American cutie's

British connection

Austin Metropolitan

THE astonishing pace of automotive development in the 1950s resulted in some quirky and sometimes downright odd cars.

One such was the little Austin Metropolitan which was a slice of American cute on the UK roads.

The Metropolitan rammed gaudy two tone paint jobs and Stateside jellymould styling down the throats of an unsuspecting British public who were used to driving cars like the conservatively designed Hillman Minx.

In 1950, the Nash Motor Corporation of America tested the water over a new small car it was developing. Compact design was a revolutionary concept in those days of big gas guzzlers.

Nash felt that there was a market for a new small car. Since no US auto factory had the tooling or experience to build cars of diminutive size, it was decided to produce the car in Europe.

The Austin Motor Company was at that time the largest car manufacturer outside the US, and was an obvious choice, in view of their reputation for quality build and engineering.

Following various design modifications, the first Metropolitans rolled off the Longbridge production line in 1954. Early versions were fitted with a 1,200cc engine. None of these early cars were released on the UK market - the entire production until 1957 was for export only.

When the Metropolitan was released onto the UK market in 1957, it had already earned millions of vital export dollars for the British car industry.

The engine had been upgraded to the proven BMC B series 1,500cc unit used in a wide variety of other BMC cars, which had a power output of around 50bhp, giving quite a lively performance.

The car was not known as a Nash in the UK though it is sometimes wrongly referred to as such. UK-supplied cars were popularly known as Austin Metropolitans, though they carried no Austin badging.

The Metropolitan continued in production virtually unaltered until 1962, a long time considering that annual body styling changes were the norm in those days.

But the short wheelbase, scalloped doors and juke box styling did not exactly hit the spot in the UK and raceaway sales were most definitely not achieved.

On the road it could achieve 76mph which was good for its era but the 0-60mph time of 22.9 seconds gave you enough time to put the kettle on.


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