We love receiving emails like this one. ‘Hi, I own an Austin Metro rally car with some interesting history and thought you might like to do a story on it.’ The message was from Tomy Mercer, and the car is indeed an interesting one. But it poses more questions than it answers and, right now, we don’t know the full story behind this one, so perhaps you can help.
Here’s a what we do know. The car in question is a 1980 Austin Metro HLS MetroPlus pre-production model, as featured in the brochure above, and featured in the gallery below. The number is 00185, and it was a prototype/concept MetroPlus model built by BL Motorsport at Abingdon. The car was built as a proof of concept for the MetroPlus/Plusparts package that was to be launched with the Metro. It was a performance and styling package, which you could buy and fit to a standard Metro – and was all the rage in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The styling kit included front spoiler and wheelarch kit, side stripes, bucket seats, sports steering wheel, map light, leather gearknob and alloy wheels. The performance kit included alloy inlet manifold with Weber carburettor, freeflow exhaust system, alloy PlusParts rocker cover and an oil cooler kit.
So good they made a brochure
As well as the pre-production car being built, the team behind the MetroPlus also created some marketing material. This included a brochure and posters, which can be seen here. However, although the brochure was mocked up (quite convincingly, it has to be said), the concept was never taken up by British Leyland. The PlusPart package was put on ice, and only the single MetroPlus was built. Had the programme gone ahead, this car would have been used for display purposes at exhibitions in and around the launch of the Metro in 1980.
So what happened to this car, and how did it manage to survive? After the MetroPlus concept fell through, the prototype was purchased directly from BL Motorsport at Abingdon by Dr Dave Bulman, who was a Senior Lecturer at the Royal College of Science and a special technical liaison adviser to BL Motorsport. He stripped the car down to a bare shell and rebuilt it for rally/competition use. The car’s build was featured in several issues of Car & Car Conversions magazine, and would subsequently become known as the Triple C/Cobra Metro.
What mods did the MetroPlus get?
For its transformation into rally car, the Metro’s shell was fully seam welded, and a full Safety Devices roll cage was fitted. Other mods include:
- 1275cc A+ engine with oil cooler, Weber 45 DCOE carburettor
- Alloy sump and fuel tank guard
- Twin SU electric fuel pumps
- Janspeed exhaust system
- Jack Knight quick rack and driveshafts
- Straight-cut gearbox and dropgears
- Britax three-point harnesses
- Limited-slip differential
- Fusebox relocated to the centre of dash
- Plumbed-in fire extinguisher
- CB radio
- Sparkrite ignition
- Fly-off handbrake
- Brake and fuel pipes running inside the car
- Brake-bias valve
- Custom made one-off adjustable coil spring suspension
- Modified suspension with added camber and bronze bushes
- Rear shock absorber mounts fitted with Spax dampers front and rack
- Solid mounted rear subframe
- Cobra alloy wheels and bucket seats
The car competed in the Tour of Mull Rally in 1981, ’82 and ’83 (see gallery), before Dave Bulman sold the car in 1984. The new owner continued using it at various rally events until 1988 when the car was sold again. The third owner subsequently used the car for just 12 months and, between 1989 and 2019, it has been hidden away in a wooden shed untouched.
Tomy said: ‘Since I bought the car, a lot of work has been done to get MoT’d and back on the road. But I’ve decided not to have it restored and, as a result, the car remains largely unchanged since it was built in 1981. Unfortunately, the original engine was removed many years ago and the car is now running a 1275cc MG Metro A-Series.’
What questions remain?
For us, the main question remains is what happened to the rights to the MetroPlus? It would appear to us that the project may have been sold on in its entirety to Wood & Pickett, as the Metro Plus went on sale in 1981 in almost identical form, as offered by the legendary conversion specialist. The similarities are way more than coincidental, with the side decals almost matching, the engine modifications being very similar and the package of upgrades also having a very familiar feel. The only difference between the two was that the Wood & Pickett car was also offered with a Rayjay Turbo, boosting power to around 90bhp.
The Wood & Pickett Metro Plus package offered: a deeper front spoiler, wheelarch extensions, alloy wheels and a lot of stripes on the outside. Inside, there were a leather steering wheel and gearknob, a turbo badge as well as optional polished wood inserts and Recaro seats. Very, very similar…
So far, we’ve yet to confirm the link between the two, so would love to hear from you if you know more.