The idea that Americans might take to a small car--no, a really small car--was something that cigar-chomping Nash president George W. Mason pondered for quite some time. Despite his own king-size proportions, Mason believed that there would be a ready consumer base for a pint-size runabout, as the two-car family was becoming a reality in postwar America. Noting the trickle of cars beginning to come over from Europe, he decided to outsource the manufacture of the little car of his dreams. The Metropolitan would be produced overseas to take advantage of lower labor costs and the availability of off-the-shelf small-car-appropriate components.
Donald Healey had introduced Mason to Len Lord, Austin's president, and a deal was struck for Austin, soon part of the British Motor Corporation, to produce the American-designed Metropolitan in England. Lilliputian locomotion was courtesy of Austin's 1200-cc engine developing 42 hp. Bodies, both hardtop and jaunty convertible, were of unit construction like the "senior" Nash lines. In 1956, a more robust 1500-cc four-cylinder was installed, boosting power all the way to a scorching 52 hp. The column-mounted shifter controlled a three-speed gearbox--BMC tossed out a fourth gear to accommodate American tastes--and the little charmer was softly sprung, American-style. Shorter than a Volkswagen Beetle, the body is tall and sits on a narrow track and skinny tires; hard cornering is definitely out of the question. As if to emphasize its nonsporting nature, a bench offers theoretical three-across seating.
The Metropolitan was never much competition for VW, American acceptance for which grew exponentially over those years, but it did achieve cult status in its time. The Met enjoyed a run of nine model years and wore a variety of badges, some simultaneously, including Nash, Hudson (when the two merged to form American Motors), and Austin. In the end, after the demise of the Nash and Hudson nameplates, Metropolitan was a mini-marque of its own.Let's face it: the appeal now, as then, is the car's all-consuming cuteness. It has an eager puppy-dog look, highlighted by bulbous bodywork and finished with a continental kit. Most sport nifty, two-tone paint jobs recalling an ice cream 'n' sherbet treat on a stick.
As an everyday driver, the Met lacks brio, with 0-to-60-mph times approaching half a minute. While this isn't the car you'd want to take to the drags, it does have a nerdy kind of sex appeal. It exudes a carefree character that is both unconventional and nonthreatening, echoing the aesthetic from a more innocent time. Take one to a diner and see if carhops on roller skates don't magically appear with a frosty shake--two straws, please. The Metropolitan makes friends standing still. Driving one anywhere is a bonus.
What to Pay
Decent convertibles generally command between $8000 and $19,000. Good coupes sell from $5000 to $12,000.
Two-door coupe or convertible.
94,986 total. About one in five were convertibles.
Watch Out For
Rust in the floors and the fenders, recurring ignition-rotor failure, "chop job" droptop conversions.
The Metropolitan Story by Patrick R. Foster, The Olde Milford Press, $28. www.oldemilfordpress.com
Nash-Austin Metropolitan: Gold Portfolio by R. M. Clarke, Brooklands Books, $33. www.amazon.com
SPARES & DEALERS
Metropolitan Pit Stop 800-677-5519 www.metpitstop.com
Metropolitan Restoration Service, Inc. 570-922-0012 www.metropolitan-restoration-service.com
Kip Motor Company 888-243-0440 www.kipmotor.com
Metropolitan Owners Club of North America www.mocna.us
Metropolitan Club of California, Ltd. www.metro.nash.org
A 1959 or later ragtop. We'd go for turquoise and white, Pee Wee Herman's preferred paint scheme.