Your Cars : Roger Neal’s MG Montego Turbo

Who doesn’t love an MG Montego Turbo? Our man Simon Weakley chats to Roger Neal, who’s just tracked himself down a wonderful, and very late example.

Here’s the full story…


The last of the Mohicans: MG Montego Turbo

There are many reasons why someone chooses a classic car. It might be a car they have always coveted but couldn’t hope to afford back in the day. A top of the range Merc, a rare Lotus sports car, a Ferrari, or even a humble Ford Escort XR3i. In other cases at the top end of the market classic cars are definitely bought as investments, put away in storage or taken to the odd show. Think Aston Martin, Jaguar E-type or Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing.

One of the best reasons for owning a classic car is that, back in the day, the owner had use of one or owned one and regretted selling it – in other words, they like the car for what it is and have experience of owning or driving the car, and are desperate to relive those memories.

That latter reason is why Roger Neal from North Lincolnshire has tracked down and bought the final MG Montego made at the Cowley South factory and which is still in existence (actually the second from last built in 1991). He owned a 1989 one in 1994 and bitterly regretted selling it, but family commitments at the time forced his hand. The car was a beautiful diamond white one with the rare Wood & Pickett bodykit, a rare option developed by the then Rover Group to give the MG Montego and Turbo a bit more street cred and keep the sales coming in.

The MG Maestro Turbo came out around the same time in late 1988 with 505 built again to boost the overall credibility of the ageing Maestro, just before the hugely popular Rover 200/400 (R8) was launched in 1989.

Back then, in the late 1980s, Roger had a bog standard, E-registered Austin Montego 2.0 HL in Targa Red and liked that car a lot, both the styling and the way it drove. He had to visit his local Austin Rover dealer for servicing and parts and one day he saw a MG Montego Turbo in the showroom. He didn’t even know they did one, so when the chance came to own one of his own he bought his first one, a car he didn’t forget and wished he had never sold.

Second time round

Nearly 30 years later, Roger found himself in a position to own one of his dream cars, but finding a decent MG Montego Turbo is hardly an easy task given how few were sold and even fewer are still around either on the road or on SORN. ‘How Many Left’ suggests there are just ten MG Montego Turbos on the road and a further 46 on SORN.

Roger did the sensible thing and joined the Maestro & Montego Owners Club’s Facebook page. Eventually one came up for sale listed as the very last one off the line still in existence, a very late Mark 2 in the popular British Racing Green metallic and with the bonus of the rare Wood & Picket bodykit just like the one he owned back in the 1990s. The car has a modest 97,000 miles and benefited from having had a full engine rebuild 12 years ago and only covering 500 miles since then.

The car had been in a barn for 12 long years, and Roger found it perched on top of a Portakabin®. Because of its rarity, providence and his love of the make and model he paid strong money – £10,000 which just shows how far prices of rare desirable models have gone in recent years.

What are the plans for the car?

Roger says the car will be his pride and joy and a keeper, not an investment so he plans to do the job right and add a few embellishments for his personal tastes.

The brakes are being replaced, the alloy wheels refurbished and the bodyshell will undergo a full respray. The engine needs no work.

After that, rather than trying to bring the fragile velour grey seat trim back to life (it’s faded) Roger is having a full grey leather upgrade following the original seat patterns and embossed with MG logo’s. Something ARG never even offered as an option, but probably should have done. A new headlining and windscreen will complete the package.

What did the press think of the MG Montego Turbo?

This is how Motor Sport magazine summed up the MG Montego Turbo when launched new in March 1985: ‘ARG bill the new MG Montego Turbo as “the fastest production MG ever made” and with a top speed of 126 mph and 0-60 mph taking a claimed 7.3 sec, it is certainly that. The company could equally, though, bill the car as the most luxurious production MG ever made. We used to wonder how the Japanese managed to include so many extras at a competitive price, now we can ask the same of ARG for, given this car’s performance and equipment, £10,300 seems very reasonable indeed.

