News : Alex Moulton’s R6 development Metro sold

Keith Adams

Austin Metro - Moulton Developments

The car that was instrumental in the development of the Rover Metro/100 has been sold by Bonhams for £1035 at its final auction of the year. The 1981 Austin Metro 1.3S was owned from new by Moulton Developments and, like so many of the good Doctor’s cars, was highly modified from original specification. Aside from the Longman-tuned engine, the most significant alterations were to the suspension, which would end up being adopted by Rover in the 1990 Metro/100.

The story of the car’s development is interesting and apart from what we already know, Bonhams added a little more flesh to the bones of our story. Moulton’s sister, Dione, was one of the first purchasers and Alex, having tried her car, decided to buy one for research and development purposes. Moulton Developments had contributed to the suspension design but, against Alex’s advice and purely to save costs, BL did not fully interconnect the Hydragas system front-to-rear as it was originally designed to operate, opting instead for independent suspension at the front with side-to-side interconnection at the rear.

Although this gave an acceptable ride it was far from perfect, and Alex was determined to do it properly. In 1986-1987 HHR 499W was stripped down and fitted with a prototype front-to-rear interconnected Hydragas system which BL, by then Rover Group, adopted when the Metro was facelifted in 1990, following a very favourable drive story by Richard Bremner in CAR Magazine. The Rover Metro and later 100 Series incorporated front-to-rear interconnected suspension, giving a vastly improved ride, which was the result of development work carried out on HHR 499W.

The engine’s modifications are by Richard Longman, whose plaque is on the rocker cover. Further investigation would be needed to verify the cubic capacity and mechanical specification. It has not been modified to run on unleaded petrol. A replacement (manual) gearbox was fitted in 1995. Other modifications include an MG Metro tailgate spoiler and seats; later-type TD (metric) wheels; and a later steering wheel. In 2001, following a period of storage, the original carpets were replaced with the current set.

A file of paperwork was included with the car, consisting mainly of old MoT, insurance and licensing papers together with V5C registration document and a letter from Austin Rover dated 11th June 1987 indicating that the vehicle was then in their custody undergoing evaluation. A copy of a garage record card from E W Stone Ltd. lists work carried out over the years. The last MoT expired in September 2011 and the car is currently SORN’d.

The new owner, Paul Vincent, who is a regular on the Metro Owners’ Club forum, has already confirmed there’s a bright future for the car. ‘Good news for those of you that have been watching the Moulton 1.3S is that it has joined my fleet and will, in time, be tastefully restored with appropriate trim etc. as near as possible to that originally fitted by the factory. Expect to see it on the show circuit within a few months when we will also be displaying some Moulton-related memorabilia to complement it.’

Austin Metro - Moulton Developments (2)

Austin Metro - Moulton Developments (3)

Austin Metro - Moulton Developments (4)

Hat tip to Martin Bell

Keith Adams


  1. I had a conversation with Dr Moulton in 1990 regarding adapting my A series Metro to front-rear interconnection, His advice don’t even try, every thing is wrong and needs changing.
    His next piece of advice, the car industry is in such a terrible mess, just go out and buy a new Rover 100, they are practically giving them away.

    He would make disparaging remarks as to the modern “service economy” he believed in man the maker of things we can use, not the stock market and its financial wheeling and dealing

  2. Surprised at how cheap it is.

    6) MM

    Did Dr Moulton views regarding adapting the old Metro front-rear interconnection also apply to Mini owners contemplating the idea? (Though the Minki project suggests the suspension part is relatively doable).

  3. Moulton Mini sold for £20,125 inc. premium

    and his interesting Hydrolastic Moke sold for £11,730 inc. premium.
    “This Moke was one of the first produced (at Longbridge, where all UK Mokes were built) following the model’s introduction in August 1964. The first owner was Morris Motors Limited of Cowley, Oxford. On 23rd August 1965 the vehicle was transferred to The Austin Motor Co Ltd, Longbridge, Birmingham. At the suggestion of Alec Issigonis, Alex Moulton (through Moulton Developments Ltd) acquired the Moke from BMC in January 1966 for the purposes of suspension research, and it was delivered to Bradford-on-Avon where work immediately commenced to fit Hydrolastic suspension. Subsequently it was used for several years as a test-bed for further Hydrolastic system development.”

  4. Good news that a (still) working prototype has been saved. As a prototype vehicle, rather than restore it back to the original factory specification, why not keep it to the current specification as initiated by the good Doctor?

    After all, it helps tell an even more interesting and ‘original’ story compared to countless other original, low mileage Metros that have been unchanged since leaving the assembly line.

