Past Collection – 1958 Nash Metro
Class – Subcompact car
Body style(s) – 2-door hardtop; 2-door convertible
Layout – front-engine, rear wheel drive
Engine(s) – Austin A40, 1200 cc and 1500 cc B-Series
Transmission(s) – 3-speed manual
Wheelbase – 85 in (2159 mm)
Length – 149.5 in (3797.3 mm)
Width – 61.5 in (1562.1 mm)
Height – 54.5 in (1384.3 mm)
Curb weight – From 1785 lb (810 kg)
Fuel capacity – 10.5 US gal (39.7 L/8.7 imp gal)
Designer – William J. Flajole
The Nash Metropolitan was a subcompact car that was sold from 1954 to 1962. The Metropolitan was also sold as a Hudson when Nash and Hudson merged in 1954 to form the American Motors Corporation (AMC), and later as a standalone marque during the Rambler years, as well as in the United Kingdom and other markets.
While most U.S. automobile makers were following a “bigger-is-better” philosophy, Nash Motor Company executives were examining the market to offer American buyers an economical transportation alternative. The Metropolitan was designed in the United States and it was patterned from a concept car, the NXI (Nash Experimental International), that was built by Detroit-based independent designer William J. Flajole for Nash-Kelvinator.
The NXI design study incorporated many innovative features, and attempted to make use of interchangeable front and rear components (the symmetrical door skins were the only interchangeable items that made it into production). Although more complex, the new vehicle also incorporated Nash’s advanced single-unit (monocoque) construction. It was displayed at a number of “surviews” (survey/previews) to gauge the reaction of the American motoring public to a car of this size. The result of these surviews convinced Nash that there was indeed a market for such a car, if it could be built at a competitive price.
A series of prototypes followed that incorporated many of the improvements from the “surviews” that included roll-up glass side windows, a more powerful engine, and a column-mounted transmission shifter with bench seat (rather than bucket-type seats with floor shift fitted in the concept car). The model was named NKI (for Nash-Kelvinator International), and it featured revised styling incorporating a hood blister and rear wheel cutouts.
Nash was positioning this new product for the second-car market, as well as returning Nash to overseas markets. However, Mason and Nash management calculated that it would not be viable to build such a car from scratch in the U.S. because the tooling costs would have been prohibitive. The only cost-effective option was to build overseas using existing mechanical components, leaving only the tooling cost for body panels and other unique components.With this in mind, Nash Motors negotiated with several European companies, until on October 5, 1952, they announced that they had settled on the Austin Motor Company (by then part of BMC) and Fisher & Ludlow, both English companies based around Birmingham. Fisher & Ludlow would produce the bodywork, while the mechanicals would be provided, as well as final assembly undertaken, by the Austin Motor Company. This was the first time an American-designed car had been entirely built in Europe.
The new Metropolitan was made in two body designs – convertible and hardtop. All came with several standard features that were optional on most cars of the era. Among these factory-installed benefits for customers were a map light, electric windshield wipers, cigar lighter, and even a “continental-type” rear-mounted spare tire with cover. To give a “luxury” image to the interior, “Bedford cord” upholstery trimmed with leather was used (similar to larger Nash vehicles). An AM radio, “Weather-Eye” heater, and whitewall tires were offered as optional extras for the US market (It is unlikely that a Metropolitan could have been purchased without Heater & Radio, as all vehicles left the factory with both items fitted).
Production for U.S.
Production at Austin’s Longbridge factory started in October 1953 (Commencing VIN E1001). Nick-named the “baby Nash”, the cars were tiny. They had an 85 in (2159 mm) wheelbase, overall length of 149.5 in (3797.3 mm) and a gross weight of only 1785 lb (810 kg) for the Convertible and 1825 lb (828 kg) for the Hardtop, thus making the Metropolitan smaller than the Volkswagen Beetle. The two models, a convertible and a hardtop, were powered by the OHV 1200 cc (73.2 cu in) straight-4 Austin A40 engine (as used in the Austin A40 Devon/Dorset) driving the rear wheels through a 3-speed manual transmission. The initial order was for 10,000 units, with an option to increase the order if sales were sufficient.
The new model was initially to be called the “NKI Custom”, but the name was changed to “Metropolitan” just two months before its public release. New chrome nameplates with the “Metropolitan” name were made to fit into the same holes as the “NKI Custom” script on the passenger side front fender. Nash dealers had to rebadge the early cars that came with the “NKI Custom” name, but some factory manuals had already been prepared and distributed to service departments with the NKI name. The first examples badged as Nash went on sale on March 19, 1954 in the U.S. and Canada and they were an immediate success in these markets. In the first month of sales, 862 were sold in US & Canada, and in the first six months 7,042 were sold which far exceeeded Nash’s expectations. Hence a further order was placed with Austin.
Available exterior colors were P903 “Spruce Green”, P904 “Canyon Red”, P905 “Caribbean Blue”, or P906 “Croton Green”, with P907 “Mist Grey” as a contrast color for the hardtops. P906 “Croton Green” was dropped as a color option in April 1954. Cars incorporated the Nash logo on their grille badge, hubcaps, horn button, and spare wheel cover. The suggested retail price (MSRP) for Series I (also known as NK1) models was UD$1,445 (Hardtop) and $1,469 (Convertible).In May 1954, Nash-Kelvinator Corporation announced that it had merged with the Hudson Motor Company to form American Motors Corporation (AMC). Thus by August 1954, Metropolitans also became available from Hudson dealers. These Hudson Metropolitans carried a Hudson grille badge, hubcaps incorporating an “M” logo, a “bulls-eye” horn button design, and a plain spare wheel cover.
