25 February 2014

Let’s Go Met: Happy 60th Anniversary, Metropolitan

Here’s a bit of trivia guaranteed to get you glassy-eyed looks at cocktail parties: The Smart car sold by Mercedes-Benz dealers has only just eclipsed U.S. 70,000 sales since its 2008 launch. Add another 25,000 for Canadian sales since 2004, and the Smart has finally matched another imported minicar sold in both countries long ago: the Metropolitan.

While you ponder the significance — or insignificance — of that comparison, bid a happy 60th anniversary to the Metropolitan, which Nash introduced in March 1954.

In its best U.S. sales year, 1959, the Metropolitan sold 20,400 cars. The Smart’s best U.S. sales year was its first, with 24,600 sold. Some may consider both cars to be sales duds, but one makes people smile just by looking at it. Hint: it’s not the Smart.

Even with the miniscule Crosley selling in miniscule numbers, Nash moved ahead with a new two- to three-seat commuter car, spurred by a positive response to a prototype shown in 1950. Consumers — at least the ones who saw the little Nash —liked the idea of a second car for the household, or more specifically, the housewife to whom Nash was pitching the little buggy.

That same year, Nash introduced its compact 100-inch wheelbase Rambler. Clearly, there were some progressive thinkers in Kenosha, Wis. Nash’s innovations included unitized construction, seatbelts, and modern heating and air conditioning systems, among others. Many people, however, remember Nash for seats that converted to beds — a matter of priorities, perhaps.

In 1950, most of the industry was focused on developing bigger, sleeker, faster cars. In the wake of the Great Depression and the Second World War and its gas rationing, though, there was concern in some corners that Americans should be driving smaller, more frugal automobiles. Were Powell Crosley, Jr., George Mason of Nash and his successor, George Romney, a bunch of Debbie Downers — or ahead of their time?

While most American carmakers were giving the small-car idea short shrift, European imports were beginning to trickle into the market. It was to Europe that Nash turned for help in bringing the Metropolitan to market. It would not have been profitable to build in a U.S. factory.

Nash had experience with international liaisons, having collaborated with Britain’s Healey and Italy’s Pininfarina to build the expensive Nash-Healey sports car. The company turned again to Britain for Metropolitan production. Austin would make the car under contract and also sell it in England under its own brand.

In that context, the Metropolitan was a groundbreaker, a “captive import” before the term was applied two decades later for American-branded imports like the Dodge Colt, Plymouth Cricket and Ford Courier pickup truck.

The Metropolitan’s mechanicals were all Austin, but the unit-body engineering and mini bathtub shape were pure Nash. At just under 150 inches long on an 85-inch wheelbase, the tiny Met, which came in coupe and convertible body styles, was smaller than the Volkswagen Beetle.

The 1,200-cc four-cylinder Austin engine offered 43 horsepower, outgunning the VW Beetle by a few ponies. The Met could out-drag a Beetle to 60 mph — about 22 seconds vs. 30, but its three-speed manual transmission and low gearing made the Met more suited to suburban rambling then highway hauling.

Just before introducing the Metropolitan in March 1954, Nash merged with Hudson to create American Motors Corporation. The Metropolitan was offered under both nameplates, but then as its own make alongside Rambler when AMC dropped those brands after 1957.

The Metropolitan’s $1,445 price for the 1954 coupe was about the same as a VW Beetle, but the transaction price was a bit higher due to the “optional” radio and heater being essentially mandatory. Kaiser’s larger Henry J compact, then in its final year, cost a bit less.

Performance got a boost with a larger 1,489-cc engine for the 1956 model, called the “1500,” with the update also adding a new grille, revised suspension and dapper two-tone paint schemes. Horsepower hit 52, and then a whopping 55 in 1959, when price reached nearly $1,700. At least for that price, the Met finally had an external trunk lid.

The Metropolitan had its best sales years from 1957-1959, a sign of customers reacting to the recession of the period. Production ended in spring 1961, but Mets were still available into 1962. That year, the VW Beetle approached 200,000 U.S. sales.

