The Nash Metropolitan is a car that was sold from 1954 to 1962.
It conforms to two classes of vehicle: economy car and subcompact car. In today’s terminology the Metropolitan is a “subcompact”, but this category had not yet come into use when the car was made. At that time it was variously categorized, for example as a "small automobile" as well as an "economy car." 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. It was designed as a "commuter/shopping car" with resemblance to the big Nash, but the scale was tiny as the Met's wheelbase was shorter than a VW Beetle's.
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, England. 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, that was to be exclusively marketed in North America, had been entirely built in Europe. It became a captive import – a foreign-built vehicle sold and serviced by Nash (and later by American Motors) through its dealer distribution system.
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 U.S. market (It is unlikely that a Metropolitan could have been purchased without a heater and radio, as all vehicles left the factory with both items fitted).
AMC marketing brochures described the new model as "America's entirely new kind of car" (1955), "Luxury in Miniature" (1959), and "crafted for personal transportation" (1960).
Initial reviews of the Metropolitan were mixed.
According to Collectible Auto magazine, the car was described in Car Life’s review as "a big car in miniature" that was "fun to drive" and "ideal for a second car in the family," while Motor Trend was not alone in regarding the rear "utility" seat as "a joke."
Motor Trend praised the car’s economy: their test Metropolitan returned:
39.4 mpg-US (5.97 L/100 km; 47.3 mpg-imp) at 45 miles per hour (72 km/h),
27.4 mpg-US (8.58 L/100 km; 32.9 mpg-imp) at 60 miles per hour (97 km/h), and
30.1 mpg-US (7.81 L/100 km; 36.1 mpg-imp) "in traffic."
Mechanix Illustrated editor Tom McCahill wrote: “It is not a sports car by the weirdest torturing of the imagination but it is a fleet, sporty little bucket which should prove just what the doctor ordered for a second car, to be used either for a trip to the movies or for a fast run to a penicillin festival.” He added that it was a “nice-handling car with plenty of control and amazing dig, considering it is powered by a small Austin A-40 engine...” and that the finish was “very nice”, although having no trunk opening except by pulling down the back of the rear seat “poses a problem.” His test car accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 19.3 seconds and could exceed 70 miles per hour (113 km/h).
A Road & Track road test recorded acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in 22.4 seconds, "almost half of the VW’s 39.2." However the magazine noted that at 60 mph, a common American cruising speed at the time, the Metropolitan was revving at 4300 rpm, which shortened engine life, whereas the Volkswagen could travel at the same speed at only 3000 rpm. Road & Track’s testers also said that the car had “more than its share of roll and wallow on corners” and there was “little seat-of-the-pants security when the rear end takes its time getting back in line.”
Road Test magazine said in 1954 that "on roadability and responsive handling, the Met shines. It also offers easy maintenance and downright stinginess when it comes to gasoline consumption. Also, it's literally a brute for punishment. On several occasions I took familiar corners at speeds half again what I would dare to use in some cars of twice the weight - proof that proper weight distribution, low center of gravity and well engineered suspension have more to do with roadability than massiveness, weight and long wheelbases. Admittedly, the short wheelbased Met does pitch moderately on very rough roads, but the sensitivity and ease of steering make driving a pleasure."
Production for U.S.
Series I Production 1954 Engine(s) 1,200 cc I4
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 1,785 lb (810 kg) for the Convertible and 1,825 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 1,200 cc (73 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. Autocar said that "...at a production rate of less than 400 cars a week...it was hardly going to be a runaway best seller."
In surveys, Americans had affirmed a desire for economy cars, but in practice they bought the Metropolitan in comparatively small numbers. Although Nash merged with Hudson in 1954, and marketed the car as a Hudson Metropolitan in 1955, "demand never took off from the original level," primarily because the Metropolitan was slow by North American standards. In the first month of sales, 862 Metropolitans were sold in US & Canada, and in the first six months 7,042 were sold. 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.
Series II Production 1955
After the first 10,000 cars were built, the engine was changed to a B-Series, but still of 1,200 cc (73 cu in), (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).
Series III Production 1956-1958
Series 3 1500 engine
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 1,489 cc (91 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 1,200 cc (73 cu in) models. The interior was also changed to incorporate a "Houndstooth" check material for the seats trimmed with white vinyl. The dashboard was also now painted black, rather than the body color as was the case for Series I and II Metropolitans.
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. It is believed that the Nash and Hudson Grille medallions were discontinued around September 1956 and were replaced with the "M" style Grille medallion.
Series IV Production 1959-1961
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 (6.8 kg) to the weight. Exterior color options were the same as for Series III. The interior now used a "Diamond" patterned material for the seats, with white vinyl trim. The MSRP for Series IV models was $1,672.60 (Hardtop) and $1,696.80 (Convertible).
