What is it?

Metropolitan was a well-dressed subcompact

Last week’s photo showed a circa 1959 Nash Metropolitan, a tiny two-seater later labeled American’s first subcompact. The year model isn’t obvious from the photo, and in fact, we don’t know it.

 

In the larger photo from which it was taken, though, the hardtop has vent windows, which were not added to the doors until 1959. The car, which debuted in late 1953, then vanished in 1961. (Part of a second red-and-white Met, a convertible, is in the foreground.


See Also


In fact, you will notice six Metropolitans in our big photo, which reader Barry B. Dickson, of Augusta, was nice enough to email to us, and some of the cars have no vent windows (and trunk lids, by the way), so they are older than 1959s. You’re on your own after that, except for this:

“I found (this) photo from a 2015 club event in McCungie, Pa., which has several Mets parked in front of the local fire station. Mine is the black-and-white 1960 convertible (top down), third from the end in the front row. I also have a 1954 convertible with an early engine (hard-to-find parts).

“The Metropolitan is an odd American/British hybrid car. It was designed for the Nash Corp. by independent designer Bill Flajole and built entirely in the Austin plant in England. The Met was sold almost exclusively in the U.S. for model years 1954 to 1960. American Motors Corp. owned the Nash and Hudson brands in 1954, and AMC decided they wanted a compact car to sell in the Nash and Hudson showrooms.

“Most of the 100,000 Mets built bore the Nash badge, but there were some Hudsons, too. The only difference was the grille emblem and horn button. When AMC retired the Nash and Hudson brands in late 1955, the Met line became a standalone, badged with a stylized ‘M’ on hubcaps and grille.

“These cars were the most basic of transportation, marketed as a second car ‘for the wife.’ They did not even have a trunk lid until 1959; until then the only way to access the trunk was by folding down the back seat. Very inconvenient if the car was a convertible with the top down!

“There is a very active Metropolitan owners club (MOCNA.com) with local chapters all over the U.S., except, sadly, not in the Southeast. I try to go to club events when I can afford to. The club estimates that there are now about 10,000 Mets on the road.

“I meet many people at shows and events who have Met stories to tell. Then, of course, I almost always get the guy who asks, ‘Is that the car that goes in the water?’ (Meaning the Amphicar.) ‘Yep. Straight to the bottom!”

We thank him for his photo, facts and humor. We should explain our clue last week: “If you’re drawing a blank, you might saunter downtown to a fancy opera house with a cocktail in your hand.” The word “metropolitan,” after all, can describe, among other things, a metropolis, the Met in Manhattan and a drink much like a cosmopolitan.

The Met was tiny but surprisingly well-equipped. The bench seat handled three occupants, and the four-cylinder engine and three-speed manual transmission eventually got the car down the highway. The public saw it as either cute, or hideous, with its two-tone paint and half-hidden wheels all around.

Chosen from the correct entries was Pat Glover, of Evans, who wrote: “The year was 1961 or ’62 at North Augusta High School; one of my classmates, a football player, had a black-and-white Metropolitan convertible. I remember it well for it was frequently in the hallway or gym; it was so light a few football players could pick it up and set it down in a variety of places.

“Their crowning achievement was cutting watermelons in half and putting them under the wheels, when Mike went to drive off the tires just spun, until they picked it up and removed the watermelons! Great car, great memories!”

Thanks for the memories, Pat. Here are the other readers identifying the vehicle. We had to trim comments in the paper to get everyone in but have them in their entirety online:

AIKEN: Bob Ennis said: “This week I knew it was a Nash Metropolitan. So I backed into the ‘opera house’ clue. These cars were made between 1953 and 1961, so I will say a 1958. They were powered by a little flathead four-cylinder car that got pretty good gas mileage for back in the early 1950s. It also appeared as a Hudson Metropolitan when Nash became part of AMC.”

Ann Willbrand said 1955 Metro: “This ‘economy car’ was marketed as a second car for women or as a commuter car. The color scheme of the car in the picture appears to be Coral Red and Snowberry White. It was sold under the Nash, Hudson and later Rambler nameplates.”

AUGUSTA: Willie Thomas knew it was an American Motors products, “probably a Nash two-door from the 1960 era. The make them only a few years before they went out of production.”

Gary Engen sent in a photo of a turquoise-and-white 1958 Metropolitan once owned by Jimmy Buffett: “This week you have pictured a couple of Metropolitans. They were produced only from 1953-61. Earlier models were produced under the Hudson and Nash brands and were often called ‘baby Nashes,’ while later Metros were a product of American Motors.

