Austin Metropolitan (1961)
Hebden Bridge Vintage Weekend 05/08/2012
A series IV Austin Metropolitan 1500.
The Metropolitan was designed by the Nash Motor Corporation of America in 1949. At a time when most American manufacturers were designing bigger and bigger cars, Nash took the brave step to design a small, sub-compact, car, with its marketing targetting woman drivers, and as a second car in a two car household. Initally code named NXI (Nash Experimental International) the car received a positive reaction from various user clinics, so Nash decided to put the car into production.
Nash had no experience of producing small cars, and did not have suitable engine, gearbox and suspension components, so they looked for a partner outside of the US to manufacture the car. Several European manufacturers were approached, including Fiat in Italy and Standard-Triumph in the UK. In the end a deal was struck with the Austin Motor Company who would build the car in the UK using the 1200cc (73 cu in) engine and three speed manual gearbox with column change as used in the Austin A40 Somerset range.
Nash placed an initial contract with Austin to make 10,000 cars. The contract to produce the bodies, including paint and trim, was given to Fisher & Ludlow at Castle Bromwich, which had just been acquired by Austin in September 1953. The final assemble would be at Longbridge with production starting in October 1953. It was first given the name Nash NKI Custom, but in March 1954 it was re-named the Nash Metropolitan.
Two models were offered. The Model 541 was a 2-door convertible priced at $1,469 in 1954. Model 542 was a 2-door hardtop, priced at $1,445. Standard equipment included twin electric windscreen wipers, directional indicators and a spare wheel with cover. Factory extras included radio, heater and white wall tyres which were ordered by most customers. In comparison the contemporary Volkswagon Beetle cost $1,425.
In May 1954, Nash-Kelvinator Corporation merged with the Hudson Motor Company to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). By August 1954 Metropolitans also became available from Hudson dealers as the Hudson Metropolitan.
The 1200cc engine developed 42bhp and gave the Metropolitan a 70mph top speed and a 0-60 time of 19.3s.
After the first 10,000 cars were built the engine was changed to a B-Series, but still of 1200 cc (73 cu in), as used in the Austin A40 Cambridge. Other inprovements included a new gearbox with hydraulic operated clutch. Production of the Series II started on 19 August 1954.
Series III - the Metropolitan 1500
In November 1955 the Series III was introduced. The B-series engine capacity was increased to 1489cc (90 cu in) giving 47bhp. Polished stainless steel trim lines on the body sides allowed a new two-tone paint finish to be used. The grille was redesigned, and the bonnet had its decorative air scoop removed. The model was changed to 'Metropolitan 1500' to differentiate it from the earlier 1200cc. The hardtop was priced at $1,527 and the convertible at $1,551.
The Series IV was introduced in January 1959. It used the same B-series 1489cc engine but with the compression ratio increased from 7.2 to 8.3:1 giving an increase in power to 55bhp. A boot (trunk) lid was added to allow access to the boot externally, and quarter lights (vent windows) were added to both doors. In 1959 the hardtop was priced at $1,672, the convertible $1,696.
Sales rose to 22,209 units in 1959, the Metropolitan's best-selling year, promoting it to second place behind Volkswagen in sales of cars imported to the U.S. Production ceased in April 1961, but sales of the existing stock continued until March 1962. In total 104,377 Metropolitans had been made at Longbridge, with nearly 95,000 exported to America.
In October 1956 Austin obtained permission from AMC to sell the Metropolitan in countries where AMC did not have a presence. Series III right hand drive versions were introduced into the UK in April 1957 and sold through the Austin Dealerships as the Austin Metropolitan 1500. The UK prices were £713 for the hardtop and £725 for the convertible.
UK Series III sales ran from April 1957 to February 1959. The Metropolitan was not available for UK sales between February 1959 and September 1960, since all production during that time was for US & Canadian dealers. Series IV models were sold from September 1960 to February 1961. Austin was dropped from the name, and the car was sold as the 'Metropolitan'.
The obviously American styling was considered too brash by UK customers and it was not a sales success in the UK.