Modern Classic: Nash MetropolitanCute, colorful commuter mobile
To qualify as "modern classics," we choose vehicles, which are comparatively affordable now and that we think will increase in value over time. These are cars many people would love to have: head-turners, trend-setters in their time, cars that people see that still make them smile, cars that were definitive in their own right, stylish and fun to drive. Our focus is on cars at least 25 years old, so they can be registered and insured cheaply and aren't subject to annual inspections.
Tastes may vary, as may peoples' own definitions of "affordable." Our theoretical limit is $50,000 for a car in good to excellent condition, which rules out many of the traditional exotics. This month's selection is the 1960 Nash Metropolitan.
Most U.S. automakers addressed the challenge of cheap transportation, but few took the issue as seriously as Nash. Company President, George Mason, was a husky 300+ pounder, but he liked small cars and he saw them as a niche marketing opportunity. Initially, Mason used a Fiat-powered prototype, developed by Detroit's Kehrig-Flajole Associates, to test the waters. And in 1950-51, Nash circulated 250,000 questionnaires nationally asking: "Does American want the economy car-"
Although the compact Rambler had just bowed, Mason and his then-assistant, George Romney, believed a market existed for something even smaller. Domestic production was too costly. So Nash contracted with Britain's Fisher and Ludlow, Ltd., for the unit bodies. Engine, running gear and final assembly were by Austin Motor Company in Longbridge, England. The 73-cid, 42-bhp, Austin A-40-powered Met 1200 appeared in 1954, on an 85-inch wheelbase, as a $1,445 hardtop and a $1,469 convertible. 13,905 units were sold by the end of 1955. In mid-1956, the 90-cid, 52-bhp, A-50-engined Met 1500 offered updated two-toned paint schemes, a bigger clutch and a new grille. The fake hood scoop was gone. Hardtops were now $1,527; convertibles were $1,551. Top speed rose from 70 to 80 mph.
In mid-1959, Met 1500's received functional trunklids, improved seats and vent windows. Although prices now topped $1,600, the littlest Nash, in its best year yet with 20,435 units, was second only to Volkswagen. By now, the Met badly needed updating and more passenger room. Meanwhile, Rambler units had topped 150,000 cars, and George Romney, who succeeded Mason, favored that model. For just $100 more than a Met, Nash buyers could get a low-end Rambler. When compact Falcons, Corvairs and Valiants appeared in 1960, the Met became expendable. Production was halted. The remaining inventory was sold off-853 in 1961 and the last 412 in 1962. About a thousand Mets bore Hudson badges, reflecting the short-lived merger of the two firms.
Once you clamber inside the tiny-doored Met, there's reasonable head and legroom. Despite independent, unequal-length A-arms in front, and twin parallel leafs in back, the softly sprung Met wallows like most larger American cars of its day. A 3-speed manual transmission, and cam and lever steering are hardly a sporting specification. So a sports car it's not, but it's definitely a chick magnet, especially in its pastel colors that resemble a vintage Esther Williams bathing suit.
Mets were simply cute commuters, and they still attract waves and smiles. Prices range from $5,000-$8,000 for Coupes and between $8,000 and $13,000 for Convertibles. Watch for rust, especially in the floor pan and lower fenders, and beware of electrical gremlins. Most British-made mechanical bits are still available. Sheetmetal is a challenge. And park next to the Crosleys at an old car event.
Metropolitan Owners Club of North America, 2308 Co Hwy, Sun Prairie, WI 53590, 608-825-1903
British Triumph & Metropolitan, Ellicott City, MD, 410-750-2352
Classic American Parts, Inc., Neosho, MO, 800-638-5461
Metropolitan Pit Stop, North Hollywood, CA, 818-769-1515
Cars of Particular Interest, www.CPI.com
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