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Modern Classic - Steve Harper Interview

Modern Classic - Steve Harper Interview

Thu 24th March 2016

In late 2015 Keith Adams of Modern Classic interviewed Steve Harper in his Studio about this past...

LM11 - Montego Grille Design early proposals 1981

Produced during the latter part of 1981, these selections of Polaroid photos were taken in the BL Styling Studios in Longbridge and show some of the development work on the Montego cars.

To illustrate alternative Grille design themes, full size renderings were produced on coloured Canson paper, and then mounted onto an early clay model.

The designer Steve Harper, looking very young & slim, can be seen in the middle left picture.

The pictures on the right hand side were taken in the Exterior Studio, and also feature clay modellers Alan Gee and Ian Sommerville, along with designer John L Ashford.

The pictures on the left hand side were taken in the Round House / Elephant House, where you can also see the developing clay model for the ECV3, in the background of the lower left picture.

The second group of Polaroid’s, were taken by the Designer Steve Harper, during the development phases of the Montego Estate, around the October of 1981.

The pictures on the left were taken in the Exterior Styling Studio, and show work in progress on the 2 design themes under investigation at the time.

The fastback ‘Benzesque’ design on the right hand side of the clay model was by Steve Harper, whilst the more vertical ‘Volvoesque’ design on the left hand side, by John L Ashford, which was to become the final chosen design.

In the middle image, the Body Surface Draughtsman, Steve ‘Topper’ Clark can be seen studying the detail of the roof to screen transition, which he would need to reproduce faithfully, by hand, on the full size body drawing, which continued alongside the clay model ,as it was being developed.

The pictures on the right hand side, taken in the Round House, show an alternative high roof 7 seat derivative, by Steve Harper, which was packaged to fit adults in each of the 3 rows.

Later the 3rd row design was revised, similar to Volvo and other large French estate cars of the period, to feature rear facing child seats, which could be accommodated to fit within the standard estate car roofline.

The third picture is of a design proposal, produced in late 1980 / early 1981, by Steve Harper, which was modelled in less than a week by Richard 'Henry' Woodley, in the Exterior Styling Studio.

Note that the floor under the model is under construction, as the old heavy 'beam' measuring bridge plates and runners is replaced by the latest Steifelmaier digital measuring equipment.

The LM11 - Austin Montego Project had had its roots in the Modular Vehicle System LM cars produced during the 1980’s as a replacement for the Austin’s Allegro & Maxi, and the Morris Marina and small Triumph saloon models.

Sharing a common floorpan and many other parts, including the doors, with the LM10 – Austin Maestro, but with a moderately longer wheelbase, the Montego was set to challenge the dominance of cars like the Ford Cortina and Vauxhall Cavalier in the Company / Fleet Car sectors of the UK and European markets.

Many lessons learnt during the development of the Maestro were implemented in the later car, especially as a result of improvements for build and service quality.

The Styling of the vehicle had proceeded from Roger Tucker’s original 3 box design, produced at the time of the choice of the Maestro design theme.

During 1981 the design was further developed, under the direction of BL Styling Director David Bache, at the Longbridge Styling Studios.

The major design issue which took several attempts to resolve, was how to match the dropping belt-line inherited from the doors of the Maestro, into a shape which had to have a large enough trunk to be the best in class.

The design dilemma eventually proves to be David Bache’s ‘Waterloo’, as witnessed during a fateful design review in the ‘Elephant House’ at Longbridge.

The BL MD Harold Musgrove was eager to ensure that the car got to market as soon as possible, but David’s persistence to have the rear quarter windows align with the trunklid, rather than the clumsy plastic door disguising mouldings, pushed the design issue a little too far for Mr. Musgrove’s patience. The next day, David Bache’s retirement was announced in the local press.

David Bache was replaced by the former Chrysler Styling Chief, Royden Axe, who, once seeing the Maestro & Montego models for the first time, knew he was going to have a tough job ahead.

It was too late to influence the Maestro. So he brought in more designers from Rover, Ford and his old Chrysler Studio at Whitley to begin an intense programme to make the Montego design a little more integrated.

The deep body side groove feature was set in steel by now, from the Maestro, so little could be done there. The need to fit larger wheels and tyres to match the larger engine range for the car, meant that the wheel arches grew far larger and more prominent. Especially when the engineering requirements for ‘snow chains’ and ‘Abyssinian Cow-Pat Scrapers’ needed to be packaged for.

Which only really left the front, and rear ends of the car, open for change.

Designer Chris Greville-Smith brought his Ford touch to the front of the car, providing the design with its more trapezoidal headlamp shape, smoother wrap-around turn signals, and softer front bumper profiles.

At the rear, the rear lamps were given the castellated surface design, as used by Mercedes Benz (meant to provide aerodynamic cleaned lens surfaces), as a way of trying to increase the visual width of the car.

The largest improvements were made to the Interior. Designer John Gregory led the team which transformed the multi piece Maestro design, and by bench-marking some of the latest designs, especially form AUDI, the new Instrument Panel was designed in a very short time.

This Instrument Panel later made its way into the Maestro, as it proved to be an easier panel to manufacture and with a far higher level of consistent quality.

Along with the Estate Car derivative, there were also other versions muted. LM12 was to be a fastback coupe / hatch, and there was also a Van derivative produced, based upon the Maestro.

But like many of the BL products of that era, the cost of replacing these vehicles (which were never able to bring in the necessary revenue), was always elusive.

Too many facelifts, and an unfathomable British attitude of ‘IT WILL DO’, ultimately cost the company dearly, especially once the FORD Sierra arrived, BL never really recovered.

Loyal customers were frustrated by the inconsistent quality issues, and eventually the lure of the Dull but Reliable – Value for money Japanese competitors took the lion’s share of the remaining market.

Even BL couldn’t resist that allure, as seen with the later Joint-Ventures with Honda, which ultimately spawned the cars replacements.