Opinion : Austin Metro memories – Part Two

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 second set of memories, you’ll find that not everyone loved a Metro, but those who were at the launch thought it was amazing. Post your own memories below – we’re sure you’ll have plenty, good, bad and ugly…

Metro: in your words

Dougie Butcher, enthusiast

Dougie Butcher's Metro

My first car was a 1989 Austin Metro 1.0 City. I bought Metro Sport wheel trims, GS bumpers and I painted the mirrors and door handles. I wish I’d never parted with it. A huge mistake, which I still regret. This picture was taken when it was eight-years old just before I sold it.

Trevor Elford, formerly of ‘the Firm’

I was lucky to have been involved in the launch of Metro on board the MS Vistafjord from Liverpool to the Isle of Man. I was part of the Dealer and Press launch team on all but one of the fantastic sailings. I loved the launch, but glad I didn’t do the very rough one though North Sea – when it’s rough it’s terrible, so many seasick casualties.

Neil Rapsey, Admin., AROnline Facebook group

I learned to drive in a BSM Metro in 1986. My instructor’s girlfriend lived near by and he would stay the night there and turn up on a Saturday morning for my lesson – on more than one occasion, he would still be drunk and he would just tell me to drive where we went the previous week. On the day of my test my instructor turned up in a brand new 1986 model Metro, it was delivered that morning to him, So I had less then an hour to get used to the tighter controls of the facelift 100-mile car, but the good news was I passed first time. Ah, those were the days!

My old college lecturer (who was a well-known Welsh rugby referee at the time in 1985) had a Y-registered blue 1.0L and he would give myself and two and maybe three others a lift into college. Now if the college and the journey was on the flat then it wouldn’t be an issue but here, down in Swansea, we have many hills, and the college was up a very steep hill – and getting there was a trip up at least another two steep hills. Needless to say the little Metro worked very hard and the sound of the whining four-speed gearbox was deafening, even drowning out the awful chat on BBC Radio Wales, and in a very short time the little Metro blew a head gasket. My lecturer had it repaired and it went at least another three times that I can remember, but he persevered with the little car and he was still using it for at least two years after I finished college.

Claire Stocker, enthusiast

A Rover Metro 1.4 GSi (I think) was my Metro, bought it at 20 weeks pregnant (had to part with my Mini Cooper RSP , now there was a car!) and we brought my son home in that car from the hospital. Happy memories, a problem-free car from memory, but lacked the character of the Mini.

Michael Turner, the BMC 1100 Club

Michael Turner - Austin Metro

My Metro appeared on the AR stand at BL Day in Peterborough way back in 2005... still when I had hair! For a 998cc motor it flew! Loved every second of it – fitted a few aftermarket mods (including central door locking!)

Robert Marsh, enthusiast

Learnt to drive in a 1.0 HLE in 1981-82. Hugely over-geared, realistically third was all that was ever needed in town, but great visibility. I once drove my instructor’s older Allegro 1100 and, to be honest, preferred it as it was lower geared and torquier, but the point turns weren’t quite as simple. A few years later, I drove another rental 1.0 Metro. Dreadful… Max indicated speed was 77mph on the motorway. Frankly terrifying being hounded by lorries at night on the M5. I loved the look and handling of the Metro, but the above experiences unsurprisingly never made me want to buy my own.

Nick Bilton, formerly of ‘the Firm’

I was involved in one of the London launches of the Metro. After one at a hotel in Park Lane, I was carrying an armful of brochures out to my car when I dropped the lot. Out of nowhere a well-dressed, slightly-built gentleman spent a few minutes helping me to pick them all up. I thanked him, he smiled and said that it was no problem. Noticing a chauffeur stood beside a Rolls Royce, he said, ‘Do you know who that was?’  ‘No,’ I replied. ‘Sir Charles Forte, he owns the place,’ he said. One of those chance meetings that stick with you…

Terry Shaylor, enthusiast

Terry Shaylor Rover 100

Still use my Mark 3 Tahiti as my daily, saved it from scrap for £75 nearly three years ago, very much part of the family now…

Ciaran O’Kelly, enthusiast

My father purchased a new Metro 1.3 L in 1983 from Dutton Forshaw, Park Wood, Maidstone. He had that car until 1993-4 when he took a notion and scrapped it, all because the clutch damper was on back order. In 1989, I pulled the head off, opened up the ports, fitted big valves, roller rockers, MG exhaust, etc., etc.. It was a hoot to drive. A little while later he had me replace the front wings, head lamp panels, valence and respray the whole car. Bloody shame he scrapped it all because of a £5 part… and maybe 180k miles since new.

