Car of the Month : April 2010

Made famous for creating the Plymouth-Dakar Rally, Julian Nowill has long since been associated with the Eastern European car scene. But he’s turning to the darkside, and has finally come out of the closet regarding his fondness for AROnline’s favourite cars.

This particularly tasty Metro is set to serve Julian for years to come, and right now, he’s enjoying every moment behind the wheel.

Words and pictures: Julian Nowill


Metro or bust


A lovely car in a lovely setting…

BEING a confirmed Car Marxist (with two Ladas, a Volga and other Commie-Car Crap in my garage), I have to say that I did not expect to fall for a ‘Granny car’ Metro. But two years ago saw this 60,000 mile from new beauty in the local Devon village of Feniton, and left my number under the wiper, and was rewarded by a call from the owner. I have now been seduced by this Mata Hari of the automotive world, and after a successful defection to the West now also own a very early Maestro – but that is another story.

The seller worked for a local garage on the outskirts of Exeter and I was pleased to see that the car was originally sold by Staddons, a local dealership (Budleigh Salterton & Exmouth), who still gives pride of place to the Rover logo – and even flies Rover group flags at weekends. I would kill for one of its Rover group burgundy garage overalls! We agreed a price including an MoT and I waited and waited, only to find that the garage had shunted it into a corner with an electrical gremlin.

I was not impressed as anybody with a multimeter could have solved the problem in 30 minutes or so! A new price was then negotiated, and I towed it away. Thanks to local auto electrical wizard Kevin Blackmore, the fault was soon traced to a dead fuel pump. Metros have ‘in tank’ pumps which are pricey and a pain to fit but once installed, and a new fuel filler tube, as the old one had rusted, I had my MiT and decided to set to sort the remaining problems. Well….there wernt any except a dead radio. I have the code but the LCD screen will not work so no means of entering the code, unless a reader can tell me the key strokes from his radio so I can do it blind!

So, let me take you on a tour: this is a K-Series-powered 1396cc Metro GTi, produced about a year after Rover re-engineered the Austin Metro with its venerable A-Series powerplant. At the time, all hoped that the AR6 prototype would be given the go-ahead for production, but this radical small car was axed on cost grounds. It has to be said that the re-engineering – from a driver’s point of view – was a success, although it was hidden under the Plain Jane bodywork, which only now to my mind is starting to look distinctive. Interestingly, at about the same time, East Germany started work in re-engining the two stroke Trabant and Wartburg with four-stroke power. There are however no other similarities!

The paint is impressive and needs no T-Cut to make it glow. Was this because of its garaged existence or a sign of quality? Its standard semi low profile tyres and bonnet scoop give it a discrete purposeful stance. Inside, the firm Recaro style seats are a joy, and are the best of any car I have sat in – or perhaps I have a Rover shaped bum. The quality of the plastics is better than Rovers 15 years younger, but the rear is pretty cramped. Fire up the ‘K’ motor, and hear the exhaust rasp, which only a K can make. Performance is hot rather than boiling and much to my surprise, it can maintain 90mph without harshness, although at this speed it is a little busy.

With no electric windows, PAS, and other fripperies, this is a real lightweight and this makes it pretty chuckable, and just shows how a relatively small engine and lack of heavy electronic gizmos make for pure driving pleasure. Modern cars are Lard Arses in comparison! Standard rubber is the rare and relatively pricey P600 Pirelli, but I have a set of Metro slimline non GTi alloys, if I chose cheaper rubber next time. The local tyre dealer in Exeter has one P600 left and I might just buy it at £50, as I fear that one of the tyres is going oval.

On to the suspension and Alex Moulton’s final brainwave when some in Rover was considering that Hydragas was a little long in the tooth, was to interlink the suspension spheres – and this development makes all Metros handle deftly. A case of ‘I cant believe this is Hydragas’ or butter or something like that. In the GTi, the Hydragas is stiffened compared to the standard Metro and spot on.

The dash is simple but can rattle on rough roads. There is some crustiness around the wheel arches and windscreen wiper spindle but rather less than you would expect on a Ford of this era. On the downside, the fuel tank could be bigger and I wonder whether less meaty tyres would do the job of the Pirellis and lighten the steering at low speeds.

So there you have it! A great example of when-less-means-more, and although I am running a summer rally ‘Metros to Murmansk’ on July 24th, (see www.plymouth-dakar.co.uk) this Metro will not be there as am hoping to do the journey in a blue Metro diesel which has graced these pages before, being Keith Adams’ daily hack. Any out there fancy taking their steed to show those Ruskies what a Lada beater Rover built? I just wonder why the Metro did not beat the world but perhaps it should have been sold with free rose tinted spectacles which I wear when writing about it.

A final wish Metro wish? I work in a tedious business park outside Exeter, and while nasty people used to drive BMWs, it seems with a few exceptions they now drive Audis. Come the revolution all revisionist marques like this will benefit from compulsory scrappage, and the good suited people of this business park will start to smile as they park their Metros in their marked parking spaces. Middle Management will be allocated CityRovers as they must be seen to be driving a newer car than the lumpen proletariat.

I just cant wait to give the regional head of my firm the keys to his CityRover. (Now that’s a thought!…when will the UK get its first hot CityRover?)

As for the chief exec in a post revolutionary Britain?… a Rover 800 of course!

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it to become the world's foremost reference source for all things BMC, Leyland and Rover Group, before renaming it AROnline in 2007. Is the Editor of the Parkers website and price guide, formerly editor of Classic Car Weekly, and launch editor/creator of Modern Clsssics magazine. Has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Practical Classics, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Pistonheads, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, Radio 4, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

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