February 2016

I am Ralph Buckland, the Team Leader for the Visitor Attendants, in the museum. While the main exhibition centre was undergoing refurbishment over the winter, I became an honorary member of the archive team who were kind enough to let me use a work station in their office.

Visitors often ask me my favourite vehicle from the collection. I tell them it’s the Nash Metropolitan, as it’s a quirky looking vehicle, with an interesting history. Indeed, an eminent historian once described the Metropolitan as ‘a motoring cuckoo’ an exotic bird of strange parents. So on taking up residence in the archive, I asked if there were any original sales brochures in the collection, to see if they were as distinctive as the car.

Sales Brochure for the Metropolitan 1500 from 1957

Why This Document? 

I have chosen this brochure as my document of the month because it encompasses many of the things that I like about this car. The snappy, modern slogan ‘amazing new, blazing new car’, the American city skyline, the sporty open-top car, and the distinctive duotone colour scheme which is even carried over onto the whitewall tyres.

The American Nash company (which later merged with Hudson to form American Motors) forged an agreement with Len Lord of Austin to build the Metropolitan in Birmingham, incorporating Austin mechanical components, although the exclusive marketing rights were to be held by Nash. The Austin company stressed in 1954 that the car was a 100 percent export car and dollar earner, for sale in the USA and Canada alone.

Launched in the USA and Canada in 1954, in both hardtop and convertible forms, the Metropolitan was basically a two- seater with children’s seats behind. The original engine was the 1200cc unit from an Austin A40, later, in 1956, changed to a 1489cc BMC B-series engine. It had a three speed gearbox with column change. Suspension, steering and brake systems were borrowed from A30 or A40 models. The boot was only accessible from inside the vehicle. The colour schemes were nearly always two-tone in pastel colours, like the one pictured on this brochure, and the car had a heater and radio fitted as standard, with an option for whitewall tyres. The car was specifically designed for a female clientele and it was widely advertised in women’s magazines.

In 1957 Austin obtained an agreement to sell the Metropolitan 1500 through their dealers in Britain. This brochure is from the same year, stamped with the name and address of a Nash dealership or ‘concessionaire’ in Albany Street London. However, it was only called an Austin sporadically and never wore the Austin badge. The brochure is clearly trading on the ‘American’ feel of the car to make it attractive to the British customer.

The Metropolitan’s production life was nine years and it’s surprising that a quite substantial 104,377 of these likeable (in my opinion) little cars were built. 95,000 were exported to the USA. The Metropolitan was, in so many ways, cute with a determined character of its own which made it more than just a small car. Famous owners include HRH Princess Margaret, Phil Collins, Elvis Presley, Jay Leno and Paul Newman, exploding the women only car myth!

However, the Metropolitan was an exceptionally small car in American terms and it was never a tremendous success since it was far too unusual for its time and the average American wanted a ‘real’ car so production ceased in April 1961.

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