Nick Buchan

My second car was a 1.3HLE in silver, A403 AWA as I recall. Bloody awful! Bought in early 1990, it had had both front wings replaced by the previous owner due to corrosion and the Hydragas suspension leaked all its fluid more than once. The damned thing was much improved by the reliability of the under-powered A-Series engine which never let me down!

Tony Baker, enthusiast

Learnt to drive in my instructor’s Mini Clubman, but the morning of my test he rang in a panic ‘the Mini’s clutch had gone, you’ll have to take your test in my wife’s Metro.’ Despite it being my first time driving one, I passed. That was August 1982 and this summer, thanks to Matt Lynch, I drove a Metro for my second time in 38 years. Suddenly, I was 17 again!

Martin McFeely, enthusiast

The first car I ever drove age 12 on private land on the left was this 1983 Cinnabar red Mk1 MG Metro 1300. I loved driving it and I was addicted to the Metro! So much so, a couple of year later in 2000 I bought this Mk1 MG and I still own it today!

Tim Pearson, enthusiast

My first major purchase after graduating, in 1985. A 1982 ultra-base Champagne Beige City was intended to serve me well in my first job with much urban driving with an estate agent. The job lasted all of six weeks after I was sacked for refusing to tell Melton Mowbrays to clients, and 44bhp then proved feeble in my next job, involving more long motorway runs. In the meantime, I’d up-specced the City with rear wash wipe, working reversing lights, passenger door mirror etc..

Did you realise that the reversing lights were fitted with bulbs, but on the City no switch at the gearbox? A surprisingly rewarding car to drive, but durability was poor, needing rusty front wings and front panel replacing at less than five-years old. After a spell with non-ARG metal, in early 1990 I bought a heavy offside front damaged 1988 1.3L in light Metallic Blue, followed by a trip to the local dealer to order a new bodyshell. A few other bits were needed, such as a used front subframe, and miscellaneous bolt-on front end bits.

You could change the bodyshell without needing to de-pressurise the Hydragas system on the Mk1s, due to front and back systems not being linked. An interesting ‘adult Meccano’ project, which I used as my own transport for six months, selling it partially to pay for an engagement ring which was a worthwhile purchase to this day. A year or two later I bought one of the last A-Series models, in the form of a stolen recovered MG in BRG metallic In many ways a fun car, but by then it felt too crude for the market in which it was competing.

Kelli Payne

Kelli Payne

My Mum was going to buy a Primrose Yellow one in 1983, it would have been our first new car, but she bought a gold Ford Fiesta instead. I remember going to look at the miniMetro at our local garage. I really wanted her to buy it as I loved the colour. In 1991, shortly after my 18th birthday, my Dad’s friend was selling a 1984 model, basic no radio etc.. Red with a brown interior. It became my first car. It’s registration was A874 YHR. I named it Mfanwy. I had it two years changing it for a Mini Mayfair.

James Godwin, PR guru

  • 1984: teacher was late due to new Metro breaking down
  • 1993: failed first driving test in a 1992 Rover Metro 1.1L five-speed.
  • 1993: passed in a 1991 Rover Metro 1.1c four-speed.
  • 1994: parents inherited a 1991 Maestro 1.6LX Auto. Swapped it for a three-door Metro 1.1S
  • 1995: blew my mother’s 1991 Rover Metro 1.1S up. Should we have kept my late grandfather’s 1991 Maestro Automatic?
  • 1997: helped replace girlfriend’s father’s 1986 Metro with a 1996 Nissan Micra. British-built, but without the drawbacks/rust/driving position/not a Fiesta
  • Moral of the story? Anything but a Nova!

