After the 1973 fuel crisis and subsequent recession, British Leyland was on the verge of collapse. It was saved by a Government takeover, a nationalisation, in 1975. This enabled the company to continue the process of rationalisation, and develop a new range of models, under the banner of ‘Leyland Cars’. The first of these was ADO88, the Mini Metro, launched in October 1980. This was a supermini to rival the Fiesta and Polo. It also proved to be the saviour of the company, capturing over 10% of the UK market. In 1976 the development of a new range of light medium cars began, with a view to replacing the Austin Allegro (1973) and Maxi (1969), and the Morris Marina (1971).
Thus the project, codenamed LC10 was born, a lower medium FWD hatchback in the Golf mould (LC=Leyland Cars). The style that was developed (in 1977) reflected the influence of Rover-Triumph as well as Austin Drawing Office (ADO) designers. Indeed there was a plan for a smaller version of the Rover SD1, codenamed SD2, to replace the Triumph Dolomite, and LC10 inherited the David Bache sculpted swage down the side, as seen on the SD1 and the Range Rover. The project was also led by a Rover-Triumph man, Malcolm Harbour, as Austin people concentrated their efforts on finalising and productionising the Metro. Benchmarks were set to surpass the best of the competition in terms of comfort, space, versatility, driveability and handling (for example, it had to out corner the AlfaSud).
As the LC10 project progressed it was decided to develop a full range of medium cars from the one platform to save costs. The two models would have to compete in the lower and upper medium sectors, against the Ford Escort and Cortina. The cars were now codenamed LM10 and LM11 (LM=Light Medium as opposed to SD=Specialist Division). LM11 would become the Montego.
At a viewing at Longbridge in 1977, Ian Beech’s hatchback and Roger Tucker’s notchback were favoured. The idea was always to give the notchback a bigger look, and to achieve this Tucker’s front and rear ends were added to Beech’s passenger cabin to form the basis of the Montego. Development of the Montego continued at Longbridge while the Maestro was taken to Solihull.