After the first 10,000 cars were built, the engine was changed to a B-Series, but still of 1200 cc, (as used in the Austin A40 Cambridge). Other modifications that were incorporated at this time were a new gearbox, and hydraulic actuation for the clutch (Series I models used a mechanical clutch linkage). The change to a new engine and gearbox added 50 lb (23 kg) to the weight. This model is referred to as Series II or NK2 (Commencing with Vehicle identification number (VIN) E11001).
November 1955 saw the start of Metropolitan Series III (NK3) production (Commencing with VIN E21008 on 28 November 1955). A redesign at this time saw the Metropolitan’s B-Series engine increased in capacity to 1489 cc (90.8 cu in) (as used in the Austin A50 Cambridge). Polished stainless steel strips on the body sides allowed a new two-tone finish to be incorporated. The new exterior colors were P905 “Caribbean Green”, P910 “Sunburst Yellow”, and P911 “Coral Red” with P909 “Snowberry White” as a contrast. The grille was also redesigned, and the hood had its non-functional hood scoop removed. American Motors changed the designation to “Metropolitan 1500” to differentiate it from the earlier 1200cc models.
The MSRP for Series III models was $1,527 (Hardtop) and $1,551 (Convertible). After VIN E35133 (16 April 1957) the exterior colors were changed to P910 “Sunburst Yellow”, P912 “Berkshire Green”, and P913 “Mardi-Gras Red” with P914 “Frost White” as contrast. After VIN E45912 (9 January 1958), the color P910 “Sunburst Yellow” was replaced by P915 “Autumn Yellow” and P908 “Classic Black” was added to the available exterior colors.
In September 1957, AMC announced that it was dropping both the Nash and Hudson brand names. Therefore, after this time, the Metropolitan was marketed under the “Metropolitan” name only, and sold through Rambler dealers
January 1959 saw the start of Metropolitan Series IV (NK4) production (Commencing with VIN E59048 on 12 January 1959). This major re-design saw the addition of an external decklid (previous models only allowed access to the trunk through the rear seat back) and vent windows. By this time, the engine had been up-graded by increasing the compression ratio from 7.2:1 to 8.3:1 (Commenced VIN E43116 – October 15, 1957) giving an output of 55 bhp (41 kW) (as used in the Austin A55 Cambridge). The additional features added 15 lb (7 kg) to the weight. Exterior color options were the same as for Series III. The MSRP for Series IV models was $1,672.60 (Hardtop) and $1,696.80 (Convertible).Production ceased in April 1961 (final VIN – E95981 built 19 April 1961). Sufficient inventory existed for continuation of sales until March 1962.
A total of approximately 95,000 Metropolitans were sold in the United States and Canada. Although not a comparatively large number, the Metropolitan was one of the top selling imported cars in the U.S. market in their time. It was second only to the Volkswagen Beetle. Moreover, during the Eisenhower economic recession of 1958, AMC outsold Chrysler with their economical compact cars. The top sales year was for the Metropolitan was 1959, helping to spur on the introduction of the Big Three’s (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler) new compact models.
Production for Overseas
In October 1956, Austin Motor Company obtained permission from American Motors to sell the Metropolitans in overseas countries where AMC did not have a presence. The early brochures for the Austin Metropolitans used a “reversed” negative to show an apparently “Right-Hand Drive” (RHD) car parked in an English country town (Chipping Campden), because only “Left-Hand Drive” models were available at the time the photos were taken.
From December 1956, production of “Austin” Metropolitans began, and from April 2nd 1957 onwards, approximately 9,400 additional units were sold in United Kingdom and other overseas markets. The listed price for the UK Series III models was 713 pounds 17s 0d (Hardtop) and 725 pounds 2s 0d (Convertible). It was temporarily withdrawn from sale in the UK between February 1959 and August 1960, as most of the production was required to supply the U.S. and Canadian market. When Series IV models were again available on the UK market, they had a listed price of 707 pounds6s 8d (Hardtop) and 732 pounds2s 6d (Convertible). Those sold in the UK were RHD models, but LHD models were built for other markets. In the UK the cars were sold through Austin dealers as the “Metropolitan”.
Although the car carried Austin Company chassis plates, it did not have any external Austin badging. The Metropolitan’s styling was noticeably “American” and it was considered outlandish when compared to the more sober British-styled models found in the British Motor Corporation stable. Only Series III and Series IV Metropolitans were produced for sale in the UK. Series III models carried the prefix HD6 (Convertible) or HE6 (Hardtop) whilst Series IV models carried the prefix A-HJ7 (Convertible) or A-HP7 (Hardtop).
In May 1960, Car Mart Ltd. (a large Austin dealership in London, UK) presented Princess Margaret with a specially prepared Metropolitan as a wedding present. It was stolen in London during February 1961.
Production of the Austin Metropolitan ended in February 1961, although two more “one-offs” were built in March and April. The final car had a VIN of A-HP7 150301. Total Austin Metropolitan production has been estimated as being between 9,384 and 9,391 cars.
Due its compactness and maneuverability in urban traffic, Right Hand Drive models were marketed by AMC in the U.S. to be used by Police Departments for parking enforcement and other urban duties. Brochures described the Metropolitan doing everything better than a police motorcycle for less money and with all-weather protection. Benefits for a two-man police vehicle included the durable single-unit construction assuring extra safety from traffic hazards and its back seat area and trunk space for emergency equipment.