The ALCAN/Austin Rover Aluminium Metro was an interesting project – it was a feasibility study into the full-scale production of a supermini in this lightweight material, as pushed for by BL Technology boss Spen King.
Although it wasn’t intended for production, it would have sired the alumiunium-bodied Austin AR6.
ALCAN/Austin Rover Aluminium Metro: A lesson in lightness
Following the success of the BL Technology-developed lightweight BL Technology ECV3 project, it was decided to evaluate a system of manufacturing for building aluminium structured vehicles and then test the structural integrity and durability. This Metro is one of six vehicles built as replicas of steel production vehicles, and employs the system of bonding panels, which has become more widespread in the industry.
Although the MG Metro pictured above looks completely standard, it has been constructed using these principles and, while there aren’t many miles on the clock, it’s weathered the years remarkably well. The entire structure has been bonded with Permabond adhesive – a system developed by ALCAN in conjunction with BL Technology – and all its panels are fashioned from aluminium.
Spen King oversaw its development, and was passionately in favour of lightweight construction – ultimately, though, cost and complexity meant that it was a system which wasn’t persevered with by BL.
Mastering the Permabond process
In December 1982, this reseach was fully underway when the ECV3 was introduced, and while its aluminium structure was regarded as a flight of fancy by the press, the ASVT – Aluminium Structured Vehicle Technology system was pursued well into 1985, and was sold to the dealer network as the construction medium for the upcoming Austin AR6. However, with time, money and market share slipping, the outcome was inevitable: cancellation.
According to the book, Materials for Automobile Bodies by Geoff Davies, they were tested quite stringently – torsion, 1000-mile cobbled Belgian pave test, pothole braking, accelerated corrosion and finally the 30mph impact test. Given that the bare body in white weighs half that of its conventional pressed steel alternative, it’s a shame that the first supermini to employ these production methods was the loss-making Audi A2; a car that Spen King openly acknowledged to be the ‘son of ECV3’…
As far as British manufacture goes, it wasn’t until 2003, with the arrival of the Jaguar XJ (X350), that the results of this research bore fruit.
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