Ones to watch : Rover Metro and 100

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Let’s have a sideways look at some of our long gone, but can picked up for a song kind of cars. The Rover Metro and 100 is our first example and it’s starting to become quite collectable.

Mike Humble kicks us off with Longbridge’s offering to urban transport…

In the right colour with the right trim level, the Rover Metro & 100 offer a genuine grin inducing steer. They're still dirt cheap and a few really nice ones are still out there.
In the right colour with the right trim level, the Rover Metro and 100 offer a genuine grin-
inducing steer – even by today’s standards. They’re still dirt cheap and a few really nice
unmolested examples survive out there – act now before prices zoom –
GTa and GSi models especially

Once the darling of the urban middle-class pensioner about town, the Rover Metro and 100 series was banished to the pages of history almost 18 years ago. Yes, that’s right, 1998 saw the once great saviour of BL blink its weary eyes as it trundled out of the Longbridge assembly plant and into the West Midlands, overcast and damp daylight for the last time. Being old enough to remember the original Austin version and its blaze of glory entry to the fray in 1980, it almost seems it was built forever, but it became good nine years later.

They must have some weird kind of staying power – you still spot (if you keep a really good eye open) more post-1989 Rover Metro or 100 models limping around than the legacy shape Mini – despite the latter selling millions more over a longer timescale. I’ll let you into a secret, too – if you drive even a half-decent one, they still put a massive smile on your face in terms driver appeal. You see, from the Metro 1.1C, which was more basic than a blank sheet of A4, to the tastefully-trimmed 114GSi, they all went like the willies and offered an utterly brilliant balance of handling and ride.

Go on... admit it... Cute isn't it? The GTi 16v was dropped in favour of a more cost orientated GTa model. The 8v 1.4 goes like a bomb thanks to revised gearing in this model which is my pick of the bunch.
Go on, admit it… Cute isn’t it? The GTi 16v was dropped in favour of a more cost-
orientated GTa model. The 8v 1.4 goes like a bomb thanks to revised gearing in
this model which is my pick of the bunch.

Having heaps of past exposure to the oily bits and a lot of K-Series engine experience, I’m happy to say these post-1989 cars give the best show of Rover’s clever (but flawed) all-alloy power unit. The range topping Metro GTi 16v with its 95 or 103bhp Twin Cam is seriously laugh-out-loud fun to drive – punchy, torquey, happy to rev till it almost pops and yet still agreeable on the fuel, too. Indeed, even the entry-level 1120cc with KiF carb and just 60bhp picks its revs up like a two-stroke Yamaha and whips along in a fashion that made an absolute mockery of the equivalent 1.1 Fiesta.

For me? Well, the pick of the lot has to be the GTa or GSi. The former offers a sporting cachet without the bills and the latter is very tastefully trimmed inside with its walnut garnishing and sumptuous upholstery. With the exception of rust, the build quality feels quite solid and the quality of the interior fixtures and fittings, despite echoing the older Austin variants after 1984, were possibly Rover’s zenith along with the R8 Series Rover 200. Some reverse engineering took place to bring the costs down in production such as the deletion of the over-specified vented front brakes on lesser models, but the whole of the range just felt that little more posher and smarter than even the equivalent VW Polo of the same era.

Oh, and it wasn’t NCAP that killed the 100 Series with “that famous” photo of a 100 being crashed into the Promised Land. No, quite simply, the car was hopelessly out of date in all areas except under the bonnet. Rover killed the car and saw fit not to replace it until 2003 when MG Rover gave us the amazingly crap CityRover – a car converted from a small, no-frills Indian hatchback. Very quickly, the model became even less popular than Ian Huntley-branded bubble bath and most rusted away into oblivion dying a slow and unloved death. However, nowadays, the car is becoming rather respected in retro classic circles.

This European Metro GS shows how Rover excelled at the art of the silk purse. Despite the origins echoing the 1984 Austin revamp it was very well screwed together.
This export Metro GS shows how Rover excelled at the art of the silk purse. Despite its
origins echoing the 1984 Austin revamp, it was very well screwed together. Its
featherweight clutch and slick gear change make for effortless zipping around
in town or motorway traffic.

Values now are on the up and, even though a few look as though they have been ram-raided into the Ripspeed section of an-out-of-town Halfords, a standard Rover Metro or 100 can still be bought for the right side of a grand. Ascot or Kensington SE models in the right colour look really jolly nowadays – their colour coordinated interiors of Oyster velour still stand out in terms of quality. However, a red or metallic racing green GTa in standard appearance without comedy alloys or a Howitzer exhaust has a stance cuter than a chocolate Labrador puppy. Time does heal old wounds and these motors are genuinely on the rise in terms of costs, despite the negatives of a lack of safety kit, rust and dreadful rear legroom.