33 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Kerry Buchenroth Ohio February 26, 2014 at 15:21
    I have 2 of the Mets: 1) '54 Hdtp serial # 42 and 2) a '56 Hudson Met 1500. Both are real eye catchers when we're out driving!!
  • 2
    Denny Napier Roseburg OR February 26, 2014 at 15:40
    Happy birthday, Metropolitan! I sold my '59 years ago and regretted it, so I now have a '55 HUDSON Met! Only about 10% of Mets had the Hudson badge.
  • 3
    Bill Simon Litchfield Park, arizona February 26, 2014 at 16:19
    Small world!!! I have the same color, "Canyon Red" Met....a 1955 unit with the propeller grill and all. The little Austin engine gets the same attention as all the muscle cars. Some unusual notes about the car; the glove box was reluctantly put in after women made it an issue of need, the engineers drug their feet due to the additional $15.00 production cost. The truck in has no outside entry until 1959 and the battery is buried under the back seat. These little beasts were built in Birmingham, England and a few were made with a right hand drive. One last story...I heard that one of this little cars collided with an English bus and disabled the bus but the Met drove away. Thanks for the memories! Bill
  • 4
    Lee Massachusetts February 26, 2014 at 16:41
    My first car was a 1958 Met. It was a quirky car. The biggest problem was Lucas electrics, would stall after going through a mud puddle - just a flat top on the distributor with no sealing where the wires plugged in. Also the 6 volt battery was under the back seat with long cables, so it was hard to start in the winter - had to run 5W or 10W oil, wouldn't start with a multi viscosity oil. There was no solenoid for the starter, just a spring loaded shorting bar on the fire wall activated with a cable. No trunk cover in 58, only access was folding down the back seat. As noted in the article, the gearing was low and only a 3 speed manual, so 60-65 mph was top speed.
  • 5
    Dale East Central, South Dakota February 26, 2014 at 17:54
    They were fun. I didn't have one, didn't get to drive one, but I dated a girl in Southern Cal who had one and did the driving. It was the convertible model. I'm not sure if it was the car, or the girl, that made the trips fun. The interior room was adequate for the mid-sized Marine on the passenger side. The driver's side had more than adequate room for the girl doing the driving. The little car had adequate power to keep up free-way traffic. The fuel economy was in the 30 mpg range. As a passenger, I never felt threatened in city traffic. She was able to handle the car to get change lanes as needed. It would be more than adequate to keep up with the commuter traffic of today. It would be more than a competitor for the small Japanese, Korean, German or Italian beasties on the road today. If you have one, I'd say, drive it and enjoy it. If not, well my heart goes out to you, and me. (I don't have one)
  • 6
    Ken Florida February 26, 2014 at 18:01
    I have owned a Metropolitan for 24 years. I have a 1961 convertible. This car causes more commotion than any other car I have ever owned. Everyone just loves this car. Of course it it turquoise and white the best of all the color combinations. If you don't like attention this is not the car for you.
  • 7
    Chris Vetter Crows Landing, CA February 26, 2014 at 18:47
    we enjoy are 59 Met draws attention away from all the Fords and Chevys at car meets
  • 8
    Perry E McKenzie II Georgia February 26, 2014 at 19:07
    I had 4 of them in Plymouth Ohio . When I was 19, and 20 years old. 1 was a 59 hard top & 1 was a 60 rag top that I found in a junk yard with a tree growing inside it. I also had 2 hard tops for parts. I restored both to as close to new as a young man could. I drove them every where I went. LOVED them both. Good girl catchers.
  • 9
    Will Owen Pasadena, CA February 26, 2014 at 19:34
    The second engine was the "B" block, identical to the MG's except for compression, camshaft and carburetor(s). Some people have either dropped in a whole MG engine or modified the original. Having driven a Metropolitan, I would advise caution here: the little dear can just barely deal with 55 hp. This is one of those very rare cars that's the opposite of a big car that seems to shrink around you when you drive it: the Metro is tiny, but manages to feel like a period Buick, except for the very cramped cockpit. The one I drove belonged to my brother. It says much about his youthful taste in cars that when this one died, he promptly bought another.
  • 10
    Bruce Eugene, Oregon February 26, 2014 at 21:17
