief valve to retard the ignition and help stall it. 10.3:1 compression ratio was the problem

  1. Oddly enough Adrian…

    Thanks to a lower final drive and some tweaks to the intermediate gearing, the 1.3, despite being armed with just 69bhp whipped along quite well. Max was about 95mph and the 0-60 sprint came up in around 14 seconds.

    Also, it didn’t feature as much electro-trickery under the bonnet to go wrong besides the electronic carb. That said, I think the auto choke was dropped towards the end on the 1.3 versions and for the SU you could buy a choke conversion kit that was DIY friendly to fit for all three engine sizes.

    I’m sure Moprod made them???

  2. I remember the tailgate gas strut shearing on the one we had – it went straight through the back window and when we took it to the dealer to be fixed, we were told that they usually punched through the metalwork and dented the roof! My grandfather had one that rusted more in five years than the 20 year old Triumph 2000 it replaced.

  3. This article, in a nutshell, explains why the company no longer exists. In consistently releasing cars to the market when they weren’t actually finished, they repeatedly took the goodwill and loyalty of the domestic market, and stretched it beyond breaking point. Gear linkages falling off, engines pouring oil out, wheel bearings welding themselves to the hubs, bits falling off if you slammed the bonnet. On almost new cars. I mean, come on.

    • I agree.

      My father had a 1987 VPD 2.0. The automatic gearbox failed when it was a few years old. (Had this not happened he would have traded it for a Volvo 940. )

      He still regrets to this day selling his Princess 2200 HLS for the Montego. I understand.

      Today he drives a Golf.

      The fact there are so very few left on the road tells us everything we need to know. Hopefully a few will be kept just to remind us what a shocking product they were.

  4. @ DAN

    I’m sure those with a less tangiable experience will think the content was blown out of proportion but those with hands on experience will know otherwise.

    That said… I bought a diesel estate with interstellar mileage on the clock that just kept plodding on…. even though a dead washing machine was canibalised for new floorpan metal as the damn thing rusted quicker than a beer can in a Soviet salt mine!

  5. The Montego and Sierra, I don’t think there was too much between them when it came to build and development considerations, the new Y reg Sierra was the most frightening car I have ever driven, such was the instability, The Ford Cortina Mk 5, also from new was also poorly assembled stinker of a car, parts designed to last about six months,…. the factory warranty period.
    The FWD Cavalierand Astra were head and shoulders above the pair in every way, just a few anomalies, such as blue exhaust smoke due to valve guide and seals being too soft, remedied under warranty.

    My memories of the Montego, the shallow boot, enough for a decent suitcase and that was all, the sheer impracticality of the three-box saloon style, thank heavens for hatchbacks.

  6. I recall hiring a 1.6L in the mid-80s — actually it was an “upgrade” as they had no smaller cars left. I even recall that it was dark blue. I was very disappointed at the lack of performance compared to my aged Triumph Dolomite 1500 with the Monty having to be worked very hard to keep up 70mph on the motorway with only me and a suitcase on board.

    As for the interior quality, even with only about 5,000 miles on the clock the interior creaked and groaned, the gearbox was imprecise and the stalks felt like they were made by Airfix.

    Other than comfortable seats and plenty of legroom I could not find a single thing to enthuse about. Being a hire car I never got to see the reliability issues — at least it did a 450 mile round trip without any bother but it wasn’t any fun to drive.

    That said, I can also recall a horrendous wet and windy night time motorway trip in an early Sierra that wanted to be anywhere but in the lane you wanted to drive in. I have never been in a car so frighteningly unstable in a crosswind. It was so bad that I pulled off at a service station to check the wheels and tyres (which were both correctly inflated and firmly attached to the car). The interior was pretty awful too.

    In contrast, the company I worked for plumped for Vauxhall Astras & Cavaliers as company cars much to my relief.

    As Dan said above, a perfect example of why the company failed. By the time the excellent TurboD Countryman estate made it onto the roads the damage was already done. I know how good these are because a friend had his for 10 years and 150,000 miles.

  7. Is this an essay about my Austin Montego, which seemed to develop all the faults mentioned here, and was the complete opposite of the Rover 213 I had before, which was completely reliable and which was a far better car. I know both cars were getting on, but F88 DRM was the only car I have scrapped that was less than ten years old and even in 1998 1.6 Montegos were becoming rare due to terrible reliability, a collapsing used market and rust.
    I often wish I’d been able to get another 213 as for all these could rust, at least they were reliable and fairly cheap to buy in the late nineties. Even a 1.3 Maestro, with its A series engine, would have proven to be a reliable workhorse.
    Yet sadly when the Montego did come good at the end of the eighties, with better quality and diesel models, it was too late and for all I hated my 1.6, a later diesel model with 55 mpg and 110 mph would have been very tempting.

  8. “The failure of the Montego and Maestro became blood on the hands of the sales and marketing executives and top brass who insisted against many cries from engineers to rush these cars into the showrooms”

    I don’t think these were rushed into the showrooms – after all, the basic Maestro/Montego formula was laid-down on November 1975, and the Maestro launched on 1983! If they hadn’t launched when they did, they would have been so far behind the times they wouldn’t have any credibility at all. It wasn’t a lack of time, but it was a lack of money and focus during the 1970’s that meant these cars we so badly developed and so late to market.

    • Formula in 1975 yes but the button wasnt pushed for go ahead until well into Edwardes tenure of B.L

      Even stylist Roy Axe thought it was all to cock and by the time running development cars were running, the company was into Horrocks stewardship… as said… rushed into production before ready and as Julian states… pretty much behind the times when launched.

  9. Yes, the thing about both the Sierra and the Cavalier is that they were launched a couple of years BEFORE the Montego. And once the Montego was a couple of years old the game had really moved on – e.g. mk3 Cav, Peugeot 405 etc.

  10. Cries from Engineers that the cars where rushed into showrooms? -But the Maestro and Montego has been under development since 1974! How much time did they need? I can only assume that like BL production line workers, the design and development staff also spent most of the 70s huddled round a brazier on picket duty. Another case of a BL product being flawed at launch then left to fester rather than undergoing any serious development – just like the Allegro, Princess and Maxi. BL learned nothing in the intervening years.

  11. When I started gainful employment in 85, we had a fleet of cars that consisted of Sierra, Cavalier and Montego with the last few of the Series 2 Alpine and Solara.

    Montego probably made up half our fleet as BL were starting to invest again and if you wanted to do business with them you needed a BL car otherwise our Sales and Engineers would be sent by security to the furthest car park.

