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Cruel Britannia: 9 British-built cars we loved to hate

by Giles Chapman
6 January 2021 5 min read
Cruel Britannia: 9 British-built cars we loved to hate

They tried hard to please us – they really did – but with some British cars we just never seemed to ‘get’ what the manufacturers came up with for us. Meet nine British-built classics that proved hard to love in their day and yet had a quite a lot to offer in exchange for a little forgiveness. Hurrah for the humdrum – from the bland that time forgot.

Austin Montego

The Austin Montego wasn't all bad

The 1984 Montego was at its most handsome in estate guise, where those purposeful contours made it almost as versatile as Volvo’s legendary 240. Yet while the saloon version could never be considered eye candy, here was a British range every bit as good as the Vauxhall Cavalier. Like the Cavalier, it was front-wheel drive, and unlike most of the lamentable heaps to emanate from Austin-Morris during the 1970s, the suspension consisted of conventional coil springs and was none the worse for the lack of rubber and fluids. In its creation, the Montego had received the full focus of engineer Spen King and designer David Bache, the dynamic Rover duo behind the Range Rover and SD1. It was a good, solid car. Just such a shame the patriotic fervour that had made the rather second-rate Austin Metro a hit four years earlier had run out of steam.

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Ford Consul Classic

The Ford Consul Classic wasn't all bad

This jagged wonder was the compact crossover of its day in 1961 – that is, a car where the imperative to be ultra-trendy somewhat overwhelmed its place in the world. It was meant to be a big brother to the Anglia 105E – with the same reverse-slope back window – but the project got waylaid inside Ford and when it was finally launched in 1961 all the flashy styling touches that were so futuristic back in the mid 1950s suddenly seemed to grate. Almost as soon as it was in showrooms, Ford started work on the Cortina to replace it. However, the Cortina was tinny where the Classic was solid, and anyone who bought one of these cars got a sackload of good stuff – from front disc brakes and a four-speed floor-mounted gearchange to decent roadholding and – yes, a novelty then – a flasher mode for those four headlamps. With a concours version costing little more than £10,000 today, this is an everyman classic that looks of an era.

Jaguar Mk X

The Jaguar Mk X was underrated in its day
Photo: Silverstone Auctions

It’s hard to underestimate what a phenomenal machine this was at its launch in 1961. Here was a sumptuously appointed British saloon that could touch 120mph with the 3.8-litre twin-cam straight-six, and thanks to the independent rear suspension set-up of an E-type it handled like a sports car. There would be none of the creaks and sighs of older Jag saloons because the structure was a brand new monocoque giving impressive refinement – a lot of what made the XJ6 so brilliant was first seen in this car – while the occupants travelled in unprecedented splendour, swathed in Connolly hide and walnut cabinet work. It was anything but a handful to drive but people found its huge length and width (aimed at the US) off-putting, and it was always somewhat unloved. Even company founder William Lyons later admitted that the Mk X was just too big! Today a good condition Mk X could be yours for about £15,000.

Morris 1800

The Morris 1800 was underrated in its day

A big, fine-handling car that exuded common sense – there was simply so much thoughtful rationale in the 1800, which also came in Austin and Wolseley versions. It was the ultimate statement of the Mini’s front-wheel drive, transverse-engine concept created by engineer Alec Issigonis, with Hydrolastic suspension for an excellent ride and an enormous amount of passenger space front and back. There was even a rudimentary ABS system using a special valve to automatically distribute braking force between front and rear. The fact this was an engineer’s car was reflected, though, in the plain, minimalist interior and ungainly looks that gained it the unflattering nickname ‘The Landcrab’. Customers weren’t drawn to it, preferring the ever-changing tinsel of Fords and Vauxhalls that were vastly inferior dynamically. At around £3000 for a good condition example, this is a wonderfully affordable route to owning an unexceptional classic car.

Nissan Micra C+C

Nissan Micra C+C gets the Conran touch
Photo: Nissan

Do you like fresh air, gadgets, bulletproof reliability, and miserly running costs? But not that bothered about the traffic lights grand prix? And don’t give a hoot what anyone else thinks? This was probably the car for you back in 2005. Nissan got Karmann in to build its open-air Micra at the Sunderland plant; the design was from Nissan’s London studios and the engineering looked after at its tech centre in Cranfield. So quite surprisingly British, then. The electrically-operated folding steel roof packed away into the boot at the touch of a button, giving convertible zest with all the trouble-free running that your granny loved in her Micra. Scorned by petrolheads but, hey, would you have cared?

