Many people will think of this car which went on sale in Britain in 1957 as an Austin but in reality but its origins go back much further, to the late 1940`s in fact.
The Nash Motor Company of Kenosha, Wisconsin dates back to 1917 when Charles Nash, the former President of General Motors, purchased the B. Jeffery Co in 1916 and from 1918 on, the cars were marketed in his name. The Company successfully rode out the Great Depression of the 1930`s although sales did drip below 15,000 units in 1933.
When Charles Nash died in 1949 at the age of 84 a redesigned range of Nash Cars was introduced, unitary construction was standardised, the Airflyte range had all four wheels enclosed and a one piece wraparound windshield. The Company came to the conclusion that there was a market in the United States for a small car and in 1950 this resulted in the experimental NXI convertible. Nash came to the conclusion that whilst there was a demand for this small car, the high cost of tooling up for an American production line would not be cost effective. Following many months of consideration and negotiations which included much thought as to the power unit which would be used an agreement was reached with Austin of Longbridge, Birmingham to provide the mechanical parts and for Fisher and Ludlow to build the unitary construction body and chassis, designed by William Flajole. Assembly would be at Longbridge and the completed cars then shipped to America where they would be sold through the Nash Dealer Network.
The first cars when on sale in March 1954 as the Nash Metropolitan, it was available in both Convertible and Hardtop versions, this really was a small car with an overall length of just 12ft 5½ inches but with a striking resemblance to the much larger Nash Rambler. If my memory serves me correctly (I have not owned a Metropolitan since 1968) the choke and starter knobs were identical to those of the Rambler. Body colours available were Blue, Red or Green with the hardtop in Grey, the convertible having a roof in Tan. The power unit was the 1200 c.c. Austin A 40 engine, introduced in 1949 for the Austin Devon, whereas the Austin Range were equipped with a four speed gearbox the Metropolitan had three forward speeds operated through a column gear changer. The front suspension was of independent wishbones, coil springs and shock absorbers, the rear, a live axle was employed with leaf springs and telescopic shock absorbers.
Sales declined after the first year. many buyers claimed the car was underpowered which, of course, by US standards it certainly was. A new model was fitted with the Austin A50 engine (1489 c.c. "B" Series) 7.2 to 1 compression ratio, white metal bearings and developed 47 bhp. a two tone body colour scheme and this helped sales. Nash-Kelvinator amalgamated with The Hudson Motor Company in 1954 under the name of American Motor Corporation. In 1957 AMC made the decision to offer the model on general sale through Austin Dealerships World-wide, in Britain it was priced at £714 (including purchase tax) for the Hardtop and £725 for the Convertible.
The Sales Brochure of the time states that the Metropolitan 1500 offers a new experience in motoring when you take the wheel of the car. You will be delighted with the rapid getaway, amazing manoeuvrability and superb roadholding. In fact a car one never tires of driving either in city traffic or on the open road. It went on to say that without a doubt it fulfils a long-felt need in the low priced, high performance field of motoring.
The interior was roomy with a full width adjustable bench seat trimmed in restyled wool and nylon cloth with vinyl treated fabric borders. The divided seat back hinges forward to give access to the two occasional seat in the rear. The face panel was attractively designed in a transatlantic style with combined easy to read instrument cluster and conveniently placed controls. Steering is via a large two spoke wheel. A glove-box is provided o n the passenger side to hold small motoring accessories.
The exterior finish was duo-tone, the lower panels in Frost White with upper panels and wheels in Berkshire Green, Autumn Yellow, Black or Mardi-Gras Red. Whitewall tyres were available as an extra.
The Motor road test in 1957 described the Metropolitan as "A lively British built Small Car in the American Idiom" With an unladen kerb weight of just 17 cwt performance was good, a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour could be achieved and the report added that the car would pull sweetly at 12 m.p.h. in top gear and was equally happy to cruise at a true 70 m.p.h. all day. In addition it was stated that it was noticeably economical on fuel with a touring consumption of 32 miles per gallon. A standing start to 50 m.p.h. through the gears took just 15..3 seconds. The 3 three speed gear-box had well chosen ratios and almost 60 m.p.h. could be reached in second.
The Motor noted that when it came to the suspension, the American influence in the design came much to the fore, on taking the wheel one has the impression the very soft and lightly damped springing would result in a rather bilious motion at high cruising speeds, but in fact this did not happen and the car gave a comfortable ride at most speeds and surfaces. On corners, however, it was stated that there was some roll and this became pronounced if a double swerve was made. In summing up the Motor report states "In short, the Metropolitan is a very individual vehicle with a gay appearance and many very pleasing features. For British Motorists to whom its particular merits are apposite - and they will be many - it offers an attractive and refreshing change from the normal run of European cars at a very competitive price."
It must be remembered that the purchase price of £713. 17s. 0d. included purchase tax of £238.17s 0d. so £475 less tax represented excellent value.
© Dugdalevms 2008