    Life was simple back then and as a service Engineer you got the 1.6 L and if you were sales you got a 1,6 GL /HL, once made a mistake of accepting a GL spec hire car for a Service Engineer and succeeded in filling every middle managers office we disgruntled Service and Service Engineers who felt I had just publically castrated them.

    I did not like the Montego, mainly because it created me more work than the Sierra / Cavalier, I could hand the keys of them out and file the paperwork and be confident that I would not have any more work to be done until disposal, or more likely in those pre health and safety days, until the insurance claim. The record being 25 minutes to handing the keys of a shiny new Sierra Mk2 and having to arrange recovery of the wreck, it having just gone backwards at high speed into a dry stone wall less than 5 miles away from my desk.

    But the Montego was different, about half went away and never came back, but the other half were back every few weeks needing a hire car as some major component had failed. One driver in particular was back weekly with his Montego Estate and I was glad after 50K I was able to hand him the keys of a Sierra estate. I also recall that the expense claims of the Montego owners regularly included the purchase of oil, leading to us joking about the Montego being 2 stroke.

    This was I think the Montego failure as a fleet car, the Sierra and Cavalier could take the fleet abuse, the Montego was ok if you treated your car with respect, but if as a lot of fleet drivers did treat the throttle and breaks as on off switches, it usually ended in tears. I also don’t recall anybody being truly happy as a Montego owner, even those who took care of them complained of rattles, broken trim and niggling faults, the sign of how far BL was from the market being that I recall two or three of the late Alpine and Solara (actually called Minx and Rapier by then and with a generous spec for the time that included power steering) drivers, saying how better they had found them than the Montego I had given them as a replacement.

  12. Amazed by how much my wife’s 1990 diesel Monty (modest mileage, fsh) underwhelmed, after being bought on the strength of my surprisingly good 1.3 Maestro (high miles, no history and crash repaired) of the same year. To drive, the Monty felt under-chassised compared to the Maestro, tramlining and understeering in a way that the lighter Maestro didn’t. Underbonnet it was more cramped to work on, as I found out during frequent trips to Montego (engine) Bay.
    Although a cheap car to buy secondhand and at the time the most economical car I’d owned, the Monty was actually the most expensive to run due to repair costs. In 18 months ownership and only about 20,000 miles I lost count of the number of wiper linkages it needed (a thin, pressed steel bracket carried high stresses), on top of hgf, master cylinder failing, worn out clutch, front indicators falling apart, leaking heater matrix, headlining dropping, easily split bumpers, collapsed driver’s door hinges and the door mirrors dropping off. The mounting springs were OK for simple Maestro units, but add motors and a chunkier, body coloured casing for the Monty and they soon stretched. Mine wasn’t too bad for rust, but the Montys (Estates especially) did seem to rust more around rear arches than the Maestro. Probably another example of no engineering for greater stresses.
    In the end it was the only car I’ve ever lost interest or confidence in, and chose to sell as spares/repairs when it was only 8 years old, after hgf.

  13. To be fair, the bumpers were fairly innovative. When designed, the likes of Ford etc. used old fashioned bumper bars, and even when they caught up with plastic bumpers, they were in that dark grey colour until the late 80s.

    Interestingly, early R8s also used grey bumpers…

  14. I had a new Montego 1.6L company car back in 1984 for two years. I wanted an Audi 80 but my Anglophile boss insisted on this instead. It was, as I recall, pretty reliable but the bodywork and exterior trim were awful: both front and rear bumpers spontaneously split lengthways within days of taking delivery. The thick plastic cappings added to disguise the Maestro doors distorted in the Summer heat and were then permanently misaligned. The black paintwork was the worst aspect of the car: it was all orange-peel and not at all glossy. After a white van clipped my front wing in traffic, the repairers complained that there was no way they could match the (terrible) paintwork, so the car then had one perfectly painted glossy black front wing, which stood out like a sore thumb! The Montego replaced a (RWD) Datsun Bluebird which, although technically primitive, was infinitely better built and equipped.

  15. Of course in 1986 the British Nissan Bluebird appeared and added to competition for the Monty – and had better build quality!

    My old Employer had a 1986 Monty 1.6 base Estate (which actually didn’t provide many problems)then an 89 Monty 1.6L Estate facelift which was a nicer comfortable and trouble free car. The two tone 1987 1.6L Montego was heavily advertised at the time and perhaps increased its popularity? too late though?

  16. And all its competitors were perfect were they? Don’t think so.

    We are very good at reminding ourselves how bad various BL/A-R/etc products were and we forget all the other rubbish that was on the market.

    Sorry…Mike’s stuff is usually spot on. This isn’t

    • Of the three that mattered in 85, the Sierra 1.6 was reliable but slow (we reckoned it was a good 20bhp down on the Cavalier, and looking under the bonnet was like going back 20 years with its tin fan etc and had a poor sense of direction. But it seemed unbreakable and Ford had such a following, some of the fleet drivers had convinced themselves that RWD cars handled better, although in the Sierra case this was not true.

      Montego I describe above, was reliable if not flogged, but when flogged was a whole pile of trouble. Lots of bits of plastic trim fell off them as they old older.

      Only problem I recall we had on the Cavalier was that we had Shell fuel cards and shell introduced a detergent in the fuel that ran them lean and caused Vauxhall a load of warranty issues we had some issues with pinking but I don’t recall any big issues resulted for us just moaning from the drivers, but later on working for somebody else a Kadett SRI burnt its valves out on our fleet, but thankfully I had moved onto better things than running the car fleet.

      By modern standards all these cars were rubbish, but Mr Sierra driver was not disappointed when he got one after his Cortina 1.6L. But he did become disappointed when a Cavalier 1.6L left him for dead on a motorway incline or slip road.

      For 1.6 cars the smart choice was Cavalier Mk2 until the UK built Peugeot 405 (the days when Peug built cars like the 205,309,405,106 and 306) arrived at the start of 88 and moved the market up another step, just as the Cavalier Mk2 had half a decade earlier.

      • To narrow the driving deficit between the Sierra and Cavalier, Ford had fleet market specification models with extra bells and whistles such as sunroofs and electric windows, this appealed at “choose your next car time” to a certain mindset of our company drivers, the Friday evening pub bores who seem to think the world wanted to hear about such trivialities, some of them had caravans and nfavoured the Sierra, something to do with perceived benefits of RWD when towing, the Sierra 5 speed gearbox bearings were not happy with the strain of lugging a caravan

      • M y 84 Sierra had a proper plastic viscous coupled fan! – The Sierra 1.6 had 75bhp, the Cavalier 90 so on paper the Cavalier had it well beaten. Look at the figures though and there wasn’t much in ot in terms of top speed and 0-60. The Sierra certainly handled and rode better than the Cavalier. Trying to park an unassisted 1.6L Cavalier was like berthing a super tanker and the torsion beam rear suspension was no match for the Sierras fully independent rear. The Sierra was of course reported to have poor cross wind stability. Despite many winter miles on the M6 over Shap I dont remember it being a particular issue.