    I took my first driver's license test at 17 (1965) in a green and white Metro. That was the first time I had ever seen it, let alone drove it. I had been driving on dirt roads since I was 13 (yes there was such a thing in San Diego then!). But this was my first time with a hydraulic clutch. Parallel parking was a snap (yes they tested for that then). I passed with only 3 points to spare. BUT I PASSED!! There was a Metro with a 312 Ford Y-block and 4spd that had the front end extended by about 18" that cruised El Cajon blvd in the mid '60's. And in the late '80s, I saw a Metro "limo" at a car show at San Diego Stadium. Here in Eugene there's a couple in their '80s who have a Metro with a Datsun B210 engine and trans.
  • 11
    Chris Campbell Traverse City, MI February 26, 2014 at 22:52
    I know all about the "smiles" effect. I owned a 1960 Rambler American station wagon from 1972 until 1993. It had that same inverted-bathtub styling, and it always made people smile. There was something about that little round car that made people happy.
  • 12
    Craig Howell San Carlos, CA February 26, 2014 at 22:58
    Nice article, thanks for posting it! My wife and I have a 1960 Metropolitan, insured with Hagerty, of course! Photos: http://photos.thecreeper.net/My-Cars/1960-Metropolitan-Glam-Shots/
  • 13
    Raymond Stith N. California February 27, 2014 at 13:32
    I like Chris & Sandy's Met
  • 14
    Ms Laur Wisconsin February 27, 2014 at 14:19
    My red and white met is the cutest car in the show wherever we go! I saw my first one at the Iola Car show and finally got one. It is fun to drive, gets good gas mileage and draws a lot of attention whether you are in a parade or not! I love to read people's lips when in traffic- either they know what it is and SMILE or they say, 'What is that?' Fun times are in store for any owner of a Met!
  • 15
    Barb Michigan February 27, 2014 at 14:38
    My dad had a black and white Metro and I also learned to drive using that little car. The master cylinder to the brakes was under the driver's feet. Those brakes would fail periodically, much to my horror!! I agree with the "smile" quotient of that great little car. Thanks for the memories!!
  • 16
    paul class maryland February 27, 2014 at 07:30
    had a metro for a brief time while stationed in el paso ,great car brings back a lot of memories
  • 17
    Byron D. Van Iden, Esq. Cleveland, OH February 27, 2014 at 09:03
    I owned a '51 Ambassador and a '54Healey, appreciated ant thought the Met cute and practical. I think this story is an excellent history of the period marques.
  • 18
    Inger H Jersey Shore February 27, 2014 at 09:29
    My Dad was a service Manager for Sicora Motors a Jeep & AMC dealership in Somerset NJ, prior to that he worked for Nash in New Brunswick. I remember my brother driving a Metro delivering Pizzas for Caffaro's in New Brunswick. I still think it's the cutest car ever made!
  • 19
    Larry Washington Twp Michigan February 27, 2014 at 09:41
    My parents friend had a 58 Metropolitan it was green and white.We lived in Detroit at the time, One Sunday in the summer my Dad and I ( I was maybe 9 or 10)borrowed the keys and with a great amount back and forth effort parked the car between our house and the house next door in the driveway sideways (the house were very close together ) . At the end of the evening when Mary Lou went home she discovered her car .It was a very funny situation (I guess you had to be there) Of course my Dad had to get it out between the houses.
  • 20
    Don Oakley Urbana, OH February 27, 2014 at 10:02
    I purchased a 1954 Nash Metropolitan with serial #E1015 in 1972. Yes, number 15. It was in rough shape. Planned to restore it when I retired, but still have it unrestored.
  • 21
    RD Northeast February 27, 2014 at 11:34
    I remember the Nash Met back in the 50`s in high school, They were "cute" and while there were a few around, I never "longed" to get one. The car I wanted back then was a 55 or 56 chevy hardtop --now that was a "girl catcher" back then IMO, or a nice 57 chevy.
  • 22
    -Nate Sunny Southern California February 27, 2014 at 00:06
    Amazingly , 60 years later the Mighty Metropolitan remains *THE* car for it's time ~ I drive a 1959 Coupe daily for commuting and long distance travel around America , it still gets 34 MPG's easily and will cruise all day long @ 70 MPH . Parts remain cheap as is uses mostly MG running gear . -Nate
  • 23
    Dan West Salem, Ohio February 28, 2014 at 17:03
    Just purchased a 57 last weekend with 18,000 miles on it. Always wanted one neighbor had one when I was a kid watched him go up and down the road in it for years. I look forward to driving it this summer.
  • 24
    Lance Herrington la grange, Texas February 28, 2014 at 11:31
