Last week, I was looking through the classifieds to find a semi-exciting used car for which I could afford the insurance. No luck. “I’m sick of driving my awful 206,” I said, exasperated. My dad looked completely outraged. “What the hell are you complaining about? When I was your age, I had to drive a Montego! Now that really was awful.”
So, intrigued by his uncharacteristic lack of nostalgia, I headed to the Autocar archives.
The Austin Montego, as you well know, was a four-door family saloon launched by British Leyland (BL) in 1984 as a replacement for the Morris Ital and Austin Ambassador, and a rival to cars such as the Ford Sierra and Vauxhall Cavalier. The 1.6-litre version would have cost you £6,159 back then, equivalent to £18,300 today.
We’d already driven a pre-production model on 28 April of that year, with mixed feelings; although we’d praised its “refinement, acceptable performance, good ride quality and interior comfort,” we were disappointed by some niggles, including “a lot of wind noise, an uneasy rubberiness to the steering,” and irritating build quality issues.
However, having privately acquired a car for testing, rather than one of BL’s press fleet, we were happy to report that things were much better, with only a few minor issues that could easily be sorted by the dealer.
“In the car’s crispness and driveability, our car was streets ahead,” we began.
We achieved an average top speed of 99mph, just short of the official 102mph, and a 0-60mph time of 11.9sec, one slower than BL’s claim. It was “still impressive against its direct competition, the Vauxhall Cavalier 1.6GL (12.0sec) and Ford Sierra 1.6L (13.0sec)", though.
“Tight the engine may have been after just 1,500 miles, we were impressed by the smooth revving way in which the new 1,598cc S-series unit delivered its power,” we commented.
The car’s Volkswagen gearbox was “slick and precise, nicely weighted, and particularly impressive in the way the dog-leg second-to-third shift can be snatched, with a smooth, straightforward action.”
The ratios were well set-out, too with fifth allowing “sedate, relaxed cruising at the legal motorway limit with the engine purring over at 3,150rpm, close enough to the 3,500rpm peak torque speed to ensure good cruising economy,” but also “shudder-free cruising through 30mph suburbs”.
Fuel economy looked to be another plus for the Austin owner. “With electronic engine management, Weslake-type head and lightweight construction going for it, the S-series engine should be an efficient and therefore economical unit,” we said, reckoning that the Montego looked good for 35.0mpg.