  17. You forgot to mention that 1.6’s could burst into flame (carburettor area) at any moment; and replacement ECU’s costing 25% of the new price of the car. But my dad’s Rover 216EX was oil tight, so not every S series laid its own oil slick. I remember my employer having B and C reg Montego 1.6 base saloons as pool cars, each had covered over 100,000 miles (a high mileage in the 1980’s) and were visibly uncared for, but I much preferred driving them to Sierras. They also had an F reg 1.6 Maestro which was very nice to drive, and light years ahead of their awful Y reg with the rattly two-piece dash and VERY rattly R-series engine, which was the last choice for anyone who wanted a pool car! How typical of BLARG to launch the properly sorted version after customers had suffered for 5 years…

    • Another problem with Austin era Montegos was the build quality was shocking on many cars. Do you really expect indicator lenses to fall out at the slightest hint of a rough road surface, window winders that snapped in your hand( happened to me, though fortunately when it was dry) and plastic bumpers that could shatter at the slightest impact? Add in the mechanical woes and the rubbish interior quality and the Montego was a terrible car. It was probably the only car I could say I dreaded getting into every day in case something went wrong and I had some real sheds in my twenties.

      • My company had a Monty 1.6 base estate (1986) which was replaced in 1989/90 with a 1.6LX estate. The LX was a much nicer equipped car and had better build quality (had the facelift front end.)

        • The Montego came right with the facelift and the estate enjoyed a second chance with the turbodiesel and some nice paint options like British Racing Green. I’d say the estate and the turbodiesel were what gave the Montego a modest revival and steady sales until the range was axed in 1994. Also dealers were probably keen to shift what had been a troubled and hard to sell product until 1988 and the trade ins would have been good.

      • I’ve mentioned before a friend of a friend having an E reg on in 1997 which was a complete shed, overheating easily even when idling.

  18. I had 2 mg montego s that never went wrong, admittedly on an f reg and an H reg, much improved mark 2 s-comfortable, fast, reliable and a well built, quality car- all the things the mark 1 should have been from the word go. My two rusted away, so quality of metal was dire. Question for you-How many have you seen in the past 5 years? They actually made over 500 000 in all. Very rare car now!!!

  19. Bloody hell, that Maestro engine’s my old car! I’ll let you off the copyright violation seeing as this is one of my favourite websites 🙂

  20. Why didn’t they continue with the proven O series engines from the Ambassador. These were reliable, durable engines and no doubt with fuel injection, could have made a base 1.7 L Montego into quite a powerful and decent car. Yet the argument Ford and Vauxhall’s benchmark was a 1.6 litre, so Austin had to have the same. What was produced was a reliability nightmare, my S series Montego leaked oil continuously, overheated in traffic even with a new water pump, started when it felt like it and on top of this managed to blow its alternator, had bits fall off regularly and also the windows had a habit of sticking. I have never owned such a poor car and a shame as my Rover 213 was so reliable and my stepdad had a 213 S, which never gave him one ounce of trouble in the 2 years he owned it.

    • I think they had good reason to go for a 1.6, because had they gone for a 1.7 a lot of fleet managers would have steered clear of them because of all the “boot badge” envy in the company car park.

      It seems absurd now, but in 85 your boot badge basically described the size of your genetals and putting part of your sales team into 1.7 and another part into a 1.6 would have caused more trouble than it was worth to the fleet manager. Much easier to hide behind a company policy of “we buy 1.6’s”.

      When Ford realising the market had cottoned onto the work of fiction the Sierra 1.6 claimed power output was they gave us a 1.8, but the badge was hardly distinguishable from the 1.6 which I think was deliberate, one almost felt it was an omission of defeat. Also of course with the growth in the economy in the late 80’s the market was ready to size up again and the expectation quickly went to 1.8 and 2 Litre.

      • “The (Sierra) 1.8 badge was hardly distinguishable from the 1.6 which I think was deliberate, one almost felt it was an omission of defeat.”

        I think you might be over-analysing this!

        • Probably an unintended consequence of Ford’s 1980s ‘futuristic’ badging font, with the straight line about 1/4 down the y axis of the characters.

      • Delayed reply; the O Series motors in my Dad’s two Marinas kept Dutton Forshaw in work for years. Burned valves with 60,000 miles and starting procedures were mystery to the rest of the family as only he had the knack of coaxing any life out of the things in the mirning

    • You had to pay more tax on a company car over 1.6 litres.
      The government gave AR a break by moving the threshold to 1.8 litres so the Ambassador 1.7 could squeeze in, Ford and Vauxhall came out with 1.8’s to take advantage of this, both much more powerful than the O series.
      BLARG made many odd sized engines – Maxi 1750, Dolomite 1850, Princess 2200 – which generally baffled potential customers.

    • Ideed! BL claimed the O Series wouldnt fit the Maestro hence the need for the S. That of course was complete nonsense given the 2.0 O went into the MG Maestro! – The O was a newer engine and surely having a common 1.7 and 2.0 Engine would have created huge economies of scale. The O Series would also have come with the Honda gearbox from the start. Far better than the bastardised VW unit used in early Montegos.

  21. I actually chose a new 1.6HL estate as my first new company car at the very end of 1986 and I loved it. I was only 22 at the time and really felt I’d arrived!
    I ran that car for 6 years and much as I loved that car, I did get used to having to replace wheelbearings and shocks, though I’ll add exhaust systems (2 years for a system was fair going) and fuel pumps for good measure. By the time it went in 1992, I had taken to carrying a spare new fuel pump with me!
    By 1992, it had 105,000 miles and about the same number of rust holes (wheel arches, sills and oddly, most of the bottom of both passenger side doors were missing through rust). AS a car, it closely resemble a colander…
    I replaced it with a 30,000 mile 1989 2.0HL estate, which was a much better car and ran that to around 105,000 miles as well, until I moved on to Citroen XM’s in 1994.
    The 1989 Monty was the very last of the pre-facelifted cars and was the very best year of Montego production as far as I was concerned. The later cars were much cheaper and nastier inside, had sunroofs that robbed vital headroom and thin seat squabs that tried to get some of the lost headroom back!
    Lastly, what about the panel where it was possible to clearly see the door hinges without opening the doors?!

