Opinion : Austin Metro memories – Part One

The Austin Metro turns 40 years old on 8 October and, to celebrate, we’ll be sharing your best memories of one of the most iconic cars of the 1980s.

Here, in the first set of memories, you’ll find BSM cars, collectors and recollections of when they were brand new. Post your own memories below – we’re sure you’ll have plenty, good, bad and ugly…

Metro: in your words

Austin Metro 1980

It’s fair to say that no other car from ‘the Firm’ epitomises an era than the Austin Metro does. Launched in 1980, its production run neatly bracketed the entire decade and, in doing so, it encompassed the hopes and dreams of its maker. You can, of course, read all about the Metro’s gestation and subsequent production run in the comprehensive development story – needless to say it went through many twists and turns, but the wait was worth it, given how effective the final product was considering its compromised mechanicals.

And it really was brilliant, because from the perspective of someone who was there, having lived through the turbulent times that led up to its introduction, the Metro really was a breath of fresh air. And as a car that caught the imagination of a nation, it touched so many people’s lives that, even today, it’s hard to bump into someone who doesn’t have some interesting tale to tell about the Metro… not bad for a car that popular culture tends to dismiss.

So, instead of writing more about this history of the Metro – this page is yours. I’ve collated a number of memories from you, and would invite you to write your own in the comments below. It really is fascinating listening to how these little cars shaped your lives in one way or another – and I suspect the’ll continue to do so, as the years roll by.

We’ll add more of these pages in the coming days…

David Robertshaw, car enthusiast

David Robertshaw's Metro memories

I have fond memories of these cars, especially the one my Mum ran from 1989 to ’94. Purchased brand new, I still vividly remember going with her to pick G445 RVU up from the dealer on 1 August. It was a dealer special edition based on the City, gaining a Unipart pop-up sun roof, radio cassette and some ‘fashionable’ stripes (above). It proved to be a very good car and never let us down although it did suffer water leaks through the rear quarter window seals. It became my job to regularly mop up the pools of water that accumulated under the boot lining.

It resisted corrosion quite well compared to the earlier ones, but a random small rust hole appeared on the inner edge of a rear door at about three years old – my Dad showed me how to ‘fix’ it with Isopon P38. I still have a good few of the grey trim grommets in my toolbox that seemed to appear with surprising regularity in the boot and footwells – but with no obvious signs of where they’d come from!

It was also the first car I ever drove. Jerkily on and off the drive and into the garage. It taught me the basics of clutch control and that the steering was surprisingly heavy. I remember (as a passenger) that it was quite noisy on the motorway and it wasn’t really that happy above 65 mph, but I think the transmission whine and general noise was part of the appeal of it to me! I’d recognise the sound of one now instantly. I was sad to see it go when it was replaced by a Golf. However, I did get some more Metro experience as my driving instructor’s car was a Rover 100, and my first car renovation was a friend’s J-reg Metro 1.1 C.

John Boulton, former Austin Rover Sales Executive

I was working as a young salesman in a fairly small Austin Rover dealership in Heswall on the Wirral (James Edwards) at the time of the Metro launch. We had held a launch event on the eve of launch day in 1980 and it has been a spectacular success, we were swamped, the champagne flowed and a good time was had by all. I had been allocated a new demo car to use thereafter, a Vermillion red 1.3 S with the grey block interior. The following evening I proudly took my girlfriend at the time out for a drive and, later in the evening I visited a shop in the outskirts of Liverpool, parking the car outside around the corner.

I went back to the car and found Sue sitting hunched in the front seat with a crowd of at least 10 people gathered around it for their first look at a Metro. (I don’t think Sue enjoyed the attention). I can honestly say no other car launch had the same impact for me. The TV campaign was genius at the time and I particularly enjoyed the later ‘Batman drives a Metro’ campaign for which we held an open evening selling 13 cars including an MG Metro Turbo to a 79-year-old Grandmother! Happy days…

Stuart Collins, ex-Longbridge worker

Stuart Collins' MG Metro

I remember my Metro well as it was the first new car I bought, I used my employee discount as I worked at Longbridge at the time. I treated it to a sunroof, Hella spotlamp grille and a Selmar car alarm (remember them?).

