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STATESIDE SUN SEEKERS Published: 8th Jul 2013 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!


What The Experts Say...

According to Bob Patrick, Spares and Publicity officer of the Metropolitan Owners Club, there are probably just 150-200 cars left although they are still coming out of the woodwork. Like everybody else who owns one, Bob is a staunch fan and went on to say that the little Metropolitan remains totally practical for today’s roads and that his own cars cruise happily at 55-60mph plus he even tows a folding caravan with one. However Bob concedes that the wheelbase is short and the track very narrow meaning care has to be taken in the wet, particularly when period skinny cross ply tyres are fitted!

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Fancy some real 50s style from BMC or Rootes? Well, here’s how!

Spawned in the time of post-war American infl uence, the badge-engineered Rootes family cars hit the scene in the mid fi fties; prosaic Hillman Minx, luxury Singer Gazelle and sporty Sunbeam Rapier which within a couple of years would all be available as convertibles. The Minx, Gazelle and Rapier convertibles were available from 1958 to 1963 and shared the Hillman 1494cc ohc engine with 73bhp for the Rapier and 56bhp for the other two which would later be upgraded to 1592cc with 80bhp for the Rapier and 64bhp for the others.

Meanwhile, across the pond there was a distinct shortage of small cars and the Nash Kelvinator Motor Company actually used a hand-built concept car to carry out research to establish if more small cars were needed and received a positive response. Not having small car tooling or experience, its research resulted in a contract for Austin for mechanics and Fisher and Ludlow for bodywork; the Nash Metropolitan was born and hit the Nash dealers in 1954 and, with little change, lasted until 1961.

After the amalgamation of Nash and Hudson, the Metropolitan was available under both names.

Understandably, both are rare sights these days yet also still provide individualistic yet affordable American style classic motoring but homespun oily bits. What suits you best?


Aimed at female motorists in the US – hence its dainty styling, the Metropolitan changed little in its life with just the increase in engine size from a paltry 1200 cc, 42bhp to 1489 cc, 51bhp, two tone paint, opening boot lid and quarterlights. It was available as a hardtop and a convertible although of the 104,000 made only around 8000 were dropheads. While the original concept car had bucket seats and four on the fl oor, the production versions all sported three-speed column changes as preferred by the American public. The gearchange may be one of the reasons that so few were sold in the UK when the car fi nally was marketed here as an Austin Metropolitan 1500; under 5000 were sold here in the four years to 1961. That said at one point the car was the second best-selling US import after the VW Beetle.

The early Hillman Minx and Gazelle had rather a lot in common with the Metropolitan with similar power outputs, performance, drum brakes and stodgy handling. But the Rootes cars constantly developed with regular power increases, bigger brakes, upgraded suspension and all-gear synchromesh. This meant that by 1961 when Metropolitan production stopped, the Rootes cars were far superior and more modern with far better dynamics.

Minxes and Gazelles, particularly early ones have similar road behaviour to the Metropolitan although grip is rather higher particularly in the wet. The Rapier on the other hand is a different animal altogether thanks to development for rallying where it was extremely successful in the hands of Peter Harper. It always had more power than the other two culminating in a hefty 80bhp and 84lbs/ft of torque for the Mk 111A giving 93 mph and 0-60 in an respectable 16 seconds. The Rapier also boasted front disc brakes, uprated front anti-roll bar and heavy-duty clutch. It also had the option of overdrive denied the Minx and Gazelle.


If you just want to cruise on by-roads on sunny days, all these cars will be fun and will create a lot of attention but, if you have any real interest in driving and want to proceed at decent speeds on all roads in all weathers, you will need to look for either a Rapier, late Minx or Gazelle.

For real driving enthusiasts the only choice is a Rapier which actually handles really okay despite its age, has lusty performance and of course the opportunity for relaxed motorway cruising when overdrive is fi tted.

For a 1950s/60s car the Rapier’s disc/drum brakes are reassuring and can of course be beefed up with parts from later fastback Rapiers. That also applies to the engine which can be upgraded to 1725 with power outputs up to 105bhp, courtesy of Holbay if you wish although the simpler Rapier tune is far cheaper and more than adequate we feel.

That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t get lots of fun out of the others and if you really crave attention you will get it in spades with the little Metropolitan and lots of smiles as well. Performance is a lot more pedestrian with 60mph taking a wheezing 22 seconds (although the B-Series has enormous tuning potential of course). The three-on-a tree transmission is something you like or loathe and as we said earlier the handling can be challenging in the wet.

All these cars are rare today, the most prolifi c is probably the Rapier which sold in Britain in larger numbers than the other Rootes dropheads thanks to its extra performance and competition success.

Another benefi t of the Rootes trio is the four on the fl oor against the Metropolitan’s three on the column, unless you want to squeeze three on to the Metropolitan’s front bench. Another good feature of the British cars is the hood which can be set in the coupé de ville, half-open position reducing buffeting.

One small point but perhaps worth remembering before buying is the whopping 37 feet turning circle found on the Metropolitan, due to its enclosed wheels. If it’s tight getting into your lock up, you won’t thank the stylists for it…


Let’s face it, all of the cars in this comparison are rust buckets meaning that none are worth restoring from a basket case as the most any one of them would fetch today is probably £12,000 if in concours condition. If you can fi nd a good one then any of these cars would make an excellent starter classic with good owners’ club support and parts back up.

Overall it will probably be easier to maintain the Rootes cars owing to much greater numbers sold in the UK and fewer unique parts.

Bob Patrick, of the Metropolitan Owners Club says that mechanical parts are generally available except for unique parts such as king-pins which the Club used to have re-manufactured. Unfortunately the supplier is no longer operating and the Club is looking for alternatives. Bob says that there is much better support in the USA where tuned and custom cars abound and it is even possible to get hold of body parts, although it’s not easy.

These are all convertibles, although two-door coupés are available for Rapier and Metropolitan and saloons for Minx and Gazelle and prices do not vary that much between the different models. An MOT’d runner will cost around £3500 and a really nice example of any of these rag tops will fetch £8-10,000, and that’s not a lot for the amount of pleasure available.

And The Winner Is...

Unless you particularly like the extra attention the Metropolitan would attract (and who wouldn’t?), the best cars here are the Rootes offerings and probably the Rapier in particular. With a maximum of 90+ mph, acceleration capable of keeping up with today’s traffi c and, with overdrive fi tted, very relaxed motorway cruising, one of these would be most rewarding. Providing the underside and box sections are kept heavily Waxoyled it would also be pretty cheap to run. In terms of investment however, the Metropolitan might actually be a pretty good punt as prices are really starting to rise in the States and it is likely values here will follow suit. Plus it looks like no other Austin…

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