Reliant Kitten

Reliant Kitten_9 cars we loved to hate
Photo: Car & Classic

It would be entirely understandable that you wouldn’t elect to drive a Reliant Robin, what with there being a wheel missing and having to have the rowdy engine as good as inside the cockpit with you. But the attributes of a thrifty 850cc all-aluminium power unit and corrosion-free glassfibre bodywork were compelling in the mega-inflation, fuel crisis-bedevilled mid-1970s, and so the Kitten came to life in 1975 as an alternative to the Mini and Fiat 126. There wasn’t much to go wrong and this rear-drive plastic baby drove pretty well considering its men-in-sheds genesis. Best of all was the potential for 60mpg, which might sound unimpressive in today’s terms but back then was grist to the penny-pincher’s mill. Still, it took a certain kind of eccentric to even enter a Reliant dealer’s humble premises, and it wasn’t that cheap.

Rover Streetwise

We laughed about the Rover Streetwise but it was a car ahead of its time
Photo: Rover

For anyone who admires the work of Peter Stevens, such as the McLaren F1, then here is a chance for you to own a PS original at a fraction of the usual cost. And what a sensible choice: an SUV with none of the unnecessary complexity of four-wheel drive but jacked up suspension, big 16in wheels, roof bars, and lots of chunky black plastic on the nose and tail and along the sides to ward off the bumps and scrapes that soon take the box-fresh aura off other new cars. True, the 25’s cabin was a bit small, but in 2003 it was already a good car that was fun to drive and well proven. Rover was in its death throes, so the Streetwise never made much impact, yet actually it was in the vanguard of the similarly conceived Citroen C4 Cactus and countless other crossover-type cars.

Talbot Alpine

The Talbot Alpine was not a success

Do you know anyone that is a fan of the Alpine, the Anglo-French five-door hatchback first seen in 1975? Even the fact it was independently chosen as European Car Of The Year that year seemed to add not one gemstone of desirability to it, and yet it rubbed shoulders with such hopelessly dated fayre as the Imp, Avenger and Hunter in the Chrysler showrooms which would shortly be rebranded as Talbot outlets. The least appetising aspect of the car was probably its rather coarse Simca 1.3-, 1.5 and 1.6-litre engines, held back by the lack of a five-speed gearbox until 1980. But they were spacious and fun to drive, and for quite a while the very few rivals included the ancient Renault 16 and the far more pricey Volkswagen Passat. The Alpine might have lacked charisma but possibly its biggest drawback was it was simply ahead of its time…

Jaguar X-Type

The Jaguar X-Type wasnt all bad
Photo: Veloce Publishing

The armchair view from Jaguar diehards was the 2001 X-Type was an appalling travesty. This was because it was based on the Ford Mondeo, with the marque’s normally sleek contours compressed to fit. The muddled design thinking had come from Detroit, where they’ll seemingly glue any badge on absolutely any car if it results in a quick buck. In fact, with its standard four-wheel drive and 2.5-litre V6 engine the X-type was a fine machine, its unseen hardware benefitting from thorough, big-budget development while the interior – albeit a tad pinched for a Jag – seemed to get the double wood-and-leather treatment to compensate. Okay, so Jaguar was slow to adopt diesel and later on the front-drive 2-litre one was indeed a bit of a nothing but the Sportwagon, the first ever Jag estate, was an attractive overall package.

Hurrah for the humdrum: the highlights of the Festival of the Unexceptional (2014 to 2019)

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Comments

  • DAVID Thomas says:

    Starting at the top. We had quite a few 1800s when I worked at Dunlop, these we good cars..all that room, pity about the gearbox.
    Classic, Ford found them expensive to build, quite a heavy car for the 1300 (3 bearing engine), far better with the 1500. Capri quite a stunner for the period. They were all prone to the rust worm, badly even for the era.
    Lastly the X type. My daughters is in my drive. Well built, 10 years old, ..no rust at all. The leather makes anything from Germania look like a cheap three piece suite
    The Mark 10 was the underpinning of the Daimler Limo, the favourite of undertaker for years.

  • William McGraw says:

    I owned an Austin 1800 for a few years. it was a great comfortable car wilth loads of room inside and built like a tank. It would go anywhere in the snow with the weigh of it and being front wheel drive.

  • Vincent Oram says:

    Jaguar X-Type. Lovely drive with the 3.0 engine not mentioned here. But spectacularly unreliable: I ditched mine the week it came off Warranty!

  • Mark says:

    Didn’t have an 1800, but had two of the closely related Maxi’s (1750 version), which were also spacious, comfortable and nicely trimmed for the era. Also had an Alpine (1440 engine), and totally agree with comment above. Needed a 5the gear and PAS, otherwise a very solid and practical car.