Matt Lynch, enthusiast

I love Metros. My Auntie had an F-reg, three-door in red with a grey interior when I was a kid. Then my friend Martin let me drive his MG Metro when I was an impressionable 17-year old. From then on I’ve always wanted a Mk1 Metro. And luckily last year the perfect car came up. It’s currently being restored and should be done by late spring.

Matthew Rea, enthusiast

I remember my mate’s dad buying one of the very first MG Metros on the employee’s scheme. I was 17 and at Bournville Art College at the time and my mate borrowed it for four of us students to go on a trip to Weston-super-Mare. We thought we were the absolute business in it; black paint, pepper pot alloys and those red seat belts and carpet. ‘Pelican West‘ tape by Haircut One Hundred on the stereo…

Baz Farmer, enthusiast

Bloody fantastic little cars – I’ve had five over that past 18 years and have just restored a Mk1 1.0 L (above). Always been Metro mad from a very young age.

Johnny Parkerrek, enthusiast

I learned to drive in an old Commer van then took lessons (to unlearn the bad habits picked up in the Commer) in two Metros. One at BSM in Manchester and one with the local instructor near Hexham, where I took the test. Having some lessons in Manchester paid off, some people here are violently averse to driving in ‘big cities’. I thought they were good cars, but only ever owned one. The one I owned was a diesel, nice car, but let down by the awful Peugeot engine which was slow and thirsty. I gave it to someone to learn to drive in when it showed signs of an impending second head gasket failure – I think she gave it to the pizza delivery bloke once she’d finished learning. If I’d bought a petrol one I might have kept it longer.

Claire Smith, serial car buyer

I had a Metro City X D78 RVH I think. I paid £275 for it in 1998 or 1999 and part-exchanged it for a 1998 Fiesta for £290. I had it Crypton tuned as it wasn’t running sweetly enough and the guy let me off a few pounds as I think he felt sorry for my car choice! Also had a Rover 100 from Redditch car auctions. There was a problem with the disc calipers on the M5 and it pulled over in plumes of smoke and boiled brake fluid.

Keith Adams

24 Comments

  1. I own two Metro’s which I have had from new the first is a 1984 MK 1 City X silver Leaf & the second is a 1985 MK 2 Arum White MG Metro This was made in September 1984 so must be one of the first of the 85 on models. The City X has done more than 170,000 miles on the original engine and gear box and still going strong (touch wood) I do change the oil every 3,000 miles and use Slick additive and use Halfords fully synthetic oil. Both cars I love and will never part with them. The only fault with the City X was the ballast 9Volt ignition, the coil used to overheat so I have fitted a 12 Volt coil and taken the 12Volt supply from the ignition switch. The MG 85 on has a 12 Volt coil. It used to eat speedometers until I found out that there was a foam dust seal round the trip meters and this used to come unstuck and mince in the cogs and foul everything up. The only fault with the MG was the front intermittent wiper relay (DRC 8534) When this packs up not even the washers will work. This part is now NLA try using a Land Rover part that was used on the Defender part number AMR 2341 from Rimmer Bros or Vauxhall 90069864PA66 this is a Lucas number. Talking about Rust, on both cars the front footwells would get wet I found that water was coming in via the guttering and running down the A pillar. The other Major rust point is the headlamp support and surrounding areas on both cars from new I would take every thing apart and Waxoil I noticed that there was never any paint or it was very thin, on the MG it was bare metal. The front wings bolt on if when the car was new take the wings off you would have found foam rubber stuck on the headlamp support and the first time the car got wet it never dried out so this is how the front wings rust out. The rear apron/valance where the number plate fixes not one Metro was painted properly in this area. It is amazing what you can get in the back with the rear seat folded down.

    • I remember my Dad borrowed a friend’s Metro to take our old washing machine to the tip when my Mum was still driving a Renault 12, & I was impressed how it managed to fit something this big inside.

  2. I Meant to mention that with the Metros anniversary it is also (can you believe) that it is also 40 years since Abingdon closed. I also own one of the last solid colour MGBs which I have owned from new and is now Tax exempt. I have owned continuously an MGB for 51 years and an MG for 53 years.

