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Nash Metropolitan

Nash001255gv8It's hard to underestimate the weirdness of the Nash Metropolitan, especially when "Weird Al" Yankovic owns one.

The Met was a strange car for a strange time.  Going into the early 1950s, most American automakers were focused on making bigger, more powerful, more luxurious automobiles.  This was a time of Oldsmobile "Rocket" V-8s and the beginnings of Chrysler's obsession with Hemis, a time of tail fins and insomnia-curing suspensions. Heck, even air raid sirens were getting bigger and more powerful. If there was ever a time for small and economical, the early '50s were about as far removed from that time as possible without stumbling into the exciting world of multi-dimensional physics

Nash saw things a little differently.

Realistically, Nash didn't have a choice--the company simply didn't have the resources to survive as an independent company, much less one pushing the boundaries of performance and luxury. So, knowing full well that it couldn't beat the Big 3 from above, Nash searched for a comfortable niche below. Fortunately, the Big 3 was happy to oblige--all three companies were running in fear from the low-margin, inexpensive, fuel-efficient economy car segment.

This aversion was understandable--Europe was cranking out cheap transportation (and I mean cheap) like it was nobody's business, using cheaper labor and newer or recently rebuilt factories. Nash, however, felt there was still room in the market for American-designed economy cars built to American specification. To fill that space, Nash first built the Rambler, which proved to be a stunning success--it was small, fuel efficient and inexpensive without being cheap, which was a rare combination in those times. Encouraged by its success, Nash decided it was time to turn the dial to 11 and create an even smaller, even more economical car. The result, introduced in 1954, was an almost preternaturally cute little two-seater. The Metropolitan was born.

Though built to the same size and scale as its European competition, the Met was definitely not European in design. For starters, it had distinctively American styling, looking something like a miniaturized Bel Air mated with a bathtub. Handling was sacrificed to provide a softer, more luxurious ride, then ignored altogether to accommodate the inexplicably fashionable wheel covers of the time. Unlike the rest of its competition, Nash didn't skimp on the extras--electric windshield wipers, a map light, cigar lighter, and a covered spare were all standard; an AM radio and whitewall tires were also available. Curiously enough, however, though the Met wasn't European by design, it was, in fact, European by construction--the engine and final assembly were all provided by Austin Motor Company, a company that would later achieve a small-car hit of its own with the Mini. Amazingly, the British-assembled car did not inherently burst into flames, spew oil every 2,000 miles, or fail to start in temperatures below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Nor did it overheat in temperatures above 73 degrees.  Consequently, the Met might be the best built British car ever made.

56 Met Sales Flyer FRONT As impressively constructed as the Metropolitan was, it did have a few things working against it. For starters, saying it did a better job of reaching and maintaining freeway speeds than its European competition would be like saying that my six-month-old son does a better job of running wind sprints than a lump of basalt. Zero to 60 was barely accomplished in under 30 seconds, which, though not completely embarrassing by the standards of the time (the Dauphine did a wonderful job of lowering expectations here), still left a lot to be desired. It technically had a rear seat in much the same way that Luxembourg technically was able to defend itself against the Nazi blitzkrieg. It wasn't until 1959 that you could access the trunk of a new Metropolitan without folding the rear "seat" forward. In short, it was as impractical as it was cuddly. Consequently, by the end of its production in 1962, fewer than 110,000 were sold.

Since the Met's production run, it has enjoyed a level of notoriety that places it in rarified air with the likes of half of AMC's lineup in the '70s, the Renault Le Car, and the Yugo GV. Like many such examples of notoriety, the Met has even experienced something of a movie career, due in no small part to "Weird Al" wanting to show off his new toy in his one and only feature film (fast forward to 8 minutes in):

The top picture is of "Weird Al" driving his Metropolitan to the radio station in UHF, and was courtesy of IMCDb.org.  The sales brochure is from History of Metropolitans, which has an excellent archive of various Met-related visual paraphenalia.  Finally, because you never see something like this anymore, here's a rusted out Nash Metropolitan, courtesy of Shani's Stuff on Flickr.

--David Colborne

Comments

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Another fun little fact: the Metropolitan was sold as a "Nash Metropolitan," and also as a "Hudson Metropolitan" after the AMC merger, and then as an "AMC Metropolitan" after the Hudson and Nash nameplates were discontinued--at a time when everything else AMC made was badged as a "Rambler."

When I was in the 8th grade, we had a large but friendly teacher named Mr. Herrmann. It was comical to see suck a large-framed man drive a tiny Metropolitan. So we prep students, being the future leaders that we were, decided his car would fit perfectly between two narrow-placed telephone poles by the dining hall with no chance of him backing the thing out. The car was scooted by us young hooligans between the poles, and it stayed there until the end of the day. I assume he found others to help him get the car out, and we never heard any more about it.

I did get to ride in the back seat of the car once, just into town from campus. Yes, it was VERY cramped, even for a skinny 8th grader.

