Cars That Time Forgot

Cars That Time Forgot: Nash Metropolitan

by Richard Dredge
13 December 2021 3 min read
Cars That Time Forgot: Nash Metropolitan
Photos: RM Sotheby's

Optimism and ambition were the stuff that fuelled America at the start of the 1950s. During the post-war period, the booming economy, the rise of the suburbs and the so-called “baby boom” saw great changes, and for upwardly mobile families on the move, that meant increasing numbers of people felt it was time to become a two-car household.

It was a shift in mindset identified by George Mason, the president of Nash Motors, which was founded in 1916 by Charles Nash, former General Motors president. Mason believed that there was a ready market for an affordable runabout that would serve a two-car family as a shopping or commuter vehicle.

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He drafted in freelance designer Bill Flajole to come up with a design, and in a bid to share the development costs, as well as to tap into the European market, Mason planned to collaborate with Fiat.

A prototype was built, based on the original Fiat 500 (the Topolino), and this was unveiled in 1950 as the NXI (Nash Experimental International). To cut costs, the front and rear wings would be interchangeable, and the doors would be too. By the time the production car arrived, the wings were unique front and rear, but the interchangeable doors did make it into production.

Nash Metropolitan

Nash took the NXI on a tour of the US, canvassing public opinion, and it was clear that there was an appetite for this tiny car. Nash then met with Fiat and Standard-Triumph with a view to putting the NXI into production with one of them. But it was Austin that was awarded the contract, to build a car that would use a combination of A30 and A40 running gear.

The forthcoming car was announced in October 1952, but at that point it had no name. A year later the new model went into production as the NX1, and the cars were badged as such, but three months later Nash decided that to encapsulate the tiny vehicle’s natural urban habitat, it would be called Metropolitan. Any cars built up to that point had their badges replaced during the first service.

Whereas the Metropolitan prototype had featured a wheelbase that measured just 6ft 6in, the production car was stretched by seven inches. Power came from a 1200cc Austin A40 engine, which drove the rear wheels via a three-speed column-shift manual gearbox. To keep costs down there was no boot lid, and because boot space was at such a premium (accessed from within the car) the spare wheel was mounted over the rear bumper.

There was a bench seat for two in the front, and a rudimentary parcel shelf that was claimed to be a rear seat. Buyers could choose between coupé and convertible models (the former outsold the latter by 13 to one) and two-tone paint came as standard. The Metropolitan was intended to be a basic car at a low price, but despite this, a heater, radio and cigarette lighter were all standard.

The Nash Metropolitan was officially launched in March 1954, priced at $1445 for the coupé and $1469 for the drop-top. The new arrival was well received by the press and buyers alike, and they liked things even more when a facelift in 1956 brought a 1489cc Austin A50 engine for extra pep. It was in this form that the Metropolitan went on sale in the UK, as an Austin. Another update in 1959 finally brought an opening boot lid, with production lasting until 1961.

In the seven years that it was on sale, 104,000 Metropolitans were sold, 9000 of which were outside the US. That wasn’t enough to worry America’s Big Three, but it was just fine for Nash and it was pretty good for Austin too, with the British company making $35 million in the first five years, from tooling costs of just $800,000. Now the Metropolitan is all but forgotten, with just a handful left on both sides of the Atlantic. But when you do see one you know exactly what it is; you’re not going to mistake one of the tiny economy cars for anything else.

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Comments

  • Mike Perkins says:

    I owned a Metropolitan for about six years, a super car, never let me down once, unfortunately prone to rust, but I sold it for scrap when rust got the better of it, and I was given a brand new company car, I would get behind the wheel of one again.

  • Molly says:

    We just bought a ’57 and we love her. Better yet, she makes others smile just by looking at her. Cute little brick runs like a sewing machine loud & strong.

  • LR1600GT says:

    No idea what A30 mechanicals were used, yet have always suspected the Metropolitan made use of a SWB Austin Cambridge (A40-A55) platform based on the fact both share the same width.

  • Sam Walford says:

    l had a metropoitan convertable given to me by my dad in 1968 it was great.3 speed column change bench seat.i put it in px for Austin healy sprite big mistake I’m trying to buy another one now for a restoration job it was my first car and one could possible be my last now I’m 72 .

  • Lenny stull says:

    I just bought my first one it looks like the one you are showing. Going to get it running and drive with pride

  • Glen says:

    I have a 54 model badged as NKI with no number stamped in body and does not the E prefix on the vin plate. A great little car with a few mods. I’m located in Australia

  • John Kruis says:

    I have a 1957 Hudson Metropolitan. It is restored to factory specs. It wasn’t mentioned that the Metropolitan was also badged as a Hudson to be sold at the Hudson dealerships.

  • Torri & Mike Taunton says:

    My husband and I own 2 Metropolitans. Mine is a 1961 Convertible (yellow and white) with a boot lid – and his is a 1958 Hard Top (turquoise and white) without a boot lid. We love them – especially when we see all the smiles when we go for a drive. They don’t go fast – but why would you want to….they get more smiles going slow. Whenever someone asks me about the engine, I laugh and say – it’s like a lawn mower (ha ha) Mechanically they are simple (but can be frustrating sometimes) Although there are not many still operating, Metropolitan Pit Stop seems to always have what we need (and they are very helpful with advise) There are clubs on the internet and many states have clubs just for Metropolitans. This year (2022) we plan to go to as many car shows as we can. Metropolitans are never to be forgotten!

  • Dean Astleford says:

    After years of curiosity and intrigue whenever I saw a Metropolitan, I finally purchased one 2 weeks ago. It’s a black and white 59 hardtop, it runs great, and gets ALOT of looks, smiles and even pictures. Even more than my Vega, which I didn’t think could ever happen. We will have fun with this car!

  • Carol Martens says:

    Just finished redo on my ’59/60 convertible. Orog red n white, custom houndstooth interior, blk top. New chrome just in time for driving weather.

  • John and Judy Rust says:

    We have two as well, for over 30 years, one a 58 yellow hard top and a customized 61 convertible, both cars have won many awards.

  • Harold Demarest says:

    My dad owned a convertible Metropolitan for a short time in 1965, but it was one of his favorites. He was always a fan of Hudson automobiles. He was a tall man, and a lot of his height was in his torso, so he did stick up pretty far out of the car. He only had it for a few months before another driver ignored a stop sign and t-boned it. But the image of my dad sticking way up out of that little car is still with me 57 years later.

  • Matt McGuire says:

    I’m very close to getting a 55 back on the road. it’s been interesting tracking down parts, but a lot of it does interchange with other MOWAG cars, just got to figure out which ones.

  • Robert Lidster says:

    I have a completely restored 59 met coup. Award winner at world of wheels. Get many people stopping us to look at the car. Lots of fun to drive.

  • Brian Weaver says:

    Our Metropolitan is named CC short for clown car. We enjoy driving CC to cruise ins and out on the town when parking is limited.

  • Bill T says:

    In 1955 the met was not Nash that is impossible because Nash and Hudson merger they are officially AMC incorrectl information

  • lee Higgins says:

    My cousin owed one when she lived in Bala, Ontario and once in a while allowed me to drive it and it turned a lot of heads !

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