Although it seems inconceivable now, in the late 1970s, when the miniMetro was being developed, it was being groomed to replace the original Issigonis-designed Mini, a car that remained in production until 2000.
For all those die-hard Mini owners who didn’t believe they needed a hatchback, BL developed a saloon version of the Metro. Keith Adams tells its story.
(Picture: The Giles Chapman library)
The convoluted development of the Metro has been covered in great length elsewhere on AROnline – suffice to say that replacing the Mini had not been the work of a moment, and BMC, then BL, made several attempts before reaching its definitive solution.
Codenamed the LC8, Metro had been a cosmetic revision of the ADO88 project, itself a cost-conscious Mini-rebody suspended on Hydragas and repackaged for the more demanding 1970s.
Yes, the Metro’s responsibility within the BL’s product-led recovery programme of the 1980s was absolutely massive – not only to replace the Mini, but also to compete in the hard-fought and rapidly growing supermini sector.
Saloon Metro was planned for…
Although it was launched with a single body style – the three-door model – a five-door had been planned for from the early stages of development, and that hit the marketplace when the Metro received its first facelift, in the autumn of 1984.
However, a saloon model was on the cards, too, and as can be seen from the accompanying photographs, it was actually rather well styled and balanced, proving that the boxy supermini’s design could lend itself to all manner of body variations.
Conceived in 1978, the saloon version – codenamed AM1 – was part of the programme from the outset, but as ex-BL insider Ian Elliott recalled, ‘…it wasn’t very high priority.’
Niche-filling three-box saloon
The car’s role was simple – to niche fill but, at a time when finances were impossibly tight and development funds were channelled to the most important models, saloons like this were given attention only when it was possible.
Ian added, ‘The Metro saloon was one of the very first things to be cut back when we had the CORE saga, in response to the sky falling in around 1979. I think CORE stood for something like Concentration of Resources and Effort, but basically it was a ‘going round turning off expenditure taps’ exercise in order to preserve really vital projects like Metro.’
Dropped early on
It was a logical car to drop, as this market sector wasn’t exactly overflowing with successful cars – and the later sales performance of the Volkswagen Derby (and replacement Polo Classic saloon) and the Nova saloon – would indicate that killing the Metro saloon was the right thing to do if it ensured the continued smooth development of the Maestro and Montego programmes.
Ian recalled his seeing the car: ‘I remember seeing a white saloon sitting rather forlornly in a dead car park at Gaydon, must have been around 1981. I think at about the same time I saw a three-door Maestro, as well!’
Photographed at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon around the time of its opening in 1993, the Metro saloon prototype had been treated to a set of TD wheels. The well-integrated styling had stood the test of time pretty well.
Confirmation needed here – it could well be that the LC8 project was renamed AM1 (with the saloon being AM2) in the wake of the corporate restructuring initiated by Michael Edwardes in 1978 under which the Leyland Cars division of British Leyland Limited became a separate legal entity called BL Cars Limited with two divisions: Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph. This was a short-lived arrangement and the separation of Austin-Morris and Jaguar-Rover-Triumph ended when BL Cars Limited changed its name to Austin Rover Limited in April 1982.
If you know the definitive answer to this, please get in touch.
With thanks to Ian Elliott for his input.