Cohort Classic: 1958 International Metro – The Original And Greatest Step Van

IH Metro f

(first posted 4/5/2013)     All hail the mighty Metro! The finest step van ever made; the icon of the whole genre. I’ve been hoping to find one for years, and here this one was right under my nose: TheProfessor47 posted this at the Cohort, saying he shot it in Eugene. Where?

We must pay our due respects, although the credit goes at least as much to the Metropolitan Body Co. that invented and even patented the step van, and Raymond Loewy, who styled the version for International way back in the thirties. That explains why I always loved the Metro so much: it was by far the best styled van ever made, from that best decade ever for design.

IH Mtero patent 1936 2

The Carlson bothers opened Metropolitan Carriage Co. in Bridgeport, CT. in 1908, building bodies for the new horseless carriages. They were successful, and kept expanding. Quite early on, they also started building truck bodies and cabs, and their advanced designs were among the first to fully enclose a truck cab all in steel. That evolved into fully-enclosed delivery vehicles, and Metropolitan patented many aspects of that concept (above), and quickly came to dominate the market.

IH Metro (Chevy)

Here’s the original version, as supplied to a variety of truck chassis, in this case a Chevrolet.

IH Metro dodge

Dodge, and other truck brands were also were available as chassis donors.

IH Metro 1939

International took a shine to the Step Van business and Metropolitan, and had Raymond Loewy design their own unique version of it. This is the beginning of an uninterrupted continuity through 1963, in terms of design, although some details like the original tear-drop headlights were changed for prosaic round ones, the grille evolved, and the rear wheel skirts went by the wayside; perhaps literally.

IHC wanted to buy Metropolitan outright, but the war interrupted that. In 1948, the deal was consummated, and Metropolitan became an IHC division, cranking out Metro bodies of all sizes.

IH Metro 1949

Metros were of course built on a wide range of International truck chassis, from lightweight one-tonners,

IH Metro refer

to quite big ones with dual rear wheels, like this refrigerated milk hauler. International’s well-regarded OHV sixes of various sizes almost inevitably provided the motive power.

IH Metro school bus

On my first visit to Atlantic City in about 1967 or so, they had a fleet of Metro buses for their public transport system. Cute.

IH metro-camper 1954 -06-001

My love for the Metro would rightfully have been consummated with something like this, although I certainly wouldn’t have squared off that delicious curved butt of the original.

IH Metro r

Here’s the tail end as Loewy created, with doors narrower than on modern vans. TheProfessor47 said in his comments at the Cohort that this is a 1958; I assume he has reason to know. This generation of Metro was built through 1963, replaced by a new boxy generation for 1964.

CC 165 141 950

These new Metros, like this one I caught being painted, never quite caught on like the first generation. Well, they certainly weren’t memorable, like most modern boxes on wheels. In fact, they were a disappointment to International, and they pulled the plug on the Metro plant in 1968, in part because of recurring clashes with the UAW local. Step Van bodies were now sourced from various suppliers.  By 1975, International got out of the light truck business altogether, except for the Scout, which lingered on for a few more years.

IH Metro grille

Loewy’s iconic design had stayed in production for a quarter century, and is still loved by Step Van aficionados for being the original and best.

IH Metro side

vintage Metro images: