(first posted 1/20/2014) Americans generally just don’t take too well to tiny cars. Perhaps they’re too much like toys, not really yet grown up (the cars, I mean; mostly)? The Metropolitan certainly looks the part, resembling an amusement park ride or clown car rather than the kind of genuine automobile a self-respecting grown-up American would drive. And this particular Metro only reinforces that stereotype: its owner is fourteen, and he’s owned it since he was ten. “Dad, can I have this cool car?”
If you’re Russel, you’re in luck. He saw it sitting forlorn for years in a neighbor’s carport, and at the age of ten, he talked his dad into buying it for him. And who says kids aren’t into cars anymore? Just depends on the ride.
It’s not like Russel was exactly the target demographic Nash’s CEO George Mason had in mind in the late forties, when he got the small car bug. A bit surprising too, coming on the heels of the failure of the tiny Crosley. Well, Mason initially had in mind something much more substantial than that little flea, and the result was the 1950 Rambler, the first “compact” of the post-war era.
Wisely, Nash positioned it as a “premium” compact, with generous equipment and a roll-back top. There simply wasn’t enough difference between the cost of building a compact and a full-sized car to allow it to be sold for much less, so the Rambler broke new ground with an upscale approach. It worked well enough in moderate numbers to encourage Nash to go even a step smaller.
Designer Bill Flajole (above) was thinking along the same lines, and when he hooked up with Nash, their joint ideas on the subject were expressed in the NXI prototype of 1950. One of the key aspects of the design was to save money on large body stampings, since it was assumed the little car would not likely be a large volume job. Note the symmetrical door, which made it into the production Metro. To my knowledge, the fenders on the prototype were also symmetrical, except for the minor cutout for the front wheel. Symmetry as a way to reduce tooling costs was a recurring theme, especially at AMC, even into the sixties, when the prototype for the Hornet (Cavalier) tried the same approach.
Mason (right) was intrigued, but not enthusiastic about what it would take to actually produce it, profitably. The solution was outsourcing; with the devaluation of the British pound, having the Metro built in England made it viable. The firm Fisher & Ludlow, Ltd. built the body, and Austin supplied and installed the running gear, whose cars were already fairly common in the US as imports.
The 1954 Metro went on sale for about $1500 ($14,660 in 2020 dollars), pretty much the same as a Smart costs today. It used the popular 1500 cc B-block motor in 42 hp tune, and a three-speed with a column shifter. Given its light weight of some 1800 lbs, the Metro performed adequately, but then it was never positioned as a sports car. The suspension was tuned more for ride than handling. An MG in drag it was not.
Sales for the Metro were modest, bouncing around in the teens of thousands most of the years it was produced, from 1954 through 1960. The Big Three’s new compacts that final year put the kibosh on the Metro, but it’s had an enthusiastic following ever since, especially the young or young at heart.
My older brother (very much young at heart) went through a couple of these back in the late seventies, when they could be picked up for a song. His experiences keeping an MGA running years earlier came in handy since they used the same basic motor, along with other BMC goodies and Lucas electrics. But their simplicity and availability of parts makes them a fun project, like for Russel and his dad.
The motor in this one is all original, and good to go. They’ve done some repair work to get the Metro back on the street, but like a good little CC, it is as original as possible, and shows it too. Russel has a lifetime of fun and improvements ahead of him. And, yes, he has put in some behind-the-wheel time in the Metro, despite his age, in undisclosed locations.
The Metro gets lots of attention, wherever it goes. Russell is looking forward to the Metro’s magnetic appeal to the opposite sex, just as soon as he can take advantage of it. Picking up girls with his dad along is a bit compromising, since that back “seat” is more than a bit cramped, even for limber young bodies.
The Metro found a modest following for a few years, as did the Crosley in the forties. And the Smart is going down that same road; in fact its sales are pretty much in Metro territory. But the euro is a lot stronger today than the pound was in 1954, so although Nash made a modest profit from the Metro, the same is not the case for the Smart. And of course, the little Crosley just didn’t catch on either. Toy cars, all of them. And they want to raise the driving age?
Nice. Very nice. I remember wanting one of these back in the day, but midwest/Missouri rust got the better of most of the ones I saw, and the rest? Well, they went for more than I was willing to pay.
FWIW, off MO Hwy 94, east of Hermann in the 1980’s, there was a boneyard of only Metropolitans. I don’t recall if was someone’s private collection, if they pro-created up the hillside, or was open for business, but we never stopped to find out. There were lots of them, for sure.
Hermann, MO. Great German cuisine. Home of a custom butcher my Grandfolks and Uncle used to patronize. First time I saw a pig go from walking to executed, dressed, butchered and carved up into various hams, bacon slabs, pigs feet, rump roasts, chops, etc.
What a great little car. I always loved these too and remember a few of them puttering around my hometown into the 70s. And always in bright, happy colors, just like this one.
I just noticed – this is another car with backwards wipers.
Russell needs to put some wide whitewall tires on his Christmas list.
The wipers aren’t really backward, this is the way Austin and Morris and others did wipers, with the end of the wiper reaching the edge of the screen. When heavily curved windscreens arrived, this set-up didn’t work so well as the end of the wiper would lift, so they had to swap things around.If you’re going to have the wiper stop right by the pillar then you need a very precise mechanism.These old british cars used a rack and pinion system, which was anything but precise because the rack had to be flexible.
The really small cars in the US never really seem to take off. It will be interesting to see how the Scion iQ will do once it’s in wide distribution. I don’t think the reputation of Toyota will make that car sell in significant numbers. Smart has taken a beating and the Fiat 500 is off to a rough start, too. Although the timing of the launch and the actual launch of the 500 were both poorly done.
Paul was right, here in the States we consider this a toy car. I can remember anytime one of these cars would show up anywhere they would draw a crowd. I’ve often thought they were good for social exhibitionists, who do anything to get folks to notice them. I sometimes get the same vibe from owners of Smart cars, too.
I’m glad the young man was able to convince his father to get him a car at such a young age, I was just happy polishing my dad’s cars back then. In a way, I feel bad for him, too. Whatever else the young man drives from now on will probably not be able to live up to the novelty of the Met.
The Metropolitan is a very small car by 1950’s standards, but it’s 3 inches longer than the BMW Mini Cooper hatch, which has been a sales success in the USA.
I think it’s pretty tough for cars under 12 feet long to sell in the USA. The 146 inch long Mini is barely larger than that length, and it helps that it’s very fun to drive and a base hatch with plenty of standard equipment goes for about $20.5k MSRP (and before anyone brings it up, you can get a D-segment Nissan Altima for that price. I just had a new one as a rental. Extremely boring car. I’d rather be in our Mini hatch).
FWIW, GM has been pleasantly surprised at how well the Chevy Spark has been selling. It seems to have hit a sweet spot – more of a “real car” than the Smart, more interesting than a Nissan Versa, and way cheaper than a Mini.
The fact that it is the only one in that class of A Class cars offered in the USA as a four door model with space for cargo at the same time probably drives up sales(While the iQ offers seating for 4, every time I see one I think of calliope music and wait for 16 clowns to pop out of the car)
I got a close look last week while at the local Chevy dealer buying a couple of parts for a friend’s car and they don’t look that small and seating is good due to the fact it is a tall car. I don’t like the gauge cluster attached to the steering column but if I had to own one, I would not be too put off with it.
Now the Chevy Sonic is a good looking car also and seems to be a fun car to drive. GM is going all out with colors. There was a plum colored one in the show room(when is the last time you saw a plum colored car?)
A nice little car, with a lots of potential. That car has aged well, considering. I hope Russell appreciates what he has. He has a bit of history there, and if he restores it little by little, and uses it sparingly, he may have that car for the better part of his life. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending how you look at it, priorities change through the years, and the Metro could be a lifelong love or a passing fancy.
There are really sweet cars on the road today. A Metro will only appeal to a certain kind of guy. That Metro reminds me of the car that Peter Falk drove in Columbo. I don’t know, was it a Fiat?
Columbo drove a 1959 Peugot 403. Paul would know this from memory, I had to look it up on Wiki 🙂
I knew Colombo’s ride was an old 403; never knew what year. Back in the mid – late ’60’s, my Dad car pooled from San Rafael into The City (SFO) with a guy that had a beige ’50’s Peugeot 403 sedan.
The Columbo 403 was a rare Pininfarina designed cabriolet, made for only a few years [1958 to 1962], total production was only 2,030.
I’m honestly surprised that his parents didn’t kill the idea worried that he’d get creamed by an SUV, or well any car produced today. I understand the need for safety, but it kills me when people get bent out of shape over the fact I put kids in the back on my Mazda5.
If you haven’t noticed, we’ve become a nation of safety-obsessed cowards. Go back to the moon, someday? Not a chance. We, as a nation, don’t have the guts to take the risk anymore. Needless to say, I’m absolutely overjoyed with this kid’s parent’s attitude. Somebody has a chance to go thru life secure in the knowledge that risk is manageable, and that cringing is not a desirable option.
Somehow I got the vibe this is the author’s son/grandson we’re talking about. Might as well be.
“If you haven’t noticed, we’ve become a nation of safety-obsessed cowards”
Amen and amen!
I agree with that.
My parents caught some flack for letting me drive an old Beetle when I was 16, in 2001.
However, I honestly believe that driving that car made me way more cautious than I would have been in something modern. I knew I was driving something that wouldn’t save me if I decided to be stupid and the fact that I really loved my car meant that I didn’t want to so much as put a light scratch on it and I was very careful. Looking back I did drive too fast at times, but I was a much better driver than most kids my age.
There is one of these for sale on a used car lot here. It’s the same blue/white colour as well.
I’ve often wondered what one of these would be like all “murdered-out” with a sportbike engine in them. Hmmm.
Note the lock on the rear “seat”; these didn’t get a trunk/boot lid until the last years. Until then, luggage went back there from inside.
In some elementary school art class we were given a bar of soap & told to carve something. I chose to try to carve one of these.
Wasn’t this Steve Jobs first car? And, Captain Sobel from Band of Brothers owned one as well.
It’s underpowered, impractical and probably unreliable — yet I want one, in coral and white, in the worst way. If my Dino (the dog in my avatar) could drive, I imagine a Metropolitan convertible would be his ride of choice.
Great find and a lovely, informative read. I found it humorous that Russel is banking on this CC for pulling the ladies. ‘good luck with that’ young Russell! My sarcasm is not aimed at the young man, hardly. I much admire his taste for it is rare in these days of the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’.
good start to your driving life, young Russell. I would be proud to have this young man as my son. 🙂
I forgot to mention; since shooting and writing this, Russell has gotten his license. Saw driving the Metro just the other day! But no girl next to him 🙁
Does Oregon have the same restrictions on young drivers carrying adolescent passengers as Washington State? It’s a good law IMO, but I don’t know how or how much it is enforced.
With those tiny taillights, I’d probably install a wicked-bright LED Center High-Mounted Stop Lamp (CHMSL) just for safety’s sake (doesn’t permanently alter the vehicle and is mostly invisible from the outside). And make darn sure that the brake system is 100% as well.
Otherwise its’ an ideal first car – there’s a natural limit to how many kids you can cram into it and still be physically able to drive (although it’s ideal for a car-cramming contest during spirit week), it’s nice and slow and there’s probably zero temptation to text while driving a three-on-the-tree with unassisted everything. Oh, and a bench front seat….
I don’t know how many women would be drawn to that car, but the ones that are would be just the kind of women I like!
My dad had a ’57 Metropolitan through my high school/university years. Although I had my own car, I loved to borrow the Metropolitan. My high school girlfriend basically refused to ride in it. Her loss. In university, I can remember a couple times where we got six of us in the car – myself and five lovely young ladies.
Trust me when I tell you that there have always been plenty of smart, beautiful, & sexy young ladies who adore older cars [and in my case today, older cars & older men!]
I have many nice memories of young ladies asking me for a ride home from high school whenever I would drive my 1948 Packard to school. It was a larger number than when I drove my dad’s Porsche 912!
This brings back some fun memories. The shop where I worked had one sitting around waiting for the guy to pay them, which he never did. I bought it for some back wages and put an MGB engine with twin SU’s and 4 speed/Overdrive transmission in it … and it flew especially compared to the original engine which I think kicked out about 50 hp vs 85 … Very nice … Could really zip around and blow off a lot of sports cars but was significantly under-tyred for the mission.
The build quality, like all English cars of the day ranged from marginal to appalling … the electrics were funky and the brakes, well, they were a quaint idea … I never got around to putting on disc brakes in the front … that would have helped a lot … but those silly symetric fenders got in the way ….
Good choice of cars! This is a car that will not get lost in the High School parking lot, despite its small size. Good car for a teenager too, as it’s not likely to go very fast or get challenged to a stop-light drag racing. Though if he does get into trouble, there’s not too much (if any!) modern safety engineering to protect him.