Watch out for and avoid rear wheel arches that resemble a packet of broken brandy snaps and rear wheels that sit like a Triumph Herald’s when viewed from behind – that indicates knackered trailing arms – and you’re half way there. Cylinder head gaskets can fail though nowhere near as much as later Rover K-Series-engined models are known to, but on the whole they are simple to mend, cheap to run and more than happy enough to hop around in as a daily driver. Even the diesel powered by 1.5 Peugeot TUD engines scoot along really well. I once ran a 1996 ex-Rover staff 115SD that would literally run from Northampton to Derby just by showing it a photograph of a gallon of juice, let alone on the smell of an oily rag.

Want my advice? Buy a standard-looking 1.4 GTa or GSi model, lock it away in the garage and have some serious weekend fun when the sun is shining – they’re really addictive once behind the wheel!

What’s Good?

      Still dirt cheap to buy (for now)
      All the original Metro attributes, but without the oil leaks and a gearbox made from cheese
      DIY friendly to service
      Still amazingly smooth to drive
      Laugh-out-loud steering
      Sporty and posh models look great in some colours
      Five-speed models soak up long journeys rather well
      1.5 diesel is stupidly economical

What’s Not?

      Rampant corrosion or neglected, worn out suspension are often the main causes of death
      Only Warwick Davis or the late Sir Douglas Bader DFC would appreciate the rear space and legroom
      Lacks safety and convenience related equipment
      Automatic CVT gearbox costs big bucks if it goes wrong
      Many succumb to the hands of the Max Power boy racers
      If it has a short MoT and last year’s advisory items weren’t attended to, it’s probably knackered by now.

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

32 Comments

  1. I had TWO Rover 100’s, the Knightbridge and Ascot editions, they remain for me, at least, two of the best cars i have ever owned, reliable, really comfortable, very economical, the 1.1 K-Series was bomb proof here, they were dirt cheap to run and insure and regardless of what others have said, and still continue to say, these were great cars, and should have been developed more during their life, and BMW have a lot to answer for in canning this without anything to replace it.

  2. Having grown up being ferried about in what seemed like a never ending stream of red Metro city’s (my mother had three in a row all exactly the same)I have a fondness for the Metro so much so I recently rescued a Rover 114 Cabriolet from the crusher. Its a bit frilly round the edges but standard and in desirable British Racing Green. I look forward to one day it emerging from my workshop fully restored to factory fresh condition. A great article as ever looking forward to the next.

  3. My wife’s first car after passing her test. It was Electric Blue and had the CVT gearbox, but we never had trouble with this, just a lot of other things.

    Main problem was the constant and seemingly uncurable overheating. We never did find the cure, but I believe it could have been the water pump, as I read somewhere that the impeller blades had a tendency to fall off. This, plus the brakes, which never seemed to have all that much power in them.

    We swapped it for a Rover 25 1.8 Auto, and then found out what trouble really means !!

  4. These were very popular in Portugal and many families who bought R8’s also bought the 100 series (these were never called Metro in Portugal) for their young kids as teir first car.
    On the other hand, in this great article, you completely forgot to mention the H word…

    • Having returned from the algarve in Portugal today I can attest to the fact that Rover products seemed to be quite popular with the Portuguese. The older Honda based cars and rover 21x/41x wedges from the mid nineties in regular daily use quite are a regular sight, unlike spotting the odd one in the Uk as is usual today

  5. My wife ran a ’93 1.4Si 5 door in BRG for a couple of years. Cracking little car, right colour, right spec and it went like the clappers. I bet that L383EOE has gone to the great Longbridge in the sky.

  6. While the Austin Metro has its followers due to being the car that saved British Leyland, the Rover version is so much better as it’s better made, has totally new and far more refined engines, finally a five speed gearbox and a diesel option. I can remember driving an L reg 115 SD in 1998 and while being a bit noisy on idle, once warmed up was a fairly quiet small diesel that easily returned 60 mpg. This model in particular would make a practical classic.

  7. @Ian

    It probably went like the clappers once too often, as it didn’t even last 8 years, according to the DVLA (www.vehicleenquiry.service.gov.uk).

    Sorry…

  8. I had the use of a brand new Rover green 114GSi in winter 97 as a company car. It had thin tires, so I called it the skate. If it belonged to me I would have taken it back to the garage it came from and demand wider wheels be fitted. It was a fast 8V 1.4 yet refined with a big car sort of feel to it when driven carefully.

