Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Death of a MONGO

MONGO in happier times

Those fans of Top Gear and similar programmes will understand, admittedly at second hand, the appeal of what could be called a cheap car challenge. Indeed, I've had confirmation from friends who compete in banger rallies - the idea of buying a cheap car and expecting a lot from it can result in a lot of fun.

A couple of friends of mine took a Rover 827 limousine to Rome last year - and grew so fond of it in the process that it still survives, despite bowing in the middle and being undrivable without a lot of work. So, with this in mind, when I came across a 1990 Montego 1.6LX in our Classifieds for £250, I promptly sent it to Brasov.

Strange concept, I know. Not everybody sees a cheap car and decides it has to go to Eastern Europe. But my friends Alex and Rhyds were looking for the car they were taking on this year's banger rally, and as a representative of the Maestro and Montego Owners' Club I was keen to demonstrate the capabilities of even an end of life example. Two hundred pounds later, the car was in Devon with Alex.

On a few, ahem, Welsh rally stages, both Alex and Rhyds pronounced the car good, and fit for the trip. I was secretly rather pleased that the deal had been done - knowing Alex and Rhyds as devout fans of BL, I knew the car would get the best chance it could on a banger rally. My justification was that a £200 car wouldn't really be bought to cherish, and this way it could prove itself. And with three subwoofers, a guest from another team, and three men's luggage for a fortnight, the car now known as MONGO set off in a cosmetically challenged state.

Regular updates via Twitter and Facebook convinced me the car was right for the job - and whilst Alex moaned about it's lack of power, a 1.6 Montego with such a load will feel slow to a man used to 4.0 Jaguars. Upon it's arrival in Brasov I felt it's future was assured - Alex had told me that if it failed it would be ditched, but to have made it there the return journey should be a piece of cake. We were even discussing the possibility of keeping it as a demonstration at shows of the dependability of the Montego.

But last night, trouble struck Team Now We're Motoring (Or MONGOing, as they became known). A failed water pump outside Nuremberg, and the lack of a spare, spelt game over for the MONGO. A Nuremberg scrapyard later, the Now We're MONGOing clan hitched a lift back in a 216GTi driven by AROnline editor Keith Adams.

And you know what? Whilst this £200 car managed 10 days and 3000 miles of sheer abuse, I can't help but feel sorry it has gone. Even Alex, whose moaning about a lack of power on the trip meant he was considering breaking it anyway, has said he's already missing it. Whilst it lit nobody's fire particularly, it did what was asked of it without complaint, and it was only on the return leg that it started to falter. Given the spares, it could have been bodged and repatriated, but circumstances dictated that it be abandoned to the crusher's mercy in Germany. I feel a bout of guilt about the car's fate - firstly as a club official; as someone devoted to the furtherance of a model it doesn't do to get one scrapped, and secondly it had done it's job so well it deserved to make it home. Far from it letting the team down, I'm wondering if perhaps I let IT down by guiding it on such a perilous journey. I knew that banger rallies were car-breakers, but I sent it out there. And it paid the ultimate price.

The one small comfort I can draw is that I know another team were after this car - and, indeed, I had been offered it for nowt after the rally if I collected it from Brasov. But a team that leaves their car behind is unlikely to treat it as well as one which wants to repatriate their steed. So I'm wondering if I gave the old girl her best option - MONGO made it half way home before expiring - a thousand miles or so more than had I simply stayed out of it. And was the honourable death due to water pump and petrol tank failure perhaps a better course than to abandon ship in Brasov?

A certain Mr. Clarkson once said he pitied Concorde - because following the last Concorde flight it was simply shut away. No men tending to it, no visitors, jaws dropped with anticipation, not even any crowds to come and gawp. If, he said, machines have a soul, what torture must this abandonment be inflicting upon the poor Concorde? Maybe MONGO was the same - better to die fighting than to be abandoned. My tortured soul is trying to decide whether what I did was right - and when I myself am old and decrepid, maybe I will know.

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