  22. Many moons ago I purchased an 8 year old Montego 2.0 litre GTI off my best mate. It had the usual frilly rear wheel arches which my son dealt with, he put some arch repair panels on and smartened it up no end. It was one of the most reliable cars I have ever owned and a proverbial road rocket, which I enjoyed driving immensly. It was a sad day when it was written off by a side swipe. When did you last see one……..??

  23. The VAG sourced boxes WERE NOT robust!!! Why does this site seek to defame and lie about AR products! Those VW boxes were notorious in the industry for being vague, clunky messes that were fragile (reverse gear was very easy to break). I lost count of the Polos, Golfs, Ventos/Jettas and Passats I saw coming through the auctions with broken/barely operative gearboxes.

    • My brother had a Maestro diesel with the VW gearbox, on a motorway trip, at he managed to select reverse instead of top, fortunately he realised the error and held down the clutch until he coasted to a stop on the hard shoulder. He remarked how easily the error occurred, the lever moved and the cogs engaged without any obstruction of baulking

  24. My Dad bought an ’86 C-reg 1.6HL ex-demo in ’87. In 2yrs and <20k miles it needed a new clutch, new wheel bearings and was starting to rust by the time he got rid at <3yrs old. Also remember the bumpers being as fragile as you describe. He still describes it as the worst car he ever owned. When the indicator unit fell out in his hand on the forecourt we should have left immediately. I doubt he noticed the dynamic shortcomings as it replaced a '78 Mini Clubman, so would have been a significant step up in refinement. In silver it did look smart in its time, if a little conservative.

    It was replaced with a Ford Escort which went on for nearly 20yrs – says it all really. He was a big fan of the Honda-based Rovers but they were always just out of reach price-wise.

  25. It’s a very rough and ready way of measuring but compare the highest number of registrations on How Many Left to the number on the road after 10 years. For Metro/Maestro/Montego it’s about 5-10%. For 25/45/75 it’s more like 60-70%, shows just how much quality improved.

    If you had to pick one point that sealed the fate of BL/Rover I think you can argue Maestro and Montego were it. Lost count of the number of people who have told me my Rover can’t possibly be reliable, will fall apart etc. etc and their perception is entirely based on experience of one of those two models.

    • The battle was lost with the Allegro, when the M cars arrived the foreign dealer networks had all but gone, the share of the UK market had collapsed and manufacturing capacity had been significantly reduced.

      It surprises me that the management believed in them, because the Government did not. The debate over the funding of bringing the Maestro and Montego to market is covered in Margaret Thatcher’s diary in some detail.

      It was clear to the Cabinet that Austin Rover did not have the product (what they were shown about the Maestro and Montego did not impress them), manufacturing capacity and European market share to produce and sell them in the numbers to compete with their competitors. In her diary she describes the company as a high cost manufacturer with a low quality product.

      However she and Norman Tebbit resisted demands from Geoffrey Howe to pull the funding, but recognised that they were just buying time. The result was they went all out to get the Japanese to come to the UK amongst other things.

  26. The flip side of this are late models being much better than the early ones, long after too many potential customers had voted with their wallets.

    • I agree they were quite well sorted, however better things were available and when the company I worked for went for Diesel in the early 90’s you have a choice between turbo Montego or turbo 405 (at that time built in the UK).

      We had a big fleet switch over and had a day when we had chance to test drive the Montego and 405 before placing our order.

      Result was nobody ordered a Montego.

      • Funny you should say that; I parted with my last, much loved, (105,000 mile old, 2.0 HL) Montego estate in 1994 and (one equally loved Citroen XM estate later) I was given a brand new 1.9D 405 estate “Quasar”, which I hated more than I can easily put in to words!!

  27. The Montego should have been a success. It was a good looking car, much more than the cars it replaced, was comfortable, had some excellent MG versions and had an engine lineup similar to that used by Ford and Vauxhall. Unfortunately the dire quality of the 1.6 models rapidly killed it off and when it came good, it was too late( rather like its predecessors). Also not having a diesel option from the start hampered sales and the far superior SD3 stole sales ( indeed this was a good car, particularly with Honda engines).

    • I am not sure it could ever have been a success, because whilst when it worked it was OK, it’s hard to see a reason why you would take it preference over a Cavalier Mk2. Whilst from my experience I think it was better than the Sierra Mk1, Ford has such a strangle hold on the UK Fleet Market you needed something exceptional to break into it and the Montego was not that exceptional.

      But even if it had been, the decline over the previous decade had left Austin Rover with no significant market presence outside the UK, so success would have been limited to the UK market.

  28. Brilliant article Mike. I hope it is linked with the cars development story.
    I know a BMW driving, shoe shop owner who used to work in an ARG dealership in the 1980’s and you back up everything he says.
    It appears, that just like the Rover SD1, there was no meaningful quality control at Cowley. Quantity took priority over quality.
    I remember the time vividly. The ARG propaganda machine was very effective in deflecting criticism on to an apparently unsupportive government, and continually placing the emphasis on its improving quality. Harold Musgrove and co. seemed to pop up everywhere, hammering home the message that the bad old days were over and the consumer could be assured of a quality product. We now know it was all a mirage.
    The Thatcher government was convinced that Britain was no good at manufacturing, the ARG M cars should have been the perfect riposte.
    Instead they re-enforced this view, and helped convince the wider public at large that Britain was no good at manufacturing. The M cars exposed ARG’s whole management structure as being rotten to the core.
    The only inkling that ARG was having quality issues was the stuttering in the sales charts in 1985/86, which the media blamed on the financial incentives offered by Ford and GM, not the sheer unreliability of the Cowley twins.
    The government tried to unload ARG on to Ford in early 1986, to avoid having to stump up more cash, our cash, to fund more models.
    This was viewed as outrageous, an attempt to sell off a national asset that had been revived by injections of taxpayers money. Again the ARG PR machine had been successful in convincing the public that the company was a vital national asset, not a liability.
    BL in the form of Ray Horrocks and Trevor Taylor of ARG publicly blamed the government for causing a decline in the company’s market share. Publicly, they did not accept that maybe they had some responsibility for ARG’s problems. The fleet users knew perfectly well why ARG were stumbling in the sales chart, but nobody asked them.

  29. I did wonder if the Maestro & Montego could have been improved & launch earlier if the development money from the Ambassador & Ital was instead used to finance the Maestro & Montego projects earlier on.

    I guess there were some other factors involved.

