After a visit to the BMIHT Trust’s British Motor Museum recently and while pondering the poor panel fit on the last-off-the-line Montego, we were struck by the fact that these cars have disappeared from sight even faster than their contemporary competition, the Cavalier and Sierra.
The Montego was one of those cars which was a competent all-rounder but didn’t really stand out in any particular area… which in fairness is what was generally required of a fleet-market car in those pre-Mondeo days.
The Montego and its Maestro hatchback brother were massively crucial cars for BL/Rover. Dubbed LC10 and LC11, the hatch and saloon pair were destined to replace the Allegro, Marina and Maxi.
Saloons were more popular in Britain but the popularity of the hatch across Europe meant that the Maestro was the first out of the gate. Conventional engineering was seen as desirable in this market, so Hydragas was replaced by MacPherson struts and a twist-beam torsion. Famously, early prototypes even used a Golf rear beam axle and for production it was deemed more cost-effective to buy in VW gearboxes rather than develop a new unit in-house from scratch.
Launched in 1983, the Maestro did boast one first in the shape of the electronic dashboard optionally available on the range-topping models and complete with the voice synthesizer.
Although nominally identical, the Montego was in fact slightly longer than the Maestro with a lower, longer bonnet. Launched in 1984 after a last-minute styling tweak by Roy Axe who was reportedly horrified by the appearance of the production-ready prototypes, the Montego was well received and with Ford’s Sierra still some way away from gaining acceptance, it was initially a good seller. Good enough in fact to be a regular third in the best-seller charts behind the Sierra and Cavalier. By the mid ’80s though, it was slipping down the pecking order to seventh and eighth place. Amazingly, both cars continued until 1994, with BMW boss Bernd Pischetsrieder apparently surprised to discover both were still in production.
Despite being outsold by the Sierra and Cavalier, the Montego was once a familiar sight but numbers have shrunk dramatically, DVLA now listing just over 200 roadworthy examples. All of which is a shame since as it was developed through its lifetime the Montego became a far better car than the circumstances of its birth might suggest.