Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 4
The Nash Metropolitan is one of the few US designed sub-compact cars to make it into serious production. The Metropolitan patterned a concept car, the NXI (Nash Experimental International) during a time when US car designs were getting bigger and bigger.
But Nash were never conventional, and felt the sub-compact market was simply being ignored by the more mainstream manufacturers. To prove the theory right, Nash-Kelvinator enlisted the design services of William J Flajole, to construct a Metropolitan prototype
that would allow the company to gauge public reaction to a radically small (particularly by US standards) car.
The good news, for Nash at least, was that interest in the little Metropolitan was high. But with nearly every person questioned, one overwhelming response was that such a car would have to be cheap, really cheap. To achieve a reduced cost of manufacture, the company looked for “small car” expertise overseas, and who better to join with than Austin of England
By entering into a manufacturing arrangement, Nash would avoid the expense associated with tooling, body panels and components. Austin in turn used Fisher & Ludlow to produce body parts, while it assumed responsibility for the assembly. Underpinning the car were the tried and trusted Austin mechanicals, ensuring that, at least from a reliability point of view, the US market would have little to complain about.
Available as either a convertible or hardtop, the Metropolitan’s also featured appointments that were, at the time, considered as luxury items. There was a map light, electric windshield wipers and beautifully sculpted “continental type” rear mounted spare tyre
Production began in October 1953 at the Austin facility in Longbridge. The car quickly became known as the “Baby Nash”, due to its tiny size. The wheelbase was 2159mm (85 inches). Overall the length was 3797mm (149.5 inches) and its gross weight was a very light 818kg (1803 pounds). This made the Metropolitan even smaller than the Volkswagen Beetle!
The first models used the Austin "A40" engine of 1200cc from the Devon/Dorset cars. Later cars used the "B" series engine of 1200cc, and then the "B" series engine of 1489cc, which in turn drove the wheels through a 3-speed manual transmission
. Initially the car was to be named the “NKI Custom” but it was re-named the Metropolitan in January 1954
. In 1956
the car had a major re-design, most significant of which was the adoption of the Austin B-Series engine, this new power-plant offering a very healthy 1500cc capacity. To further enhance the look of the car, chrome strips were added creating a trendy two-tone finish.
The front grille was also changed and the controversial hood-scoop was removed. From 1957
onwards almost 9,400 extra units were sold in the UK and other overseas destinations including Australia. It may not have been an exceptional hit with buyers, but nor was it a total flop either. In the UK the car was sold as simply the “Metropolitan”, naturally enough through Austin dealers, but the car did not feature any Austin badging or other identification. The same applied to Australia, although they were known here as the “Nash Metropolitan”. Best of all the Metropolitan was a complete departure from the traditional rounded styling that British and Australian motorists had grown used to. Take it or leave it, at least it was different!
Nash Metropolitan Production Comes To An End
In April 1961
manufacture of the Metropolitan came to an end, however there were sufficient stocks to allow continued sales for another 12 months. By the end of production, approximately 95,000 Metropolitans had been sold in the US alone, and while this figure is perhaps nowhere near that being achieved by local manufacturers, when looking at sales figures for imported cars, the humble Metropolitan came in second, only the venerable Volkswagen Beetle
managing to obtain better sales figures.
And during the economic recession of 1958
AMC outsold Chrysler with their economical little cars. The Metropolitan’s best year was 1959
, and it garnered enough sales to have the likes of Ford, General Motors
and Chrysler sit up and take notice, each launching their own “sub-compact” vehicles.
Notes: On May 1, 1954
, Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson
Motor Car Company merged to form American Motors Corporation. By mid 1954
, the Metropolitan was being marketed as a "Hudson Metropolitan" as well as a "Nash Metropolitan". The models were identical, with the only difference being the grill emblem and horn button. The "Hudson Metropolitan" used the "bull's eye" horn button that would later be used on all Metropolitans. The "Nash Metropolitan" still used the "Nash" hubcaps for a short while, but soon changed to the "M" hubcap used by the "Hudson Metropolitan", and all later Metropolitans. During the Rambler years, and in the UK, it became a standalone marque.
Odd Spot: “Weird Al” Yankovic says that his favourite car is the Nash Metropolitan with many of his music videos featuring a classic brown and white version.