  3. I am getting old and forget things. Just remembered when the Metro was announced it was supposed to be rustproofed. One of the things they did was to use a Flow Stick, does anyone remember this?. How it worked was when the body was ready for painting they dropped these sticks all round the car and after painting the body went through an oven and the heat melted the Flow Stick and was supposed to run into the joints just like Waxoil. On my City X I still have one in the rear wheel arch which did not melt. Two more Achilles Heals on he car is the Hydragas units which thankfully you can now get regassed and the Metric TD wheels and Tyres.

    • A colleague at Rover told me that one of the problems with the Metro originally was the front valance/spoiler beneath the bumper – due to a design error it had a totally closed cavity and Longbridge hadn’t noticed that electrostatic dip primer could not get in to prevent corrosion leaving them with bare metal surfaces to rot through from the inside.

      • the front valance was a “rotter”, a new panel was only £7. i spent more money on spot weld cutter drills to remove the old panel then the price of the new one

  4. I got my Targa Red City X 3 door C498PFY in 1989 from Drivers in Prestatyn (now PSA). I ‘needed’ a car as my sister was getting married and taking our Fiat Uno 1.0 Fire with her. My choices were very limited at the time…
    Mini – could not fit in
    Fiat panda 750 – actually not that bad – do you see any old Pandas around now?
    Skoda Estelle 105 – I actually liked that but my Mum hated it.
    Yugo 45/55 – remember them? absolutely horrid
    the Metro
    It was an easy choice. Had it for nearly 2 years when long journeys dictated a larger car with a 5-speed box (been with GM since). Wings were already rotting at 4 years old but it handled like a go-kart. Anyone remember the in-house Currys’ car radio brand? I had one fitted, got the plusher door pockets and a sound 4-speaker system. Was vandalised in Huntingdon railway station which knocked down its value when I came to sell it (to a very dodgy retailer who’s done time for clocking cars) but I did see the car around Denbigh a few times over the next few years.
    City X trim looked quite smart in all honesty, with the nylon trim and standard head restraints. It was comfortable, and even although it wasn’t as fast off the line as the Fiat, it made up for it in the corners. Very economical too. But extremely vulnerable on the motorways.

  5. Family had a Beige 3-door Austin Metro 1.3 Automatic (GNM 987Y), moments include having to hold a broken driver’s door in place from the back seat on the journey back to London from Bournemouth and the car spinning out one time on icy roads doing a near 360 as well as the rather maroon/brown(?) spartan interior,

    Otherwise it was a dependable car until the cost of replacing the gearbox proved too much to justify, leading the family to move on to a red post-facelift N mk3 Vauxhall Astra 1.6 GLS after other alternatives ranging from a Micra, Accent and another Metro (the newer model pre-NCAP result media frenzy).

  6. The Metro is a key part of my life and every time I see one I can’t help but smile.

    I learned to drive in them – a mix of BSM cars and my mum’s Cinnabar Red Metro City

    The red metro was bought brand new in 1983 with a host of extras (rear parcel shelf, heated rear window, passenger sun visor, glove box) years before i learned to drive and started to rust instantly so i learned the ignoble art of bodgery with P38 filler, rattle cans and Hammerite before inheriting the car in 1993 and adding door pockets, seat covers in Rover fabric and a radio cassette

    It was given away a few years later and replaced by a red Rover Metro 1.1L which was a lovely little car and I kept until I loaned it to my mum who kept it for 7 years after her Metro Knightsbridge (a really nice special edition) was stolen despite being about the cheapest car on the street!

    After that I moved on to a string of bigger Rovers and now Jaguars but will always look fondly on the Metro.

    Happy birthday old friend.

  7. Cumbria Constabulary ran a couple of Metros alongside their Fiestas and Escorts as Panda cars, the Metros probably to replace the Minis they used in the seventies. The Metro was ideal for police patrol work 35 years ago, with a boot big enough to carry a couple of road cones and police waterproofs, 45 mpg and a tight turning circle. Also Cumbria moved on to Maestro diesels as their main Panda car as the fuel economy and tough engines were what the police wanted.

  8. After leaving school in 1986 I worked in a village garage. The boss, a tall and gentle man had a soft spot for jags but we had everything come through the door. The turbo metros, the lime green early ones and the dark blue 1.3 L ones that seemed to be everywhere. They were not great to drive and at the time but the old folks (that’s me now) used to love them.
    In 1990 some nice person drove into my mk 1 golf gti and the insurance company lent me a k series engined 1.1 later car. That was really nice to drive. They got there in the end.