Robbie Brown, his first ever car was a Metro

As a very lucky 17-year old, my parents bought me a secondhand Metro in 1993. It was yellow, with a black passenger door, a red driver’s door, and a silver bonnet. Fortunately, my cousin sprayed cars for a living, so when I first saw it, it was black. That is, until you went inside and saw the inside of the doors still in their original colours. Unfortunately, I failed my test first time around (passing at the second attempt a few weeks later), so the car sat in the street for a month or two. During which time, a neighbour called my mum to accuse of me of joyriding (such a 1990s phrase) without a licence – in fact, I was out underage drinking at the time!

Anyway, when I finally passed my test, I passionately pleaded with the headmaster of my school to let me use the school car park. After a weekend of consideration, he acquiesced. For my final year of school, I was (initially, at least) the only pupil with a car allowed to use the staff car park, and brought a few of my mates to lessons every morning.

Tom Morley, Metro enthusiast

Tom Morley Metros

Been driving Metros for 20 years after learning to drive in my Mum’s one. I had one as my first car, had my current Clubman Automatic (above) for 10 years and GS for eight years. I love them!

James Alexander Hallowell, car enthusiast

We had one new! A Green City X. I remember my dad being proud of the fact it was the first new car he ever owned. Unfortunately it’s also remembered as the worst car he’s ever owned. It was back at the dealership so many times that eventually they gave him the Blue loaner City X he’d been given while the other was in for repair – which ended up being a great car! First build and all.

Simon Woodward, car enthusiast

BSM Metro

I learnt in a BSM Metro in 1983. As a lad growing up in King’s Heath Birmingham, our school went on a trip to the Austin to see the Metro being built. I later bought one in 1985, it was 1983 1.0 L on a Y plate. I liked it, great for city driving with lots of glass and you could really chuck it about which was just as well because it was very slow. Steering wheel angle was odd, but at 6ft 3in, I found it easy to get into.

But it wasn’t all good. The front footwell used to flood because rain water would fill up the heater box if the drainage pipe got gunned up. Mine spent a lot of time in the garage, it was never expensive just inconvenient. So at three-years old and 10,000 miles, the coil cracked, the radius arms wore out, the water pump failed and finally 18 months after purchase I broke the main shaft in the gearbox literally on the way to a garage to part exchange. Did I like it, well yes it was great fun to drive and cheap to own. People have rose-tinted views about some cars – okay mine had a few problems, but so did many cars from that period.

Keith Adams

35 Comments

  1. I had two of the later 100 models, both were dreadfully built, with Rust on both cars from Brand new, the first one the 1997 Knightsbridge was so bad that after a few months Rover took it back and replaced it with a White Ascot, which had the exact same rust in the exact same places… The dealer had failed to check. But that was Mann Egerton in Norwich for you.

    After a few months of issues, many issues, Rover gave way and gave me extended warranty, CD 6 Stack player and free servicing for the duration of initial warranty, once it was sorted, it was a brilliant car, it was Quiet, comfortable, still one of the most comfy cars i have owned and i currently have a Range ROver, Bentley Discovery 5 and Mustang in the collection, I do miss my 100’s, it sipped fuel, at a rate that would make the Mustang so jealous, and when you wanted to rag it, the 1.1 K would just take all the punishment you could give it.

    I was given a 220 Tomcat and ran that which meant the 100 was left for months and months, but then when i decided to let the 220 go, i worried that the 100 would fail to start, however, in I got, and he started first time, i was well chuffed, it was looked after, like all my cars, except for a rust path on the rear DS Arch, but then i have seen many 100’s go there.

    I keep looking and want to get a few of the older cars for the future, to add to the collection, however the other half keeps giving me evil looks when i mention i have found a mint 75 V8, or a 180 ZS, i was told where to go when i said i had found a mint CityRover… LOL… But i think i can get away with a Metro/100, they are just too cute.

