Cohort Classic: 1957 Austin Metropolitan – Role Reversal

In the 1950s and for some decades to come, sub-compact cars sold in the US were invariably imports, with the exception of the short-lived Crosley and a few mostly irrelevant oversize sidewalk toys like the King Midget. The idea of an American-designed sub-compact car being sold in Europe was—and mostly still is—anathema.

But there was one very flamboyant and huggably-cute exception: the Austin Metropolitan. The Nash Metropolitan was strictly an American design, but because it would have been too expensive to build profitably in the US, the job was given to Austin, who also provided the drive train and key chassis components. Although Austin started building LHD Metros for the US market in 1953, it wasn’t until 1957 that they got permission to sell RHD versions in the UK and other RHD markets.

According to L Seddon, who posted this pics at the Cohort, this is a 1957 Austin Metro wearing its original 1958 London-prefix black plates. Given how few of these were sold there, this is a rare survivor.

The question of just how many Austin Metros sold between 1957 and 1961 is a bit vague. Some sources say 1,200; one says closer to 5,000 (in all RHD markets, including New Zealand). Not surprisingly, its styling was consider “outlandish” compared to the somber British cars at the time, but then it was outlandish.

Even more so from the rear.

As a strictly two-seater, its market appeal was naturally limited. And it wasn’t a sports car either.

To help with its image, Austin prepared a special one given to Princess Margaret in 1960. It was an open roadster, finished in black and upholstered and trimmed in a dark green leather. She loved and was often seen driving it, until it was stolen by four youths, who took it joy riding. One of them was caught.

Related reading:
Curbside Classic: 1957 Metropolitan – Toy Cars Are For Kids