Car of the Month : January 2007

Up-spec Metros like this are rapidly disappearing off our roads – claimed by a combination of rust, antipathy and Mini owners in need of updated motorvation for their prides and joys…

Thanks to enthusiastic Metro fan Peter Melville, one 1986 Vanden Plas has been saved from the ignominy of the scrap yard, and has been upgraded into the stunning car you see before you. And if you think all Metros are bought by pensioners, spare a thought for Peter – he’s 18-years old, and picked up this beauty before he’d even earned his driving licence…

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Wonderfully original, this Metro has a nice, long life ahead of it…

IT was a close run thing. The golden beauty you see before you had already lost its engine and gearbox, and had been offered on eBay for ‘spares or repairs.’ We all know that actually means, ‘take the wheeltrims and seats off me – and scrap what’s left.’ However, the fate of this Metro was to take a happy turn for the better.

Spotted by Austin-Rover fan Peter Melville, the golden Vanden Plas looked to be the ideal project car – not least because of its superb interior, low mileage and genuine condition. Whatever the rights and wrongs of robbing such a healthy car for its engine and gearbox, the fact is that this is happening all the time – and more often than not, perfectly good rolling shells are now being scrapped. Peter wasn’t going to let that happen this time.

In the end, the eBay auction was largely ignored, and Peter ended up bagging his Vanden Plas for £26 in October 2005. It was in largely good condition, and once the sunroof leak, duff rear brakes, and the bonnet that wouldn’t shut were sorted, Peter moved onto turning the Vanden Plas into the car he always wanted.

The first step was to convert it to manual transmission specification. Although the AP four-speed slush box isn’t all that bad when married to the relatively powerful 1.3-litre A-Plus engine, Peter knew he wanted a manual transmission. Not least because this was going to be his first car – and who really wants an auto straight after converting their provisional licence into a full one? In the end, the conversion involved changing the gear linkage and adding a clutch pedal to the pedal box – not as extensive as you’d imagine…

A new engine – suitably modified – would soon be powering Peter’s Metro Vanden Plas.

Peter explained the engine situation: “I bought an engine and gearbox from a 1987 MG for £75. I stripped it down and sent away the block to be rebored to 1310cc and the crank reground. Rebuilt it all, fitting a Swiftune SW5 camshaft, Maniflow 2-inch exhaust system and a K&N cone filter, and did a small bit of porting on the inlet manifold too. Total cost of the engine rebuild was a whopping £880. Progress was slow, but the car was finished in August 2006.”

With these modifications, the A-Plus engine should produce something well over 80bhp – allowing the stately Vanden Plas to become a bit of a pocket rocket.

The engine and gearbox were now sorted, and it was time to move onto the bodywork. Although the Vanden Plas – which Peter calls ‘C66’ on account of its registration number – had survived the test of time remarkably well, it had picked up one or two battle scars in the ensuing years. He recalled, “More recently I’ve been sorting some of the bodywork – it was excellent when I bought it but I’ve repainted the front valance and will be doing the rear valance soon, as rust was starting to bubble through.”

Having said that, it looks fine to us, and is a testament to the hard work that Peter’s been putting in…

The raison d’etre of the Vanden Plas Metro – it’s leather clad interior… classy is an oft-overused word, but here, we think it sneaks in…

Peter’s not resting on his laurels, and plans to improve his car. It’s not easy, as he’s in full-time education, working towards his A-levels, but in the time he has, there are plans afoot. He said, “It needs a bit more on the bodywork, and the headlining is hanging down around the sunroof. I’m planning on a stage two unleaded cylinder head for later this year. I want to get it properly set up on a rolling road as well, and I need to sort out the gearchange, as the self-adjusting clutch cable isn’t ideal.”

Although it’s more than 20 years old and has just 18,000 miles on the clock, Peter’s not afraid to use it. “I take it up to Gaydon to meet other members of this site, and she’ll be attending a few shows next year, too. I don’t do a huge mileage though; I can walk to work and to college, and I’ve got use of my father’s Fiesta as well,” he said.

There are further plans in the pipeline too. Peter told us, “I plan to keep it for a while yet. It’s very special to know I rebuilt and fitted the engine, and I’ve not started to get bored of it yet. And for the moment, there isn’t a car that would suit me better than a Metro Vanden Plas.”

Only a few small jobs left to do…

About Peter Melville:

Peter is currently in the final year of A-levels, and is also working part time at a local independent garage. Next year he’ll be working there full time and on day release to college studying Automotive Engineering and Electronics. He is 18-years old, lives in Tunbridge Wells, and runs the popular MCi website.


Peter Melville’s Metro Vanden Plas:

Keith Adams

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