    • The issue with the launch periods of both Maestro and Montego, was nothing to do with Ambassador or Ital. It was solely due to SD1. Vast amounts of money were squandered on SD1, that simply were never recovered by sales. Despite how the car is now remembered, SD1 sales were hopeless – not to mention the appalling warranty record – this was the car that drove Rover out of the export business. For all the talk of SD1 now, in reality it was a product that the market simply didn’t want.

      The Ambassador was simple – the ADO71 was designed originally to have a hatch. It was released with a boot lid so as to not compete with SD1. We simply pulled the drawings and tools we already had for the body.

      Ital was the car that kept the company going. It was about all we sell at the time. The redesign was effectively done by apprentices (ie cheaply), since Ital had made a complete mess of the job! Without the cash flow from the Ital, the company would not have lasted long enough to get Maestro and Montego to market.

      If anybody ever wanted to point the finger at who was to blame for the demise of BL, it should start with a certain Mr King….

      • That’s really interesting. Was Metro similarly delayed? It makes me wonder if P6 and/ or Innsbruck could have been re skinned to keep the show on the road in that sector, with the economies spent on bringing the 3 M cars to market sooner. Would that have had a better outcome?

        • Yes, Metro was delayed. Although this was to some degree due to the cancellation of ADO88. Because of the parlous state of the company’s finances by this point, Metro was done on a shoe-string budget. We could have a new body or a new powertrain, but not both. It was seriously studied to employ the powertrain from the Daihatsu Charade. We even looked at the Norton twin rotor wankel engine!

  30. I think a very big problem was that there was just something a bit frumpy and uncool about both M cars, by the time they were launched. The styling always looked a bit dated and the Montego, with its stick on windowsills somehow never really convinced as a serious family car, so that image wise they were always, even in the mid-80s, rather on a sticky wicket. That has to be the result of their drawn out incubation, caused by BL’s financial problems.

    Now, the lack of modern styling did not have to be a problem because at the time lots of cars (Range Rover, XJ6, Citroen CX) combined styling which was hardly cutting edge with an upmarket image. However, that was because they excelled in other areas – and as niche products, whilst the M cars tended to be rather average in their attributes and were sold into the mass market. However, had they earned a reputation as being tough as old boots that might have saved them. Alas, they were not tough as old boots.

    So I think (though speculation) that they wouldn’t have been unsuccessful had they hit the market 5 years earlier, or if they had hit when they hit but gained a reputation for robustness. Had they been both robust and bought to the market in the late 70s they might have been really very successful.

  31. I remember in ’84 my dad bought a 2 year old Ambassador 2.0 HL. When the Montego was launched it seemed so modern and stylish. I used to love going to the motorshow and getting the latest Austin Rover sales brochures and trying to persuade my dad he really should buy a new Montego, he never did sadly and the Ambassador was replaced by a Rover SD1 2600SE (which I simply adored!) That was to be his last AR car after a lifetime of only owning BMC / Leyland products. German and French diesels have been the British car replacements.
    My favourite Montego was the Countryman estate in BRG metallic green with the lattice alloy wheels. A nice 2.0 DI with a low mileage would be a nice car to own even now.

  32. Have a soft spot for my old white Montego 2.0
    It was clocked with an inch of its life when I bought it. White with no wheel covers, seemed to get mistaken for an unmarked police car (shame!)
    Ate wheel bearings almost as quickly as steering column bearings (no power steering)
    boot was huge and having kids great for the clutter

    Oh and chipped the ignition unit with the Montego challenge tune (remember that series….)
    When I finally got shot it had been to the moon and back but the simplicity of it meant it was easy to fix

  33. Now there were unlearnt lessons of the marketing guys overruling the engineers.

    The engineers wanted to release the Rover P6B 3500S Auto (American spec model) with the EFI V8 engine that was under development. No said marketing we need to get it on sale now. So it went on sale in 1969 with all sorts of emission gear on it with the 2 SU carbs.

    In the mid 80s I tracked down the service manager of a UK garage that had sold one of these (about 12 were sold in the UK really aimed at US forces based in the UK). I said to him ‘I wonder if you remember a car that the dealership sold in 1970’. He raised his eyes to heaven with an expression that said ‘you must be joking’. I then showed him a picture of one with its distinctive bonnet scoops. His attitude changed ‘that bloody thing, we never could get it tuned properly to the customers satisfaction’.

    Sales in the US were abysmal and ended Rover in the US until the SD1 went there.

  34. Modern cars aren’t immune from faults and seem more expensive and time consuming to fix than ones from the eighties, where home mechanics and one man bands working from lock ups could do most jobs quite cheaply. The clutch has failed on my Nissan Micra, which has only done 24,000 miles, and if the garage decides the mechanical parts aren’t covered by the warranty, then a nice, big bill awaits me as modern clutches take four to five hours to replace. Also I don’t think any of the one man in a lockup guys I knew are still in business, probably the nature of modern cars means it’s too much hassle now to do work on modern cars.

    • That’s nothing. On the Mk3 and Mk4 Discoveries you have to remove the whole body to swap the turbo on the diesel version. How many garages can manage that. OK, it’s oply 10 bolts and some multiplex wiring plugs but who has the facilities to lift the entire body off the chassis? Also the entire rear subframe has to be removed to change the fuel tank. (Half an hour on a Marina, 20 minutes for a Dolomite)

      One reason my Disco 2 soldiers on.

      However, I can recall some people having to change front wheel bearings on Montys every 6 months or so and that is just not funny.

      The Monty saloon always looked wrong to me with the protruding rear window, like the C pillar had been put in the wrong place by mistake and just left.

      • it sounds like you may not have see just how easy it is to lift the body off the chassis once it’s been unbolted and unplugged. As long as there is sufficient headroom to lift the body, then most garages will have regular a hydraulic lift that will do the job easily.

  35. In the dying days of the Montego I worked for a company that ran a reasonably sized car fleet of all makes shapes & sizes. A fellow employee was one of those bizarre character the took some kind of strange pleasure in abusing his company car, proudly not caring about knocks and scratches, never washing or cleaning it etc. When his car came up for a change, unlike everybody else, he was not given a choice of car, due to his track record of abuse, he was given a Montego Diesel Estate, considered the most unattractive car on the list. We all recall how ARG sought to develop “niche” models in it’s latter days, but a “punishment” niche really was pushing this form of marketing to new depths!

  36. The Montego was a tragedy that helped killed off the Austin name forever. Had it been better built and reasonably reliable, it would have provided decent competition to the Cavalier and Sierra as it was a spacious, comfortable car aimed at the company car market. Instead in 1.6 form it was a lemon and sales faded away almost from the start as reliability issues appeared from its launch.
    OTOH its predecessor, the Austin Ambassador, was a far more reliable and durable car and also came as a hatchback.

