Buying Guide : Austin/MG Metro

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Fancy a Metro in time for its 40th birthday? Here’s Dale Turley’s guide to what to look out for…

Austin Metro (1)

  • Years produced: 1980-1990
  • Body style: 3 and 5 door ‘Supermini’ hatchback, 3 door hatchback ‘van’
  • Engine options: 998cc and 1275cc A+ Series, 1275cc A+ Series (turbocharged)
  • Transmission options: Four-speed manual and four-speed automatic, front wheel drive

Brief overview

The Austin Metro is available as a 998cc manual, and 1275cc manual or automatic. The MG Metro is available as a 1275cc manual, in both normally aspirated and turbocharged versions.

The smaller-engined models deliver excellent fuel economy and reasonable performance for their age and engine size. The larger-engined models, especially the MG versions, deliver good performance, the MG Turbo especially so, at the expense of a small drop in fuel economy. The ride and handling are both worthy of particular mention as being outstanding in its class at the time the Metro was current.

Here’s what to look out for…

Engine and transmission

The A+ Series engine, fitted to all Austin and MG Metros, is generally a reliable unit, capable of quite high mileages. However, look out for external oil leaks (very common and can be difficult to cure completely) and possible head gasket problems, which may be indicated by overheating, oil in the water and vice-versa. Engine ignition systems can also suffer from misfiring and difficult starting caused by damp, especially when components such as spark plugs and distributor cap are not in the first flush of youth. These problems are usually very cheap and easy to rectify, with all parts being cheap and readily available.

Don’t worry about a slight transmission whine in first gear – this is perfectly normal and due the design of the Metro’s gearbox. Checking the transmission oil level is simple, as it shares its lubricant with the engine. Also, some versions can suffer from very mild ‘clutch judder’. Worn synchromesh rings were a major problem; it meant the Metro jumps out of second gear, and this is rife, and can even happen on low mile examples.

Suspension, steering and brakes

The Metro’s Hydragas suspension delivers exceptional ride and handling qualities, far better than that of its contemporaries. The system is generally reliable, but problems can occur. Check for fluid leaks at all the pipe connections, and also check that the ride height is correct and even. Any problems here are usually cheap and relatively simple to fix. Also check the upper and lower front balljoints for wear, and also the rear radius arms. Certain MG models also employ front shock absorbers – these rarely wear out.

  • Check carefully the condition of the tyres – if the car has metric ‘TD’ tyres fitted, these can be relatively expensive to renew.
  • The steering is of rack-and-pinion design, is very direct and rarely gives trouble, save for occasional loose rack mounts and worn track rod ends.
  • Both ‘Type A’ and ‘Type B’ use the same solid disks, and the difference between the two systems was in the calipers. This meant the two Metro types used different brake pads. Vented disks were introduced with the Turbo, and all used ‘Type B’ pads.

Body and chassis

The potential enemy of any Metro is… rust. And lots of it!

Check everywhere, but pay particular attention to:

  • Inner and outer front and rear valances.
  • Front panel behind the headlamps.
  • Front wings, behind the headlamps, and in front of the A-pillars.
  • Rear wheelarches.
  • Door bottoms, particularly the rear doors on 5 door models.
  • Outer sills along their entire length.
  • Rear heelboard, where the rear subframe mounts to it.

Both front and rear subframes usually last extremely well and rarely require attention.

Interior

There are good ones, and there are bad ones. The seats themselves tend to last reasonably well, though if someone of what you might call ‘ample frame’ has used them for any length of time, the seat bases can sag, and backrests have been known to collapse! Some of the many smaller trim pieces (particularly in Mk1 cars produced before 1985) can be brittle, but are fairly easy to obtain as used spares.

Electrical system

Usually reliable, but check everything as you should when viewing any car. All parts are cheaply and readily available.

Summary

The Metro is generally a reliable small car and, if chosen carefully and looked after, one that can remain reliable for many years. Due to their low value and good availability, rusty examples are best avoided, unless they are of particular interest, such as a VP500 or Tickford example. A very clean Austin Metro Vanden Plas, Austin Metro GTA, MG Metro or MG Metro Turbo would probably be a good buy, and a possible sound investment for the future.