  2. I only ever drove a Metro once. My ex father in law had a B reg example, on which he had stencilled the registration number stencilled across the roof to make it easy for the police helicopter to spot – he was a bit paranoid about thieves, living in Birkenhead – I digress.
    Anyway, we were round at the in laws and he asked me what I though the funny noise from the gearbox was, so we went out for a brief drive so I could hear it. I had no idea, but it did sound dreadful. His local garage advised it wasn’t worth fixing as there was so much rust in the rest of the car, so he move on to a Micra, which saw him out.

  3. I learnt to drive in one – a 1989 1.0 City X finished in Henley Blue. I absolutely hated that car, what with the awful gearchange between 2nd and 3rd as well being able to cover both the accelerator and brake pedals with the same foot when I did an emergency stop. I’m surprised I actually passed my driving test!

    Well I did and I had by then mastered that gearchange from 3rd into 4th. I thought I would miss driving that Metro… until exactly one year after I had passed my test when I was asked to drive my next door neighbour 23 miles into Exeter to catch a National Express. She allowed me to drive her pristine MG Metro 1300 and I thought it would be fun and bring back some happy memories. Except, it didn’t. No, I still had the same issue with finding 3rd gear, with the gearbox making some appalling sounds at my efforts. I began to wonder if it could muster up any other tunes with me at the wheel. By the time I dropped my neighbour off at the bus station I think she was worried I wouldn’t make it home.

    Two years later I was loaned a 1.0 City for a week while the family’s Maestro was in the garage. It was a nice car, including its Primula Yellow colour. But I still had the same issue with that gearbox. Then after it had conked out midway cross a junction in the middle of the town where I live, I realised it had a temperamental fuel gauge.

    The Rover Metro I briefly had a go in a year later was a revelation and it felt so much more complete.

    I still remember them fondly from when they appeared in popular television programmes in the 1980s and 1990s, such as Elizabeth’s White Diamond City in Keeping Up Appearances, as Panda cars being driven in anger with one door open in The Bill, and that lad with his squeaky northern accent and love of theme parks who appeared in the BBC series A to B of Motoring.

    So while I don’t have the fondest memories of my time behind the wheel, I still smile whenever I see one of these pint sized superminis being driven by someone else. Thankfully it isn’t me behind the wheel.

  4. I bought a Metro in 1985 a Metro City in red,it was the first new car my wife and I bought,it was a truly awful car numerous faults.drive shafts,soggy Hydragas suspension culminating with a new engine needed after only 8000 miles. Coupled with truly appalling service back up from our local BL agent in Alton made the Metro ownership like the automotive equivalent of purgatory. We stuck it for about 18 months before before I traded it in for a FIAT Uno 45S we was excellent a truly modern supermini which made the Metro look like something from the Stone Age,had it for nearly 40k miles without any trouble,we never set foot in a BL dealer again.

  5. How available are the body panels these days? Would all of the Metro tooling have been scrapped by MG Rover or MG Motor or sold on? I’d love to restore a Metro, possibly a Rover variant, but bearing in mind my experience with excellent availability of Abingdon MG panels, I’m a bit wary of this one.

    • Pretty much nothing apart from some old stock on eBay. Metal working skills are essential. Even brake parts for some models are hard to come by, one of mine is laid up waiting for parts to emerge, and in reality may never make it back out onto the road.

  6. Panels – tooling might have gone to Indonesia but it didn’t. Theoretically XPart/Unipart would have taken over responsibility for the press tools but don’t hold your breath on that one, nor have British Motor Heritage done anything Metro. I thought Rimmer Brothers might still have surplus original panels, etc, but little apparently left. There is an outfit near me called John Richards Surplus who pick up new old stock and have some useful Metro bits at good prices.