‘Power assisted steering is standard as are electrically operated windows, central locking, electrically adjusted and heated door mirrors, a steel sliding sunroof, a stereo radio/cassette player with four speakers, twin rear reading lamps and a cigar lighter in the rear as well. More, the car exudes an air of refinement with particularly comfortable seats and a well finished interior. Externally, it may be distinguished from the normally aspirated MG Montego by a slightly deeper front air dam and rear spoiler and some fairly discreet badging.’

As Motor Sport and other contemporary magazines concluded the MG Montego Turbo was very good value for money and highly specified for the launch price of £10,300. It was cheaper than the basic Rover 820e launched just over a year later with 120bhp and less specification. More to the point, ARG was hoping to steal sales from the usual suspects Ford and Vauxhall as well as more exotic competitors such as the BMW 3 Series, Saab Turbo and Volvo 740. It should have sold far better than it did. Whereas the regular MG Montego EFi accounted for 15% of Montego sales (around 8000-10,000 sales a year) in the early years, the Turbo barely made 1500 sales a year over its 6 year production run and far less in the post 88 facelift, and sold just 7276 in total.

There was one over-exaggerated problem with how the car drives. That was torque steer through the front wheels. Putting 150bhp through the front wheels made for exciting but unnerving progress when the turbo kicked in and huge amounts of torque went through the front wheels. ARG Engineers had beefed up the suspension, brakes and tyre specification, but the car really needed a limited slip diff or even better four-wheel drive but that was not to be for such a limited market car. It was a case of learning to handle the car and get used to driving it with a bit of respect then it would reward as a competent, if flawed four-door executive saloon.

Conclusion

Roger has certainly got himself an interesting alternative to the usual fast Fords which are now mega money. Yes, it will end up being expensive, but Roger has bought a classic car for the right reasons, enjoyment and nostalgia and tailoring the car to his specific needs. I’m looking forward to seeing the final finished product and a promised ride as a passenger – the first time I will have been in one since Austin Rover Track Test 1987, which were a series of ride and drive track events aimed at Fleet user-choosers, and responsible for many company car owners to ‘Move over to Austin Rover!’

Brief technical specifications

  • Engine: Cast iron block with alloy head.
  • No of cylinders: 4 in line
  • Capacity: 1994cc
  • Compression ratio: 8.5:1
  • Valve Gear: single overhead belt driven camshaft.
  • Carburation: Blow through single SU HIF44 (sealed).
  • Turbocharger: Garrett AiResearch T3 with intercooler.
  • Ignition: Lucas fully programmed electronic, microprocessor controlled.
  • Peak boost pressure: 10 psi
  • Max Power: 150bhp @ 5100rpm
  • Max Torque: 169lb/ft @ 3500rpm
  • Transmission: five-speed manual Honda close ratio.
  • Road wheels: Alloy TD rim 135 x 365 mm
  • Tyres: 190/65 HR 365 TD
  • Brakes: Front – ventilated 241 mm disc, Rear – self adjusting drum 203 mm
  • Steering: Power assisted rack and pinion. 2.3 turns lock to lock.
  • Suspension
    Front – Macpherson strut with uprated springs. Gas filled dampers and 22mm anti-roll bar.
    Rear – Semi-independent trailing arms with H beam, coil springs and gas filled dampers. Rear 14mm anti-roll bar.
  • Length: 4468mm Width: 1710mm Height:1420 mm
  • Performance
    Max speed: 126 mph. 0-60 mph, 7.3 secs., 50-70 mph, 6.6 secs. Standing quarter mile, 15.7 secs
  • Fuel consumption: 43 mpg at 56 mph.
  • Price new January 1987: £11,396.

3 Comments

  1. BRG, the later version, 2 litre turbo and 126 mph( still respectable now for this size of engine), what’s not to like. Now imagine if there was an MG Montego Turbo estate, this would have really scared cars like the Volvo 850.

    • In New Zealand there were MG Montego estates, I’m not sure if they got the turbo engine though!

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