 

Keith Adams

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Created www.austin-rover.co.uk in 2001 and built it up 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 Classics 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 unfeasible adventures all across Europe.
Keith Adams

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55 Comments

  1. I think that best of the bunch is a 5 door Metro Vanden Plas (1985 – 1990). They look good in black with flint box velvet interior. They did do a 2 tone VDP in light blue metalic and deep blue metalic. Made a good contrast. Round about 1988 I think – E/F Registration. Very few of any sort left now though. The all white MG Metro – again 1985 to 1990 looked good as well especially with those red seat belts and nice interior. They always seemed more solid than the Maestro/Montego although that in sump gearbox was always a huge let down – not a motorway car, better for shopping and local runs.

  2. One major thing forgotten on the gearbox. Worn synchro rings, mean they jump out of second, and this is rife, and can even happen on low mile examples

  3. Have to echo the warnings about Gearboxes. Manual and Auto both suffered from oil contamination. When I was a Rover Salesman in the early nineties, this was the first thing we checked on any potential px.
    Had 6 month old ex BSM metro’s arrive of the transporter with the Synchro shot. Ironically, my old man was rebuilding Austin 1100 gearboxes in the early sixties for exactly the same reasons….

  4. Speaking from experience. Both Metros me and swmbo had suffered this, and a mate who had a garage in Garforth was forever doing gearbox swaps on Metros for the same reason. It seemed to do it more when turning left on swmbos…

  5. Great little cars.

    There were some interesting run out models for the range which were very nice – the Knightsbridge in particular.

    Rust really was the killer – my first one (in the family from new) was rotten as a pear after 4-5 years. Mechanically faultless though.

  6. @6 I think it was a ‘sweep under the carpet and forget about it’ problem to be honest, as it required a re-design of gearbox internals, for which there simply wasn’t funds available

  7. About Metro gearboxes. My father had an early MG Metro which got through three boxes in about 24,000 miles. Transpired the problem was the nylon cage that held the ball bearings at one end of the (?) lay shaft. He tended to do a lot of motorway miles and wasn’t a slow driver – as a result, the sump oil got hot, the nylon cage didn’t like it and eventually became brittle then cracked, losing its balls. Don’t know if they cured it with stronger plastic in later models – or maybe assumed that not many Metros would be leading this sort of life, so no cure needed.

  8. Love my 82′ Auto, presently Mint and with just 5,800 miles on the clock. Worth mentioning that Auto models tend to be prolifically slow but otherwise fairly engaging and charming. I think i’d rather she was a manual but I’m not sure I will ever find one in similar condition – ie. as new!

  9. @ 9 Yorkie

    Yes! When aged about 15 I worked as a petrol pump attendant (remember them?!) at the local Austin Morris garage. Early 3dr Metros with the low mounted fuel filler would often drench my shoes with petrol as it surged back up the pipe whilst filling.

    Also saw my first MG Metro 1300 at the same garage. Thought it was absolutely cool!!

  10. Get in touch if you have a Frazer-Tickford Metro… I have a few mint copies of the original brochure that I’ll happily pass on to any owners.

  11. Also check the long half inch diameter rubber pipe between the carburettor and the oil breather for the crankcase. This will often appear healthy but gives big problems. The pipe will collapse on itself with the engine running yet appear to be in good condition, the effect of the collapsed pipe is failure to suck and create a vacuum in the crankcase, that vacuum serves to stop oil leaks past the seals, the big problem is oil leaks, oil forced past the seals especially the clutch plates becoming oiled and severe juddering on engagemant.
    Another sign of the collapsing pipe is when starting the engine, if the engine fires within a second or two of turning the key, the pipe is collapsing, bad form, a healthy Metro should take a few seconds to start, the first few seconds are required to suck air from the crankcase.

  12. The gearbox bearing with the nylon cage, the cage which fell apart, that failure was due I believe, to a factory running change. They changed from a metal cage part to nylon then reverted to metal, I think C and D registration plate cars were the ones affected.

  13. Another key item was the crank or more to the point… the alarmingly short life of it if dud gearboxes were not attended to.

    Contaminated oil would wreck the mains and eventually the crank would simply wear beyond all hope. All stemming from AR`s 12000 service policy which was fatal towards long term longevity.