    Wanted a Met as a youngster and never had one. About 9 years ago bought my first one and another and another and another. Have about 40 now! Drive a "one owner" 59' with original paint & a/c. We even produce H.D. anti-sway bars (front & rear)for them (which never had). Great cars! Just finished a total restoration on a 59' Rambler American Wagon ! FUN, FUN, FUN !
  • 25
    Lauri B The 57 Met Lady Shady cove Oregon March 2, 2014 at 22:23
    I have five of these little beauties, one of which is a convertible, they are all 1957 models, and I just adore them, I drive my little Dino anywhere and I have a one car show goin on, whether its the gas station or the wal mart it attracts so much interest and so many questions and comments. They certainly are amazing little orphans.
  • 26
    james willett asheboro n.c. March 3, 2014 at 06:26
    i have a 1959 met i am working on now,haveing fun
  • 27
    Tina Keeling League City, TX March 4, 2014 at 13:06
    I am not "Old" enough to remember these little cars, but my husband is. 7 years ago, he was googling them on the internet, he has ridden around the entire state of Texas in one as a 17 year old musician. When I went to search for the "Metropolitan" theater, his searches came up. I asked him what it was and he proceeded to explain this cute little car to me. Well the hunt was on! He would be turning 60 in 9 months, so I decided for his 60th B-day, this was what I would buy him. I searched and found a little 58 Red/White that I liked (not the convertible turquois/white like he had ridden in), I got it in Portland and had it delivered to "Timeless Classics" in LaGrange, TX. They fixed it all up pretty and then I took it to storage for another 4 months until his "Surprise" party. I had the Metropolitan car club come out and bring their little mets in Austin, TX and his was sitting there all "Proud" with theirs. He is still a musician, so he was told that he was playing at this little bar for a "Car Club" so when he arrived, he thought that was still true, until over 400 of his friends yelled, "Surprise, Happy Birthday". He still didn't know that 1 of the little cars was his. After about an hour of him slobbering all over the Metropolitans I finally gave him his keys! He named the car "Cherry Pie" from the 50's song. He loves it. I had so much fun riding along that I had to have 1 for myself. So I purchased 1 in Spokane WA 2 years ago. It is Pink and White, has eyelashes and her name is "Lollipop". She is always the hit at the car shows. These are the MOST FUN cars to drive, and when you are feeling just a little down, take it for a drive and you will be HAPPY the rest of the day, and you will make everyone else happy too! They really are "Chick Magnets" and "MAGICAL" little automobiles!
  • 28
    Mark Pennsylvania March 4, 2014 at 13:44
    My first new car was a '58 Met Coupe.I loved it.Many people couldn't understand why a college student would want such a 'toy'. I made many 250mi. turnpike trips in it, and it had amazing capabilities in snow. In 2012 I acquired a '61 convertible in #2 restored condition.Nothing like a met to relive your younger years. Viva la Met!
  • 29
    Janice Latham Concord, NC March 27, 2014 at 13:13
    I still have the best memories of my Nash Metropolitan, bought in 1958--a 2-door hardtop, colors: white and salmon. My kids can't believe I drove around "in that coffin, on the freeway, Mom!" Yes, and I Ioved it! I only sold it because, by that time, I had a houseful of kids and it was sort of inconvenient for all of us to crowd into it. I wish I had it even today. . . just ideal for my little trips to the market and shopping.
  • 30
    Classic Cars Of Yuma United States June 22, 2014 at 16:57
    Customer just Sent us 59 Nash Metropolitan for a ground up restoration.Any help would be appreciated on NOS parts dealer.Its a conv.Red and white with black top.
  • 31
    Judy Y, Muller Galveston, Texas September 3, 2014 at 20:25
    I owed a yellow & white Metropolitan in 1966. Had a wonderful time driving and running around in my hometown (Jacksonville, Texas) I would love to have another and am always for a GOOD deal on one!!
  • 32
    Bonnie Wacksman Wachler California September 9, 2014 at 14:39
    I had 2 Metro's. In Ohio I had a black and white 1956 old and I came to CA and gave my Metro. I came to California in 1962, Then I bought another in CA and it was a 1962. After I had 3 son's in my car I could not. So, when my oldest guy, I gave it to him in 1985 so that he could drive to UCLA to college. Now, this year is 2014 and my son STILL has that car
  • 33
    Bruce Wiegand Traverse City, MI May 21, 2016 at 22:52
    Just acquired a restored 1957 Metropolitan--Caribbean Blue and White convertible. Considering adding sway bars.

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