    • British Leyland were wrong footed by the economic crisis that hit the UK following the fuel crisis. Ford had successfully resized the company car market with the Mk2 and Mk3 Cortina, which whilst performance and specification was only marginally improved the car grew half a market segment in size.

      If things had continued with aspirations and the Mk4 Cortina upsizing again then the Princess would have been right sized for the Fleet market and its lack of five speed gearbox, PAS (on the lower spec’s) and sub 100 mph speed would not have been the issue. However the Princess found itself pitched into the executive market, a market where its lack of pace and low rent detailing (flat card door trims, chrome bumpers, lack of wrap round lights)compromised a very forward looking design.

      However one issue remains, even given higher volumes it is hard to imagine that British Leyland of the mid 70’s could have built a Princess cheap enough to compete with Ford in the fleet sector.

  37. I do remember being in a year old 1.6 L in 1986 and remembering how fragile it felt and how we had to treat the gearbox with care as it had to be repaired a few weeks earlier. Compared with the Cavaliers of this era, the Montego just looked so low rent and cheap inside and felt like it would fall apart.
    A shame as so much had been promised when the Montego launched, but by 1986 Which was slamming it for terrible reliability and advising drivers not to buy one. It was odd that while its predecessors were criticised for poor quality( sometimes unfairly), at least the engines and the bodies were of better quality.

    • I have to call bullshit on that little story Glen I’m afraid! Early Montegos were quite well built, solid and fairly reliable if you got a good one, they were also a hell of a lot better looking than the cheese wedge, 70s styling of the Cavalier, or the ancient, rust prone Sierras of the time. ( I worked around AR stuff in the those days). The Mk2 Cavalier was a horrible machine, stupidly dull inside and almost as rust prone as the Monty, Frequent Cam shaft and Distributor failures as well as leaking fuel lines as I remember… Funny how the biased anti-BL propaganda and sully the memories of even the most ardent BL fan, ay Glen? 🙂

    • The Mk 2 Cavalier was just what the market wanted and was great in many ways, but it’s hard to accuse the Montego of having a “low rent” interior in comparison! Right up until the nasty 1989 facelift, the Montego (especially in HL guise and above) was so much nicer inside – the Cavalier’s “wall of cheap black plastic” fascia was particularly horrible!

      • I remember my Dad’s first Mk2 Cavalier was an L, so had lots of blanked off bits which seemed to be a reminder that you should have bought a higher spec one.

        The CD he had afterwards made put better use of these bits.

        By comparison the Sierra looked like it was co-designed by NASA, especially on the high spec models.

        Vauxhall had almost the same sort of dash in the Astra & Nova, normally lots of mouldings for optional extras.

  38. This brings back memories as a 1.6 Montego was my first car (well, technically second after a 1300 Maestro). It was a post-facelift 89′ model on a F plate and was ‘just’ 8 years old when I got it. Despite its relative youth, it cost me £50 and that included a second Montego (2.0 pre-facelift) for parts. In the time I had it (about 2 years) i had to replace both rear arches, both front shocks, wheel bearings and lower arms, the fuel pump, radiator, exhaust mounts, CV joint and heater matrix. The cam belt also snapped but not a big issue as its a ‘safe’ engine and definitely a service item.

    I’m not saying the car had been loved in any way when I got it, and I’m not saying I drove it with respect but the car I replaced it with (210k mile Vauxhall Cavalier 2.0) had no issues at all, other than being a bit smokey due to the massive mileage. The Montego could, and should, have been a great car, but it was only 7/10 ready.

    My Monty (F69 SLY) died due to terminal rust on the left rear strut tower. The strut punched through the mount and it collapsed on the rear, bloody nearly putting me in a ditch.

  39. @ Andrew, sounds like mine, while in 1998 Mark 2 Cavaliers of the same age were still a common sight, the Montego was becoming a rarity due to rust and terrible reliability. Even Fiat had largely beaten its rust problem by the late eighties, but the steel used on Austin era Montegos was dire.

    • The rust issue was caused by us being forced to specify steel that was only zinc-coated on one side. The ‘thinking’ (and I use the term loosely) was that the coated side would go on the ‘wet’ side of the panel.

      The idea came from a cost saving idea on the company suggestion scheme. When we in the PSF body office protested, we were howled down by the counters of the beans. Of course, since the warranties were so short in those days, they were able to get away with it!

  40. I had a 2lt estate (after 2 maestros). Thought it was great car very reliable, comfortable. I did well over 150.000k in it which might not seem that much now but was a lot for what was essentially a repmobile. The estate was far better looking than the saloon and I think the styling is what slowed sales (and of the maestro too, But the Astra looked remarkably like a cleaned up maestro and sold well).

    Would a better styled monty have sold more? Who can say, but these were good cars and I’d love to give one garage space now.

  41. I had my E reg Montego 1.6L est from new and have throughaly enjoyed it .It is very nippy and a good load carryer.Its carried us from one end of the uk to the top of Scoctland with family .4 dogs and a trailer with 2 x dissabled scooter in the back.I seviced it my self since 92 and it omly failed once in 2012 with rear brakes as i was not able to do them prior to the mot .The only problems we have with the cars are nla part which have almost dryed up .Currently it has had a drop in anual mileage but has done arround 347.000 miles

  42. I worked for a minicab firm in the early 90s that ran the triumvirate of fleet cars, 1.6 Sierra, 1.6 cavalier and 1.6 Montego, the Monty was the one we fought over driving, as an all rounder it was the best, most comfortable to drive (the cav had thinly padded seats and felt like you were sat on the floor) performance wise the Sierra was awful with stodgy handling and was thirsty. The monty handled well, went well and was economical. I always liked them, although they never got to grips with the rust problem even after the facelift.

  43. While people criticise the Montego for its reliability, its Ford and Vauxhall rivals were no great shakes either. The Sierra was thirsty, controversial looking, wouldn’t go in 1.3 litre form, and was noisy unless you opted for the 2 litre. The Cavalier was better than both the Sierra and Montego, but had a reputation for camshaft failure and the wheel arches could rust big time, which I found out about on mine.
    At the time, better off private buyers were switching to Volkswagen Passats and Audi 80s, which were generally nicer to drive and well made cars, and those who wanted reliability and value for money, but had no interest in image, would be buying a Japanese family car. It’s amazing how many eighties Toyota Carinas and Nissan Bluebirds were still around well into the noughties.