    Shorten the oil change frequency to every 6k (as it should have stayed) and you could almost double the life of the engine.

    That said… a nice later 1.3 VDP or GS model is a hoot to smoke in manual form, the 71bhp A+ even to this day pulls from its boots and still delivers nice fuel returns.

    God how I miss the noise of first and 2nd gear!

  14. Left the Uk at the end of ’83 for Aus (with my parents as I was only 14, but I was dragged off kicking & screaming..)

    Loved the Metro from day 1. As for the MG & Turbo…they were heaven & my attainable dream car against the ultimate dream of an SD1. I recall throwing a car mag across the room in rage at age 16 because my beloved MG Metro had been beaten in a group test.

    Saw a Metro here briefly about 1999, seemed to be a HLS or HLE, hard to tell across the road. Wanted to chase it, but when I squealed with joy, the girl at the time was non plussed.

    Older & wiser now & my current lady knows I need to chase up old BL tin on the rare occasion I see it 🙂

  15. I too dismissed the 12000 mile claims, I changed at 5000 miles, Oil was so cheap then Castrol GTX, perfect for the A plus and filters about 99 p. About 30 minutes not too hard work, filter and sump bolt easy to access

    Kwikfit would do an oil and filter change for a piffling sum of money, about £7.99 if my memory is still good.

    You had to watch out the hard sell, the uplift onto the £7.99, they would try to push the “all essential” engine flush, when the sales droid would run his finger under the rocker box cover and run a doom and gloom story of the engine being choked up with sludge!

    I go along with the spiel and agree to buy the flushing service, but once his back was turne; into action!

    Being push rod and OHV , it was two 90 seconds work for me to remove the air cleaner and rocker box lid, to reveal an immaculate yellow cylinder head and rocker assembly.

    To the astonished sales droid, where is the sludge then?

  16. We had an early Metro when I was a kid, and even in the mid 80’s it seemed dated. The transmission whine, the way it struggled to climb any hills,the wind noise, the dismal interior, and the rust.

    In the end the rot killed it, you could see straight through the footwells to the road. Frankly I think you would be mad to buy one. There are far far better small cars available.

    The K-series Metro maybe, which had a nice engine, suspension that was properly set up, but I am still not sure I would touch one. It isn’t a particuarly good looking car, and offers all the crash protection of a wet paper bag.

  17. The other sales scam was the hydragas pump up, (never attempted by an official A R dealer I might add)

    The Metro has three hydragas pressurisation points (one per front wheel) and one for the rear wheels.

    The rear hydragas units shared a balance pipe, it had to be that way for engineering reasons, think of a four-legged stool balanced on three long and one short leg.

    The garage mechanic would try to scam for £32, four at £8 each.

    When shown the error of his ways, the proper AR Metro manual, plus a few home truths delivered verbally, The fradulent bill was halved to £16.

    He tried to scam an extra £8, but it cost him £16, I can play the same game too!

  18. #24
    Metro crash protection, although the Metro had a low rating for NCAP tests, Official investigations into motor vehicle accidents showed the car had a decent “middle of the league” record, far better than NCAP would lead you to think, and ahead of a number of its competitors which the public consider as “safer”

    It seems to be a case of test results from the real world as against those of a laboratory

  19. Like the Mini the Metro gearbox was really still designed to run on 20w-50 oil with 6000 mile oil/filter changes. In an effort to match other modern small cars of the time with longer service intervals and end on gearboxes, BL/Rover just added a larger oil filter, specified thinner 10w-40 oil and heavier duty spark plug electrodes to extend the A+ to 12,000 mile service intervals. The transmission was beefed up by larger idler gear bearings but the plastic gearbox bearing cage and the thinner oil did the ancient gearbox no favours. By 12,000 mile/one year oil changes the shared engine/gearbox oil was in dire need of changing and often had a large ‘christmas tree’ of metal filings on the magnetic sump plug.

    Classic Mini owners today have mostly reverted back to 6000 mile oil changes using ‘classic’ 20w-50 oils with the correct gearbox additives and the metal bearing cages for reliable transverse gearboxes. Modern thin synthetic oils are not good for any transverse BL gearboxes.

