History of Metropolitan

Met History from Graeme’s (UK) site –


British Leyland UK Ltd. (Austin-Morris Group)


The American Nash-Kelvinator Corporation created some experimental models to test the American peoples reaction to smaller cars. These prototypes used the Fiat 500 and Standard Vanguard engines. In 1952 senior British Motor Corporation management met with Nash for informal discussion of business matters of topical interest. Nash had a reputation for compact cars and wanted a smaller car but did not have development facilities required and were considering buying in mechanicals. Leonard Lord struck a deal to produce a car at Longbridge with narrower than usual track based on the Austin A40 engine and A30 suspension and available either as a convertible or as a closed saloon. Nash was keen on A40 engines etc. as they were already proven in the United States. BMC made the bodies at Castle Bromwich in premises that now is a Jaguar factory.


The first examples badged as Nash went on sale on the 19th March 1954 in the USA and Canada and was an immediate success in the intended markets.


A few years previously Leonard Lord had failed to sell the Austin A90 Atlantic in the same market. The Series II of 1954 saw some versions being marketed as Hudsons.


100,000 Nash Metropolitans were assembled at Longbridge. The lack of power was addressed in 1956 with the fitting of the BMC 1498cc B series engine giving a top speed of 75mph.


In 1957 BMC realised that American Motors (after merger) did not plan to try and sell the car in any other markets and obtained the rights to sell in UK and other markets were Austin had a presence and American Motors did not.


Some cosmetic changes were made for the 1957 UK launch, these included removing the false bonnet scoop and providing a styling break on the body sides along with duo-tone paint. All cars had a Frost White lower body with the upper body being a choice of Berkshire Green, Mardi Gras Red, Black or Autumn Yellow. The 1500 convertible sold in the UK for £725, while the hardtop cost £714 (UK Pounds). Some were sold in Southern Europe and South Africa as well as in the UK. None of these ever carried any Austin or BMC badging but simply had Metropolitan badges with the letter M on the hubcaps and grill.


The final Metropolitan, the series IV arrived in 1959 and boasted an opening boot lid for the first time. Sales outside the USA were never enough to support production without US sales. In 1960 America suffered a recession along with a public turning against imports. In addition the major car companies started to flood the markets with compact cars.


The last examples left showrooms in 1961, and were by then a model with performance and handling from the past.


The Metropolitan was built in England to American Motors specifications.
(American Motors grew out of the 1954 merger of Nash and Hudson motor companies). All of the 94,986 that were manufactured and shipped to North America were built by Austin in England (later known as British Leyland Motor Corporation, and now known as Jaguar Cars, Inc.). Metropolitans were sold by Nash, Hudson and AMC dealers in the USA and Canada from 1954 to 1962. Two models were offered a two-door convertible and a two-door hardtop.


The “MET,” as it is affectionately called, was an outgrowth of the NXI and NKI experimental models developed in 1949 through 1950 by Nash Motors, then a division of Nash-Kelvinator. To test public reaction, prototypes were shown to selected audiences across the country over an extended period of time. Many of the features subsequently found on the Metropolitan were results of the national survey.


The wheelbase of the Metropolitan is 85 inches, the length is 149 inches, the width is 61 inches, and the height is 54 inches. The Metropolitan is of all-welded unitized body construction.


The original Metropolitan (known as the A-1200) was powered by a 42-hp. Austin A-40 overhead-valve four cylinder engine with a compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. The engine had a bore of 2 37/64 inches and a stroke of 3 inches. Displacement was 73.17 cubic inches. Standard tires size of the 1200 series were 5.20 x 13. The Met also had aluminum pistons, fully counterbalanced crankshaft, Zenith (British) downdraft carburetor, 12-volt electrical system with a positive ground, Borg & Beck dry-disc, single-plate-type clutch, and Hotchkiss drive.


The transmissions in all series were a steering post mounted 3-speed synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd gears. On April 9, 1956 American Motors announced the 1500 series Metropolitan which incorporated many new features, including a 24% increase in horsepower to a 52-hp. motor. Compression ratio was increased to 8.31 to 1. Styling changes included a new hood and grille. Early in 1959, several functional improvements were made, including a new trunk lid, glove box door, window vents, seat adjustment mechanism and larger tires. Though it was small and economical, the Metropolitan did not have a “cheap” image. Its standard equipment was actually more complete than what was offered on most American cars of that time. At the time that Metropolitans were introduced (March 1954), suggested delivery prices were $1,469.00 for the two-door convertible (Model 541), and $1,445.00 for the two-door hardtop (Model 542). Standard equipment included leather and nylon cord upholstery, foam-rubber front seat cushion, sun visors, turn signals, two-tone paint on the hardtop models, map light, windshield wipers, oil bath air cleaner and a continental style mounted spare tire with cover. Optional equipment included a heater, a radio with a mounted antenna, and white wall tires.


The color options on the 1200 series were Spruce Green, Canyon Red, Caribbean Blue and Croton Green. The hardtop was available only in these colors on the lower body and Mist Gray was on the upper body (top). The convertible was available with a Tan top only with a Spruce Green body. The black convertible top was available only with a Canyon Red and Caribbean Blue body. Beginning with the 1500 series, Black, Snowberry White, Sunburst Yellow, Coral Red, Berkshire Green, Mardi Gras Red, Frost White and Autumn Yellow were offered.


A Metropolitan properly restored should have no difficulty in today’s traffic, and can cruise between 55 and 60 mph without any problems.