    Personal memories – I had a blue Rover 100 Ascot (?) 5 door on the Rover management scheme and it was a great little car – comfortable and easy to drive. Earlier I had a 1985 ex Post Office Metro van, with an aftermarket popup glass sunroof, as a runabout – wood panel behind the drivers seat – a very handy tool even though the rear Hydrolastic pipe fractured on the way home from the seller, both radius arm bearing sets were shot and the offside front suspension fractured requiring a long bike ride to a breakers yard – happy days.

  7. My father-in-law had one, and he pottered around Buckinghamshire in it When he died, it passed to my wife and was surplus to our needs. She sold it to a friend who kept it until it failed an MoT from rust and was traded in. And I kept the Ford Escort I had.

  8. My Mum had a base spec one between 1984 and 1994 which had a few ups & downs over the years & was getting rough before my Brother wrote it off by skidding on ice into another car that came out a lot better.

    I remember quite a few people had them during the 1980s, as they were popular as 2nd cars in a family.

  9. Drove two, both hospital cars, and experiences at the at opposite extremes. The first was a magnolia and rust coloured base model. Well past the first flush of youth and used and abused by who knows how many drivers. It was one the most unpleasant drives that I can remember and I was relieved to arrive back at base at all, never mimd in one piece and in good time. The other was a Rover 100. 1.1 litre and in surprisingly luxurious trim. Lovely drive and revvy too. If i’d have been in the market I think I’d have considered one.

  10. Birmingham Born i was and am an avid BL fan and having owned a 1986 D MG Metro back in the day Lockdown prompted me to source a usable Retro Classic from the old days.
    Found a locally ownded Rover Metro 1994 M Reg in surprisingly superb condition with only a couple of blemishes and still 100% original.
    Flame Red 5 Gears 1.1S hear we go.
    Insured for less than a good night on the town £111 with Breakdown and im off.
    Great fun to drive and gets lots of attention.
    Reccomend to anyone to go back in time and have some fun..

  11. My first car in 1995 was a 1989 City in red, it was just under 6 years old when I bought it. I remember when we looked around it before the purchase and we saw that it already had a 1cm rust hole on the inside of the drivers door.

    On my first long journey coming home to Devon from Hampshire, the engine started making some funny noises, and on the Ilminster bypass on the A303, the engine went bang! Cost me £150 to get the car towed home (I hadn’t got around to arranging breakdown cover at that point), but luckily the car was still under the 3 month warranty from the garage, so they came and picked it up and fitted a reconditioned engine.

    My grandmother also owned a 1982 HLE which she bought when it was about 2 years old and she owned it for about 16 years until the rust finally finished it off.

  12. MG Metro was a fine car, which we had as a runabout for 7 years, without a single fault in about 60,000 miles . I’ve no idea what David 3500 did to gearboxes , but we never had any difficulty with 3rd gear, and indeed the box/linkage/change quality was far and away the best of the Minis/1100/Metro line which we
    had/have ( I still have a 1275 Cooper S)

  13. I had some driving lessons in a B reg Metro City X. I only went with the instructor a few times due to lack of money( I was still at school), but remember the Metro being very easy to drive with a light clutch and easy gearchange and good handling. You can see why many Metros were popular with driving schools and BSM were regular customers for years. However, the Rover version was light years ahead in terms of refinement and came with a useful diesel option that gave the Metro over 60 mpg, which meant driving instructors who had the Austin version often traded up to the Rover diesel.

  14. Never actually owned or drove a Metro but their role in British motoring history is assured. Not long after its launch I remember doing a filming job with a driving instructor who’s car was a new Austin Metro, so I suppose they were ideal as a learner car for novices

  15. I think that the Metro and Marina had something in common. Reading comments here it is clear that BL had learned nothing and their crucial new world beater was thrown together as badly as any preceding BL product – However like the Marina and unlike any other car BMC/BL/AR car launched between the 1962 ADO16 and 1989 R8, the Metro did actually align with its intended market and gave people what they wanted, or at least what they thought they wanted until owning it for a few months.

