Nash Metropolitan (1954-1962)
Article by Mark Trotta
American-designed and British-built, the Nash Metropolitan measures less than 13 feet, and is often called America's first sub-compact car. Production began in October 1953, with the first shipment of cars arriving to the U.S. several months later. Over the next eight years, over 95,000 Metropolitans were produced and sold under the marques of Hudson, Nash, and AMC.
1954-1956 Metropolitan (1st Series)
The Nash Metropolitan used a conventional front-engine, rear-wheel drive format, but with body and frame welded as a single unit. This unibody design, produced by Fisher and Ludlow of England, was advanced for it's time -- most manufacturers were still using body-on-frame construction.
Drivetrain and suspension were supplied by the Austin Motor Company, who also did final assembly. Metropolitans were offered as either convertible and hardtop models.
The small 1200cc (1.2 litre) four-cylinder motor was of an OHV format, and a compression ratio of 7.2:1 allowed the Metro to run on low-quality gasoline. Transmission was a three-speed manual, with shifter handle mounted on the steering column.
No Cost Options
Included at no extra cost were standard features that were optional on most cars of that time. These included electric windshield wipers, cigarette lighter, interior map light, and a "continental-type" rear-mounted spare tire with cover.
Although an AM radio, heater, and whitewall tires were listed as optional extras, it appears all Metros left the factory with these items.
Shortly before the Metropolitan was launched, Nash-Kelvinator merged with the Hudson Motor Car Company, forming American Motors Corporation. By mid-1954, the Metro was being marketed as a both Hudson Metropolitan and Nash Metropolitan. When sold by Hudson dealers, hood and grille emblems and horn buttons identified them as such.
1956-1959 Metropolitan (2nd Series)
In January 1956, the Metro was updated with Austin's 1500cc A50 engine. A higher 8.3:1 compression resulted in an increase in horsepower, now rated at 52. A larger clutch was also fitted.
Also new for 1956 was the hood, grille, and stainless-steel side strips which separated the two-tone body colors. The interior was updated as well, with a black dashboard replacing the former body-colored dashboard. The Metro's catalog name was changed to Metropolitan 1500 to differentiate the newer model from the earlier 1200cc models.
The Austin Motor Company of England acquired the rights to sell the Metropolitan to non-North American markets in December of 1956. Slight modifications to the interior and engine compartment allowed both left and right hand drive models to be made.
In 1957, the names of Nash Metropolitan and Hudson Metropolitan were no longer used, as the Metro became its own model.
1958-1962 Metropolitan (3rd Series)
Several improvements were seen for 1959, including a glove box door, seat adjusters, window vents, and tubeless tires. Mid-year models featured an opening trunk lid -- trunk space was previously accessed by folding the rear seat forward.
Metropolitan sales peaked in 1959 with 22,309 cars sold. The last Metropolitans were fitted with the 55-horsepower A55 Austin engine. Although production stopped in 1960, 'leftovers' were sold for another two years.
Similar to the small cars produced by Crosley Motors, the Metro was fun to drive and economical, but never sold in big numbers. Competition from Detroit's Big Three, and also from their own compact Rambler American model, prompted the company to discontinue production in 1962.
A well-engineered suspension, low center of gravity, and proper weight distribution gave the little Metro decent handling, but steering was hampered due to the enclosure of the front wheels. Top speed was about 70-mph on early models, with 80-mph possible with the later 1.5 litre motor.
A "Road and Track" road test of the day recorded acceleration from 0-60 mph in 22.4 seconds. Comparing it to a Volkswagen Beetle, the elapsed time was "almost half of the VW's 39.2 seconds."
Economical was certainly the word for the Metropolitan. In an official 24-hour non-stop mileage test, a stock Metro returned 41.57 miles per gallon at an average speed of 34.83 miles-per-hour.
Read: Cars Of The Fifties
With a high survival rate of the 95,000 produced, Metropolitans are fairly easy to find in good shape, and there's plenty of regional and worldwide clubs for support. Indeed, the Nash Metropolitan stands tall as a fun to drive, affordable classic car.
The photo below was taken at the Charles Nash Elementary School in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There's a Nash Metropolitan parked inside the library. It's a perk to the older students; they get to sit in the car and read.
Pictures courtesy of NashNut.com
Read: Rambler American History
Read: Hudson Car History