AROnline takes a another look at the cars which once littered the streets of blighty which now are vanishing fast.
We love the Rover Metro/100 and the mildy-sporting GTa proved that power isn’t everything when cheeky charm is in abundance. Mike Humble grabs the keys…
The little bounder
C’mon now folks, don’t laugh when you read this, but on my seemingly endless list of cars I want to own before I die, is the Rover 114GTa. My reason is a simple one, for a retro car to be fun, power is far from everything and the Metro range sums up the simple ‘wheel at each corner’ simplicity that never failed to put a smile on your face. The original Metro range, regardless of their alarming habit of turning into orange coloured flakes quicker than the railings along Blackpool seafront, were amazing fun to drive.
Even the poverty spec 1.0 base model, armed with a laughable 44bhp featuring less creature comfort and soft trim than a telephone kiosk, somehow managed to feel like the Enterprise jumping warp speed when thrashed within an inch of its life. The MG range introduced shortly after launch proved this formula as ‘Metro Mania’ hit the showrooms. Shortly before the end of the original Austin type Metro, amazingly, Rover did it again with the Metro GTa with the MG tune engine and the MG Turbo suspension and wheels.
Sadly, the original Metro could feel pretty shagged out by 60.000 miles of hard use, but I still reckon to this day, a fresh from the box1275cc Metro was a laugh a minute car you could really chuck around and make you feel years younger. Newer rivals such as the Uno & 205 had their own charm and abilities, but those chaps in Birmingham were fully qualified in making silk purses from you know what, and every Metro regardless of it being a Post Office van or the full fat MG Turbo had that certain driving spirit which made you forgive many of its shortcomings.
By 1990 however, the original Metro was so past its sell by date, it was starting to smell. Clever marketing and tempting finance offers kept the Metro on life support, but Ford had a new bun in the oven in the form of the Fiesta MK3, but all was not lost as Rover invested a small fortune to re-launch a Roverised replacement. But in true Steve Austin style, the new Metro gave nothing away at first glance, it was all purely modern under the skin – Rover had the technology… they had the capability… to build the worlds first, bionic car.
No longer hamstrung by the A series engine, which was so old that Noah had used one to run a bilge pump, the Metro now featured a range of K series engines ranging from an entry 1.1 up to a 1.4 twin cam. The other thorn in the Metro’s side was the gearbox which my history teacher claimed to be the inspiration for the Legend King Arthur’s Excalibur and the stone, pulling the sword was easier than getting reverse. A super slick gearbox which now featured an extra cog transformed the car from a nippy little town car into something you could drive everywhere… without compromise.
Those comfy front seats and repositioned steering column changed the driving position from a dodgem car to a proper car, and at last, the whole package felt strong and well screwed together. For me, the fact that from a squinting glance it looked similar to an Austin Metro made the car all the more impressive. In just 10 years the company had gone from a Union torn state owned disaster to a private owned concern with a vision, a future and a range of cars that people were actually queuing to buy, selling on pure merit rather than cost or patriotic whimsy.
The range topping GTi 16v was a cracking car, fast, nimble on its feet but expensive to buy and harsh on insurance premiums. Rover then opted to introduce a cooking model that still had a certain sporty feel but was considerably cheaper to run, buy and yet still have broad appeal. The GTa featured a sporty interior with a chunky steering wheel and hugging seats with steel wheels and low profile tyres adorned with some snazzy looking trims. Power came from an 8v 1.4 K series broadcasting 75bhp which was gutsy, economical and smooth, opposed to sounding like collapsing scaffolding which the old A+ engine could do when pushed to the upper limits.
As with Patrick McGoohan in the prisoner, the metro became a number, rather than a name as the Rover 100 series. The GTa continued as the 114 GTa, now featuring some super cute starfish effect alloys and a new style grille which looked good combined with the cars re-styled nose. Bumpers and exterior trim became colour coded as Rover tried to make the car an upmarket model. To a degree, they succeeded as the 114 was now visually out of style with fresher, bigger rivals like the new Corsa. Yet the range topping GTa & GSi continued to sell in good numbers and were both refined and a great laugh to steer proving that less sometimes really is more!