Opinion : So, maybe the Montego was the best they could do…

Austin LM11 saloon

It’s good to see new stuff appearing after all these years. Casually scrolling through Facebook’s page for the Maestro & Montego & Metro Appreciation Club, these fascinating images came to view.

They’d been posted by Adam Jennings, who had bought them off eBay from a seller who had no idea where the images came from. Well, we can confirm that they were photographed in Longbridge’s Elephant House viewing area, and were shot in 1981 as part of the LM11 project. You can see the full evolution of the car’s design and where this one sat in the Austin Montego development story.

This full-size clay model was a realisation of the original design idea to create a larger three-box saloon from the Maestro, and using its centre section almost untouched. The six-light window arrangement and front-end styling weren’t yet resolved, and it would be re-shuffled several times and significantly at the rear before being given the nod for production.

Austin LM11 saloon

Although this is a simpler design solution, seeing the car in profile, it’s clear that the production version, first redesigned by Roger Tucker and then tweaked further by Roy Axe, was a more successful and characterful effort than this. These images show the car in profile for the first time, and it looks weak, suffering from the Maestro’s short wheelbase and drooping shoulder line. One wonders how much better it would have been had it not been saddled by those doors.

You can understand why Roy Axe said this the first time he clapped eyes on the LM11 on his third day working for the firm. ‘I was stood in front of it and told that this model was over a year away and so I had a great opportunity to improve it if I felt it was needed! It is hard to know what to say in circumstances like this but my first remarks were that the design should be scrapped and the whole thing done again. This was not acceptable as the plan was well in place but there was room to tweek!’

Roger Tucker’s rear window arrangement and shorter boot might have been fussy compared with more elegant-looking rivals, but compared what it might have been, it was an object lesson in good design – and that’s saying something. Once again, seeing another image of the LM11 in development, it’s hard not to conclude that which ever accountant decided to use the LC10’s centre section and doors ended up giving the Design Team an unsolveable problem.

It’s not as if they hadn’t done it before – or would do it again in the future.

Austin LM11 saloon

Keith Adams

32 Comments

    • My thoughts too (excluding cheap), the VW look, if the car had a VW badge, it would receive the usual over-praise and accolades reserved for German cars.

      • Ever wondered why they get those accolades? Might be because they ARE better.

        BMW had a go and realised what an absolute basket-case Rover was! I’m surprised VW Group didn’t have a sniff but they probably realised it was dead in the water too.

        • I heard the BMW auditors were surprised the Montego & Maestro were still in production when they came to assess things, as sales in Germany were negligible by the mid 1990s.

  1. Fascinating pictures. The wheelbase looks too short in the side profile. I believe the Montego as launched had an extra 60mm in the wheelbase. I wonder if this prototype had the Maestro wheelbase?
    The shorter boot (and longer roof?) of the finished article look much better than this effort.

  2. I’m surprised by both the theme of this article, and the response to it which really does show that beauty is in the eye of the beholder! The C pillar arrangement of this mock-up looks far, far neater to me than the rear window they eventually settled on. Granted the rear panel and frontal treatment of the Montego were improvements.

    It’s not that I disliked the Montego; I owned three of them. But they took it backwards to my mind.

  3. This comment got me thinking
    “It’s not as if they hadn’t done it before – or would do it again in the future.”
    Wondering what else has been used. I know the Disco use Range Rover doors and I’m ignoring R8 and HHR as there was no attempt to hide that they were the same.

  4. This would have worked quite well in 1980 as a replacement for the Marina, as the car has the look family cars of that era like the Cortina 80 and the Ital. I always wonder if the Montego was launched before the Metro if things could have been so much different as the car would have generated far more profit and would have replaced the ageing Maxi and Marina( the Princess might have lasted another year as a 2.2 litre luxury car).
    Also had the Montego arrived in 1980, it would have been powered by the relatively new O series engines, saving money on developing the S series, and avoiding the reliability issues of the S series.

  5. It’s a definite nearly, I not sure the finished car was any better though. As with the Maestro (whose design I quite liked) I always though the window line was wrong, it seemed to dip down slightly towards the rear window in comparison to the side cut out, if it was level with the cut out it would have looked more balanced, well, to me anyway. They could have then not had that strange rear window effect that they finally went with.
    One more thing, a slightly shorter boot on this design as well.

  6. The radiator grill is awful, bland , zero visual-appeal, and so easy to fix, add a nice badge and redesign the lines to give the car a decent lkooking “face”

  7. The front end is reminiscent of the Ambassador. Probably designed first and then translated to the Princess during the makeover. I think the sixth light looks wrong, but not in agreement about the longer boot. The Octavia has always looked like a too big a car on a short wheelbase.

  8. It would have been excellent if a new family car had been ready for 1980, which would have replaced the Marina and the Maxi, but the postponement of the SD2 in the mid seventies and the cost of developing the Rover SD1 meant the money wasn’t available. Nearly all the money available was being devoted to the Metro, which Leyland hoped would become as big a success as the Renault 5 across Europe, and with the 1979 energy crisis, superminis had been a surge in sales.

  9. It looks odd with overhangs at each end, like something Eastern European with a more modern body fitted on an existing floor pan.

    With a bit of smartening up it might have done well launched in the early 1980s.

    • Nailed it! I was thinking it was trying to look like a Passat at the side, but everything was a bit off, especially the wheelbase. But your Eastern Bloc analogy sums it up perfectly.