“Nash merged with Hudson in 1954 to create American Motors Corp., and in 1957 AMC dropped the brand names Nash and Hudson and from then all Metropolitans were marketed only under the ‘Metropolitan’ brand.

“Although they were designed in the U.S., they were all manufactured in Great Britain.

Around 1959, Nash started the fourth series of the Metro, which resulted in a redesign that included the addition of an external deck lid (previous models, strangely enough, allowed access to the trunk only through the rear seat back). You can see the trunk opening handle in the photo of the white-top coupe, so it is at least a 1959 or later model.

“By the way, the other red car in the photo is a Metropolitan but a convertible. I suppose I’d take a guess and say it’s a 1961, the last year of production. I read that there were many famous Metropolitan owners in the day to include Jimmy Buffett, Steve Jobs, Princess Margaret, Paul Newman, Elvis Presley and ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic.

“I remember a college friend in the early ’60s who dated a girl who had a Metropolitan on campus, who always joked about his girlfriend in the ‘clown car.’ I guess it was no joke, though, for they were soon married and still are to this day (but ditched the clown car long ago).”

Tony Brunson said: “This week’s What Is It? I believe to be a late-1950s Nash Metropolitan. I think both cars are. The one in the foreground might be a mid-1950s. I helped a friend restore several of these in the ’70s. A real simple car, and I believe it to be a good little car, too. I did not put a lot of miles on one but did put a lot of hours in them. Thanks again for the stroll down memory lane.”

Walker Mobley Jr. said: “This week’s puzzle is a photo of a 1954, ’55 or ’56 Nash Metropolitan hardtop. These cars came with an Austin A40 or A50 four-cylinder engine, synchromesh three-speed transmission, column shift. They also were equipped with Girling brakes, or so I understand, and were listed as ‘Sold and Serviced by Nash Dealers.’

“With Austin engines and Girling brakes as standard, this makes me think that England was involved here. May be wrong about that. I don’t remember seeing very many of these cars on the street. A friend was restoring one of these cars but moved away before he finished so I don’t know how it turned out.

“As always keep these coming.

Ron Main said: “The photo shows a Nash Metropolitan. It appears to be a Series 4, since it has a trunk lid, which dates it from 1959 to 1961.”

Rucker Vaiden said: “This is the unmistakable Nash Metropolitan. They made these from 1953 to 1961. It’s hard to tell the year since all years look the same from this angle.”

Dalton E. Brannen said: “There are two red vehicles in the photograph, but the hint regarding the Metropolitan Opera leads to the one in the background rather than the foreground. The red-and-white car is a Nash Metropolitan. They were produced from 1954 to 1962 in hardtop and convertible models, and during that time sold from $1,400 to $1,600.

“It was the smallest domestic car sold, and it was fairly popular as was the VW (and a wheelbase shorter than the Beetle’s) until the Big Three manufacturers started to produce ‘compact’ cars in the 1960s. The color combinations were bright, and the body style was reminiscent of the turgid full-size Nash Rambler. If cars can be characterized as cute, the Metropolitan would qualify.”

John Hayes said: “I looked at buying one that was the same color combination as the one in the paper but I opted for a ’56 Chevy Bel Air. I’m not sure either decision was correct.”

James Wall said it was the Nash Metropolitan or the plain Metropolitan after Nash died. The older ones had a piece of chrome in the middle of the hood that the newer ones didn’t.

CANTON, Ga.: David Anderson wrote: “The Metropolitan was a pet project of Nash President George Mason. Its history can be traced back to just after World War II, with production coming to fruition in 1952-53. Mason liked the smaller cars and had already introduced us to the Rambler. Producing another, even smaller car from scratch in the U.S. would have been cost-prohibitive for Nash because of the startup tooling and die costs. A deal was struck for it to be built in England using existing Austin components.

“The body was designed by a combination of Nash in-house styling and Pininfarina, and was also built in England. The cars were assembled by Austin and shipped to and supposedly sold exclusively only in the U.S. It is now known that very small numbers of the cars were built as right-hand drive for sale in Europe and Australia. A few of these also made it the States for use by utility companies and the post office.

“All of this makes the Nash Metropolitan one of America’s first, if not the first, captive import. By the time it made it to market in 1954, Nash had merged with Hudson to form American Motors, with Mason still at the helm. Mason died unexpectedly in 1954 and AMC Vice President George Romney (Mitt’s dad) took over. For 1955-57, the Metropolitan was sold under both the Nash and the Hudson names, with the badges being the only difference between the them.