  9. Many years ago in a different life. I had a Metro Van as a postman. The biggest problem was the high door sill. It was not an easy vehicle to get in and out of
    All in all it was light years behind the escort vans we used at the time. Even the Ital/Marina vans were better

  10. I had couple of Metros, a Studio2 special edition and a Turbo. Having being through goodness knows how many cars since then, and currently owning a new XF 3.0S, I still reckon the Studio2’s huge velour seats were the most comfortable I’ve sat in in a car. That thing drove beautifully – I’d love a new one now.

  11. The foams on the seats of my City X were starting to go back to nature. I bought from e bay a complete inertia from a 19,000 mile Studio 2 and as Peter Harris states they are lovely seats more in the MG Metro style but even more comfortable.

  12. The vinyl seats from my poverty specification 1982 City were replaced by an interior from a Vanden Plas Metro, £40 from a breaker for the lot, carpets /seats/ door panels / hatchback shelf and steering wheel, nothing was missed!
    They were very dirty with typical scrapyard oil and grease but all washed clean thanks to upholstery shampoo and a wet and dry Vax cleaner, the Vanden Plas seats were a revelation in comfort, like sitting in an armchair.
    I drove my used poverty spec City for 9 years and 90,000 miles, before scrapping at 14 years of age with 110,000 miles on the clock. the City Metro always started and never ever stranded me at all. I never lacked confidence with the car and drove far more miles than any subsequent new car..
    Paid £1850 for the car and only spent £500 on spares including 3 exhaust systems ( Kwikfit) at £70each fitted. Excluding tyres/ fuel/ oil / tax & insurance , the car cost me 2.6p per mile for depreciation and repairs (I’m a keen DIY mechanic). Now retired I fancy another session of old car “Bangernomics” The candidate I fancy is a Fiat Panda, there are 100,000+ miles Pandas on Ebay with good panels and interiors, I cannot better the carefree feeling of virtually free motoring. I’ve had new cars, and can afford more, but driving new is so boring!

  13. Did you realise that the reversing lights were fitted with bulbs, but on the City no switch at the gearbox?

    Yes, enabling the reversing light needed only a switch as the rear light assemblies contained a full complement of bulbs, and the City had the socket in the wiring loom for a reversing light, so it was a 10 minute job under the car to pull out a plastic bung on the gear change lever and screw in a reversing light switch into the hole, then hook the connector and socket together.

    Why did cash strapped BL waste away profits by giving away bulbs the car did not need?

    • Cost cutting probably or some ruse to get you to buy the next model up. I do recall the base model Metros from the early eighties being very spartan with vinyl seats, no rear demister, one sun visor and the minimum of instruments. Same was true of the Fiesta Popular and the Chevette ES three door, although this did have a 1.3 engine and was bigger.

      • The K series Metro, a salesman who I had known from an earlier career in IT sales, he moved into cars sales for Rover after the big computer company meltdown of the early 1990s, told me they were the same box and internals for 4 and 5 speed, Rover charged an extra £250 for a 5 vs 4 speed car of similar trim, he said a very simple low-cost part was required to enable the extra gear, the hardship was stripping down the gearbox to upgrade. Is this true?

    • Simple tooling costs…..it was cheaper to leave the lamps and harness as were, than it was to retool the lamp assys and harnesses. Redundant feature is very common.

  14. The original pre face-lift Metro, some cars had a rev counter, how was the rev counter driven? Electrically or mechanically? Just wondering that if I could have converted my 82 Metro City ( with S/H Vanden Plas interior) with the dash panel from the Vanden Plas donor car

    • All tachometers were electrical impulse type . To convert might not have been easy without the correct loom

    • Easy. You just take the feed from the negative terminal on the coil using a white with black tracer wire and I am not sure now how I did it and connect up the the tachometer on the instrument pod. It works as I have done it on my City X.

  15. Fondly remember my two metros HEP592W and B941TWL coveed load of miles in them; my brother had one tewo HDO380W a white car which he painted marlbro colours with emulsion paint …….all ok until, it rained!!

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