  • bob moody says:

    the 1800 might not have been a big seller but it was far ahead of its time,ive 2 wolseleys on the drive now and both are a pleasure to drive and solid not bad for a 50 year old design that still keeps up with modern traffic

  • Mikey says:

    Jag MKX won’t be such a big car on today’s roads, the only car on this page i’d consider real money on. Though if there’s still a solid Montego left…

  • Trevor West-Green says:

    I owned a Wolseley 18/85 back in the day for about 4 years and loved it. Solid,roomy, reliable and built like a tank. Got hit up the arse by a Cortina, that fell apart and mine was straightened out and back on the road in under a week.

  • Dave Perkes says:

    I owned a maxi and a Montego. The Maxi being a derivative of the Austin 1800 was roomy and as a first car was cheep to insure. It had no street cred and was a bit of a joke for my mates. It wasn’t much fun to drive either. However once the gear change and bus driver steering were mastered; any other car was a cinch to drive.
    The Montego proved to be a lot better and more reliable car than its reputation suggested. however after 7 years, corrosion meant it was almost worthless as a trade in. At least my Max was 15 years old before rust killed it off.

  • Derek Colman says:

    My brother had a Morris 1800. He loaned it to me for a weekend when my car had broken down and I desperately needed a car. It was so spacious, comfortable and a joy to drive. A few years later I nearly bought one which was in very good condition and cheap. I had a good look at it and informed the owner of my intention to buy it, but didn’t have quite enough money. He was pleased because I was the only person who had expressed interest. I rustled the money together in a couple of weeks, but alas he had sold it.

  • John King says:

    I had a Montego 1.6L for just over two years as a company car. I knocked up 108,000 miles in that time. It was very comfortable , never broke down, had a huge boot and was, for its day, very economical. All in all, an outstanding car and very much maligned.

  • julie turner says:

    I learned to drive in a 180o lovely car – lots of leg room – lovely to drive

  • Vince Spiller says:

    I owned a ‘Wolseley 6’ which I thought was a dream car, beautiful leather seats, wood trim interior and the six cylinder engine was a nice smooth power unit. The only problem was the amount of oil used at least a pint every time I filled the tank. Still loved it though.

  • Clive Worboys says:

    I love my X-Type 2.0D. Lovely “traditional Jag” styling, powerful, economical, & refined. No way is it a “Mondeo in drag!”

  • Nigel Alderson says:

    Dad had one of the old Westminster it was mahoosive as a child I rattled inside the car and it even had cardboard in the floors to cover the holes in the floor pan…!

  • Taff allen says:

    We used to use the 1800,s as staff cars in the RAF lovely cars to drive. Painted them either matt green or gloss black and stuck a pendent holder on the bonnet. First time I hit 100mph in a car was driving one of these down the M4.

  • Matthew Gumbley says:

    i passed my test in a maxi 1750. fantastic versatile car, rear seats transformed it from saloon, to van, and spacious to sleep in, and over 40mpg on a run. loved it, but it rotted.
    also had montego 20 hl really comfy on a long run

  • Robert Matthias says:

    this was at a time when everything British was rubbish . Dixons group were aware of this and their cheap audio and Tv’s given Japanese sounding names but in reality were poorer quality but sold . Strikes in the car industry and workers sleeping on the night shift all part of the myth and british was not as it was in the 60’s when Truimph motorbikes and the mini were iconic British quality under priced world beaters in their class

  • John says:

    Reliant Kitten economy (60mpg) unimpressive by todays standards! Really? There aren’t that many cars even diesels and hybrids nearly 50 years on that could manage 60mpg in the real world.

    My Dad had 2 Austin 1800’s; same engine as MGB – pretty gutsy. Then moved to 2200 which he said lacked power. Loads of space in them. I particularly remember the plastic leather like seats that got pretty hot in the sun

  • Mr Torque Wrench says:

    You seem to have lighted upon a group of cars that offended everyone by their blandness, except for the Jaguars, of which the Mark Ten was too big and the X-Type too small and country pub-quaint; and like all the others, worthless as a trade-in. I’m not a trader, but you still have to understand that the motor trade has a keen nose, and can smell a stinker a mile away. And except for the Jaguars, mechanically, these were all absolute stinkers!

  • Anthony Downes says:

    I had an 1800 as a taxi, great car not fast but comfortable, roomy and economical, also had a montego and a Mk10 no complaints with any of them.

  • Bobshoo says:

    I had two Montego Estates, a 1600 & then a 2lit. The 2lit especially was a joy to drive, easy to maintain, and was very well equipped for the time. Unfortunately it was a victim of the poor build quality that so many cars were. If you got five years out of it before the rust with took over, you were doing pretty well.