“The Nash and Hudson names were eventually dropped by American Motors, leaving only the Rambler and now the Metropolitan as its own brand from 1958-62. Still to this day however, I hear nearly everyone refer to it as the Nash Metropolitan, and even the Encyclopedia of American Cars 1930-1980 categorizes it only under the Nash name.

“The teaser shot shows the side view of a 1959 or later Metropolitan, because you can see the rear deck-lid handle and hinges. Before 1959, there was no opening trunk lid. The only way to use the trunk was to push the seats forward.”

EDGEFIELD, S.C.: Marion Traxler said: “This auto is a Nash Metropolitan coupe they started in 1954 and was made about eight years. It’s hard to tell what year this is; all the bodies were the same.”

EVANS: Bill Harding said: “The cars were produced in the United Kingdom by a British-Leyland subsidiary (Austin) from 1953 to 1961. During that time a bit over 95,000 Metropolitans were produced, with most of them sold in the United States and Canada.

“Available as two-door coupes or convertibles, the cars were marketed to women. The strongest sales year was 1959 when 22,000 were sold in North America. Sales nose-dived after that, when all American carmakers (including AMC) were selling compact cars. I have no clue as to the year of this Metropolitan, so I’ll guess that it’s a ’59.”

Glenn Frostholm said: “This week’s car is a 1959-61 series IV Nash Metropolitan in Mardi Gras Red. America’s first U.S.-designed subcompact car. Smaller than a VW Beetle, it was built in England using parts from existing Austins, and U.S.-designed body panels.”

Jeff Keevil said: “Your clue helped me determine which car you were asking about – the Nash Metropolitan. It looks like this one has a trunk lid, making it the ‘59-61 version. My aunt bought one of these used in the ’60s but it never saw the road much. It had starting issues. It was the classic aqua-and-white color.

“An older cousin had an MG, and the Metro looked like it had an MG engine but only a with single carb. The thing I remember most is that it had a ‘four-on-the-tree’ shifter. As a young teen I remember sitting in the car as it sat in the garage and shifting through the gears, amazed at that arrangement.”

Larry Heath said it was the 1954 Nash Metropolitan: “The car was a British-built vehicle that Nash imported and sold as an economy car or ‘second family car.’ The car was smaller than a VW Beetle and originally had a 73-cubic-inch engine and three-speed manual transmission. Nash, later changed to American Motors, had other compact cars that were more practical and eventually the Metropolitan was dropped from production. These cars are looked upon as collectibles, and parts are still readily available.”

Ted Sharpe said: “It looks like a 1955. Although only 10 years old at the time, I loved those cars. I would walk uptown with my buddy to go to the Lucas Theater in Savannah to spend the day watching movies. Then, after the movies, we would go look at the Nash Metropolitans. After enjoying looking at the cars, we would walk home, which was 3-4 miles and safe.”

GROVETOWN: Charles Jenkins said: “Quite a few non-Big Three cars from the mid-to late 1950s and early 1960s were interesting then and remain so today. I never owned a little Nash, and my wife says forget it now!”

HEPHZIBAH: Theo Hammontree identified it as the 1958 Metropolitan, then pointed out that both cars in the photo were Mets: “My Dad and Mom had one many, many years ago. They were so proud of their little car, they sent pictures of it to every member of the family. Then it turned out when the starter went out my dad thought it was pretty expensive to spend $120 for a new starter, so he kind of change his mind.”

JOHNSTON, S.C.: Lee Williams said: “When I lived in Greenville, S.C., there was one with a ‘for sale’ sign on my walking route. I examined it several days during my walk. Unfortunately, I could not afford an old car on the salary I was making at the time.”

KEYSVILLE, Ga.: Glenn Widner said: “Very cosmopolitan, or Metropolitan in this case. A subcompact two-seat car made from 1953-62. It had a tiny 85-inch wheelbase. Nash, Hudson and AMC made them over the years. They didn’t change much on the outside, and you needed to look at the serial number to determine the model year, much like U.S.-made tractors that didn’t change much year to year.”

LOUISVILLE, Ga.: Bob Holbert said: “The prototype was produced in 1950. Because American production was geared to large cars, it was cheaper to produce it in England through an agreement with Austin Motor Co. Aimed at families seeking low-cost second vehicles and at women attracted to ‘cute’ styling, it was the first subcompact introduced in America.

“We used to joke the car was so small you would need to buy two – one for each foot!”

