Austin Metropolitan 1500
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 3
The Metropolitan 1500 was also manufactured by the Austin Motor Company for American Motors Corporation (Nash and Hudson), meaning a right hand drive version became available of the Nash Metropolitan
It was back in 1952
that the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, having commissioned styling aid from Italy, designed and constructed the prototype
of this car, and subsequently contracted with Austin
to manufacture it for them in the UK.
The first version sported the 1,200 c.c. Austin A.40 engine, but in March 1957
this was replaced by the A.50 unit. The Metropolitan thus became the cheapest 1½ litre car on the U.K. market, and with a kerb weight (less petrol) of only 17cwt it could perform well in comparison to many of its rivals. A further distinction was that it was the only model manufactured in the UK that came with a built-in radio as standard equipment.
The styling was a wonderfully elegant, from its simple oval grille, half-enclosed front wheels and external spare wheel, aft of the luggage boot. The Metropolitan was made in both hard-top and convertible forms, and the bright colour schemes offered lower panels in Frost White, uppers in Sunburst Yelllow, Berkshire Green or Mardi Gras Red.
Fisher and Ludlow All Steel Body
Fisher and Ludlow were responsible for the all-steel body shell, which included a vestigial chassis frame concentrating the strength in the floor structure, the wide and deep door openings and unstressed roof making this necessary. The front and rear wheel arches, as well as the ribbed-scuttle pressing, helped stiffen the structure, the upper ends of the front suspension
coil springs were borne in bracing members welded between the scuttle and the tops of the wheel arches. The lower end of each coil rested on the top surface of the upper suspension
The Metropolitans rear suspension
was orthodox, a live axle with hypoid final drive unit being carried on semi-elliptic springs. There was no anti-roll bar
, and the springing was damped by a telescopic hydraulic unit at each corner. The Girling brakes
used hydraulic actuation, with two leading shoes in the 8in front drums, and leading-and-trailing shoes in the 8in rear drums.
In this application the B.M.C. type B, four-cylinder o.h.v. engine was tuned to deliver 47 b.h.p. (gross) on a compression ratio of 7.2 to 1, giving a nett output per ton (laden) of 40 to 45 b.h.p. It drove through a conventional single-plate Borg and Beck clutch to a three-speed-and-reverse gear box, controlled by a simple and precise horizontal lever behind the steering
Although the Metropolitan was built to a price, and in some respects the finish was a little Spartan even by the standards of the day, it still managed to have all the qualities that made for comfortable motoring. Included in the specification were two luxuries rarely found on cars in the UK at this price point, but were considered necessities in the US. The first was the previously mentioned radio, the other a very powerful heating and ventilation system.
Inside The Metropolitan 1500
The Metropolitan could carry two adults in comfort, and there was a small bench seat in the rear suitable for small children. The front seat cushion was in one piece, but the backrest was divided and hinged to allow rear seat passengers to enter, and to give access to the luggage compartment in the tail. The rear seat squab, which normally was locked upright, was hinged down for this purpose, but the lack of any trim or other protection for baggage, and the difficulty of reaching it from inside the car, made it clear that the Metropolitan was intended primarily as a two-seater, when baggage would be carried on and around the rear seat.
The seats were trimmed in a bright pattern manufactured from composite cloth consisting of wool and nylon, with panels and borders in P.V.C. of a light contrasting hue. The front seat was adjustable fore and aft, and the floor covering was manufactured from moulded rubber. The flat windscreen used laminated plate glass, the toughened variety being illegal in America. There were two windscreen wipers (not self-parking), which swept an adequate area. Visibility was generally considered to be first class.
The instruments were carried in a single dial, with the emphasis on the speedometer
. There was a fuel gauge and coloured warning signals for dynamo, oil circulation and head lamp main beam. An effective five-valve radio by Pye blended neatly into the facia, and there was an open receptacle for maps and gloves in front of the passenger. Strangely though, there was no interior lamp.
For the hood of the convertible, vinyl fabric was used in conjunction with a three-piece, transparent panel in plastic material, which gaves as much interior light with the hood raised as the hard top. The hood could be folded away easily, and stowed away in the rear compartment - but in doing so it occupied a large portion of the already limited rear seat space, and also made the luggage boot inaccessible.
Inside the cabin, a tall driver would find himself short of leg room, even with the seat fully back, but otherwise the seating was comfortable, with plenty of elbow room. When travelling one-up, the passsenger's squab was apt to fold forward under heavy braking. All controls were light and precise, although the clutch travel was rather long - and the Metropolitan displayed strong American characteristics in its handling
on the road.
A very soft suspension
was lightly damped, and allowed far more slow-rate vertical movement and pitching than evident on other British and European cars. There was little self-centring action of the steering
, but at least it was light and accurate. The Metropolitan was decidedly lively on the open road, but badly needed a higher-geared axle or an overdrive. It was also a great car to drive in heavy traffic, having an abundance of low speed torque. The brakes
were powerful, with some emphasis on the rear wheels in wet weather. A very efficient and easily adjusted heating and ventilation svstem was marred only by the excessive noise of the booster fan.
On introduction to the UK, the hard-top was priced at £475 (£713 7s with purchase tax), and the convertible at £482 10s (£725 2s with tax). Affordable, economical and very different. The few that remain today are always the stars of any car show in which they are entered.