Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Nash/Hudson Metropolitan (1954-1962)

The 'Original' style.

Loadsa room for groceries or luggage!

Room for how many?

Blue & White 1960 Version

Final Version in basic black.

This post was inspired by having been asked by a gentleman if a Metropolitan restoration was possible at a reasonable cost. I was rather taken aback to find I was the only one of several people at the restoration shop who even knew what a Metropolitan was, looked like, and had ever actually worked on one. So, to enlighten those wishing it, here goes.
The story of the Metropolitan has many misconceptions, perhaps the biggest is the belief the car was designed by England's Austin Motor Company & Nash simply applied its name to an American version. Austin was known for small cars, so there is cause for that theory, but the Metropolitan was an American design resulting from years of experimentation by Nash Motor Corporation. Austin's 1200-cc engine developing 42 hp was the original power plant. Bodies were of unit construction as used on other lines by Nash. In 1956, a 1500-cc four-cylinder was added and upped the power to 52 hp. A column shifter changed a three-speed gearbox. A fourth gear was added to the American model. Shorter than a VW 'Bug', the high body rested atop a narrow track and skinny tires. Needless to add, handling was terrible. It was touted theoretically as a three-seater .
Nash & Hudson merged to form American Motors with Austin, but in the end, the Nash and Hudson names vanished and the Metropolitan was a stand-alone product. When consumers responded favorably to the small car concept, Nash took the unusual step of mailing a questionnaire with photos of the prototype, largely the work of designer W. Flajole, to several thousand folks. The survey convinced them that there was a market for a small, economical car. Nash didn't have capacity or the light-car expertise to produce the vehicle in large numbers, so they approached the British, whose auto works were taking longer to recover from World War II. Nash settled on the Austin Motor Company, which was the world's leader in making smaller cars. Initially called the Nash NKI for export to the USA, Nash provided the unit body and suspension component designs and Austin supplied a 1200cc four-cylinder.
Production began at Austin's Longbridge, England, factory in 1954. The Metro was compact and had little power, the engine being barely 1/4 the size of Chevy's high-compression V8. The Austin A-40 engine was a workhorse though, and powered many vehicles very well over time. It had a counterbalanced crankshaft, small Zenith downdraft carb, and 7.2:1 compression. The OHV four was reliable, and with a 0-60 miles per hour acceleration elapsed time of 30 seconds, wasn't exactly sporty. The Met was a light 1800 pounds with was 42 and later the 52 HP propulsion.The revised version of the Metro updated somewhat cuter styling. The new engine displaced 1500 cc, a 24% leap(?) in horsepower thanks to the increased compression of 8.31:1. Included was a new hood, mesh grille, and 'zig-zag' side design. The Metro's last full round of updates included luxuries such as a trunk lid, glove box door, seat adjusters, and window vents.
The two models, a 2-door convertible and a 2-door hardtop, were so cute you felt as if you were adding a pet to the family. Having an overall length of less than 150 inches riding on 13-inch wheels, the Metro was a tall 54 1/2 inches, making an interesting profile, accented by the "dip in the door." It was as irresistible as a baby kitten and began to sell in decent numbers. Maybe it would have been an even bigger success if Nash-Kelvinator hadn't merged with Hudson at the same time it made Metropolitans. The combined 'American Motors Corporation' still marketed under the Nash/Hudson names and the Metropolitan was sold at Nash and Hudson dealers. There are Hudson Metropolitans on the roads to this day, distinguishable by the 'continental tire kit' and usually a two-tone paint job.
Not sold as a "cheap" car, the suggested retail price for the Model 541 2-door convertible was $1,469, and for the Model 542 2-door HT a fairly high $1,445 in 1954. But the little Metro was loaded with standard features including dual sun visors,turn signals, map light, dual electric wipers, and of course, the aforementioned rear-mounted spare tire carrier and cover. Hardtops offered standard 2-tone paint and the convertible had the same look with a second-color rag-top. Of course, most buyers sprung for some options, like radio, heater, and white sidewall tires. After the 1962 model year, the AMC Metropolitan vanished from showrooms marking a nine-year run. During the course of its production, 94,986 Metropolitans were sold.
Even without the fake hood scoop of the pre-1500cc, the Metro's top speed increased from 70 mph to 80mph, making it a bit more suitable American driving conditions. It continued to be sold by AMC through 1962, though production ended in mid-1960. This curious little car was sold by the dealer closest to my hometown in large quantities as a 2nd car for mill worker's spouses. I remember there being 2 black and white ones, a red and white one, a few older monotone models, and a whole herd of blue and whites driven mostly by blue-haired ladies of the era. Until next time, take care and happy motoring.