      • Thanks, I was thinking of FSO when they made the Polonez with a modern looking body on an 125P floor pan which was really too small for it.

        Some of the early larger Japanese cars could look like this, I think this was due to rules on track & wheelbase sizes in Japan.

  10. Might have been better with the fuel filler flap positioned further back. Might have worked better in estate form. I think there’s a bit of a Talbot Solara theme going on.

    FWIW in Firefox browser on my laptop this article tries to resolve four more images (which remain blank spaces) than it does in Vivaldi.

    • Re; browsers………I’m using an iMac and I have a similar problem with Safari. With AROnline there are always several images which don’t appear in Safari but which are visible using Chrome.

    • The trend for family cars at the start of the eighties was the three box saloon with large headlights and tail lights, as personified by the Cortina, Talbot Solara, Fiat Mirafiori and Morris Ital. It’s likely had the Montego been launched in 1980, it would have taken this design, rather than the smaller lights on the 1984 car.
      Again a shame the Montego couldn’t have been available in 1980 as it would have been more profitable than the Metro, would have probably replaced the three overlapping ranges of Leyland family cars, and wouldn’t have needed new engines as the A and O series were available. Hopefully, though, if the car was to use a five speed transmission, again available from the Maxi, this would have been considerably improved.

  11. Stretching the wheelbase by about 6 inches [pushing the rear wheels back further into the tail so you could reduce the size of wheel-cutout in the rear door] fitting larger wheels [14-inch was rapidly getting to be the norm for medium-family cars back then] and tidying up the front end, it could have looked like a Passat or Audi 80.

    But of course they were doing it on the cheap, doing the same thing recycling ‘those doors’ as they had done a decade and a half back with the 1800, Maxi, 3-litre… so the result was going to be horribly compromised.

    IMHO they should also have dumped the nasty long-stroke thrashy A-series engine and gone with a detuned (single carb) S-series 1600 as the entry-level with the 2-litre O-series as the next step.

    That would have matched the likes of Ford and Vauxhall’s engine-range, and was what the fleet market wanted. [Nobody except the most miserly fleet-managers bought 1.3 Cavaliers/Sierras anyway].

    • 1.3 family cars were miserable things, particularly the 1256cc Viva engine fitted to the Mark 1 Cavalier that turned a sprightly car into a slug as the engine struggled with the heavy body and offered little in economy over the 1.6. The Mark 2 Cavalier with the Opel 1.3 was considerably better, as it was a newer engine and gave the car a top speed of 94 mph, but it was still lacking in performance compared with the 1.6.

      • The 1.3 Sierras must have been slow, certainly not many were sold as the rear axles are unobtainium these days, being different from both the 1.6 Sierra & Cortina ones.

  12. Looking at how the rear doors meet the wheel arch this must have the same wheelbase as the Maestro and therefore be a Ford Orion/VW Jetta competitor? The Montego had a longer wheelbase with a fillet between the wheel arch and back door repositioning the saloon as a Sierra/Cavalier competitor Roy Axe really should have been given more time to sort the Montego mess out. ARG launched the Ambassador in 82, the Maestro in 83 and the original 200 in 84 so had plenty of new metal in the showroom, they could have easily delayed the Montego and launched it looking like AR16 in late 85 or 86 to complement the 800.

  13. @ Paul, I might have liked the Ambassador, but the car was only selling in small numbers compared to the Cavalier and Sierra, and had internal competition from the Morris Ital. Austin Rover were desperate to get the Montego in production by 1984 as it would still be fresh against its main rivals and had the 1.3- 2 litre engine configuration that the fleet market wanted. I think had the quality been right and the rustproofing better, the Montego could have done far better.

    • The early ones had a lot of QC issues which were eventually sorted, but by then the Cavalier Mk3 was in production and Sierra had been facelifted, so the design was looking a bit dated.

  14. The original treatment of C-pillar looks tidier to me. But it lengthens the glasshouse, accentuates the short(ish) wheelbase. Bringing it forward as in the production version improves that element. As would lengthening the wheelbase, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. Hence the compromise rear window design. As for the frontal treatment, yes, absolutely right to change that!

  15. Booting a hatch never worked, did it? Orion, Sapphire, Jetta, Solara – all unhappy creations, like the work of two designers who’d never met. But the Monty… dear me. That looks the work of two (or three) designers who HAD met, and perhaps for a bet had deliberately created the most laughable, dismally incompetent excuse for industrial design ever produced by any nation in any field of manufacture. And to see that they’d started with a car that was no worse than a bit bland and short in the wheelbase… sheesh.

  16. Considering a lot (everything really) was riding on the success of the Maestro and Montego, how did such unstylish products make it to production. I’ve owned both models (2 Maestros in fact) and I know how well they drive, but they really don’t scream ‘we chucked everything including the kitchen sink at it to make it a success’. They look half baked, uninspiring and dated.

    I’m a bit AR fan and I do like both the Maestro and Montego, but they should have been much better than they were

  17. I’m probably going to get some backlash for this but I actually like the proposal in gold above . Now bear with me, adding the 60cm wheelbase stretch and a variation of the grill pictured to include some bright work, fancier wheel trims and a 1981-82 launch date. I think getting it onto the market sooner and .. avoiding that expense of updating the Marina / Princess would have been a more prudent move . There’s a hundred ways BL/ AR could have gone … in the end it was a bit like moving the deck chairs on the Titanic !!.

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