Montego, the last one

The change of designers from David Bache to Roy Axe gave the latter, albeit with limitations, the chance to give more personality to the saloon, trying to camouflage its rather obvious relationship with the Maestro. The result was a fairly modern and balanced line with an original rear window divided into three parts.

In the mid-70s the Leyland group began designing what would become the Austin Maestro in 1983, from which the Montego would be developed the following year under the internal code LM11. Both cars, with a view on reducing costs, were charged with replacing several models simultaneously, with the Montego having to replace the Morris Ital, already an evolution of the Marina which had been launched in 1971, and the Austin Ambassador, the final model in the Princess series.

The plans for the Montego were hindered by its age, since its development had started years before and by the time of its launch was already dated. The change of designers from David Bache to Roy Axe gave the latter, albeit with limitations, the chance to give more personality to the saloon, trying to camouflage its rather obvious relationship with the Maestro. The result was a fairly modern and balanced line with an original rear window divided into three parts. As for the mechanicals, the shared platform had to give up the sophisticated Hydragas suspension in favour of a simpler MacPherson strut system, with the front engine driving the front wheels. The Montego introduced several improvements over the Maestro, which were later also adopted by the latter, including the new S-Series engine and more modern dashboard design, made with more resistant materials.

The saloon, shared with the model from which it was derived, also had a digital instrument cluster with voice synthesiser available in the top-of-the-range versions, the MG and Vanden Plas, which was a real novelty for the time but was also the source of numerous problems which the service centres, thanks to its novelty and their lack of knowledge of such devices, did not know how to fix. The Montego, like the Maestro, was also afflicted with various other reliability problems, further damaging its image and the economic situation of the Austin Rover Group, which had risen from the ashes of the disastrous British Leyland. As for the model range, in addition to the three-volume version, the Estate (or Station Wagon) version also became part of the range the same year, equipped with self-levelling suspension and with a practical extra folding bench in the rear section, which could provide rear-facing seating for two children when required.

In 1985 the sporty MG version with a turbocharged engine producing 150 bhp entered production as the most powerful-ever MG model. In 1988, following a minor restyle around the front grille and other details, the Montego, together with the rest of the Austin range, including the Metro and Maestro, it became the entry-level model within the Rover range, following the dropping of the Austin brand the previous year. No re-badging was carried out and the cars were simply identified by the model name replacing the marque.

The group also changed its name to the Rover Group which, following its acquisition by British Aerospace, returned to private hands after its nationalisation some years before to prevent it falling into bankruptcy. At the same time as the swan-song of the Austin marque, one of the first direct injection diesel engines of the time became available, the 81 bhp two-litre four-cylinder engine developed in co-operation with Perkins, providing reasonable performance.

Montego production continued until 1994 when, after more than half a million had been sold in 10 years, the curtain fell on the final model of the marque founded by Herbert Austin in 1905.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

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