Ah, so that's what that thing is. I've seen one around Seattle a couple of times but never could tell what it was.

I've never driven a Metropolitan, but as a lad was *towed* by one. The Catskill Game Farm's tram was pulled by a Met whose rear deck had been removed, and replaced by a fifth-wheel type of trailer hitch. The tiny car pulled an open top miniature railroad car filled with kids.

A dozen or more years ago I used to visit a vintage car dealer in Horseheads, NY. Most of his stuff was of no interest, but I was intrigued by his collection of maybe half-a-dozen Metros, including one Hudson.

For some reason, though, I was never tempted to buy.

wonderful article. i've seen a few of these little guys and always wondered about them.

"Amazingly, the British-assembled car did not inherently burst into flames, spew oil every 2,000 miles, or fail to start in temperatures below 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Nor did it overheat in temperatures above 73 degrees. Consequently, the Met might be the best built British car ever made."

I can't tell you how hard this made me laugh. interesting information/history and a very cheery way to start my day.

For "only" 110,000 being made (seems like a lot to me since one of my cars is a Studebaker Avanti which had a production run of about 4700) they seem to have a high survival rate.

There's a much-loved pink Metropolitan in town I see at shows and its owner is very proud of its charm and that to a lot of folks it's unknown.
Nash? Rambler? Hudson? You might as well be speaking Danish (of course driving a Studebaker, I get the same reaction..."Who made those?" is a frequently question).

A couple of miles from my home there's a back road by the river where I drive my old cars. On it, there is a 50's style house whose backyard is visable from the road. It's seen better days as the swimming pool is empty save for any recent rains and a generous coating of green stuff.
Nearby under a tree is a 58-60 Ford "square bird" Thunderbird, and a black and white Metropolitan. It's half covered with a wind-blown tarp, and when the weather is conducive, a coat of green stuff or pine needles.
Overall it looks solid. I always hope that one day I won't see it, that it will be in the garage of someone like the pink Nash lady, who would appreciate it for what it was and could be again.

I once owned a '59 Metropolitan, which was my first car. It was purchased new by my older brother and his wife. They later sold it to me because she was expecting and the Met was not exactly a family car. Many great memories with that little bugger. It was the car I drove when I took my first real girl friend on our first date to a drive-in movie, for purposes intended, of course. I liked to pretend that it was a kind of sports car, sort of. I even took it to the old Aquasco Drag Strip in Maryland for grins and giggles. Problem was, it had a 3 speed shifter sticking out of the dash and really didn't corner, or stop very well. But it was fun. And reliable. Don't know if it was the "best British car ever built", but in the three years I owned it, it never failed to start, never overheated, never burned oil, etc. And, not to be overlooked, its tiny size promoted cuddling, of the drive-in movie sort. Thanks for the post, it was great.

My Mother, who was a slender, beautiful brunette, and dressed like Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany's was a favorite movie for her) fantasized of one day driving around town in a pink-and-white Metro, long black cigarette holder held elegantly in a white-gloved hand, with silk scarf tied snugly around her head. She never did own one, but eventually had fantasies fulfilled in my Father's '65 Jaguar XKE.

And in the spirit of Mr. Herrmann above, in 1969, my high-school band teacher, Mr. Weeks, owned a late model Renault Dauphine, which, after a Wednesday night marching band rehearsal, myself and four other band members lifted and inserted between two cyclone fence gate-poles, with about six-to-twelve inches of clearance on either end. We then all piled into a single car that was hidden in the dark shadows of a large tree, and waited for Mr. Weeks to come around the band-building corner to find his car blocking his way to the parking lot.

We heard Mr. Weeks' familiar whistling as he came around the corner, which stopped abruptly as he took in the sight of his car no longer in his regular parking space, but now jammed between the two gate poles. He slipped past the front bumper, and peered into the dark parking lot, glancing quickly left-to-right, trying to spot anyone he could question or yell at. We, in the meantime, were trying not to laugh out loud, and taking quick glances over the door panels to see what Mr. Weeks was doing next.

Realizing the parking lot was deserted (or so he thought!), he got in behind the wheel of the Renault, and began inching back, forward, back, forward, turning the steering wheel left and right to increase his angle from parallel, and, after three-or-so minutes his front bumper cleared the gate-pole, and he bumped off the sidewalk and onto parking lot asphalt. In the meantime of course, we were all by now pointing and laughing, having a great time watching Mr Weeks' slow extrication from his new "parking" place!

We were parked close to the parking lot exit, and Mr. Weeks had to drive past our car to leave. As he drove past our car, the five of us all sat straight up in our seats, rolled down the windows and as angelically as we could, wished him a good night, and a safe ride home! Needless to say, he knew he had been had, but he just turned and looked out the windshield, never saying a word, and disappeared into the night.

The next morning at band rehaersal, he acted as if nothing had ever happened, but he was very cool towards me and the other band members for some time after that.... God it was so worth it!

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