Sales rose to 22,209 units in 1959, the Metropolitan's best-selling year, promoting it to second place behind Volkswagen in sales of cars imported to the U.S. American Motors' advertising "made much" of this ranking, while it omitted the fact that the Volkswagen outsold the Metropolitan by 5½ to 1.
Production ceased in April 1961 (final VIN - E95981 built 19 April 1961). Sufficient inventory existed for continuation of sales until March 1962.
With a total of approximately 95,000 Metropolitans sold in the United States and Canada, the model was one of the top-selling cars to be imported into these countries at the time, and its sales in 1959 helped to spur 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 1957onwards, approximately 9,400 additional units were sold in overseas markets that included the United Kingdom. Listed prices for the UK Series III models were £713 17s 0d for the Hardtop and £725 2s 0d for the Convertible. Brian Sewell, the British art critic and writer on historic and collectors' cars, wrote in 2007 that the car was "damned" in England "as a preposterous aberration incorporating the worst of everything American." An estimated 1200 Metropolitans were sold there in four years, according to several published sources. However one British journalist has estimated the figure at around 5000.
The car was temporarily withdrawn from sale in the UK between February 1959 and August 1960, as most of the production was required for the U.S. and Canadian market. When imports to the UK resumed they were of the RHD Series IV models, which sold through Austin dealers at listed prices of £707 6s 8d for the Hardtop and £732 2s 6d for the Convertible. Markedly American, the styling was considered outlandish compared with the more sober British-styled models in the British Motor Corporation lineup. Austin was dropped from the name, which now became simply "Metropolitan", and the cars carried no Austin badges although they had Austin Company chassis plates.
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). Some very early Series III models carried the prefix HNK3H or HNK3HL (L=Left-Hand Drive). The prefix is thought to indicate "Home Nash Kelvinator Series 3 High-compression engine".
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 as a result of its marginal sales, with an additional two "one-offs" being built in March and April. The final car had a VIN of A-HP7 150301. Total Austin Metropolitan production has been estimated at between 9,384 and 9,391 cars.
Industrial designer Richard Arbib designed the Astra-Gnome “Time and Space Car”, a concept that was featured on the September 3, 1956 cover of Newsweek magazine and exhibited at the 1956 International Auto Show in New York. Arbib modified a 1955 Nash Metropolitan and it was his vision of what an automobile would look like in the year 2000. The car is restored and kept at a museum in California.
Scale model of 1956 police car
Right-hand drive models were marketed by AMC to U.S. Police Departments for use in parking enforcement and other urban duties. Comparing the car to police motorcycles, an AMC brochure advertised superior all-weather protection, cost-effectiveness and storage space, and also the safety of single-unit construction.
The Franklin Mint produced a die-cast toy model of a 1956 Metropolitan in a police car version. Among its features are a police hat and handcuffs on the passengers seat, as well as a fire extinguisher on the floor.
Metropolitan Club (AMC)
Almost from the beginning of sales of the Metropolitan, American Motors received many letters and photographs from Metropolitan owners with stories of their good experiences with their cars. Some of these comments were used in later brochures for the Metropolitan. In January 1957, James W. Watson (AMC's Sales Manager for the Metropolitan) decided to initiate a "Metropolitan Club" to channel this enthusiasm, and hopefully increase Metropolitan sales. He reasoned that personal recommendation was a powerful marketing tool.
All owners of Metropolitans could apply to join the Club, and members received a membership card, membership certificate, and a metal badge to attach to their vehicle. From May 1957, a magazine was circulated to members called "The Met Letter". In total, sixteen magazines were produced from May 1957 (Volume 1, Number 1) to January 1962 (Volume 4, Number 3). The magazine consisted of articles and photographs submitted by members, as well as maintenance and editorial comment from American Motors. Members who recruited additional Metropolitan buyers were rewarded with a special gold anodized "Metropolitan Club" badge.
The Club was disbanded around May 1962, when supplies of Metropolitans was exhausted. Floyd Clymer, the motoring journalist and passionate supporter of the Metropolitan concept, attempted to keep the Metropolitan Club going for a short while after this time.
Metropolitan car club meeting
1957 Metropolitan converted into an amusement ladder fire truck
Met conversion pickup with trailer
The "Metropolitan's staying power and its never-ending cuteness" have earned it "a place among the Greatest Cars of All Time" in the opinion of automotive writer Jack Nerad, a former editor of Motor Trend magazine: "No, the Metropolitan didn't come from a top-of-the-line manufacturer. No, it doesn't have a proud racing history. And, no, it wasn't built in huge numbers. But [it] possesses an ageless, cuddly quality that has made it a perennial favorite of car lovers and car agnostics alike." Nerad added: "If you wanted to...wring the Met through its paces, you would be rewarded with a 0-60 miles per hour acceleration time of nearly 30 seconds. The Met was reasonably light at approximately 1800 pounds, but that weight was squared off against 42 horsepower."
