Our Cars : Mike’s Montego – by now, my patience ought to be exhausted!

Words and photography: Mike Humble

Despite my hard nose attitude of DIY wherever possible, sometimes a favour and a two post ramp comes in very handy - especially at this time of the year.
Despite my hard-nosed attitude to DIY wherever possible, sometimes a favour and a two-post
ramp come in very handy – especially at this time of the year

When it comes to working on cars, there’s not a huge amount I won’t or can’t tackle on the driveway. That’s not me showing off, it’s simply a fact, but undertakings I tend to outsource include paint spraying, tyre fitting and exhausts. I am very reluctant to mess about with the latter nowadays having once spent two hours in Northampton A&E waiting for an ophthalmic specialist to dig out some rust from my right eye after replacing a silencer on a friend’s preserved Leyland Atlantean double-decker bus. Yeah, yeah, I know safety goggles should have been worn, but they weren’t – so there!

My plucky MintEgo has recently had the whole exhaust system replaced and now runs quite literally like a brand new car. It now has that well-known Montego S-Series thrum from the tailpipe and a soupçon of induction growl when you get the hammer down. The old system was a nasty aftermarket fast-fit product with loose and chattering baffles in the middle silencer, and a hole in the back box so large that a feral cat could wriggle inside and sleep for the night. It sounded gruff and horrible and to get by until replacement I had filled the holes full of bog.

Anyway, a brand new Unipart old-stock full system was sourced for a fraction of the cost of a new pattern-fit item and fitted accordingly by myself – once again, life felt good. Two weeks later, it developed a curious squeaking and rattle that got worse as the car was warming up but, owing to the local weather persisting down with rain, I was reluctant to spend time rolling around on wet tarmac. Pneumonia this side of Christmas just isn’t my thing. Rattles and other unintentional noises drive me insane, so I figured a trip to a Fast Fit centre was the best option.

A visit to my local branch of Kwik Fit almost brought silence and serenity, as a lad called Ben had the car on the ramp for the best part of 30 minutes. He poked, prodded and even tweaked up the downpipe springs. After refusing to take any money (he was just chuffed to be working on something old school) I drove home, only to be greeted by the noises once again a few miles down the road. The car was parked up in disgrace for a week but, thankfully, a press car meant I wasn’t without some wheels during this period. I just put the Montego on the naughty step.

The problem was a faulty weld inside the new pipe, where the twin downpipe blends into a single tube. It was fine when cold, but once a few therms got into the system, the noise was truly horrible and eye-wincingly painful – even worse than being stuck in a lift with Janet Street-Porter. I confess that I am a hoarder and, even though it drives ‘er indoors crackers, it sometimes pays dividends when it comes to running an old banger. I have more Rover R8 switch packs than I’ll ever need and even have a complete new boxed Ital column stalk assembly somewhere. Well, you never know, do you?

Luckily, in hoarder fashion, I hadn’t thrown the old front pipe away. Despite the rest of the system being rusty and full of exhaust putty, the downpipe was in good condition, thanks to it sitting closest to the engine. For those not in the know – an exhaust fails for mainly one reason – internal moisture that causes corrosion. As the downpipe gets so hot that it often glows with heat, it’s usually the last component to fail, but often the hardest part to replace, as the securing nuts often seize solid. I was reminded of this as one of my own manifold studs sheared off when fitting the new exhaust.

And talking of snapped studs. Imagine how we laughed when this sheared anti-roll bar bracket bolt was discovered.
Talking of snapped studs, imagine how we laughed when this sheared anti-roll bar
bracket bolt was discovered…

That brings me to the fix. Within a short drive from my house in leafy Horsham, there’s a little general repair garage called Revs. Run by a decent lad called Evan, he tends to do my wheel-balancing or titbit jobs, if I can’t be bothered to do it myself. Changing the front pipe is not for the faint hearted. The car ideally needs to be well clear of the floor, and its anti-roll bar has to be lowered down by almost a foot to allow enough clearance to manhandle the downpipe from the back of the engine. As mentioned before, fitting an exhaust on the driveway is not exactly an ideal job to do this time of the year – or anytime for that matter.

A time was arranged, and the car was delivered for 8.00am on the dot. I offered to help Evan with the job if need be, but this wasn’t required – after asking me to tell him the process of job, he just cracked on with it. More trouble arrived in the form of a snapped anti-roll bar bracket bolt caused either through fatigue or my over tightening a few weeks earlier – I nearly passed out in gut wrenching horror. A few minutes with a stud extractor had it removed, the original front pipe was fitted and the car was lowered back onto the ground again within an hour. Evan took the car for a road test and we toasted success with a well-earned coffee.

