The cars : Metro Cooper (AKA Monaco) development story

Unbelievably, the Metro Cooper was not offered as a ‘factory-backed’ conversion, even though it came with a blue chip pedigree.

But there was a good reason why John Cooper Garages ended up changing tack by renaming this excellent little car the Metro Monaco…


Metro Cooper: what might have been

Metro Cooper - 1981

That most illustrious of names associated with the BMC Mini during the 1960s made a welcome return in 1981 when John Cooper Garages introduced its own high performance version of the Austin Metro. Known as the Metro Cooper, this appealing little hot hatch had unwittingly became the template for Austin Rover’s forthcoming MG Metro 1300.

John Cooper had bittersweet memories of the project. Speaking to David Vizard in the Mini Tech newsletter in 1982, he recalled: ‘We looked at the car, with the help of Jan Odor, who was one of my last contacts still developing engines. We developed quite a simple larger inlet valve, polished head, twin carburettors and a new exhaust manifold.’

Built to customer’s specifications

This was in no way a factory model, instead it was an aftermarket conversion intended to be based on a customer’s car, or a new Metro supplied by the dealers. The Metro Cooper was intended to be sold through John Cooper’s own ARG dealership as well as the Wadham Stringer network.

Cooper continued: ‘We were going to modify about 10 cars a meek and at the time Austin Rover was interested and yet they weren’t. It was a funny business. Some people wanted to bring the Cooper back and other people didn’t – there was a lot of political wangling going on up there.’

What was very interesting is how similar it would end up being to the MG Metro 1300. The demo in the image above was created out of a 1275cc Austin Metro created to sell the concept. The look was completed by a natty set of Wolfrace Sonic alloy wheels and bold-looking side graphics.

Metro Cooper advert

How did it go?

The Cooper formula that had proven to work wonders on the Mini, and it had the same results on the Metro. The Metro Cooper may not have been as quick as the turbocharged alternatives from Janspeed and Turbo Technics but it went well enough. The 0-60mph was timed at 11.0 seconds by Motor while weekly rival Autocar made 11.6 seconds. Maximum speed by both was 103mph – more than enough to live in the fast lane at the time.

BL was not keen on this car as it was in the process of getting the MG Metro 1300 to market, and didn’t want anything spoiling the relaunch of the iconic marque. As a consequence, Cooper didn’t receive factory backing, meaning warranty cover was invalidated. To satisfy the mothership, Cooper rebranded the car into a Metro Monaco, but by that time Wadham Stringer had pulled out of the deal.

More tellingly, the MG Metro 1300 was cheaper at £4799 compared with £5848 for the Monaco, which defeated the object. The project was quietly dropped after only a handful of cars were completed. ‘We changed the name to Monaco which took the heat off a bit because it wasn’t a Cooper,’ he said. ‘It was Cooper they were worried about, not Monaco. It was just to get rid of some of the bits really, that was what happened.’

Why the Cooper became the Monaco

With a reasonable demand of these modified cars at the height of 1981’s Metromania, this should have been a huge success. Cooper recalled: ‘We told Austin Rover we just wanted to modify a few a week, Wadham Stringer wanted to sell them, and they had plenty of orders for them at that time. They told us to bring a car Longbridge, and we left it with them.’

Metro Cooper

However, the deal went sour very quickly. Cooper said: ‘We left the car there and we never really got an answer from Austin Rover when we picked it up. Following that, we then started to go ahead with Wadham Stringer deal, but right at the last minute and when we were ready to go into production, Austin Rover approached the dealer group’s chairman Jonathan See.’

It was here where the deal fell apart for Cooper. ‘Austin Rover more or less said that the warranty side is suspect, and if we modified a car, it voided the warranty on the whole car,’ Cooper added. ‘This is what they apparently said to Wadham Stringer, so they got the wind up, obviously and said “Let’s call it off”. That was that and I don’t really know why.’

We do now, as explained above – Austin Rover didn’t want the launch of the MG Metro 1300 spoiled. But as Cooper said, the timing of this decision was awful: ‘The only thing I was upset about was that I wish they had told me three months earlier. That would have made things a lot easier for Jan Odor, for me, for everybody.’

Keith Adams

7 Comments

  1. Owned a monaco for years .Great fun, stood out in the crowd. Mine had all round skirts and spoilers. and raced it round Brands Hatch.

  2. i remember, when working as a parts apprentice for phillips & sons in buckingham, seeing brochures & promo pictures for the metro cooper. seem to remember austin morris thinking of rallying one only to be replaced by the mighty maxi powered metro rally car

    • Wow, Phillips & Sons, what was the sales managers name? My dad bought every car he ever owned from him, from an Austin A45 through various Maxi’s to the Rover 400 (was it Keith?)

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