In the opinion of syndicated auto journalist and author Bill Vance, the 1,200 cc (73 cu in) Metropolitan "was quite a stylish little car" that was "ahead of its time" and performed well against its competition.
Brian Sewell cites the 1,500 cc (92 cu in) version as the one "now perversely recognized as a collector's car", and says that the Metropolitan is "worth a moment's consideration, for in the history of the post-war American car industry it was the only genuine attempt to provide the market there with a mass-produced small, cheap car that could hold its own in urban traffic and slot into parking spaces far too small for even the smallest Ford or Chevrolet...[but] the steering, dreadfully hampered by the enclosure of the front wheels, is so insensitive, and the turning circle so wide, that parking is a wretched business, the slack response of the huge steering-wheel a feature common in lumbering US cars of the period."
By British standards it looked "awful", according to Autocar, but Nash were "very pleased with it..."
Brian Sewell calls the Metropolitan "one of the nastiest cars ever built", citing the "nylon plaid and plastic leather" upholstery, the "vile colours", which have "a thick opacity about them, as though mixed with milk", and the styling, "a grotesque parody of quirks that merely look absurd on cars of larger scale". He also says that the "wretched performance of its functions" make it "dangerous at anything higher than perambulator speed".
In 1961 the British auto magazine The Autocar tested a 1959 model whose odometer showed 27,124 miles, and recorded a “reasonable” cruising speed of 60 mph, “fairly high” oil consumption of 125 miles per pint, “adequately good” roadholding, “pronounced understeer” in cornering, “good directional stability,” “decidedly vague steering,” a turning circle that was “stately for such a small car,” brakes that were “effective,” and remarked on the “unnecessarily high position of the steering-wheel,” which interfered with the driver’s view of the road. The test car accelerated from 0 to 60 mph in 22.4 seconds and its time for the standing-start quarter-mile was 21.9 seconds.
Metropolitans have the very soft ride preferred by Americans at the time, instead of the firmer suspension preferred in Europe. One marque enthusiast says that Nash’s subcompact was "the Smart car of the '50s." Although his Metropolitan is unsuitable for long journeys owing to "a lot of wind noise and really poor suspension," it can cruise at 50 mph and has a top speed of 75 mph. Parts are "relatively easy" to obtain and the car is "easy to work on."
Ken Gross, a director of the Petersen Automotive Museum, has noted that "the softly sprung Met wallows like most larger American cars of its day," and he has warned against "rust, especially in the floor pan and lower fenders," and "electrical gremlins." British-made mechanical parts were available on the unspecified date of his article's publication, but he said that sheet-metal was "a challenge."
Sewell advises buying the open version in "as late a model as you can (it ceased production in 1961) – this has slightly more panache, and with the hood down it's much easier to load [at the supermarket]."
Some owners modify their Metropolitans. Simple changes can make the cars more drivable and usable. More extreme modifications have included conversion into a pickup truck, station wagon and stretch limousine, installation of a V8 engine, and conversion into a "Metro-Sled" with a rear-mounted snowmobile engine driving twin tracks. Some cars that were originally hardtops have been converted to convertibles.
There are active clubs for Metropolitan owners and enthusiasts. New, used and reproduction examples of various parts and accessories are available.
1958 Metropolitan owned by Jimmy Buffett
"Weird Al" Yankovic
In popular culture
Due to the Metropolitan's unique design it has developed an iconic quality. Essentially unchanged during its eight-year production run, it is easily recognizable. The car continues its popularity and has been referenced, shown, or used in nearly all forms of media. Some of the examples include the following:
"Weird Al" Yankovic says that his favorite car is the Nash Metropolitan, and he featured a brown and white one in his film UHF and several music videos.
The car in the 2004 movie "The Incredibles" that Mr. Incredible drives near the beginning (and smashes it) resembles a Metropolitan, but a bit boxier.
The comic strip character Zippy the Pinhead cites the Metropolitan as his favorite auto.
In the 2007 movie Nancy Drew, Nancy (Emma Roberts) drives a Metropolitan.
In the movie Clueless, Christian picks up Cher in a Metropolitan
Granny from Sylvester and Tweety cartoons and movies has a pink/white Metropolitan, along with a nash hubcap collection.
In 2008, Motorsports-Authentics released a 1/64 scale Nash Metropolitan under the Muscle Machines line featuring NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin's real-life paint scheme.