MARTINEZ: Joe Bert said: “The Nash Metropolitan, with a four-cylinder engine and mini seating for two small passengers, which is why I could never own one! But they were fun to help a friend work on one. In fact, in the late ’50s, I helped put a Chevy 283 V-8 in a Metro. Talk about shoehorn fabrication, but it would cruise rapidly. The Metros were made from 1952 to 1956. Any car show you attend, most times one Metro shows up.”

John Phillips said: “I think this one is a 1957. As I remember, they were built from about 1954-61 or ’62 and all looked very similar. They were also called Hudsons because at some point Nash and Hudson merged. My cousin in Miami had one he called a mom’s errand/grocery-getter car. The thing I remember most about it was the gearshift that was mounted in the dash instead of on the steering column.”

Travis Starr identified the Metropolitan coupe: “I’ll say 1957 to maybe 1961.”

NORTH AUGUSTA: Bill Bendorf said: “This was a ‘cool’ car when I was growing up in Pittsburgh.”

Paul Brewer said: “You chose a fun little car this week. The Nash Metropolitan was a compact car ahead of its time. It was also sold for a few years as a Hudson, but most of us remember it as a Nash.

I think I make out a truck lid on your photo, which makes this a Series IV that went into production in 1959. Previous Metros didn’t have a truck lid.

“I was at a car show in Myrtle Beach, S.C., a couple of years ago, and there was a Metro with a V-8 stuffed in it. I would not like to try to tame that kind of power with such a short wheelbase. Interesting handling, to say the least!

“Keep the cool machines coming.

Ted Wasserlein said: “The car for this week’s Quiz is a Nash Metropolitan. My brother, John, was the proud owner of a 1954 convertible, turquoise with a black top.

“They were produced with model years from 1954 to 1962, built in England by Austin and were powered by an overhead-valve four-cylinder engine that produced 47 horsepower. Reports indicate zero to 60 times around 20 seconds, but it seemed much longer than that to me.

“What I remember most about this car took place in the summer of 1958. John was 17 and I was 15 when our family made the move from Illinois to Florida. The plan was to move my mother, brother, myself and the family dog down first. We built a makeshift platform in the ‘back seat’ large enough for our 50-pound dog. The three of us added about 25 percent to the car’s 1,785 pounds.

“Every ounce of horsepower was needed. We were to follow our parents in my mother’s loaded-down 1956 Chevrolet. During the first coffee stop while still in Illinois the dog unsnapped the top, pushed his way out and took a tour of his new surroundings. In fact, there may still be a paternity suit pending!

“He was easily rounded up, but the decision was made to leash him in the car for all future meal breaks. During our lunch break that same day we could see the car from our booth and watched as he shredded the convertible top just behind the driver’s-side window. A roll of black electrician’s tape became part of the car that day and from then on. The rest of the trip, my brother and I ate in shifts. One of us would care for the dog while the other one ate.

“Four days and a new clutch later we arrived in the Sunshine State, where my brother became a self-proclaimed sports car owner and insisted on waving to other ‘like-minded’ folks driving real sports cars like Triumphs, MGs and the like. A few even waved back.”

Ed Wilcox guessed the 1960 version: “It’s too bad it didn’t sell well and become an icon, like the Beetle.”

PERRY, Fla.: Larry Anderson said: “They were certainly oddball cars, cute in their own way. They proved that even back in the 1950s and ’60s when Detroit had big cars and gas guzzlers, American cars without computer technology could get 40 mpg. I knew a fellow who had one in about 1964, a green-and-white one. I thought about getting one later but they were collectors’ cars by then.”

SWAINSBORO, Ga.: John K. Derden wrote: “I had a black-and-white one in college and was much embarrassed by it for it was not a cool car in the days of muscle cars, but how much I wish I had it today! It was a hybrid in the sense that it had English running gear (Austin) but American design.”

TIGNALL, Ga.: Gene Wilson didn’t know what year the Metropolitan was: “My brother had one.”

NO CITY LISTED: Tony and Myra Ruffino thought it was the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, no doubt from the continental spare tire.

THIS WEEK’S QUIZ

Do you know the make, model and possibly the year of this vehicle? Unlike last week’s car, this one is a bit far off and obscure, from the land of lions, scorpions and crabs. I think a little research will help. Jim and I recognized it, and Leo did, too. If you drive a Ram or a Taurus, you might be closer than you think.

Enter through our online form at chronicle.augusta.com/whatisit. Or, email glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

Tell us your name, city and stories you have about a car like this. If you call, please spell your name.

You have through Tuesday. Entries will be printed Friday. Thank you.

– Glynn Moore, staff writer

More

Around the Web