Friday, 5 February 2010

Montego love

The Austin Montego 1.6 Mayfair; delightfully charming.

I nearly bought a Montego the other evening. Sight unseen, a 1988 Vanden Plas 2.0i automatic, in Diamond White over Hurricane Grey. I've known the majority of the car's owners since June 2006, and it only needed a little work to get back on the road. Sadly, it had gone by the time I asked about it, two days after being advertised on the Club site. Not that I had anywhere to store it anyway.

I blame my mate Ray.

Well, if I'm honest, blaming Ray isn't fair. I've had a bit of a thing for Montegos since seeing the car I nearly bought, three years ago, in the hands of another acquaintance. Especially Mayfairs and VPs. So when Ray very kindly offered to let me take his 1.6 Mayfair - in Clove Brown with a Caramel interior for all those in the Brown Car Appreciation Guild - for a quick spin, I wasn't going to refuse.

It's said you make your mind up about a car within the first ten seconds of getting into it. If this is the case, the Montego made a very favourable impression. No, the seats were not leather, but there was wood, it was brown, and let us not forget this car's place in history. The Montego was the last wholly British mainstream production car - the last Austin Rover with no Jap or Jerry input.

I'm a huge fan of automatic gearboxes, and since passing my driving test six months before taking the wheel of the Monty I'd not driven a car with a do-it-yourself 'box. I was thus concerned I'd make a hash of it. Not so. The clutch was forgiving, with a comfortable bite point, the gearbox was smooth, and the car was comfortable enough to make me forget I was in unfamiliar territory. It's spacious too, with ample headroom even for my 6'3" frame. Visibility from the car was second to none, especially out of the back, and I found myself liking it.

What I wasn't prepared for was the steering. Perhaps it's because I'm used to having power assisted steering. Perhaps (though I'd hate to admit it) it's because I'm a limp-wristed fairy with arms like toothpicks - weak, thin, and brittle. But I was unprepared for the initial weight of the steering. It freed up nicely when on the move, however, and I was able to consider more thoroughly my opinion of the car.

One more criticism. I'm a creature of habit, and if I am driving a manual car I like reverse to be underneath fifth in the gate. Whilst I'm happy to put up with a reverse gear next to first instead, I did not like the idea of pushing the lever down, rather than pulling up or leaving as is, to engage it. I admit, it took a minute or two of befuddlement before I gave in and just read the gearknob to discover the art of selecting reverse. But in a car with a proper 'box this would not prove a problem.

It's even comfortable and quiet on the motorway - I've been in noisier and less refined Jaguars. Whilst I admit there was a draught coming from somewhere round the passenger door frame, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume a faulty seal is the cause, not a poor design. I had trouble believing the car was 23 years old, built to a 25 year old design.

Would I buy an Austin Montego? If you look to the top of this article you'll see I nearly did. One with leather to satisfy my love of the upmarket, with PAS to rescue my weedy little arms, and an automatic gearbox to satisfy my lazy side. And if a Yorkshireman is willing to put his money where his mouth is, you can rest assured he's suitably impressed.

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