  44. The terrible thing is, that when these cars rusted, they did so because the rust was already present under the paint, it just grew and spread like a cancer, until it bubbled through the paint and ate through the metal. No amount of polishing or waxing could have stopped this cancer like tin worm.

    The thing is, that this rust shouldn’t have been there, was anyone told that when they bought their brand new car, they were also buying a bucket full of invisible rust. I find it really sad that when we bought these cars new, with hope and warmth in our hearts, they were in fact already doomed, being eaten away from the inside out.

    I also feel conned, the salesmen knew very well the problems with these cars, they understood the reliability problems, they were well aware that the cars were already rusting away before we handed over our money, yet they kept quiet, happy to take our money for a product they knew would fail.

    I guess that’s their job, but the chances of me going back to these dealers and buying an AR product again was zero.

    Needless to say, my next car was a Ford.

    • The issue was well understood by all. However, rather than doing what was neccessary to fix the problem, doubling the thickness of paint on the lower doors and sills, doubling the underseal, and filling every panel inside with waxoyle and poring in oil, people just complained about it when it rusted. Yes, OK, you should not have to do such things, but every car has at least one inherent fault and this one is easily fixable, without any specialist skills being needed. It is what I did to mine, and it looked near new when it was ten years old. No visible rust anywhere. I mean absolutely none. Despite the bad reputation it had, it was an extremely reliable car. 10 years old and only ever replaced tyres, a light bulb and exhausts. The Montego taxi fleet in Aberdeen got up to around the 350,000 miles mark, and mostly only needed replacement front wheel bearings and clutches, in addition. I recall a relative of mine buying a new Toyotta carina about the same time. What an awful, cheap, poor quality, basic car with narrow little tyres. I never understand why these Toyottas get so much praise. Cheap and nasty things. And regarding reliability, on high mileage example taxis, in Thailand, they constantly break down, then are difficult to restart.

  45. It seems the early Montego was as big a ruster as an FD Vauxhall Victor, from the late sixties, which seemed to rust quite quickly and continued Vauxhall’s reputation for rusting which continued well into the seventies. However, unlike the Montego, at least the Victor was distinctive for its era( four headlamps and an Americanised body), in 2 litre form could go well and the engines were considered strong for the era.

  46. Sorry, but as a previous owner of a Rover Montego, that I owned until i unfortunately wrote off when it was ten years old, I recognise none of the description given above. Having owned cars for over thirty years the Montego was the most reliable car I have ever had. It never once let me down. In seven years, what I replaced were 1. A light bulb in the rear light cluster 2. The exhaust 3. Brake shoes 4. Tyres. Yes, they rusted, but instead of people applying more under seal, putting waxoyle into body cavities and doubling the paint thickness on the lower part of the door skins and sills, they just complained when they rusted. I did these things and the car looked almost new when it was ten years old. When sales of the saloon model were finishing, a taxi company in Aberdeen Scotland bought a bunch of them and used them. I recall being in one and asking the driver about any problems he had had with it. It had done 355,000 miles! He had replaced the clutch and front wheel bearings, no other mechanical parts had been needed ( except of course brakes, exhaust, tyres). A better class of car than Sierras and Cavaliers ( you know, those things that needed replacement cam shafts due to incorrect design causing lubricant starvation).

  47. I have often found there is a great disparity between how good or bad certain manufactures of mechanical things are and the reputations that they have. For instance, many in the boating fraternity will swear by Yamaha outboard engines, especially the reliability of small single cylinder two stroke ones. The reality is that they were a pile of junk. Starting problems on a different scale to other two stroke engines. How many times have I watched an advocate of them spending twenty minutes mucking about trying to get them to fire up. Another falsehood, in boating circles, is the Volvo Penta engine. Also, in reality a pile of junk. Their mainstay for decades was the MD1. When starting, they would kick backwards taking seawater through the combined exhaust outlet and the piston would rust/ sieze in the cylinder, happened to very many. A clutch design that when it wore out, basically meant a replacement gearbox etc, etc, etc. Yet, as with the YamHa, people will swear by them. Just like people talk down the Montego.

  48. I would probably say the 1.6 litre engine fitted to Maestros and Montegos was one of the most unreliable of all time, prone to oil leaks, overheating, water leaks and ECU problems, especially in the Austin era. I think only the early Rover six cylinder engines, the engines fitted to Sierras after 1987 and the Cadillac V8-6-4( a real disaster) are as bad.

  49. Don’t forget the bunging up of the external oil pipes with condensation induced mayonnaise!

    After around 180,000 miles of Montego ownership (in the late 80’s and early 90’s), I’m pretty convinced that the rash of “ECU failures” was little more than untrained and old fashioned mechanics placing the blame for pretty much anything on the one bit that they didn’t understand!

    • I forgot about the mayonnaise, mine had a fair amount on the external oil pipes. It’s just such a shame about the Montego as it was better looking than the Sierra and could have cleaned up against the Cavalier had it been better made. Also post 1988, an estate in British Racing Green with an O series engine looked stylish and went well, and most of the reliability issues had been beaten.

  50. Back in the mid ’90s (when I was an impoverished student, and therefore a committed banger driver), when I used to frequent a massive local breakers yard regularly to keep my old Escort on the road, I remember the place had built a huge wall of crushed cars about five high around the periphery. A great mental game you could play with yourself was “identify the cubed car”; my recollection was that nearly every second other bale you looked at was (or rather, had been…) an early Maestro or Montego, and that wasn’t before you counted the unstripped ones in the yard that had yet to suffer the same fate. Sure there were plenty of similar age Fords and Vauxhalls amongst them as well, but it seemed the BL/ARG stuff really was being taken off the road in such greater numbers back then.

    • Austin Montegos seemed to vanish very quickly due to rust and rleliability issues. The one I owned nearly 20 years ago was unique because there were so few of them about, and mine had to go as it just wasn’t economical to repair.The Rover era cars were a lot better, particularly the diesels, but due to low sales, these were rare sights in the road by 2004, when the Montego was retired.

  51. I remember a friend of a friend had an E reg Montego in the late 1990s which was looking very tired at barley 10 years old.

    Once when we were trying to find a space in a busy car park it started to overheat, as it didn’t like running slow for too long.

    By the end of the decade there seemed to be a big purge of 1980s cars, as a lot seemed to vanish from the roads in just a few years, compared to cars from the decades either side.

    I don’t know if a lot were scrapped as they couldn’t run on unleaded or raising new car sales pushed down prices of second hand cars too far.