Brother Tim said...

I had a 55 Nash Metropolitan, and loved it. Also had a 49 'cone-nosed' Studebaker, which I loved even more.

I also had a 56 Nash Rambler, that I loathed. I traded it for a Corvair, effectively jumping out of the pot, and into the fire.

Thanks for the memories.

Mike S said...

Tim, weird, the '49 Stude was one of my 1st cars. It was the 'worn out' one Dad had shoved out inna field and I revived it. Also had a few Corvairs. Great cars after '65 with the new 'Vette Style' independent suspension. Sadly, Nader had effectively killed them by then and they just limped on until '69:(

George said...

I remember the Metro well, a friend had one, blue & white hardtop. After his '65 SS Chevelle was wrecked, he put the 350HP 327 in it. I only rode in it once & never had the nerve to drive it.

patricia said...

Yo, Mike. I'm out of my element here, I'm afraid. I don't know much about cars. I never look under the hood, I just drive them.
But, wasn't it the Nash that had a very distinctive crease or fold line on the trunk lid about that time? That's one of the completely strange and useless things stored in my brain, and I haven't remembered it for many years.

Mike S said...

George, you probably missed out on some real fun. Once put a 460 from a Merc wagon into a Pinto for a customer in FL after we 'rebuilt' it a bit 'better'. Had 535 hp on our dyno with max 400 ftlbs torque. Most valuable tools were the cutting torch, welder, and shoe horn. Took 3 heavy shocks per side in front with 3 coil-over double spring sets to take the weight. Just proves cubic dollars will buy almost anything you want.

Pat, later models had a rectangular trunk lid that opened on the rear deck. Also offered a continental tire kit which was partly fitted into the rear wall of the trunk.

George said...

Mike, I believe Ron had the same torch, welder & shoehorn. If I remember right it had a tube frame, solid front axle, & drive shaft about 1' long. The 460 is an amazing engine in an auto that light. We used them in the 4X4 6200# pulling trucks at the tractor pulls. Rebuilt a "little better" meant among other things injected on alcohol.

mies said...

The red one is pretty spiffy looking.(Candy Apple red, maybe?) I vote for that one. Fun to look at the those old photos too... AND apparently by the responses has brought back good memories of previously owned cars for others... Nice to once again see another side to you. Keep 'em coming....L

Mike S said...

Mies, that color would be my guess as well, or something close. I imagine it's custom paint as it looks more like IMRON or its cousins than a factory color. LOVE candy apple red, painted a buncha cars with multiple coats of it. My Challenger and a '49 Olds I had looked best dressed up in it:)

Hahn at Home said...

Okay, I didn't understand a lot of that cc talk, but I think it's cute, does that count?

Mike S said...

Lori, in your case, of course it counts. Although, I do believe you to be a mite too tall for the things:)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Mike. I'm completely ignorant about cars, and more over about old cars models, this is the very first time I've heard (or read) about a car called the Metropolitan, but even though I can't distinguish them, I love the old cars models and style, and this is really nice too. So than you again for your accurate description and the anecdotes about it (the spouses were the ones who used it more, uh?), Mar,

tshsmom said...

The only Nash I remember is the Rambler. It seemed like everybody had one in the early 60s!

Cherie said...

Our neighbors back in California where I grew up had the blue and white version. Boy, this brings back memories! I always thought it was a funny little car and suited the funny little couple who drove it. Loved it!

Wish cars nowadays had such quirkiness and variety.

Anonymous said...

I have an old friend who collects them. It's sad that he isn't doing anything with them, just collecting them. I hope some day he will start fixing them up and putting them on the road. He has six of them lined up in his back yard. It is such a waste!

Natalie said...

love love love the car pictures. makes me want to drive...which i don't do in turkey. sigh.

David Robert Crews said...

Here's a link to photos of one turned into a snowmobile. It's a '57 Convertable with a Continental Kit.

Anonymous said...

I have good memories also of my first car, the one I learned to drive in. She was a little black and white convertible who very rarely had her bonnet down because it would mess up my hair. lol. Would love to have another one to restore. Was a good driver and my dad got it because it was so easy to work on. They don't make them as dependable as that anymore.

Thanks for the memories.

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