Rover Montego (1984 - 1995) review

BY JONATHAN CROUCH

Introduction

It's easy to see the Rover Montego as an outstanding used buy. Plenty about, cheap prices, lots of dealers, spares easy to come by. Remember on the other hand, that the Montego comes from an era that earned Rover the kind of reputation it has since successfully lived down. Shop carefully and buy a later model however, and you could still end up with bargain family motoring.

Models

Models Covered: SALOON, ESTATE 1.3, 1.6, 2.0, 2.0 TURBO DIESEL [BASE, CLUBMAN, L, LX, LXI, HL, SL, SLX, SLXI, SL, SLX, SI, GTI, MAYFAIR EFI, GSI, VDP EFI, MG EFI, MG TURBO, D CLUBMAN, DL, DLX, DSL, DSLX, D COUNTRYMAN]

History

The Montego was the saloon version of the Maestro launched in 1984, a year after its hatchback counterpart. Early Montegos (originally badged as Austins and MGs) were an embarrassment, plagued by unreliability and niggling faults. Later models carried the Rover badge. As with so many Leyland/BL cars, the company eventually got the product right - after it was too late to win most disgruntled customers back. But get it right they did and later models were very good - and British of course, from badge to bootlid. Early on, there was a 1.3 but it wasn't popular and died in 1988 with a facelift that brought the Rover badge and smooth, rather than ribbed rear lights. Better to go for a 1.6, which was offered with a bewildering variety of trim levels. You had Clubman, L, LX, HL, SL, SLX; all are now priced pretty much identically. Estate buyers additionally had the Countryman estate with its extra row of rear facing child seats in the estate compartment. The 2.0-litre trim line-up was equally confusing and the used trade attaches equally little significance to it. Thus, you'll pay much the same whether you go for L, LX, LXi, SL, HL, SLX, SLXi, Si, GTi, Mayfair or GSi. Interestingly, the identically engined MG Montego is often valued at less than the standard cars. The turbo version (which had so much torque steer it would almost swap lanes under heavy acceleration) is even less prized. Perhaps the best Montego derivative was the turbo diesel version launched with a British Perkins engine in 1988. The estates are particularly well liked and are the only Montego variants that still fetch reasonable money on the used market.

What You Get

A lot of car for the money. Higher-spec models were quite well equipped with items such as power front windows, mirrors and sunroof and six-speaker sound systems.

What You Pay

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What to Look For

Early Montegos are trouble; the two-litre cars occasionally caught fire when a fuel line leaked. Rust also gets early ones everywhere and late cars in the rear wheel arches. Plastic bumpers don't take knocks and crack easily. Watch for leaky cylinder head gaskets, cam and valve wear and check that the drivebelt has been replaced on schedule. Earlier interiors fell apart quickly.

Replacement Parts

(Appro based on a 1994 1.6 saloon) A clutch assembly is around £125, while a full exhaust system should be just under £290. An alternator will be around £85 and new front brake pads about £65. A headlamp should be around £70, a radiator around £70 and a starter motor about £150.

On the Road

Performance isn't too bad and the two-litre model has lusty pulling power from low revs. Handling is par for the contemporary course but the ride was always good. The diesel is loud and sometimes a bit smoky but quite economical.

Overall

The Montego can be a good buy - but you have to know what you're doing. Buy as late a model and as low a mileage as you can afford, ask expert advice and you'll reap the benefits of its dowdy image by paying peanuts.