  • Peter Reeve says:

    My father had an Austin 1800 from new it was a great car
    We would drive from Birmingham to Market Rasen twice a month without issue,great times

  • Vince Tarling says:

    I had an Austin Maxi back in the early 80s, it was the twin carb model and it went really well !!
    The car was very comfy, had lots of room, was well appointed inside but looked dull on the outside,
    unfortunately It was written off by a driver not stopping at a roundabout and hitting us in the rear door and quarter panel, it spun us around in the mouth of the exit from the roundabout, we were all ok and the car styed on its wheels, this proved how stable the car was, it stayed on the road and did not flip over.
    A good car but never loved by the public.

  • Barry Hoggard says:

    Had a Talbot Alpine as my first company car, yellowy colour, but still loved it. A very
    versatile car which replaced my well beloved second Maxi.

  • Graeme Blackmore says:

    I liked the Talbot Alpine and its later brethren, the booted Solara. They were designed in Britain using Simca engines and built in France and at Ryton near Coventry. The problems were the engines rattled and the bodywork was extremely rustprone.

  • John M. Williams says:

    The story with the Ford Classic was that this was the only car that Ford UK made a loss on. Apparently, the boot lid was so difficult to make, given it’s double curvature, that this one panel cost as much as all the rest of the external panels put together, as most pressings had to be discarded.

    I had two “land crabs’ from new, a Wolseley 1885 S in wild moss and a Wolseley six in white with navy velour interior. I loved both. However both suffered from various issues and the six was changed for a Triumph Dolomite, which proved to be much more reliable, even if a tad smaller.

    However, let’s not forget some of the continental howlers. I bought a Lancia Beta 1600 saloon in 1978. It was a fabulous car new. Price wise, the British competition was the dull Maxi. It had great performance and road holding. The paint finish was fantastic. Lancia (Fiat) were using base coat and lacquer for metallic paints, whilst auto GB were still using straight metallic paints. Panel fit was also great, but as we all know, the dreaded tin worm consumed them and I was left with a car that I couldn’t sell. It finally went to the scrap yard in 1985 at only 7 years old.

    My wife has had a 2010 Ford Fiesta from new, which has zero rust on it. That’s what I call progress!

  • Paul Cooper says:

    I can remember being a guest at BL’s Sudeley Castle engineering HQ (I was invited by future heritage director Peter Mitchell to view stored cars later to form the Gaydon collection) the day the Maestro was launched (early 82?). It looked like a breath of fresh air but the Montego I believe was a booted version that didn’t sit quite so elegantly. However when the fuel injected MG version was launched I had a test drive – bonkers in a straight line but I opted for the Audi 80 Sport instead.

  • Ian Drummond says:

    I had a Talbot Alpine 1.5 in the mid eighties. I did 60000 miles in it and, apart from a broken clutch, it never let me down. It was roomy, comfortable and economical. I loved it but boy did it rust! Mine was a french built one though. It was always said that the Ryton built ones were better

  • Richard Hawksworth says:

    Well you left out the Allegro which was a pleasant surprise as it usually gets unjustly panned – I loved mine, very reliable and light an airy. I had to sell it to get a Midget to uphold my image as a young RAF aviator. Wolseley 18/85S is a wonderful car my father had when I was a kid it felt and smelt of luxury back in the early 70s and I loved its styling. Finally the Montego – I had two, a strange damson/purple coloured one I had as company car when I was just grateful to have one but I remember it feeling nice and long legged on the motorways of the late 80s. Later an MG Montego which was a lot of fun to drive but got nicked in Bradford and was found burned out in a reservoir which my colleagues pithily renamed Montego Bay. Would I have any as a classic? Maybe the Wolseley.

  • donald joynt says:

    Had an Austin 2200 for 2 years,never let me down and always started first time. As someone else has commented they were brilliant snow cars. I do recall it used a bit of oil though

  • S. Burgess says:

    My first car was the 1800 and what a car. Great in snow huge inside very reliable and economical. Built like a tank. I’d have another tomorrow
    The montego wasn’t a bad car either
    Just a shame that British attitudes to work in the 70’s cost so much

  • paul loughlin says:

    The Ford Classic and Capri versions were good cars but just too dear for what they were … over £8oo but you could buy a Mk2 Zephyr for not much more so they were a non starter

  • Frank says:

    1800 range good cars worked ,on many much under rated. X type Jaguar one of the best cars I have owned no problems even if people called it a Ford.

  • Jeremy Salaman says:

    My Dad was an old friend of Sir William as they grew old together, and always supported him buying Swallow Swift cars and then Jaguars throughout his life. His favourite car was always his beloved Mk.X , which he even preferred to his last XJ6. In his mind the Mk.X perfectly epitomized Sir William’s claim of ‘Grace, Pace & Space’, and in its day was superior to almost all similar Mercedes models.