    Everyone that drove it was suprised by how good it was, even the Rover haters initaially that labeled it a granny car after I drive in it couldn’t conceal a smile and admitted they were impressed. Yet we all concluded it was far too lively for grannies and was an accident waiting to happen. Unfortunately after 2 months a young work collegue crashed it rolling it on a motorway. Fortunately for him no one was hurt.

  9. Learned to drive in one of these in the late 90s. Was impressed by how much more refined it was than my mother’s G-reg 4 speed 1.0 Metro – incredible really considering how many carry over parts there were. Sadly the engine blew up (not on one of my lessons I hasten to add!) and my instructor turned up one day in a Fiesta 1.25 Ghia, which was a lot quicker but I didn’t like the ridiculously light steering.

  10. My father in law and brother in law still run one each – father in law has a 1980s Metro MG in silver while my brother in law runs a 100 Rio in a burgundy. Unfortunately both have seen better days and very much like triggers broom.

  11. The Rover 200 bubble was meant to be a Metro replacement, until Mr Day decided to put it against the Golf! At 4 metres long, the standard super mini size today.

  12. We got my wife a Rover Metro 1.4 GSi when it was 6 months old having been a Jersey hire car when new. It did very good service till we finally changed it for a 6 month old end of the line bubble 200 which had been an MCP car.

    When we first had the 1.4 GSi I was working in Redditch and used to take the B road route from Warwick as my daily commute. That road was ideal for the Metro. Its great tight handling and zippy engine excelled on the twists and turns and ups and downs of that road. Our other family car at the time was a Montego 2.0 GSi estate and they made a well matched pair.

  13. K563JKV was my pearlescent Caribbean blue 3 door 1.1S. Bought new through the Rover ECOP system in 1992, and kept for 7 wonderful years. Only got rid of her when our first child (of three) required we have a larger car (a Monty estate). The Metro was fab, especially after a little fettling of the timing/advance and never gave us any major trouble. I had stripped it out when new and fully waxed inside and underneath, inside all the doors and sills, and fully expected to keep it forever. I wish I still had her now. Sadly it seems she died in 2011 with 100k+ on the clock.

  14. I would back a “thin-tyres” Metro 100 with double-wishbone front suspension against a “wide-tyres” McPherson strut Ford or Vauxhall for grip and accuracy of steering on a twisting road.

  15. “you still spot (if you keep a really good eye open) more post 1989 Rover Metro or 100 models limping around than the legacy shape Mini…”

    This stuck in my mind as I returned from Stockport Honda this afternoon. I saw 3 really nice original Minis but no Metros or 100s. I think I generally see more real Minis to be honest.

    I had a 1997 GSi from 3 years old. Nice car to drive but the shell, engine and gearbox were just junk. Cylinder head failure, rusted through floorpan at 6 years old and a gearbox that jumped out 1st when we bought it put me off Rovers from then on. Rover replaced the box, but the debate we had about the cylinder head gasket was Pythonesque. The Hondas we’ve owned have been ultra reliable.

  16. I worked for BBC local radio in the mid 1990s. The station had a deal with the local Rover garage to, I think, basically take demonstrators and odd-spec cars they couldn’t otherwise sell, and most of the fleet was Metros (and then Rover 100s).

    Most of the staff hadn’t a clue about the differences between a 1.1 S and a 1.4 GTa (we had both), meaning that I was pretty good at reserving the “hot” one for myself and having an absolute blast driving it around our local patch. The only problem, from my point of view, was that it carried station branding, meaning that I once got summoned into the controller’s office to explain myself after a particularly spirited piece of driving had been witnessed, he told me, by a farmer on a tractor who said I was driving “like I’d stolen it”. One of my colleagues later rolled another of the Metros when he took it for the weekend. Embarrassingly for him, he was about 120 miles “off patch’ when he did so having used it to go and see a mate. That ended in him requesting a transfer, but 20 years later he is still working for 5Live so it wasn’t the career ender it could have been!

    The GTa was a peach, the 1.1s were gutless but still had the same basic enthusiasm. One of the 1.1s was a strange limited edition with a sunroof and ELECTRIC WINDOWS! It also had a more advanced radio than the other ones, and every time I got in it some wit had retuned every single station present to our local commercial rival.

    I think there was an unofficial deal to help out station staff with buying cars from the same dealer – or just a really good sales manager – as a large percentage of the more senior station staff also seemed to have Rover products. Our “star” presenter had a 214i three-door which he replaced like-for-like with an identical model every time the registration plate changed. I often wondered why he didn’t just get a slightly nicer one and keep it for longer! We also had a Montego estate “radio car” – carrying around 350kg of transmitting equipment and a retractable 50-foot mast in the back – but it suffered so badly from rust after five or six years that it was replaced by a Ford Sierra.

