In what must be some sort of weird, inverted version of a midlife crisis, I like almost anything BMC these days.
Seriously – at an age at which most men start lusting after Ferraris and Lamborghinis, I’m dreaming about Austin Westminsters, A40s and all manner of other quaint vehicles from an era now so distant it almost seems like another planet.
I suppose what they have in common is that they’re all ‘Lost England’ cars: reminders of a time that probably only exists in the minds of people who (like me) hanker after the cosy certainties of the ’50s, without actually having been around to experience the ration-books-and-repression reality of the era.
To be honest there are lots of BMC cars I would like to have before I get around to owning a Metropolitan, but to even admit to liking them feels like a profoundly guilty pleasure, so it suits the purposes of this column perfectly.
In a way, the Metropolitan is less a ‘Lost England’ classic and more a vehicle seemingly built for a ’50s world of skiffle and Tommy Steele films: an Expresso Bongo car (look it up) that seems to perfectly channel the vibe of a time when we British yearned for anything American.
The 1954-1961 Metropolitan looked like a yank and was initially built for the American market only, where it was badged as both a Nash and a Hudson and ran an Austin drivetrain in a close-coupled two-seater monocoque body.
Styled by Nash but built in Longbridge, it came as a coupé or a convertible and was initially a 1.2-litre machine, although a 1.5-litre unit was available later, and this version also boasted the sheer decadence of an opening boot lid.
In the American market it was sold as a second or third car. In the UK it was an expensive trinket at £700. Only the larger-engined post-1956 models were sold in the UK, where the 74mph, three-speed column change Metropolitan was an object of desire for many a young lady who wanted a nifty runabout with a touch of glamour.
A women’s car? You bet: in an era long before today’s gender politics, the cheeky, cheerful, easy-to-park and cheap Metropolitan was aimed squarely and unashamedly at the fairer sex.
Its tucked-in wheels gave it the appearance of a giant friction toy, or an animated character and it came in bright two-tone colour schemes that helped to sweep away the gloom of post-war austerity that seemingly required most new cars to be regulation black.
And if the Austin Atlantic failed to charm the Americans, the Metropolitan (never actually badged as an Austin but instead sold simply as a Metropolitan in the UK) was a sales success, with 104,000 built.
BMC never replaced it, despite the success of continental boulevardiers such as the VW Karmann Ghia and Renault Floride, which in many ways sold to the same market. If nothing else, the Nissan Figaro retro car of 25 or so years ago was a ’90s reinterpretation of the Metropolitan’s cheeky appeal.
I just think Metropolitans have a charm and innocence that totally transcends whatever they might be like to drive. I couldn’t say how bad (or good) they are, because I have never even sat in one. But what I can say is that every owner I’ve met loves their Metropolitan dearly, and they rarely seem to be parted with.
Would I pay ten grand for one? Probably not. It’s just good to know they exist.
Images: Malcolm Griffiths