  • Nigel Griffiths says:

    I had a a Sunbeam Alpine as a company car. After having had Ford 1.6 Cortinas for numerous years, the comparative performance felt noticeably different. It was a great family car too when the children were small with room for all our luggage and a Golden retriever in the boot. Proved to be thoroughly reliable. I acquired it for my father and it went on well into over a 100K miles. Rust got it in the end.

  • Tony Jeans says:

    I have been very pleased with my Jaguar X type Sovereign 2.2 diesel estate, 08 plate. It drives very well, has been very reliable and still looks very good inside and out. It gets a regular high quality valeting which keeps it together very well. It is also a good load carrier to go with my MX5 and TR4.
    I have also had two other maligned cars but which I found excellent – Singer Chamois and Rover SD1 2600.

  • Rick says:

    Phew, what a relief – I only owned one and a half from the list: a Rover 200 TDi, nice shape and big enough for two in comfort, good turn of speed and economical to run. The red paintwork started peeling but after a battle it was part resprayed.
    The Jag was a handsome 2,2D Estate, so most would consider it to be a distant relative of the marque; we loved it for its looks, equipment, performance and economy so I really missed it when it went. A much underestimated machine. Besides when I turned the key it reminded me that it was a ‘Jaguar’ before we got underway; I never thought I’d ever have one !
    Although I never owned an Alpine I always thought it looked like a low rent Lancia Beta, but although it rusted the Beta had it beat, unfortunately.

  • Colin Newton says:

    The X-Type Jaguar was launched before the Mondeo and I always think Ford missed a trick by not spinning the fact that the new Mondeo was based on the Jaguar platform. Journalists of the day lauded the Jaguar/Mondeo platform as one of the best handling cars in its segment at the time

  • Richard Watton says:

    We bought an X-type 2.0d estate in 2005, use it nearly every day and I still enjoy driving it. The seats are some of the most comfortable of all our cars and even after 135,000 miles the engine is tourquey and frugal. The interior has worn very well and the cream leather and wood finish is in great shape. We’ll never sell it!

  • Peter Palmer says:

    Back around 1980 I had the opportunity to check out the engine bay of a Rolls Royce. I noted Lucas electrics, same as my Triumph, SU carburettors, ditto, Champion spark plugs, ditto. I have no doubt that, if I had been so able, I would have found many more common parts. So how come the Rolls Royce legendary reliability compared to, say, BLs poor one? The answer, I determined was in quality control; RR had it, BL didn’t. BL threw in the parts without checking quality, probably including what RR had rejected. The law of averages dictates that some BL cars would be assembled using a high proportion of duff parts, giving the marque a reputation for unreliability. Most would receive a mix of good and bad parts, doing nothing to reverse a bad reputation. Some would receive a high proportion of good parts; these are the cars we now see at shows.

  • RICHARD HORSFIELD says:

    Contrary to most peoples perception, The 1800, Montego, Maxi etc were wonderful machines.
    I owned or drove regularly all of them, as my father was a garage owner and all manner of cars were at my disposal for ‘test drives’ after being in for service or repair.
    I owned 2 Maxi’s, one used as a wedding car being very dark plum colour with white ribbons, looked the biz. The other one took my family to the Isle of Wight for a holiday, no mean trip, for we lived in the north, near Sheffield.
    The 2 Montego’s we had were very good cars, no breakdowns, anywhere we went, we got home again. Unlike the Vauxhall Viva, got us everywhere and always broke down on the way home.
    The 1800 was a great tow car, once we had bump stop extenders fitted. I took my wife with the Sprite Muskateer to South Devon, amongst other shorter trips.
    I could go on about my cars Ford Pop 100E, Anglia, quite a few Mini’s, Hillman Hunter etc.
    I am now in my 70’s and have settled on a lovely Citroen C4 Picasso Automatic, I do like oddball cars you see..

  • Tony Couling says:

    I am always suspicious of motoring journalists who mimmick Clarkson and his gang by making derogatory comments about Reliant. I inherited my fathers Robin and it served me in early years of married life very well. As a motorcyclist, I understood what driving something within its limits meant. I went on to own 2 Kittens and they faithfully served my wife & I for many years. Those were the days when you could change your own clutch on the driveway in a Sunday and be ready for work again by Monday. Superb little car in every respect – and I make the comparison after a career driving company cars of many high-end brands and specs.
    Apart from its ‘ahead of the game’ economy, the little 850 Kitten engine was unburstable and running costs were extremely low .
    Great memories.

  • Jack Long says:

    I had an X Type Jaguar sportwagon and it was a fine machine, handsome, reliable and comfortable. It was also excellent in rain and snow. The Ford DNA added a level of reliability that was appreciated.

