Last Chance Saloon – Five Forgotten Four-Doors

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By Chris Pollitt

The next time you’re out for a drive, do us a favour and have a look for a saloon. There must be hundreds of thousands of them out there, right? The saloon is arguably one of the most historic designs. Born out of car makers putting boxes on the back of their new-fangled motorised carriages so as to offer some space for luggage. The saloon is more than just a design; it’s the very foundation from which the car has evolved. Cruelly though, this evolution has all but killed off the saloon in 2021. Sure, there are still executive cars that proudly embody the ‘three-box’ shape, but that’s about it. For the rest of us, for those of us who need a car to move our families and our weekly shop, the saloon has no place. And this is a shame. We were once a nation that celebrated the saloon. The Vauxhalls, the Fords, the Humbers and the Rovers. All brands that, up and down their respective model ranges, would offer you and a long-booted version. But no more.

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A Jaguar XJR, doing XJR things

Today, we want hatchbacks due to their more practical design. But even the hatchback has fallen by the wayside, what with the seemingly unending onslaught of SUVs. Silly, jacked-up things that seem to be getting bigger year by year, despite coming from a lineage of so say small cars. They’re horrid, but they are what people want. Well, most people. We don’t, because we want the saloon. Long live the saloon, we would cry from our castle, if we had one. The saloon is a gem, a closed-booted, long’un that we love. We will not forget them, and nor shall you, as we have compiled five of our favourite forgotten saloons below…

The Austin/MG Montego

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We might mock the Montego today, but the reality is that it was a huge seller for Austin, for MG and even for Rover. Like the Renault 21 in this list, the Montego was offered as an estate, too, but the saloon was the bigger seller. It was a fine machine, too. Available with a humble 1.3 through to a thumping 2.0 turbocharged engine, it was all things to all buyers. You could have it basic, or you could have it laden with wood and leather should you have plumped for the Vanden Plas version. Sadly for the Montego, less than brilliant build quality paired with a propensity to rust at an alarming rate means numbers soon fell. But make no mistake, it truly was one of the great British saloons. Not the greatest but still pretty good. Find your Montego here.

The Renault 21

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So French, so wafty, so spacious, so brilliant as a result. Yes, the French used to gleefully sell us Brits a saloon, and there were few finer than the Renault 21. Launched in 1986, the 21 took over saloon car duties from the 18. It was an impossibly clean-cut design. It had presence, but it didn’t shout. It was the sharp suit to the Montego’s shirt and chinos. But then, it was penned by Giorgetto Giugiaro of Italdesign, so that’s to be expected. The suspension was also what you would expect; the French have long been the masters of the soft, comfortable ride and the 21 was no different. It was also a performance car to rival the likes of Cosworth if bought in Turbo or all-wheel drive Turbo Quadra specification. Today though, there’s all gone. Forgotten not through any fault of its own, mind. It wasn’t unreliable, it wasn’t all that prone to rust, it was just… forgotten. Shame.

The Ford Orion

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Ah yes, the Ford Orion. The old insurance loophole. What could we possibly mean by that? Well, this writer had one. A 1.6i Ghia, which was the same engine as the XR3i. This writer couldn’t insure an XR3i back then, but an Orion? Easy. Of course, the Ghia option wasn’t the only appealing thing about the Orion, which was nothing more than a less practical Escort. It was a handsome car with pleasing proportions, and despite being an Escort up front, it managed to look remarkably upmarket by comparison. Especially in leather and wood filled 1600E specification. Ultimately though, the Orion was a victim of changing times and customer attitudes. If they wanted a decent saloon, there were better options. Add in the Orion’s willingness to dissolve faster than soluble paracetamol and it makes for a car the likes of which is thin on the ground today. Shame, as we liked out Ghia. Find your Ford Orion here.

The Rover 600

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The Rover 600 was arguably the king of saloons, given that was the only body style you could get it in. The Belmont and the Orion don’t count, as they could be bought as the Astra and Escort respectively. The 600 was only ever the 600, nothing more, nothing less. Rover had an odd aversion to estates in the 1990s, and the 600 is evident of that. And before you cry that this is a 1990s Rover, and thus rubbish, we would like to point out that the 600 was, in fact, largely Honda underneath. The engines were from Honda, the suspension, the steering, the controls, the electrics… the only thing Rover did was style it. It’s actually just a Honda Accord. Yet, out of them all, it’s the one with the Rover engine, the 620ti, that we remember. Turbocharged and with nigh on 200bhp, it was and still is a monster. Unlike the other model with a Rover engine; the diesel. There are still some 600s around, but not many. If you do ever get the chance to buy one, especially if it’s a 620ti, do it. Thank us later.

The Vauxhall Belmont

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Finally, we have the Vauxhall Belmont, which was a Mk2 Astra but with less ability to carry a washing machine. Out of the five cars in this list, the Belmont is arguably the worst. There are exceptions, like the SRi model, but by and large it was a forgettable vehicle. It wasn’t fast, it didn’t offer razor sharp handling, it wasn’t luxurious, and yet still we look back on it fondly. It might be the rose-tinted spectacles, it might just be an unerring fondness for all things three-box, we’re not sure. What we are sure of, however, is the fact that if were were presented with the opportunity to buy a Belmont, we absolutely would. It’s a saloon, so that sells it straight away, but more importantly it’s a reminder of a time before silly SUVs and a time before faceless cars full of screens and LED lights. And that alone is reason enough to buy one. We just need to hope that we never have to move a washing machine for anyone.

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