I want to believe that this young man, having owned and essentially maintained the vehicle for nearly 5 years will be more responsible with the car. He doesn’t seem the silly type to show off for friends… if he was we wouldn’t be discussing a Nash Metro.
That being said, if I were him I’d seriously consider reverting to the school bus or biking to school during senior-prank season. Probably doesn’t take many varsity football players to pick that thing up.
These thing have hit collectable status over here with a freshly painted shell being offered recently at $10k no thanks I have something from this era thats superior in every way.
Like other Nash products of the 1950’s, this car is styled as though the wheels and tires were afterthoughts, just really big casters or something to be kept out of sight.
In ’62 I was hitch-hiking and got a ride in one of these. The owner was sleepy so he let me drive. It would not go much over 65, but it felt like a larger car. I remember parallel parking it three feet from the curb.
He needs a convertible Metro to score with the chicks!
I would love to see a US manufacturer update the Metro with a Mini/500 style modern car with the Metros looks, you could selll a ton of them at the right price, its got cute in spades. Who would sell it though?
Carmine, your mind must be getting old. When I was this kid’s age the only thing the chickie babes cared about was whether the damn thing ran and how fast we could get away from her parent’s house. One even introduced me to the concept of a “blanket party”. Randy knickers indeed!
I would love to see a US manufacturer update the Metro with a Mini/500 style modern car with the Metros looks,
Three surviving members of the AMC styling department show up at the local AMC meet each year. They have been tinkering around with an update of the Metro and bring their model to the show. They really haven’t changed it much though.
Very cool. I’d like to get one of these someday. I never made the front to back symmetry connection; interesting!
There was a Metro for sale recently with a Toyota truck motor and tranny… seemed like a practical move, since the MG motors only had 3 main bearings– not the best recipe for reliability! My wife’s friend, Matt, has always wanted a Metro… but then, he’s an eccentric artist and Eugene-crazy-person, so it’s no surprise that he would love the Metro!
Three main bearings are fine with the right engine dimension parameters (essentially having the crankshaft journals overlapping the main bearing journals in an end-on view), there is no real gain to be had with five apart from more friction.
Still a few of these floating around down here – they were available new, but badged as Austins. As a kid, I’d walk past one on the way to school every day; loved it then and still love them now. I always thought the styling was a bit different, but once I got older and saw the bigger Nashes of the time, the Metropolitan’s design made sense. Nice!
Quirky or no, I have always loved these cars for years.
I’ve always been attracted to cars like this for a variety of reasons, interesting designs, daring ideas, small, etc all contribute to my love for unusual designs, such as this car.
I remember going to a car show at the Tacoma Mall I think in the 90’s and seeing restored versions of these, from 1954 to 1960 and like many cars, especially foreign ones, the standard cars had black knobs/switches/wheel, the deluxe versions had white or chrome knobs and a white wheel usually. I loved how the radio’s dial was the station scale imprinted onto the rotary tuning knob, but no sliding rule dial with a light behind it.
Anyway, a nice write up and Paul, didn’t you first publish this a while back, say on TTAC before CC came along? Nice to read of Russel’s update (now driving).
They were popular with the Teddy Boy/Rocker kids in the 60s and 70s,especially those who couldn’t afford to buy or run an American car or Ford Zodiac or Vauxhall Cresta.They also rusted quite spectacularly,even a rough one is on the expensive side.
Only one Metro story in my background. A roomie in College had one, but he didn’t bring it to school.
He came back from Chillicothe one Sunday night with bad news. The Metro had been parked on the street. Some bozo came hurtling down the street and creamed it. Additionally, the impact drove the Metro into his Mom’s 69 Ambassador. Fortunately, the continental tire mount on the Metro absorbed the impact so there wasn’t a scratch on the Ambassador.
Apparently they are very easy to make a dragster out of.
I’ll bet that’s a handful to keep in a straight line 😀
As a kid in the ’70s there was one of these tucked under a carport several blocks from my house. I would have given a lot to have been in Russell’s shoes and have been provided that car.
The car under the carport was yellow and white. Today, my neighbor’s dad is quite well off and has a car collection – including a yellow and white Metropolitan in perfect condition.
The same car? Hmmmmm….. This is the same city. Hadn’t thought about that.
So if he is driving that car now, then he is one of the few young folks that have mastered the art of column mounted manual transmissions. Manual trans on the whole in the USA have become a dying art but when is the last time somebody was taught to drive a car with 3 on the tree?