  20. Sorry MM, by the time EURONCAP crash tests actually started to mean something, it was into Rover 100 territory, and frankly it was a baked bean tin compared to the rivals. Everyone else was fitting ABS, airbags, and decent side protection, the 100 didn’t have these, and the car showed its very aged design by squashing as if it was made of foil

  21. The petrol cap thing was the subject of a proper recall. A new better sealing one was provided free of charge by dealers. I still have the original one for mine, and the recall letter from 1983. Still have the car too, finished welding the heelplates and inner wings,and floor, valence is next.

  22. Has anyone else ever come across Metros with rust below the door windows, or did my father’s 1981 1.0L corrode in some uniquely weird places? I think that the only body panels which weren’t rusty on that tragic wreck by the time it was eight years old were the roof and bonnet.

  23. Driving with the windows lowered (3 door) part of the mechanism make contact with lower part of the door frame pressing, result: corrosion from the inside working outwards, the hole would be about halfway along the bottom of the pressing

  24. My 1982 Metro City, despite its failings, the willing A Plus engine always started first turn of the key, no matter how cold the temperature, or how deep the snow, and it always got me home, I never had the same faith in the Cortina.

  25. I had a 1983 Metro I think it was a City X. Grim little thing that drank oil and had a driving position of a bus. However to be quite honest it was an essay in reliability compared with a 2008 Honda Civic skip from Swindon I got rid off last year and would have happily burned. As far as rust was concerned I think SD1 Rovers were far worse at the time !

  26. Steve @ 34, my friend Peter had a City X in hearing aid beige, and for all it wasn’t that well screwed together and liked its oil near the end, the car was 13 years old when he got rid of it due to terminal rust and the terribly unfashionable, even in 1995, little Metro served him well over seven years. In seven years of ownership, apart from a growing liking for oil, some electrical nastiness and rust spreading, it had no real reliability issues.
    Contrast this with a Hyundai Getz I got rid of at five years old whose alloys had corroded badly, couldn’t do more than 37 mpg, and decided to first fry its clutch and then kill its ECU, at a total cost to me of a grand. So much for the new look, quality Hyundai then.

  27. MM @ 26 – Interesting! Yes, the Metro/100 NCAP test results were bad. However, they just reflected the age of the basic structure. Was the high publicity given to the test results a bit too much???

    • In the early 90s the Police received orders to increase the details of vehicle accidents and casualties / injuries etc with an emphasis on make and model, therefore creating a database of “real world” safety of each car model.

      An analysis of those Police accident records were published and the Metro occupied a position in the mid-point of the safety league, in stark contrast to the poor showing in the NCAP tests. Cert6ain marques considered safe by the public had poor placings in the those Poiice table

  28. There maybe a simple answer to my ’89 metro gta problem but i cannot find one… drivers side rear wheel sits on road at an angle out at the bottom? i jacked the car up thers no play in radius arm & bearings ok can anyone shed any light on this pls

  29. Hi all, quick question, I’v bought a 1989 metro 1275 auto. It cloncks baddly when it goes up an down gears, any iders?. Thanks

  30. Hi guy’s, just thought id pop on here and say i,ve just recently bought a Austin Metro Vanden Plas 1983 in black for £500, to be quite onest theres bugger all rust on it, i,ve taken the bumpers off and all sorts to try and find rust bur its onl got minor areas like the sill lips and jacking points needing cleaning back and paints, all in all considering this is my first metro and my first proper car apart from the mini i,ve got in bits, im only 18 but understand what a gret little motor i,ve gotten here.

    Anyone want pictures heres a link:

    http://s1293.photobucket.com/user/cliff3again/media/DSCF2237_zps4531f0a2.jpg.html?sort=3&o=5

    Cheers
    Cliff

  31. I use to own a austin metro which I had from brand new in the eight months of owning this horrible car I have fuel leaking from fuel tank when parked this is a common fault three clutches as they seem to burn out for no reason two gearboxes an alternator, radiator and the best thing of all was when it rained the water would come in through my sun roof also through the floor soaking all the carpets and the seems of the windows, I bought this car at Mumfords Exeter at that time and every time I complained I was told this is standard thing to happen with a metro so after only eight months and just under 8,000 miles I got rid of it.
    Fours years on from that time I made a grave mistake and bought a MG version but had same problems so that one went as well, be ware anyone buying one of these.

