Concepts and prototypes : Metro saloon

Although it seems inconceivable now, in the late 1970s, when the mini Metro was being developed, it was being groomed to replace the original Issigonis-designed Mini, a car that remained in production until 2000.

For all those die-hard Mini owners who didn’t believe they needed a hatchback, BL developed a saloon version of the Metro. KEITH ADAMS tells its story.

Three box heaven

(Picture: The Giles Chapman library)

(Picture: The Giles Chapman library)

THE convoluted development of the Metro has been covered in great length elsewhere on this website – suffice to say that replacing the Mini had not been the work of a moment, and BMC, then BL, made several attempts before reaching its final solutiuon. Codenamed the LC8, Metro had been a cosmetic revision of the ADO88 project, itself a cost-conscious Mini-rebody suspended on Hydragas and repackaged for the more demanding 1970s. Yes, the Metro’s responsibility within the BL’s product-led recovery programme of the 1980s was absolutely massive – not only to replace the Mini, but also to compete in the hard-fought and rapidly growing supermini sector.

Although it was launched with a single body style – the three door model – a five door had been planned for from the early stages of development, and that hit the marketplace when the Metro received its first facelift, in the autumn of 1984. However, a saloon model was on the cards, too, and as can be seen from the accompanying photographs, it was actually rather well styled and balanced, proving that the boxy supermini’s design could lend itself to all manner of body variations.

Conceived in 1978, the saloon version – codenamed AM1* (or possibly AM2) – was part of the programme from the outset, but as ex-BL insider Ian Elliott recalled, “…it wasn’t very high priority.” The car’s role was simple – to niche fill, and at a time, when finances were impossibly tight, and development funds were channels to the most important models, saloons like this were given attention only when it was possible.

Ian added, “The Metro saloon was one of the very first things to be cut back when we had the CORE saga, in response to the sky falling in around 1979. I think CORE stood for something like Concentration of Resources and Effort, but basically it was a ‘going round turning off expenditure taps’ exercise in order to preserve really vital projects like Metro.”

It was a logical car to drop, as this market sector wasn’t exactly overflowing with successful cars – and the later sales performance of the Volkswagen Derby (and replacement Polo Classic saloon) and the Nova saloon – would indicate that killing the Metro saloon was the right thing to do if it ensured the continued smooth development of the Maestro and Montego programmes.

Ian recalled his seeing the car: “I remember seeing a white saloon sitting rather forlornly in a dead car park at Gaydon, must have been around 1981. I think at about the same time I saw a three-door Maestro, as well!”

Photographed at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon around the time of its opening in 1993, the Metro saloon prototype had been treated to a set of TD wheels. The well-integrated styling had stood the test of time pretty well.

Photographed at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon around the time of its opening in 1993, the Metro saloon prototype had been treated to a set of TD wheels. The well-integrated styling had stood the test of time pretty well.


* Confirmation needed here – it would well be that the LC8 project was renamed AM1 (with the saloon being AM2) in the wake of the reorganisation of BL’s motoring departments in 1978 which saw the creation of the Austin-Morris division, and the dropping of Leyland Cars. This was a short-lived arrangement during the Michael Edwardes era, and in 1982 the separation of Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph was ceased with the creation of Austin-Rover.

If you know the definitive answer to this, please get in touch.

With thanks to Ian Elliott for his input

Keith Adams

About the Author:

Created in 2001 and watched it steadily grow into AROnline. Is the Editor of Classic Car Weekly, and has contributed to various motoring titles including Octane, Evo, Honest John, CAR magazine, Autocar, Diesel Car, Practical Performance Car, Performance French Car, Car Mechanics, Jaguar World Monthly, Classic Car Weekly, MG Enthusiast, Modern MINI, Practical Classics, Fifth Gear Website, and the the Motoring Independent... Likes 'conditionally challenged' motors and taking them on unfeasable adventures all across Europe.

28 Comments on "Concepts and prototypes : Metro saloon"

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  1. JonBoy says:

    i have been to Gaydon dozens and dozens of times over the years, but have never seen this car, it is one i have wanted to see for many years.

  2. NHunt says:

    What if they’d developed it into an estate? Decent load lugger for not much money?

  3. Will M says:

    Spiritual successor to the Riley Elf / Wolseley Hornet.

    From an era when hatchbacks were seen as the utilitarian option.

    Small saloons still sold reasonably well until recently in markets like Ireland (eg. Nova/Opel Corsa, VW Polo, recently the mk1 Fabia)

  4. Nate says:

    It would of been interesting to see the Metro saloon go into production, perhaps spawning a 4-door saloon and 2-door estate along the way like in the Nova and Polo respectively. What if the rebodied R6 continued the theme by spawning saloon and 2-door estate versions, along the stillborn Scout mini-mpv with the rear-end styling of the saloon resembling a scaled down R8?

  5. Paul Taylor Paul T says:

    If BL were still selling in the States & Canada this would have gone down well. The amount of Focus saloons we say in May this year compared to hatchbacks was weird, but my cousin said Canadians don’t like hatches!! As an earlier post said, this would have competed well against the Nova and Polo if developed properly

  6. James Riley james says:

    Gaydon got this car out for the Metro 30th event in 2010 – I along with may other Metro owners were there with a timeline of the cars from 1980 to end of run. They had the saloon and the Aluminium Metro outside in the car park for people to look around. Have to say however that he Saloon looked very ungainly, very definitely a grafted on appearance like so many saloons did at the time including the Nova. The Aluminium Metro however was a revelation and could have had such an impact on the economy market way back when – sadly cost of production put paid to that until Jaguar came along and managed to convince people to pay £50,000+ for the pleasure.

