Once they were everywhere, today they are a rare breed. Looking for an Austin Montego? You should be, here's why.
So, what constitutes a desirable classic? Jag E-type? Of course. Big Healey? No question. Austin Montego? Hmm; that one's not quite so clear-cut. You'll find a few classic car fans with this boxy saloon or estate on their shortlist of must-have models, but look beyond the prejudice and you'll find there's plenty to appeal.
Once the staple diet of reps everywhere, our roads teemed wth Montegos until relatively recently. Then suddenly they all disappeared, but there are some superb examples out there just waiting to be snapped up - and you won't need deep pockets to secure one.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Despite its relative youth, the Montego can rot badly, with some repairs potentially involved and costly. Few Montegos are rust-free, but some are better than others. Post -1989 cars tend to have better rust protection, but for some, these don't have the appeal of the earlier cars.
Start by checking for rust in the seams; once there it'll spread, and eliminating it altogether can be a thankless task. The sills, wheelarches and door bottoms are the areas most commonly afflicted, along with the front and rear screen surrounds and the pillars themselves. Trying to cure this with mastic won't work; removing the bonded-in screen and repairing it properly is the only long-term solution. It's unlikely that a windscreen can be removed without breaking it, so budget for a replacement in addition. The bumpers are plastic front and rear, so corrosion isn't an issue - but damage is. They go brittle with age so crack easily, and even a relatively light tap can shatter the plastic, with repairs likely to be tricky if not impossible. Often the only answer is to find a decent used bumper, which will probably have to be painted to match. The problem is, decent used bumpers are scarce.
There were four engine families. Entry-level cars got a 1275cc A-Series unit; few survive. Next up was the overhead-cam 1.6-litre S-Series engine, then a 2.0-litre OHC powerplant derived from the O-Series lump seen in the Marina, Ital and Princess. The latter engine came in three forms: carburetted with 103 horses, fuel-injected with 115bhp or there was a turbocharged and carburettored 150bhp version, in the Montego Turbo.
For those putting economy before power, there was a Perkins Prima 2.0-litre turbodiesel; it's a rough old unit but economy can be spectacular.
There's an automatic choke on the earlier 1.3, 1.6 and 2.0 carb engines. Getting it to work properly can be a thankless task which is why manual conversions are popular; later cars got a manual system. Many assume the choke is at fault when it's not; converting masks other issues such as split rubber vacuum hose connections, perished vacuum switch diaphragms, faulty overrrun fuel cut-off switches (best left disconnected after ensuring the switch is open) and swelled fast idle stepper motor rings which get attacked by unleaded fuel. Unleaded-resistant Viton rings are available cheaply from the owners' club.
The A-Series engine tends to keep going until 100,000 miles have been notched up. It'll leak oil on the waythere and it might get smoky after 80,000 miles, but it'll keep working. DIY rebuilds are easy and parts availability is good; expect to pay around £600 for the bits.
The 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines tend to last longer as they don;t have to work as hard and they're more modern. Expect plenty of tappet noise though, even when correctly adjusted. Valve clearances are adjusted with shims and a special tool is needed for the job, which is why many of these engines aren't running as sweetly as they might. Expect oil leaks, especially where the O-Series unit is concerned. This can weep oil from the head gasket near cylinder number four and the distributor cap. Other leaks from the lower part of the engine and transmission are also common, but if things are really bad the crankshaft oil seal has probably failed. REplacing this is involved and costly (typically £350 for the rear seal as the gearbox has to be removed), so chck this area carefully. The 1.6 often leaks oil from the cam carrier gasket while both engines suffer from mayonnaise in the oil filler tubes, through condensation rather than head gasket failure.
The 1.6 and 2.0-litre engines have a cambelt that should be replaced every four years or 48,000 miles. The 1.6-litre engine isn't an interference fit, but the 2.0-litre unit is. The Perkins Diesel engine is long lasting and reliable, although if the cooling system is neglected, corrosion can build up and lead to head gasket failure.
Some Montegos came with a four-speed manual gearbox while others got an extra ratio. There was also a three-speed VW-built auto option with the 1.6 engine; the 2.0-litre units got a ZF-sourced four-speed auto. Apart from Montegos with a 2.0-litre engine, manual boxes were VW-sourced - 2.0 cars got a Honda-built box. However, just to confuse things, from the October 1988 facelift, all Montegos got a Honda-built five-speed box.
The VW transmissions are surprisingly notchy, so don't assume there's a problem if gear selection is an issue - the Honda units are far nicer to use. However, VW lnkages can go out of adjustment or pop off (they're frequently cable-tied in place), so if things are really bad it may be that a tweak is needed.
STEERING & SUSPENSION
Many Montegos came without power steering, but it's well worth having. From October 1988 it became standard on the SL and above. The system is generally reliable, although the drive belts can be tricky to tension properly, especially on the 2.0-litre models. Power goes to the front wheels, so all Montegos feature CV joints, which can be a weak spot. The same goes for the front wheelbearings, which can wear quickly so listen for chattering as the car is cornered. The anti-toll bar bushes are another weak spot. They tend to fail quickly, but redesigned items fitted from October 1988 are stronger and most earlier cars will have had fresh bushes by now - but both types are now very scarce.
WHEELS & BRAKES
Some Montegos came with steel wheels while others had alloys. Most survivors have the latter and while you'll need to check for the usual kerbing and corrosion, it's the metric-sized tyres that are likely to cause the biggest headaches as they're virtually unobtainable and metric wheels will accept only metric tyres.
Not all wheels feature metric tyres though; some left the factory with imperial sizes while many cars have been converted. Metrics were originally fitted to the 1.6L and up (steel and alloy) from launch until the 1987 facelift.
Most replacements utilise the later 15" cross-spoke MG spec alloys as also fitted to Maestros.
TRIM & ELECTRICS
Motego cabins are comfy and the materials used tend to be reasonably hard-wearing. However, the plastic moulded dashboards can crack and bow if left in the sun while headlinings can sag and tear. In the case of the former you'll have to find a decent used fascia (easier said than done) while headlining woes can only be fixed effectively with a costly retrim. The Vanden Plas and GSi came with durable leather trim which is easy enough to convert.
Despite the relative simplicity of the Montego's electrical system, there's plenty of scope for problems as connections can fail and the wiring can go brittle. The most common issues centre on the central locking and heater systems, along with powered windows. The control modules for the latter can fail; replaceent is quick and the parts are cheap - if you can find them. If buying a car with a digital dash, check the instrumentation works properly. It can fail and fniding replacement parts new or used is all but impossible.
The Montego may have lived in the shadow of the Cortina/Sierra and Cavalier, but at least part of the reason was its heritage; anything to come from the Austin-Rover stable got a bashing. However, the Montego was always one of the most highly equipped cars in its class and one of the most comfortable too. It also handled pretty well, although the Turbo's torque steer was legendary.
Mechanical simplicity ensures maintenance is straightforward and there are ample editions to choose from, whether you want mild or wild. It's the mid-range iants that seem to be the most readily available, at least in terms of engines, while it's the posher trims (such as the Mayfair and Vanden Plas) that have survived in the biggest numbers.
The Montego's trump card though is its practicality; if you're looking for a load lugger the estate is brilliant - there's even a seven-seater.
As with many cars at this end of the food chain, reviving a tired Montego will cost more than it's worth, which is why the survival rate is so low.
However, while the number of surviving Montegos has dwindled dramatically since the model went out of production, many of those left are low-mileage cherished cars, so finding a minter is far from impossible. Even better, with values on the floor you won't have to find much cash to secure something really special. The chances are that it will have four doors rather than five, as there are far more saloons available than estates.