  32. I use to own a austin metro which I had from brand new in the eight months of owning this horrible car I have fuel leaking from fuel tank when parked this is a common fault three clutches as they seem to burn out for no reason two gearboxes an alternator, radiator and the best thing of all was when it rained the water would come in through my sun roof also through the floor soaking all the carpets and the seems of the windows, I bought this car at Mumfords

  33. I would think anyone buying a Metro now would probably be an enthusiast and would know what to look for. Yes there were some nasty ones when new, a lot of cars were like that in the early eighties, but I can’t say they were any worse than the rotten Alfas and Fiats of this era which could often start rusting at six months and were awful to maintain.

  34. The best thing that ever happened to the metro was the introduction of the Rover metro 100, This was a far better car than tha old A series engine metro.

  35. This was launched in 1980. Back when vauxhall still made the chevette, Ford the mk1 fiesta. I was around back then, compared to the competition it was a good little machine. Although I always found the 1 litre models too underpowered.

  36. In 1994 I bought a 1983 Metro city purely for commuting. I was not looking for a Metro but this one just came along. It did it’s job remarkably well for over 3 years, only once refusing to start when buried in snow – new plug leads sorted that out. The front valance was the weakest point – always needed a bit more welding for the mot. This was basic motoring – ! sun visor and door mirror on drivers side only!. I did grow fond of ‘old wobbly’ as the kids called it, with the strange noises from the gearbox. I did the oil & filter change very frequently and I think this kept it going well. The handling was impeccable as I remember, even on the narrow standard tyres – 145’s ? The only car I have found more fun is my wife’s Subaru impreza.

  37. I think they were 135 by 12, yes narrow indeed, but a friend had a Big Valve Lotus Elan, that had narrow tyres , and that car was never short of grip, cornered as if on rails, idiot proof!

    Modern cars are over-tyred to the detriment of snow and rain driving conditions, narrow tyres are less prone to aquaplaning and clear away the water

  38. If only the Metro had been the Honda Metro from Japan with Japanese engine and transmission assembled to Honda standards of reliability and fit and finish.
    The metro would have been a small version of the clever Honda Jazz, the Jazz being the only small car which I have found to be as practical as the Metro for carrying home shopping such as bicycles washing machines etc

    • Well, I’ll take an A series any day rather than anything produced by Honda. What Honda engine ever lasted 40 years in production ? And since the Jazz has been mentioned, I have to say that it has the most uncomfortable back seat ride of any car I have ever been in. I have never understood the fascination that Honda has for some people, and given the steadily falling market penetration of its products I wonder how long they will stay in the UK market

  39. I had two in the late 80s early 90s a 1981 1000L in dark blue HEP592W and a 1984 yellow 1300L B941TWL – out of the two the first was the better car although it went through two gearboxes whilst the twknreqiured a gearnox rebuild but liked oil.

  40. Had a w reg 1.3S with black mg metro seats used to eat ball joints on the drivers side till i found the drive shaft was like a banana. handling was fun drivers seat adjuster collapsed leaving me looking at the head lining pulling out of a junction on my way home from longbridge (ex austin apprentice).used to call it the sun probe because it had done so so many miles.i loved that car with the later tdx wheels fitted and a gti spoiler and grafs it even looked good also used to eat brake pads but that could have been my driving is those days .

  41. The 1.3 S, which preceded the MG Metro, must be a real collectors item now as it was only in production for 18 months. I do remember it often coming with striped seats and often painted orange.

  42. I worked from 1979-1991 for a dealer in the Netherlands, and i know
    what was the problem with the nylon ball cage in the transmission bearing.
    On older transmissions the cage was also nylon but was on the inside of
    the double ball bearing.
    At a certain point they came with the bearing with the cage on the outside.
    The problem was that the cage when it started to develop a little play could touch the gear it was facing, wrecking it, with Obvious result.
    We got a service letter that the problem was solved from a sertain chassis number onwards, they developed a new gear
    with some space machined out to make room for the bearing cage.
    The gear was also available as a spare part.
    I remember on a few occasions taking scrap allegro trannys apart just for the good bearing with the inner facing cage….

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