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
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!”
* 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