  7. Chris Pryor says:

    Pensioner special – a big hit if it were to have been made in beige!

    I’d have considered an estate at the time. Ended up with a Maestro.


  8. Mikey C says:

    “it was actually rather well styled and balanced”

    looks horrible to me, the rear overhang looks very awkward (as is usually the case with such booted hatches), the glass of the rear window starts too high up and the boot lid is at a funny angle to the side window line!

  9. Will M says:

    Would’ve sold well in Ireland, where even today manufacturers offer saloon variants no longer sold in the UK (eg. Fluence, previous gen Astra, Focus/Mondeo, Lancer, Corolla).

  10. Nate says:

    The back end looks like it could of done with a bit more work, it would interesting if a 4-door Metro saloon was also considered though despite probably being a dead-end, I cannot help be wonder if the Metro saloon concept would of been better executed had it been styled as a fastback or fastback-like.

    To be honest, I am actually surprised that a 3-door estate version of the Metro was never considered along the lines of the Volkswagen Polo mk2 or larger Ford Escort mk3.

  11. Will M says:

    A 3 boot profile may have suited the Allegro more than the Metro, even though the Allegro was meant to be a shrunken 18-22/Princess.

  12. Hilton D says:

    The nearest car it looks like to me is a MK1 Vauxhall Nova 2 door saloon. I never cared for those much either but they seemed to be fairly popular. So by that token a Metro Saloon may have sold well to a particular target market.

  13. Tigger says:

    Viewed from the side, it wouldn’t be immediately obvious which end was the front.

    The tiny wheels and the huge rear overhang make it look pretty nasty. I agree that, with money non existent at the time, this was an obvious one for the chop.

  14. Yorkiebusdriver says:

    It does look daft to be honest. Tiny wheels, and that rear end, urgh!

  15. russell g says:

    I had a 2 door Nova saloon (in brown!). It rocked! You have to wonder about the person who ordered it new, “I’ll have a saloon (rather than the hatch?) in turd brown, please!”.

  16. Richard16378 says:

    I’m guessing an older motorist.

  17. Mark Mastro Mark Mastro says:

    Ignoring the poor attempt I made at a 4 door saloon, I think it’s better to look at the rear aspect with the lights coloured, somehow makes it a bit more palatable!

  18. Neil says:

    That is the laziest bit of design I’ve ever seen, a bit like having a large cyst on your arse! Good job they popped it and stuck with the hatch!

  19. Will M says:

    Mark’s 4 door photoshop somehow looks more resolved.

  20. Boo says:

    I think it looks OK. It only looks like a tacked on boot if you have your head full of Metro, as we all do.
    If you can forget you’d ever seen the hatchback (not easy but it’s possible) and look at it with fresh eyes it’s fine.

  21. Tony Evans says:

    I had a couple of Nova 2 door saloons. They were darn good motors both. Lots of space, dirt cheap to run and reliable — and easy to fix if they did go wrong. The Metro looks wrong because the wheels ae too small but otherwise, largely similar to the Nova.

    The Nova and Metro hatches had minimal boot space, and if, like me, you needed more boot space then the Nova saloon was ideal. I always thought the “Polo Classic” looked much better than the bread van hatch though.

  22. Carroll says:

    I think the Metro saloon is a bit too ungainly – the small wheelarches being a bigger problem than with the hatch version and heavy-handed rear overhang just about kills it.

    Certainly the VW Derby/Polo Classic hid their tail bulk well and even the Nova/Corsa saloon looked tidy, if rather duller and old fashioned by the time it was launched.

    Agree that these ‘uncool’ saloon versions were nearly always better cars than popular hatchbacks they were based on.
    Aside from the already mentioned bigger/more practical boots, they often handled and rode better – mainly due to stiffer bodyshells and a slight increase on rear-bias weight, helping with balance and reducing understeer a fraction.

    My 1980 Derby certainly had a better handling/ride balance than a Polo and even cooking versions of the Mk.1 Golf that VW were selling at the time.

    I’ve kept the saloon ‘faith’, (or rather, re-discovered it) with my current 2009 Proton Persona Ecologic, which is roomier, drives nicer than it’s GEN-2 hatch sister and is just as handsome IMHO.

  23. Will M says:

    Not many saloons left on the UK market, aside from the Teutonic choices.

    Most car ranges now read:

    Small – medium hatch – MPV – small SUV – large SUV.

  24. Gareth says:

    The 2 door Nova Saloon is becoming quite sought after, and prices have shot up over the last 5 years. While the floorpan is the same with a 30cm extension spot welded on, the body shell is quite different. While the saloon shares the A pillar and doors from the 3 door, the B pillar, rear quarter light, C pillar and rear screen are different. The 2 door shell is also lighter owing to the 3 doors heavy tailgate and glass, and stiffer, due to a bulkhead behind the rear seats.


  25. mm says:

    A Metro with a boot does not make sense, a Metro estate with a full tailgate or hatchback would be very practical

  26. didierz65 didierz65 says:

    3 box are preferred in Mediterranean countries like Spain, Italy, Greece Turkey to name a few. In spain, Renault started the trend in the 70’s with the 7 (Siete) a R5 4 door-3 box.
    Dacia owes its “born again” success to the Logan, 3 box who spawned the Sandero hatchback.
    Nowadays, all car makers have 3 box versions of their superminis in south Europe, eastern countries and south Americas. People are shorter-that’s a fact- but more importantly, small families with young kids don’t need masses of rear legroom but a big boot for their pram(s), try that in a hatchback. Also allows cheap motoring for taxis who, again, will need a big boot for luggages.
    They often look ungainly, admittedly. The one that stood apart was the MKI Mazda 3 Sport-saloon, seems it was conceived along the hatch not an after thought.

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