  • David says:

    My father had three 1800’s in succession. Once the poor quality assembly problems were sorted (the first was the best, and the subsequent cars were progressively worse!) they proved excellent cars. Reliable, economic, vast amounts of space and could two well, despite being front wheel drive. Capable of long distance cruising in comfort, they proved ideal for our family of four. Journeys included towing a caravan to Italy when the road network was very different to today’s. Then it was mostly single carriage way roads across France!

  • John M. Williams says:

    “The Mark 10 was the underpinning of the Daimler Limo, the favourite of undertaker for years.”
    I believe that it was the 420 which was the basis for the Daimler limousine, although many of the parts were shared with the MK10 and later 420G’s. The confusion occurs as the later MK10’s were badged as 420G’s. I had a Daimler 420 in the mid 80’s. Mine was well worn by that time, but what a great car it must have been when new for the late 60’s.

  • John says:

    Montego. I owned its smaller Maestro sister from new and it served a young family brilliantly for many years. My Alpine was very spacious, comfortable and driveable, but the gutsy engine was so noisy, and then finally through a big end on the M1. Had a 2.5AWD X-Type from new and sold it many years later having covered over 120k mileage – absolutely brilliant car.

  • Gerry Attrick says:

    I was gratified to see a number of the cars I owned and drove in my earlier years in your list. My employer was a supplier to Rover and I was often invited to jollys at Silverstone where, after a lecture and meal we could grab a key from the cabin to one of the many cars we could have a play with. I was lucky to get the MG Montego Turbo. I’m still shaken. The circuit was in its original form apart from a chicane in the middle of Woodcote. I only got it because it had one of the Jim Russell Driving school instructors on board. He was French! I set off on, I thought a good lap, happy to not get a “Wrong Line” board at entry and exit and delighted to get a “Too fast” one at the apex. On the next lap, getting cocky, began to explore my limits, courage that is. All was going well, mild scream from the tyres through Copse, braking through Maggots, down to second for Becketts, accelerate up to third for Chapel and then as the corner opened out for Hanger straight, floored it. Nothing for a moment then all hell broke loose as the turbo cut in. I had been warned of the slight turbo lag! It went across the track like a scalded cat, me hanginging grimly onto the steering wheel pointed vaguely left, frightened to lift off, watching the nose coming around, lots of noise, the exit line cone getting perilously closer. I imagined the aggro from collegues as I became the first to visit the infield and possibly the barriers. But suddenly it all calmed down and I was headed off down Hanger straight. In the middle of the mayhem I thought I saw the exit board marshall’s back as he ran for his life but I might have been mistaken. Once I’d got it straight there was a short pause and then the Instructor leaned over and slapped me on the knee, exclaiming “Bon! Bon!” then shouting “En Y Va!” pointing down to Stowe. I think he honestly thought I had been in control of the whole process, my lack of panic giving this impression whereas the truth was I was frozen with fear and the car did the rest for me! I even got a pat on the back from him as we parked, getting another “Bon! Bon!” as I climbed out, inhaling the delicious smell of hot rubber! It was one of many great days with Rover, Ford and Vauxhall.
    I bought my wife a Maxi which she never stopped complaining about, using it myself occasionally. Comfortable and roomy. Great for overnight stays on the cheap and quite capable of carrying a completely dismantled TR4 engine around. My X-Type went well and looked good but duff springs, plugs, coil packs, rear brakes rather took the shine off it. The jack went through the sills of both of them along with the front chassis legs of the Jag going down with the same malady. They were both bought pre-owned quite cheaply and provided about 3-4 years cheap motoring. My brother in law had a Land crab which I helped him maintain. For him it was perfect. Most of his clients lived at the top of steep Welsh hills, reached only by narrow crumbling tracks. It never let him down. It came to a sad end beached on a traffic island over which he had attempted to take a short cut. At that point it was still okay but the rescue truck dropped it! Fini! We had a couple of Montegos at the works which I and others drove and they got us comfortably wherever we wantd to go whether it was Heathrow or down to the chippy to fetch a working lunch. The one you haven’t mentioned was the most maligned of all, the Morris Marina. It was for my wife and was a ’71 TC 1800. The complaints came mainly from press on launch days who in abusing them exposed the problems with the Morris Minor style front suspension and the canted rear shock absorbers. Ford had exactly the same problem with the Escort, the strength of both cars resting on the extremely stiff central tunnel to which the top ends of the dampers were located. Special tuning resolved the problems and also supplied a kit to owners who wanted more spirited driving out of the car. The car though suited its customer base perfectly. Reps car, family saloon, town car etc. It sold extremely well, out selling Ford on occasions and winning major rallies in the 1300 version and Touring car races in the 1800 TC variant. The Top Gear Team should be ashamed of themselves.

  • X24 says:

    Well give me a BMW, Volkswagen or Skoda than that rubbish, there is no mention of fuel economy although the German and Czech cars have great km to gallon distance, well after brex**it will we see the revival of the Singer Gazelle or Hillman Hunter?

