by Paul Sweeney
The Maestro delivered on every criteria I had, really. Roomy - even for a family of five - quiet, comfortable, economical. It wasnt the best-looking car in the world, but it was perfectly acceptable - apart from one thing; rust.
The old enemy was still there and as each month passed, I noticed a little more of the crusty stuff appearing in various places. After a time, I began to feel I had better get rid of the Maestro before it started to look really bad. Had it not been for that, I would have held on to it much longer.
And so it was that one day I was passing a local Austin-Rover dealer - Hartwells of Coalpit Heath near Bristol - and a huge banner caught my eye. No, not this one:
It was simply some words ... and they read, "Sale - nearly new Montegos under £5000". Since I liked the Maestro and the Montego was basically a saloon version of the same design - it would have all the same plus points. And surely they would have cured the rust issue by now, I reasoned - this car would be almost five years newer than my crumbling Maestro. I went home excitedly.
Now, I knew that revealing genuine enthusiasm to Mrs S would immediately make her oppose anything I suggested.... the trick was to somehow drop it into conversation casually - as an aside, as if I weren't really interested at all. In the same tone as one might mention "I see baked beans are only 10p a tin at Tesco this week".
So, after clearing away the dinner things, doing the washing up and walking the dog I summoned my best casual voice and said, "Have you seen the price of Montegos at Hartwells? Amazing - and they're not even a year old". Then the smart bit - I stopped talking and waited. I didnt exactly hold my breath but clung to the fervent hope we wouldnt be interrupted by one of the kids or a phone call - cos that would have broken the magic spell.
After what seemed like an age - probably 30 seconds or so in reality - SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed*) replied, "Shall we go and look?" Yeeha!! .. but dont show it, you fool! I counted silently up to 30 ... then, "Oh OK if you like. Might be interesting". So SWMBO organised a babysitter and off we went the 2 miles to Hartwells.
There were half a dozen or so F reg Montegos on the forecourt - all the 1.6L model if I remember correctly. I was immediately drawn to an all-white example; it looked very smart with body-coloured bumpers.
*Thanks to 'Rumpole of the Bailey'
The interior had been restyled and was much nicer than the Maestro interior. It had a feel of quality about it. The seats were comfortable and spacious. We went for a test drive - the steering was lighter (still no power steering on these cars) and the gear change was smooth as silk. Honda or VW box, probably but I dont remember. The engine was quiet and refined - I loved it! A trade-in deal was quickly agreed and a few days later the Montego was ours.
As ever, the BL range was bewildering at the time, and Wikipedia bravely attempts to clarify as follows:
The Montego started life as a four-door notchback variant of project LC10. Development on the new model, intended to succeed both the Morris Marina and the Princess ranges by the turn of the 1980s, had begun in 1977 but ultimately the new car was not launched until seven years after development had started; in the meantime, the Marina had been updated and re badged as the Morris Ital from 1980, whilst the Princess had been updated as the Austin Ambassador in 1982.
Around this time, my then mother-in-law purchased a used trailer caravan and invited us to use it.
As we couldnt afford anything better, we gratefully accepted and so began a period of absolute purgatory towing the damn thing with the Montego, parking it in god-forsaken wet fields in the back of beyond and wishing I was still at home.
All of which brings to mind one rather memorable occasion. SWMBO's sister who I will refer to as TTO (The Talkative One - as she rarely stopped speaking) suggested a joint caravanning holiday.
It would be TTO with her remarkably dreary husband and 2 young boys in a caravan owned by TTO's mother in law, plus us in my mother in law's van, which I think may have been an Elldis. Don't ask me which model it was, but it looked very similar to this one:
Looking back now, I can see how that holiday marked something of a pivotal moment in our lives - but for that and the long-term verdict on the Montego, you must await the next instalment, dear reader.
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