Can you believe it? The Nash Metropolitan was the UK’s best selling automotive export to the USA in the 1950s.
From late 1953 to 1961, 84,000 Americans put one in their driveway and another 11,000 Canadians did the same.
No other UK car company matched those export figures.
The origins of the Metro begin in the USA.
In the late 1940s, Nash reckoned there was a market for a cheap sub-compact cars in the USA, especially as a second car for increasingly affluent suburban families.
They asked William Flajole, who was an engineer with Nash’s Kelvinator division — to create a design.
The result was a two-seater concept car called the NXI, which was first shown publicly in 1950.
With a length of just 3800mm and a wheelbase of 2159mm, the NXI was smaller than the VW Beetle, which had just been released in the USA.
Displayed at various auto shows and special market research events, the cute styling drew positive responses, so the Nash folk decided to take it to market.
And it is here that the Nash managers were smart.
They knew they had no experience making small cars and ended up contracting Austin to build the car.
Using Austin’s A40 1.2-litre four cylinder engine, three speed gearbox with a column-mounted shifter, running gear and other components, it was ready for export in late 1953.
The styling mimicked the larger Nash models.
It came in convertible and coupe body styles.
Painted in bright garish colours and with 1950s “luxury” features as standard, such as electric windscreen washers, cigarette lighter and leather trimmed upholstery, it was great value.
To save costs the Metro did not have an opening boot lid.
Access to that storage area was via the fold down seat back.
Performance was not starling, but certainly sprightlier than a VW Beetle.
Reports of the era say it achieved zero to 60 mph in around 20 seconds.
That was about half the time it took the VW.
The Metro went through a series of updates.
In 1955 Austin’s 1.5-litre B series four was installed.
The Metro was not sold in the UK itself until the late 1950s.
A few made it to Australia for evaluation by BMCA.
One was used by a local BMCA executive as a company car.
Modern Motor speculated in 1957 that BMCA might lengthen the car to make it a four-seater.
Production ceased in 1961.
Its demise came after the release of the Big Three’s compacts — Corvair, Valiant and Falcon — and the lack of development by BMC and American Motors.
Today it is a much sought after classic.
David Burrell is the editor of retroautos
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