  • David Bell says:

    I have had two X-types. The first a 3.0 Auto. Great styling inside and out. Only the floor-plan and some parts were like the Mondeo so it was not a dressed-up Mondeo. It did benefit from Ford’s understanding of reliability. The only down side was the very bad match between the engine and auto-box; you had to have the engine screaming at times to overtake. My second X-Type was the 2.0 litre diesel. A superb car with super toque and a real match between the engine and gearbox.

  • Anders Bilidt says:

    I absolutely adore the Jag mk. X and the following 420G. Such underestimated classics…

    A few other somewhat exotics that could rightfully have been on this list spring to mind:
    – Triumph Stag
    – Reliant Scimitar

    Yes, the Stag had reliability issues when new, but it’s a stunningly handsome GT and that 3-litre V8 has a soundtrack to die for – in my humble opinion, much more pleasing than the often favoured Rover V8.

    And the Scimitar… well, I’ll confess that as the owner of a ’78 Scimitar GTE SE6a, I’m of course biased. Or maybe, I’m simply better qualified to express my opinion on this car than the general masses are? Having used mine both as a year-round driver and not least toured much of western Europe in it, I can assure every on elf you that it is a hugely comfortable, competent and enjoyable GT. As a bonus, they can still be bought – in good nick I might add – for mere pocketmoney…

  • ian humphries says:

    having been in the motortrade,cars of their time remember,most were fine when looked after,fine the 1800 was a landcrab,fine the talbot 1.3/1.5 engine was a rattler,there were some good ones,try the jaguar/mondeo around 2001 not mentioned with an 8 valve 2.0 litre diesel peugeot engine which was labelled rhz without dpf,it appeard in peugeot expert vans,
    with regular oil changes and cambelts 406 taxis would run to 500k without anything going wrong…. there are some better than others,authors of theese articles know very little about getting their hands dirty for 40 years every day either,i can tell quite alot about the motor trade,and generally cars are how they are looked after and driven,and not whats wrong that needs putting right…… its called maintenance!

  • Clifford Slocombe says:

    Montego: “… the suspension consisted of conventional coil springs and was none the worse for the lack of rubber and fluids.”

    Austin 1800: “… with Hydrolastic suspension for an excellent ride …”

    Make your mind up! Hydrolastic; objectively better; subjectively Marmite.

  • John says:

    Learned to drive on my dads 1800. Solid motor. Then had a maxi. My wife had 3 montegos in the 1980s, 1300, 1600 and 2 lt versions. Gave great service. Very reliable.

  • David Jean Taylor says:

    I had a Montego 1.6l estate in the 1980s – great car that could take a family of seven plus a dog on outings and still do 100mph when less full. Yes it was a bit cheap and cheerful but could hold about as much as a Volvo estate. Never broke down. As a Co car, only had it three years so did not experience the rust problems. The British car industry had some great innovators in its day but sadly very poor management and workforce problems.

  • David says:

    My partner had a Rover Streetwise, super little car with decent build quality. No complaints at all but due to it’s emissions the road tax was very high. It was changed for a Fiat Panda, just £30 a year road tax!

  • Joe Bishop says:

    One of my employers had Montegos as a company car for the lowly (engineers like me!) as BL couldn’t sell them and they bought a job lot cheap. Most had been sitting in stock yards for several months – one of my colleagues, as a result, had a very unusual warranty fault to report on his car’s first service. He couldn’t remove the dipstick as it was rusted in!

  • Dan C says:

    I bought a ‘67 Austin 1800 for £20 in ‘83. I was courting my girlfriend (still my wife today) and the front bench seat and floor mounted high beam switch meant I could drive for miles at night with my arm around her.
    The article says it was called the Land Crab for how it looked. That is not correct – it was because of how the hydrolastic suspension behaved. I took a corner at speed on a standard road but the car was bouncing a bit. With the centripetal forces it built up the oscillation and bounced sideways like a land crab (which I have seen in Belize, Central America). It was necessary to ease off the speed without braking, and let the suspension settle. I’m thankful that nothing was coming the other way.
    I also had a 1500 Maxi which, to this day, is the most economical car I ever had. One day I overloaded the boot with heavy boxes and the front raised up so high that the steering was ineffective so I had to unload it again to a usable quantity. You could say that I learned a lot about driving in my early years from Austin’s!

  • Gordon Hill says:

    I had a 1985 1.6L Montego saloon in metallic turquoise and grey interior.It produced 85bhp giving it reasonable performance for the time but handling wasn’t confidence inspiring and build quality was poor.It was roomy inside with a good sized boot easily swallowing the golf clubs and prams etc.I ran it for a couple of years and had no issues with it.I am surprised there are one or two omissions from the list,notably the Allegro(and the famous Quartic steering wheel) which surely ranks as the worst car ever produced,and the Morris Marina which ran it a close second.

