Austin Montego 2.0HL

An MG on weed…

The relaxing alternative to an MG (Image copyright Ed Davey)

“An MG on weed!” That’s how the carburettor engined 2.0 Montego was sold to me as a concept, and it’s a surprisingly accurate description. Known to me via the Maestro and Montego Owners’ Club, Ed Davey owns a 2.0HL in very good condition – indeed, it’s as new. Knowing it was the only mechanical spec I hadn’t yet sampled he asked if I wanted a spin in E225CMV to complete the set, as it were.

As a Maestro and Montego fan, I was unlikely to pass up that opportunity, especially given the condition of the car in question. Ed is the second owner of this Moonraker Blue HL with Osprey velour, having ‘saved’ it when the first owner gave up driving. Many of the cars Ed has owned have been rescue projects, making his driveway a sort of Battersea Dog’s Home for Montegos. At one point his collection numbered thirteen, including a pair of matching Flame Red MG Montego Turbos and a pair of Silverleaf 1.6HLs. “It was brilliant watching people’s faces when they were out together,” is Ed’s excuse for collecting not only examples of the same model, but also of matching colours and specifications. Even now, his driveway is home to two Montegos, a Rover 827SLi, and a Rover 75 estate – numbers are down since selling one Montego Vanden Plas (supposedly sold to make way for the HL but still in his possession months later) and missing out on another. “Montegos are a disease, I can’t help but save them. I keep talking about selling the two I have but I know I’ll just end up buying more to replace them.”

Back to the car he bought in April to replace a high-mileage Vanden Plas, then. This HL is comfortable, and displays all the static qualities of his 1.6 – a nice dashboard (improved by the presence of a tachometer, but I’m not keen on the grey finish), excellent visibility, and an airy interior. Turn the key  and slip it into gear and it feels far nicer than my experience of 1.6 cars would have me believe of Montegos. Whilst the O series is not as smooth an engine as the S series of the 1.6 variants, the PG1 gearbox is one of my favourites, and the O series hardly sounds like a bag of spanners anyway. This is the mighty M-car as it should be.

Bizarrely, despite sharing it’s unassisted rack-and-pinion set-up with the 1.6s I find heavy, this car is light and communicative – far more like the Maestros than the other unassisted Montegos I’ve driven. The extra torque allows for earlier gearchanges, and a more relaxed style of driving than I could really manage in the 1600. The ride was as good as all Maestros and Montegos I’ve sampled, and all round visbility was second to none in this age of claustrophobic interiors. Despite my love of plusher specs (A Vanden Plas or Mayfair is more my thing, with power steering, a bit of walnut, and extra chrome) I could have driven this car home quite happily. Indeed, were it a Mayfair or VP, I probably would have done…

“An MG on weed” was a strikingly apt description – the car lacks the sheer urgency of the Turbo or EFi models that most of the time is unnecessary, yet displays the ride, torque, and handling characteristics that makes them so enjoyable for the person who sees driving as an art rather than a chore. It’s the laidback option for the laidback chap, and rare though they’re getting the Montego 2.0s are worth a look.

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