    The Rover deal expired shortly after I arrived and the station started to get Peugeots with a job-lot of naturally aspirated 306 diesels which were very boring by comparison. The Metro was a bit of a joke car, even then, but I always loved them.

  17. I have driven four Metros/Rover 100’s: a 1.0L hire car, a 1.3S and a 1.4GTa (test drives – new cars) and a 1.4LD (test drive secondhand). It would be appropriate if the rear wipers were on all the time – they were like puppy dogs just aching to go for a walk. So if you see a Metro sniffing a lamppost, you’ll know what’s happening. Seriously, all great to drive.

  18. I enjoyed the article though and do long for a Metro to accompany my Mini Mayfair. My mum had two in the 90s: a dark blue C-reg 3 door and then a poo-brown E-reg 5 door. Both were base models (I don’t remember either saying City on the back?). Fun to travel in and good to drive, it seemed like everyone’s mum had a metro back then. Both killed by rust in the end and replaced with a brace of Citroen AX’s which were also nippy little things.

  19. Despite misgivings regarding the Metro/100’s safety would have quite liked to own a Metro/100 1.4 CVT with Air-Con as on the Japanese spec models, though it would likely be very expensive to replace the CVT gearbox as was the case with my mum’s Beige G-reg Metro 1.3 Automatic prompting her to get rid of it.

  20. I loved Rover Metros !!

    Like you say, Mike, in many ways the “zenith” along with the R8.

    I too would very much like to own a GTa TODAY !!

  21. The R6 Metro/100 Series was about the most brilliant low-budget re-vamp of an existing model in automotive history, it really was extraordinary how the wide-track wishbone front end and the proper interconnection of the Hydragas transformed it.
    Regarding the NCAP safety scare, I think it should be pointed out that the basic Metro of 1980 was actually ahead of the safety game by the standards of the day – it did get the Don Safety Trophy at launch because of its many safety features, such as the high sills interlocking with the doors and H-I split brakes. Of course, 17 years later, things had moved along, though not always in a good way. Yes, an NCAP 5-star car might be better in a 40 mph shunt, but you are that much more likely to have a shunt because of the awful effect on vision of the tree-trunk A-pillars. And while you might survive a 40 mph shunt, you wouldn’t necessarily survive a 45 mph prang with 20% more kinetic energy to handle. These things are all relative.

    • Would tend to agree with Ian. My parents 1994 Metro was hit by a transit van at between 30 and 40 mph. They were stationary at traffic lights in Boston when the van ploughed into them from behind (the guy hadn’t noticed the traffic had stopped). They got out without a scratch, with only minor whiplash. The AA chap who attended the accident to tow them and the car away said they were very lucky, and had they been in a lot of other cars they might not have been. He put it down to, in his words, the great big girders underneath at the back! Sadly the car was written off. It was the only car they have ever owned from new too.

  22. @ Ian Elliott

    ” but you are that much more likely to have a shunt because of the awful effect on vision of the tree-trunk A-pillars ”

    Yes, Ian, I’ve often thought the poor visibility in modern cars makes you more likely to have an accident. Also, being less aware of your speed you are likely to be travelling at a higher speed than you would have been in your older car.

    Comparing a drive in my ZR or my 3 confirms both these points!

  23. Having owned a lot of these it’s nice to see them coming of age so to speak. While I agree the 1.1 was still a fun car to drive you really needed the 1.4 8v to have any real pace or low down torque to give you a flexible drive.
    I always felt the face lift 114 8v gta a bit of a weak model however you didn’t really get much over the lower spec cars other than trim, where as the GTis were quite different with 16 valves, anti roll bars, different ratio box, better brakes and revised suspension setup with helper shocks along with much better interior options.
    Even the early GTa models got some of those bits and pieces, , until the 100 came along.
    It’s a shame they are mostly all dead now as with a 1.8 Vvc or 1.8T swap they became quite the performance car. I regret selling all my previous ones when they were worth mere pennies!

  24. Spotted today, an immaculate J reg 1.1 C. It looked absolutely tiny next to a Hyundai ix 35 and even my Nissan Micra was Focus like compared to it.

  25. @ Ian Elliott

    ” The R6 Metro/100 Series was about the most brilliant low-budget re-vamp of an existing model in automotive history ”

    Agreed !!!

  26. Got to love the rover 100 models, I have owned 6 and still drive an ascot 100 today.
    I always ditch the thin 155 tyres and fit 175s and they handle superb. Never had HGF or any other problems but you have to keep the trailing arms greased and keep an eye on those rear arches.
    I could never understand why rover put a grommet on the underside of the rear wheel arches but never filled them with rustproofing? I spray dinitrol in my rear arches and they are still like new. Great lttle cars tho.

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