    I note the comment from the former RAF gentleman who allegedly extracted 100mph from an Austin 1800 and suggest this was due to a combination of an over optimistic speedometer and that he must have been drafting a Lightning MK6 down the runway at the time.Lucky if it could crack 90mph downhill with a tailwind.

  • David Jeffery says:

    It is difficult to think of cars from the fifties on until proper treatment was given to the bodywork of cars that didn’t rust. Some better, I had three Maxis that seemed good (so did my Minis) but a disaster with a Renault 16 which even had a door fall off. The most rotten car I ever experienced and certainly not better than the 1750 Maxi in almost every respect. We all listen to complaints about British cars, but what about those lovely Italian products. The Alfa Sud, wonderful to drive but rot everywhere, and my lovely Fulvia – heartbrraking. So I, too, now drive a Citroen Picasso, my third, all have been excellent, this is the best. Fast, economical 1.6 litre turbo diesel, very comfortable. I bought it in 2016 and pay no road tax, thank-you, and it isn’t frighteningly expensive for main agent servicing and this is carried out well. I’ve had two recalls, neither for high-risk faults, but it would be impossible to service myself the way I did all those years ago, just look in the service book, it told everything that had to be done and didn’t take the whole of a Sunday morning to complete – at least four times a year. Do you remember BA screws? On the original Mini, there were quite a lot of them. Sorry, I remember many cars with great fondness, but wouldn’t go back to them, looking at models in my cabinet is quite sufficient, all the cars going back to a 1946 Rover P2 and up to the 2000s. Yes, better as memories including all the untimely breakdowns!

  • Tom Millar says:

    Your comments on most of the British cars from the mid 60s to the 80s are valid in terms of design, reliability and lack of rust proofing.
    However the comments on the Jaguar Xtype are completely unjustified – total rubbish. I owned 2 Xtype estates, which were ultra reliable and in my opinion were well designed, comfortable and a dream to drive. This model was the start of Jaguar’s revival and it converted me to the mark.
    I have since owned a further 4 XF types.
    Perhaps instead of hating all things British you should direct your comments to the British Government and business for their total lack of support and investment in our car industry.

  • Martin says:

    Agree with other owners of the fabulous Land Crab (a mobile Tardis), its Maxi daughter and the roomy (in both versions) nippy and great handling Montego. Couldn’t afford an X type but laughed at its snobby beraters (so what’s the problem with a 4wd Jag with Ford reliability?).
    The car you missed? The Hillman Avenger! Sharp handling, neat looks and nippy enough in 1500 form. Released at a time people were still driving Morris Minors! Reliability without trinkets.

  • Duncan Anderson Howarth says:

    I remember replacing the clutch on a Wolseley 2200 on a cold winters night in the late 70’s in a farm barn on the edge of the Pennines. I’d slung the block and tackle over one of the wooden roof beams in the barn (engine and gearbox had to be removed as a unit) and with every pull of the chain the beam would increasingly creak. How I got away without the barn roof coming in, I’ll never know.

  • graham says:

    With reference to Skoda Cars ,they were pure Rust Buckets. I bought one in 1971 brand new from the dealers in Nechells, Birmingham.
    after only 3 months both windscreen wipers were rusty, I returned to the dealers to report this fault.
    the response was the whole lot will be rusty in less than 12 months.
    The dealer was right.
    Because finances were tight I was forced to keep the car 4 years.
    After 3 years, when the car was being MOTd, the Mechanic said, the whole breaking system was under designed.
    The car did however pass.
    after 4 years only I was forced to scrap the car.
    So Much For SCRAPPY SKODA.
    I was well and truly robbed .

  • Richard Daish says:

    I was one of the lucky ones. I bought a second-hand Montego estate automatic, and it was probably the best car I had for towing my caravan. The “lock-up” box meant that it was a direct drive in top gear, thus it was very responsive.
    I also had, as tow-cars, two Vauxhall Carltons, and, biggest of the lot, a Nissan QX. I bought it at 18 months old, for £9000 (basically half-price), and it gave me 100,000 miles of completely trouble-free motoring!

  • Martyn Gulliver says:

    I worked for Chysler when the Alpine was being launched, spending much time in Newhaven importing the first models into the UK. Back then, the performance was impressive for such a small engine (1442 version) and the handling was most impressive (particularly on the long sweeping bends A259 between Newhaven and Seaford!). Sadly, they were let down by the rubbery gear change from Simca 1100 and the lack of oil supply to the camshaft making older cars very rattley .

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