A quick whizz with a drill and stud extractor saw the offending stud put right - My word... it could been a hell of a lot worse!
A quick whizz with a drill and stud extractor saw the offending stud put right.  
My word – it could been a hell of a lot worse!

Running an old scrotter can be a challenge to say the least, especially when it’s an ultra-low mileage example. The visual condition inside and out is testimony to the previous jockey’s care and attention. However, having a car to simply dribble over and polish will actually harm, if not kill, any vehicle long-term if not actually jumped into and driven regularly. In terms of cold, hard cash, I’ve not actually thrown that much money at it, but there’s certainly plenty of man hours invested so far. Mind you, that’s what life is all about with car capers – what would I be doing otherwise, if not meddling with a Montego?

In real world motoring, it’s not so much touched a drop of oil or coolant and a good motorway jaunt will see it knock on the door of 40mpg. The 85bhp S-Series plant is incredibly gutsy and, providing you keep the motion under 4500rpm, it rewards your ears with a unique soundtrack of induction noise, exhaust thrum and the sound of the alternator fan – in other words, it sounds like a Montego 1600LX. I adore the T5AR PG1 gearbox, too, thanks to one of the most precise gearchanges ever bestowed on a BMC>MGR car – a gearbox they should have fitted on all the Maestro/Montego range from day one.

Evan looks chuffed with the Montego... despite being just one year old when the car was built. Bloody kids eh? Tsch!
Evan looks chuffed with the old girl and came back from road test grinning like a lunatic.
He was one-year old when my Montego plopped off the track at Cowley. Kids, eh?

The under-bonnet story continues with a plant which refuses to show any signs of leaks. Its cam carrier was removed just after my ownership started and both of the camshaft pulley seals were changed along with a re-sealing of the carrier and replacement of the cover gaskets. The clutch pedal was a little low in service, and this has now been cured by the fitting of some spacers – more of my hoarding. These sit right behind the cable self-adjuster unit, thus lifting the pedal height slightly. Rover Group devised this not that well-known technique as an in-service modification to placate owners who had complained of a similar gripe. I knew those spacers would come in handy – despite them living in a toolbox for over 22 years!

So what else is new? Well, the rear brakes have been serviced with a new fitting kit and all four corners have been bled, too. It now has a handbrake that Russ Swift would be proud of and I have fully flushed and refilled the cooling system ready for the winter. All I hope now is that the completion of these little jobs has turned the car into a reliable daily driver/retro smoker. It’s great to roll around in, too – every fuel station or supermarket car park brings a conversation and admiring comments.

Despite my patience being tested, I have no regrets and still love every moment of my continued Montego mayhem.

Mike Humble


  1. As an 18 year old I was the proud owner of an Austin 1800 Landcrab! in glorious harvest gold.

    Laying in the gutter wrapping a baked bean can around the exhaust one evening I felt rather smug when it started to rain and being sheltered by the 1800. This was until the gutter filled-up with water! I also changed a complete exhaust on a SAAB 900 whilst laying on snow with the car on ramps, I was probably in my late 20s by then. Now at 58, I can’t think why my back is giving me jip this morning!

    Kids these days!!!

  2. The joys of running a mint mega low miles car as a daily drive, it has it’s benefits being the only Kid on the block with something different but the down side is sometimes due to the very little use the car has had over it’s lifetime is that things break and rubber perishes, but Hopefully now with the TLC it’s had over the past few months and the gentle breaking in to bring it back to a daily driver, it should ‘touch wood’and for the sake of ‘er indoors be almost trouble free.

  3. Somewhere in the boot of my car is a butchered 30 year old Pepsi Cola can and jubilee clip just in case the exhaust collapses like my Chevette’s did one dark snowy night in Mansfield. Nice to hear a good news story about Kwik Fit after the recent stories of false charges. Given the vastly improved steel quality, do exhaust centres still exist these days?

  4. I remember my Mum Renault 12 used to often be taken to Thomas Exhaust in Stockport.

    Cars before 1980 seemed to get through exhaust pipes a lot faster than modern cars.

  5. ” – every fuel station or supermarket car park brings conversation and admiring comments. ”

    Yes, I can well imagine !

  6. Always easier to do these jobs when the car’s on a proper ramp! My dad & I once changed the exhaust on my Viva HC, on the front path, on a couple of jack’s. It took from morning till mid afternoon to complete – never again.

    In the 1980’s the exhaust on my Nissan Sunny coupe needed changing about every 18 months… always got it done at an exhaust centre, in about 45 mins.

    The Monty’s looking really good Mike!

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