Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, it can’t have escaped your notice that the 40th birthday of the Austin Metro is now upon us. It’s been a long time coming, this one, and I’ve been busy keeping the homepage of AROnline nice and fresh with new and updated Metro stories over the past couple of weeks – and that’s because today is D-Day.
On 8 October 1980, and years of failed supermini projects and months and months of speculation and scoops, Sir Michael Edwardes finally whipped the covers off the Austin miniMetro, and BL followers across the country breathed a deep sigh of relief because the car looked like it was going to be perfectly competitive against its toughest supermini rivals. If that sounds almost defeatist in the context of modern car launches, it isn’t meant to.
BL had not had a good news story since the launch of the Rover 3500 (SD1) in June 1976, and four years is an absolute eternity when you’re on your uppers. Read Ken Clayton and Richard Williams’ brilliant account of the launch of the Austin Metro in 1980 to get a real sense of the importance of this car – when the covers came off in front of selected members of the trade, there were tears. Genuinely, grown men (as the trade was back then) cried with the relief of having a car that they knew would fly out of their showrooms.
And that it did…
The boys a Lonbridge wanted to build it, productivity and union unrest slowly begun to subside and, although there were struggles in the immediate aftermath of the departure of Derek Robinson, things settled down and pride began to return. The Metro was also warmly greeted by the press and, as Steve Cropley concluded in CAR in 1980, ‘At last a British car that no-one needs apologise for.’ We needed that in 1980.
The rest is history. The honeymoon period, Lady Diana, the profusion of specials, the revival of MG, the unreliability, the lack of development, the triumphant rebirth into a Rover. It was a roller coaster – and, as you’ll have already seen with recent Metro Memories stories submitted by you, our dear readers, the Metro has a place in all of your hearts, be they positive or negative. I have many of my own memories and, even today, the sight of an early Metro warms the cockles of my heart.
So, remember the Metro. Take yourself back to a time when our car industry was popular culture, and every street had one on it. Rusty front wings and all…
Happy 40th birthday, Austin Metro!