  52. As for the unreliable British made cars and trucks, this must have something to do with the commitment with which the British labourers did their daily jobs and the power of the unions that had devostationg effects on the quality. My very first car was a 1970 Ford Cortina Mk2 1300. I got it from my dad when it was 6 years old. Never had any issues at all. Maybe because this car was assembled in Ford’s Dutch plant in Amsterdam? I drove that car for 4 years. Eventually, I sold the car to a car collector in the UK. The color was beige and it had the small steering wheel, not available on UK made cars. No rust, no mechanical problems other than worn front shock absorbers. Same goes for the Ford Taunus (similar to the Mk5 Cortina) I owned later on. It was made in Germany. I stayed loyal to the brand as a consequence, simply due to the fact Fords never let me down..

  53. How about the Sierra 1.6 for not being Ford’s finest hour then? A noisy, thirsty car, even worse with a four speed transmission, that was no paragon of reliability either and was lethal in a cross wind. Having been in a base 1.6 with its coal mine cabin and lack of performance and economy from its elderly engine and poor refinement and handing, I’d say this was just as bad as a 1.6 Montego. At least the Montego drove well, looked decent and didn’t have a drink problem( you were lucky to get 30 mpg in everyday use with a Sierra).

  54. A workmate bought a new 2.0Si Montego Estate in the very early 90s, within a couple of years the rear wheel arches had erupted into a mass of rust where their leading edges mated up with the sills.

    He had been loyal to BMC/BL/ARG until then but it was the last time he bought anything from them, swapping his allegiance to Volvos thereafter.

    What was it with BMC/BL and the letter M?!

    Mini, Maxi, Marina, Metro, Maestro, Montego, all were fundamentally flawed and began with the letter M!!

  55. Actually the Maxi was quite good at resisting rust, and the Marina was no worse than other cars from the seventies, but the Maestro and Montego seemed to go backwards. It was interesting as French and Italian manufacturers, whose cars were bad rusters in the seventies, really tightened up their rust protection in the eighties, but Austin Rover seemed to go the other way and some eighties cars could rust as bad as a seventies Fiat. I did hear a lot of this was due to poor quality control and inadequate rust proofing- at one stage Austin Rover were just churning out Montegos with few quality checks- but even into the Rover era, the Montego could still develop rust around the wheel arches as these were never protected properly. Luckily the next generation of Rover products were a lot better rustproofed.

  56. Yes, but remember that for most people back in the 80s and early 90s they got what a friend called “Two Year Cars” – you got them as a company car or bought one, enjoyed it for the first two years, lived with it for the third year when its horrible failings and unreliability became an embarrassing nuisance, then you traded it in or got a new one as part of your contract.

    I know that a bunch of fleet managers hated Montegos… I had two way radios installed in them as part of my business and charged a hefty premium to the companies when I was called in at a weekend to take the radios out of another five Montegos that were being “returned early” under the lease contract.

  57. Company car drivers also had another British made contender in 1988 when the Peugeot 405 was launched. This was a good looking, comfortable large saloon and estate just right for the company car driver who had to drive hundreds of miles on a motorway every week. It had the legendary XUD that was light years ahead of the diesels other British badged cars were using at the time( well at least until Vauxhall switched to using an Isuzu TD), and turbocharging gave the 405 petrol like performance and refinement. Whike the early 405s had a few squeaks and rattles, it was mostly a robust car that lasted well and was popular with fleet buyers.

  58. Yes! The coming of the Peugeot 405GLTD really moved the fleet driver’s game up a notch.

    We had a bunch of them as rapid response cars fitted with a slew of two-way radios on police ambulance and MOD-Plod channels along with the Civil Nuclear Police. The 405 was utterly brilliant and made Montegos look stupid in comparison.

    Only thing that beat them was the last generation Sierra XR4x4 with the 2.9 V6. I had one of those as my personal transport in the early 90s, utterly brilliant – 125MPH in comfort on fast blasts up M6 and being White with a load of antennas on the roof people assumed it was the Police.

  59. The 405 upped the game for fleet cars as there was now a car that was British made, but far more desirable than a Sierra or Montego, and whose turbodiesel made for an excellent motorway car. The Mark 3 Cavalier did come close for driving abilities, but early diesel ones were quite nasty until a better Isuzu TD was installed. All of which didn’t bode well for the Montego, which was regarded as an unreliable pile of junk by many fleet managers, and even the much needed improvements for the 1989 model year didn’t see fleet managers queueing at their local Rover dealer. That said, the facelift cars were much better than the Austin era and the Montego turboduesel estate won a following for its torque, economy and load carrying abilities. Just a shame the rust bug hadn’t been completely beaten.

  60. The Sierra was considered dull and slow but worthy. The Cavalier faster, more modern and more desirable. The Montego was considered more BL junk, which is a shame because I always thought it rode better than the Sierra and Cavalier. The early Sierra had horrendous crosswind stability and the Cavalier ate camshafts, yet both overcame these issues and sold well. Nobody trusted the Montego. BL/Rover couldn’t make a cake without burning down the kitchen and people had given up by that time. People were insulted by BL/Austin/Rover selling them cars that were still in development. Great designs (SD1, Princess, TR7), not enough money to develop them properly and factories ojn strike. They had no chance.

  61. I always wonder if anyone chose a Talbot Alpine/ Solara as an alternative to the Cavalier, Montego, or Sierra. By 1983 the rust issue had been beaten with much better rust protection, a five speed transmission cut a lot of noise from the ageing Simca engines, and you got plenty of car for the money. These were always also ran cars at the time, but aggressive finance deals and high equipment levels did keep sales alive.

  62. Practically, the first buyers or choosers of company cars never cared about things like rust resistance , because by the time rust revealed itself the vehicle would have been sold on.

    Only once a car had developed a rust reputation reflected in three year residuals did people (and fleet managers) to worry.

    Cheap purchase price, lowest running cost for 3 years or 40K miles, then move it on and get a new one. That was the game in the 80s and and still is in these days of 3 year PCP deals.

    Who cares what a car is like after 8 or 10 years, or 100K miles.

  63. @ Mowog, I suppose private buyers who didn’t have the luxury of a company car and couldn’t afford to buy now didn’t want a 2-3 year old car that was riddled with rust and needed constant attention. The Japanese had shown the world that very reliable cars could be made quite cheaply( even if the rust protection wasn’t good on early Japanese imports), and by the mid eighties, private buyers wanted cars that were reliable and well protected against rust. Most manufacturers had upped their game considerably by 1985: six year anti perforation warranties were common, galvanising panels and using plastic instead of metal significantly cut corrosion, and mechanical components were becoming more durable. A 1985 Cavalier was far more likely to survive past its tenth birthday than a 1975 Victor, for example, and could take high mileages with few problems.

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