    • The Metro at least was a sales success and unlike the Allegro and Marina before it, didn’t suffer from the same sort of contempt. In its near enough ten years on the market, it sold over a million, was never out of the top ten and its Rover replacement was a big seller until it was phased out in 1994. It’s likely if the Metro failed in the early eighties, British Leyland would have been sunk.
      I know the Metro wasn’t perfect and there were better alternatives as the eighties went on. but it was a big step forward for its manufacturer and gave them something competitive in a sector where Ford and imports were dominant. Also it took Vauxhall, whose market share was growing in the early eighties, another 3 years to create a rival.

  16. I passed my test in an original MiniMetro AMB 47W, which was my mother’s. It was actually quite reliable, although it was a rattle box with loose trim everywhere. Much later I had a Rover Metro GTi 16v. Fabulous to drive, and quick. K16 DWE. Both rust buckets unfortunately. Fond memories of both though

  17. It was my other half second car reg D879nkp blue metro we then went on to have 3 others together last one being a 1996 blue knightsbridge filled poor thing top to bottom with wood block even under seats still was fine could get a 8×4 sheet of ply in them not many cars you can do that with now sadly head gasket went would probably have had another new one but stopped making them now got a 1989 metro mosiac just for fun brings back great memories and always puts a smile on my face when driving it they was so underated as a car much smoother to drive than a mini more leg room and headroom I have both but prefer the metro to drive Derek and joanne

    • You can also get a Belle concrete mixer in a Metro, seats down. Last time I moved the mixer with my 407SW, it needed to go in a trailer. Progress.

  18. I am not a great Metro fan. My Aunt had a Metro automatic – hideous to drive. My mate at college had a gta which weren’t too bad. My wife’s old Metro was rubbish, though she loved it and still misses it. My father in law still has an MG Metro, but is Sorn and sitting at a friend’s garage due to problems with the suspension. This was his second Metro, he previously had a Vanden Plas which was nicked. Spotted a nice example in Gorleston, which reminded my wife of hers as it was the same colour although this had a 100 badge.

  19. “like the Marina and unlike any other car BMC/BL/AR car launched between the 1962 ADO16 and 1989 R8, the Metro did actually align with its intended market and gave people what they wanted,”
    Paul – were you alive to see the ADO 16 be the UK’s top selling car for years and years and years…..?

  20. 1987 MG in Moonraker Blue. Bought at 2 years old with 30,000 miles on it. Went all around the country in it. It failed to start a few times, but once it started, it would get you there. Today’s cars are much better built generally but this was fun. I always wanted to try the Turbo but sadly I don’t think I will get the chance now…

  21. We had an orange 1.3 hle as a second car.
    It was at least 5 years old when we bought it. It handled like a go kart, was fantastic in snow and was surprisingly quick. It was simple to maintain. I changed the water pump during lunchtime at work. The packaging was, like the mini before it, amazing. All that said it was not the most comfortable of vehicles and eventually it shook at speed. Nevertheless I have good memories about our metro and wouldn’t mind owning a turbo version.

  22. My first driving lessons were in an e reg beige metro city with a matching beige interior including the seat belts and steering wheel. I passed my test quite a few years later in a nightfire red River 114 gsi. My mum had two metros, first was a flame red 1.1c then a nightfire red 100 Knightsbridge, it’s a shame they rusted so badly. I would so love to have a metro now but it would be an Austin with a 1.3 a+ engine. I do love the metro.

  23. When I was very young (1983) I remember my mum coming back from the dealer’s with a brown Metro 1.0, Y-reg. ‘Russet brown’ to be precise. Neither me nor my dad were particularly enamoured with the colour but my mum’s reasonings were a) it was the only colour that was available for immediate delivery (I can only imagine there might have been a surplus of brown due to low demand) and b) the car would go rusty brown anyway so it might as well start off as brown! On the second point she was right and it turned out to be a very pragmatic choice. The sills and wings started to rust within a year, in fact I never remember that car without substantial amounts of rust.
    Rust aside, we had it until 1995 and it proved to be very faithful and reliable. In 1995 we traded it in for a J-reg blue Rover Metro (which I remember being very impressed by). The Rover Metro was what I learned to drive in and never missed a beat – the handling was the best I have ever experienced, on par with the Austin Mini I drive now.

