The Nash Motor Corporation of America in 1949 started work on a small car given the code name NXI (Nash Experimental International) this was quite a brave step as most other car companies were working on the accepted view that bigger it was better. So the various ideas that Nash were working on were shown in clinic’s to invited members of the public. The clinic showed that the car buying public were interested in a small economical car which would be mainly used as a second car, but it would need to be priced accordingly.
Nash Motors Invitation
The next step taken by the company was very unusual, in that they mailed thousands of potential buyers with a questionnaire along with a photos of the proposed design which was mainly the work of William Flajole an independent designer. Again the results were positive so a decision was made to bring it into production, now Nash had no experience of producing small cars. Making the body would not be a problem. but they did not have a small engine or gearbox. suspension etc, they also did not have the production facilities. So they looked around for a tie up with another car manufacturer outside America who could produce them.
Artist Impression of the Fiat Version
Various car firms were approached including Fiat and Standard-Triumph. In the end a deal was struck with the Austin Motor Company who would build the car using the 1,200 cc engine and three speed manual gearbox with column change as used in the A40 Somerset range.
This picture is the first UK built Nash Metropolitan
Christmas 1952 (you can even see snow on the ground)
All the body engineering and suspension would be designed by Nash. The contract to produce the bodies including paint and trim, was given to Fisher & Ludlow at Castle Bromwich, which had just been acquired by Austin in September 1953. The final assemble would be at Longbridge with production starting in October. It was first given the name Nash NKI Custom, but in March 1954 it was re-named the Metropolitan.
Fisher & Ludlow
Two models were offered, a two-door convertible and a two-door hardtop. The price in 1954 was $1,469 for the Model 541 two-door convertible version and for Model 542 two-door hardtop slightly cheaper at $1,445. Standard equipment included such things as twin electric windscreen wipers, directional indicators and a spare wheel with cover. Factory extras included radio, heater and white wall tyres which were ordered by most customers. Two tone paintwork was also standard on the hard top with the convertible having a different coloured soft top. In the same year on the 1st May the Nash-Kelviator Company merged with the Hudson Car Company and became the American Motors Corporation. It still continued to market the Metropolitan under the Nash and Hudson banner, although the bulk of sales were Nash, I wonder if there are many Hudson Metropolitans still around.
Date when launched October 1953
Discontinued in 1956
1200 cc 42 bhp at 4,500 rpm Max torque 58lbs/ft at 2,400 rpm
Length 12ft 5.4ins Width 5ft 1.5ins Height 4ft 8.8ins
Wheelbase 7ft 1ins Track front 3ft 9.2ins rear 3ft 8.8ins
In 1956 it was time for an update this time using the 1498 cc ‘B’ series engine, the bonnet lost the air intake and the radiator grill look was improved. It also received its zig-zag stainless steel side trims which gave a natural line to give the body its dual tone colour schemes. Nash used this update to call the model ‘Metropolitan 1500’.
Right hand drive versions (Series III) were announced in April 1957 and although sold through the Austin Dealerships it was still called ‘Metropolitan 1500’. The UK prices were £713 for the Hardtop and £725 for the Convertible.
Australia also imported them where they were known as Nash Metroploitan. By 1959 sales were tapering off so it received it last update, when it received a opening boot lid, a closed glove box, seat adjusters and opening quarter lights.
Production for the UK market stopped in February 1961 with the Hardtop then costing £707 and the Convertible £732. It was in April 1961 that the last Metropolitan Series IV came off the line for the US market.
Date when launched 1956
Discontinued in 1961
1,489 cc 47 bhp at 4,000 rpm Max torque 74lbs/ft at 2,100 rpm
Length 12ft 5.5ins Width 5ft 1.5ins Height 4ft 6.5ins
Wheelbase 7ft 1ins Track front 3ft 9.2ins rear 3ft 8.8ins
Production came to an end in April 1961 with a total of 104,377 Metropolitans been made at Longbridge, with nearly 95,000 exported to the USA.
Thanks to David Austin for some of the pictures and information.
My Memories of Austin Metropolitans by David Austin
My first memory of the Austin Metropolitan was in 1957, when out on a family outing, I spotted an unusual car parked at a garage in, I think, Buckinghamshire.
We stopped to have a look all around the car, but beyond being called a “Metropolitan” we could not work out any further details. I was intrigued and fascinated with this unusual car – American styling, but English car sized.
I found out soon after, that it was made by Austin, and I assumed, at that time, it was designed by Austin to try and capture some of the American market (as they had tried previously with the Austin A90 Atlantic).
I thought no more about the Metropolitan until my 21st Birthday. My Father offered to help me buy my first car as a 21st Birthday present. Naturally my thoughts again turned to the Metropolitan, and we started checking the “Exchange & Mart” for one.
We eventually found a 1958 Mardi-Gras Red Hardtop which looked quite nice, and I think we paid about GBP140 for it.
I really loved that car, and drove it everywhere. It also taught me heaps about car maintenance, as I was always “tinkering” with it most weekends. I often had to fight with my Dad to drive it, as he loved driving it too. He said that the 1500cc engine was a “beauty” with tons of low-down torque, which made it so easy to drive.
Sadly, rust (which is a big problem on this car) became an issue a few years later, and I was forced to scrap it, as it was becoming dangerous to drive. This seemed to be the end of my involvement with the Metropolitan, but it was not to be.
In 1972, I saw an advert in “Exchange & Mart” regarding establishing a “Metropolitan Owners’ Club”, and calling for expressions of interest. I wrote off straight-away, and later received a letter saying that, since support seemed strong, it had been decided to start the Club. I wrote back with my subscription, and joined this Club as Member No. 2 (Bill Dowsing who started the Club was naturally Member No 1). As I did not have a Metropolitan then, the Club kept sending me details of cars for sale, and eventually I bought a Berkshire Green Hardtop in very nice condition.
I kept this car for many years, and made many modifications including Automatic Transmission (from Austin A60), Oil Pressure gauge, Transistor radio (to replace the original Valve radio), two speed wipers, Anti-roll bar, up-rated shock-absorbers, Smaller diameter steering wheel, Radial-ply tyres, Thermostatic radiator fan & laminated windscreen.
At this time, I also became aware of the true history of the Metropolitan, and how it was designed by the Nash Corporation in America, and built, under contract, by Fisher & Ludlow and Austin in the UK. I contacted American Motors (successor to Nash Corp.) in the US, and was supplied with a lot of fascinating information. This sparked my interest in collecting all the literature relating to the Metropolitan see links below. I believe I have the largest collection in the world of literature relating to the Nash, Hudson, American Motors & Austin Metropolitan.
After a few years, I thought seriously about buying a Metropolitan convertible that I can restore to Concours condition. I hunted around for such a car, and eventually bought a 1961 Black & White convertible in good original condition.
Before I could get involved in this process of restoration, I received an offer to live and work in Australia. I decided to try it out for two years, and if it didn’t work out, I would return to the UK. In the event, I am still living in Australia, and had to sell the two cars, but I had my Library shipped over, and have been adding to it ever since.
I still belong to the UK “Metropolitan Owners’ Club”, and also to the “Metropolitan Owners’ Club of North America” (MOC(NA)). I have made quite a few trips to the United States to meet MOC(NA) members there, and recently I visited the “British Motor Industry Heritage Trust” in Warwickshire UK, which holds a lot of the records relating to the Austin Motor Company, to research some details on the car.
It seems amazing that my involvement with the Metropolitan has spanned over 50 years to date (1957 – 2009). Unfortunately, I cannot see myself having another 50 years involvement, but my interest has remained undiminished all these years.