I had to drive a ute with a 5 speed column shift once a few years ago after that 3 speeds are easy.
Miss Koroscik, my first grade teacher, had a ’61 just like this. She was beautiful. The car was OK too.
What’s the turning circle for Metro? those front wheels’ movement were restricted.
I see the infamous Nash starter button under the Metro’s clutch pedal. Our 53 Statesman had a little metal tab attached to the clutch pedal that hit the starter button on the floor. I think you engaged the starter by pulling back on the transmission lever on the Hydramatic-equipped 1950 Ambassador we had before the Statesman.
that’s the headlight dipper switch .
Mets use a cute little pull knob on the dashboard to start . all years .
Women go crazy for these oddly enough . they don’t care if you’re married or attached , they want you to take them away in it .
We lived in a neighborhood near a college for a while when I was kid. There was a professor that lived a few doors down who drove a Metropolitan. He and his wife had a young child. They kept to themselves mostly but that car stuck out on a street of Polaras, Galaxie 500s, Malibus and the occasional Buick. Seems like I remember him taking a couple of passes at getting in and out of the driveway when cars were parked along the curb (limited turning angles on the wheels?). Hadn’t thought about that car in years. Thanks for the memories!
Wendy Russel who hosts the TV show “She’s Crafty ” has one of these, and she’s proud of it. She often has her craft ideas sticking out of the tiny trunk. These cars are cute, and could now be marketed as an electric run about city car.
I have a single image in memory of my spinster aunt driving one of these before she inherited her father’s ’51 Chevy in ’64. It seemed much bigger, but I was only 3. We inherited my other grandfather’s ’51 Chevy, which Dad drove to work when we were on the East Coast until ’68. She traded hers a year later for a ’69 Cutlass.
I cannot think of a better time in one’s life to have this car than as a teenager. The car is cute, attention getting from people who will think it’s cute, thoroughly impractical, and full of youthful exuberance. It’s a neat little novelty, probably ill suited to the daily grind of an office job or Krogering . . . underpowered, uncomfortable, questionable reliability, noisy, little cargo space . . . but who cares as a teenager? It’s CUTE AND FUN.
I expect he will get a lot of attention from the opposite sex. It’s always curious to me what men get in a car that they think will attract the opposite sex, or they claim will attract the opposite sex. Kayleigh does not care whether you have a 427 or 454 or has it got nitrous or roller cam or what. Kayleigh (vast, sweeping, possibly incorrect stereotypical generalities) likes cars cute, nonthreatening, and nostalgic.
I bought my Grand National while still teaching high school and the boys were nonplussed but the girls told me it was an ugly Hitler car. One girl advised me that I should get a pink VW New Beetle convertible. I can ONLY HOPE she didn’t think of what I should look like driving said car.
I am a closing attorney so I go to lots of people’s houses in several different cars and the one car that has invariably gotten lots of lady attention is a 1990 Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser wagon. The ladies even like to take pictures with it.
At any rate, I’m sure he’ll have loads of fun and great memories of this car, and it certainly stands out in a sea of greige Altimas and Camrys.
These always appealed to me as a (late teen), and I do remember how cheap they were in the 1970s. If I want one now, it’s gonna cost a bit more!
Paul, any idea of the state of our teen owner several years later? Perhaps he graduated college recently?
Meanwhile, eBay has a binder of publicity photos and what look like styling proposals, etc.—-I wish they’d made the wagon:
I can’t believe, no one made the connection. ‘Weird’ Al Yankovich had one in his Music Video ” All about the Pentiums”. How he fit, four lovely ladies and himself into it, was not explained. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpMvS1Q1sos
I thought that putting in a real MG engine with the twin carbs and all would be a great idea, until I drove my brother’s Metro and found it to be a little car that handled like a Buick with bad shocks, and was heavy to steer as well. John didn’t see what my problem was, and when that one croaked he got another! That proved to be his pattern: He did the same thing with two Gremlins in a row!
The wagon variant is neat! I wish they made them.
This is a fun parade car and a head turner. Perfect car for California weather. It’s a completely restored 1961. Still relatively easy to get parts.
I’m still driving this car in 2022.
Russell; great to hear from you! Meeting you and your Metro was one of the most memorable CC experiences. So glad you still have it and are driving it. In Eugene?