  24. The Metro rusted, but might this be true of all its rivals then. I do remember the Mark 1 Fiesta being a very tinny car that could rust badly in places if neglected and the Fiat 127 was very poor. Mark 2 Fiestas were better, but they were dooged by one thing, a one litre version that was a complete slug, while the one litre Metro could cruise happily if noisily at motorway speeds.

  25. I was outside in my workshop this afternoon, doing some floor welding on my ’83 VDP, the ’82 City needs some new calipers, the ’94 Cabrio needs some nice weather and an end to “lockdowns”, the ’92 GTA 16V derived Midas 2+2 needs the windscreen re-bonding, and the ’97 R100 is just fed up of being left outside and not getting enough use.
    Guess you could say my experience has been positive.

  26. We had a 1982 miniMetro City as a family car from 1986 until 1992. A truly miserable communist edition with no useful features and few essential ones (no passenger mirror or visor, side repeaters, parcel shelf, heated window, rear wiper, radio, glovebox, door pockets, fag lighter, clock, head-rests, reclining seats, nothing). My father (who knows little and cares even less about cars) was persuaded to buy it instead of a Cortina by a mechanic “friend” as he knew he’d make more money from fixing the thing than the Ford. It was 10 years old when dad sold it for £300 and by then it had received: welding to the floor pan, a new rear subframe, new radius arms, clutch, various bits of wiring (the rear lights failed on dad’s way home once meaning he got pulled over by the rozzers), a pair of front wings and I’m sure other things that time has erased from my memory. He had a number of comfort features fitted over the years to try and relieve the misery (radio, door bins, parcel shelf, seat covers (the originals were cold cheap vinyl) and and additional rear fog light), but mom used to complain whenever a lengthy journey was in the offing due to the rubbish seats and droning engine. We did not mourn its departure

      • Don’t recall, in all honesty. Certainly, the later City models were far less communist than the 1982 one, which was horrific really. The trajedy was the handbook: full of information on how to operate and maintain things which were a distant dream for us City owners.

      • Liam,
        It depends what you mean by door stays. No Metro has door stays as such ( the typical limit stay found on most cars), they have a spring within the lower door hinge, and the bottom part of the hinge has the limit built into it, to achieve this function. This stayed the same across all production years right up to 1997.
        Your source from somewhere probably didn’t know this and made an assumption because he didn’t see what he expected to. It’s actually a rather good arrangement, and of course reduces the parts count.

    • You forgot to mention that the City didn’t have a brake servo or reversing lights either. Mine does however have the £49 metallic paint option, Opaline Green metallic, my father bought it new, and passed it on to me at 3 years old, and I still have it. Dad never wanted any of those frivolous addons that you mentioned, he was a plumber and a parcel shelf would have just been a hindrance to it’s daily use, it spent its working life with the back seats down and lengths of pipe poking into where the glovebox would have been, besides, the dashboard had a large trough that easily accomodated most things, something sadly lost in the 84/85 update.
      A more serious omission was that the tailgate lock was “open with key” only, so if you put your keys in the boot, and shut the lid, it was locked. This ended up happening so often that we wired a key underneath…..
      He replaced it with an ’85 City (sadly destroyed in a crash in 1995). It has been stored in the garage for a long time, but was in daily service for 20 years, was maintained at home and never gave any serious trouble.
      You must have got an early ’82, by the time mine was made, the vinyl seats had be replaced by fabric ones, edged in vinyl, in our case in gold with gold door panels. makes a light and airy interior.
      We don’t mourn it’s departure because it never departed 🙂

  27. My Mum’s A reg Metro was quite spartan, with only a rear heated window, cloth seats and a parcel shelf above the base spec.

    The headlights were off the shelf units with a bezel around them, with the indicators set into the bumper.

    Over the years my Mum managed to lock the keys inside a few times.

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