  5. #6 I do not know the answer for the Mini, but for the Metro it was a No-No, it was not just a question of fitting pipework front to rear. a lot of work had to go into making it work. I did not persue the matter further, Dr Moulton was very approachable, but he did not suffer fools

  6. A few observations:
    The original Austin Metro had non-interconnected suspension purely as a cost-saving. (The rear side to side interconnection was nothing to do with ride quality, it was simply to avoid a ‘four-legged stool’ effect in the static condition). Hydragas spring units were chosen essentially because of their compactness, in what was the world’s most tightly packaged car at the time. They already cost more than an equivalent coil spring set up, so the further extra cost of interconnection was avoided. There were quite a few compromises forced on the original Metro design by the need to use existing Mini suspension components. Ironically, the use of the Mini’s positive-offset front suspension geometry led to a rather expensive front brake spec, with four pot calipers to allow fully duplicated front brake circuits. For the R6 Metro, with full interconnection, a completely new front wishbone set up, with wider track, was adopted – this was the kind of extra work that Alex Moulton was referring to when he advised against trying to update any existing Metro.
    There is no case for trying to interconnect any existing Mini, because, unless it is a Hydrolastic model (and thus is already interconnected!) then it has solid rubber springs and nothing to interconnect…

    • Published correspondence in 1975 between Alex Moulton and Spen King shows that SK could not decide which side of the fence to fall off with regards to the ADO88 ( Metro ) suspension system, the decision being to interconnect or not. Reading that correspondence I form the opinion the original intention was interconnection, but it was dropped as a matter of expediency by which time when it was too late to adopt conventional steel springs in lieu of displacers, certainly the main benefit of hydragas is the interconnection facility, what a waste, aerospace technology vs the blacksmiths choice, (the steel spring).

  7. 10) Ian Elliott

    While Alex Moulton’s Hydragas Mini prototype did not feature Front/Rear-Interconnection, what about the Minki-I/II projects on the Austin Memories site which exhibited a much better / more refined ride than standard?

  8. I have to say if Dr Moulton said that kitbashing a front/rear interconnect to the Hydragas system is troublesome then lesser mortals should probably take that advice as read.
    Im surprised that this car is so cheap – but then again since its practically a one-off in more than one way (both suspension parts & engine) its probably a good idea to balance the price given its historical significance against the right royal pain in the behind it would be for anyone to have to work on it..
    An interesting place you’ll find this system is on British tanks of all things (Challenger 1/2 is one example). I wonder what the good Doctor thought of that? I wonder if he was flattered and proud or slightly uncomfortable with the idea..

  9. The reason the original Metros had four pot brake calliper’s was because of the lack of front to rear Hydrogas interconnection.

    • I think the analogy was not concerned with the four pot brakes but between a three legged kitchen tool and a four legged stool, one is very stable, self-compensating for uneven surfaces, the other requires perfect conditions for stability, the side-to-side hydragas pipe gave the the 3 legs stool effect, without the pipe, a four -leg stool.

  10. ref 13 : No, as I hinted at above, the four pot calipers were to allow full duplication of the front brake circuits, so that if one circuit went down, you didn’t have a single brake tugging the steering via the positive offset. It was absolutely nothing to do with interconnection.

  11. @14, I seem to remember reading a story in Car magazine with Moulton, and he mentioned the interconnection/brakes thing. Had it not had a side to side connection it would not have needed four pots.

    Obviously it was due to the suspension set up/geometry and so although I did not detail why its pertinent.

  12. @16
    The Metro like the BMC 1100/1300 range has only a very small enthusiast following and rust rapidly reduced the numbers of surviving cars before anyone was that interested in saving them.

  13. @18
    Just like a Facel Vega, a Fiat Mirafiori sport or MK2 Ford Escort.

    Even Allegros and Talbot Sambas have a following.

  14. I think I can recall the Mini Moke at BoA, I think it was in poor condition and would need a lot of renovative attention. There was an Austin Gipsy too, again looked as if it needed a lot of work.

  15. Further to the above comments I would like to add that the new owner of Dr Moulton’s ‘Brown Car’ (as he always referred to it) is a member of the family that owned and ran the now closed BMC/BL/Austin Rover Garage in Bradford-on-Avon(E.W. Stone Ltd) that originally supplied ‘HHR’ to Moulton Developments Ltd in April 1981. Moulton’s part-exchanged a 1978 Allegro 1300 2 door saloon that had received various modifications to its suspension but that car (TAM358S) was simply sold on to a new owner and in time was scrapped as life-expired. HHR499W has gone to a very good home and will be used to help keep alive the story of Alex Moulton and his important work in the field of automotive engineering and design. Both Paul and myself knew Dr Moulton very well through our ‘Stones connection’, I myself have worked on many of his cars including all his Minis, the Moke and the three Metros he owned and we were determined to save HHR for two very important reasons; 1)It was one of ‘our’ cars (we already have 8 cars between us that Stones supplied new between 1969 and 1995), 2) Lest it should have ended up donating it’s mechanicals to yet another Mini rebuild project. Look out for HHR on the show circuit later this year.

  16. Well, I have to say, adding front to rear interconnection to an A series Metro is “No Big Deal” (Sorry Doctor) I have done it on my MK1 MG Metro. I used MK3 Hydragas units & pipe work (Re-gassing the Hydragas units to 315psi) & only had to mess about with the length of the Hydragas connecting rods (I had to shim the front 6mm, cut the rear by 3 mm). The car rides sooooo nicely now. An excellent conversion.

  17. Leaving aside the Metro’s other flaws and with the Metro Turbo vs 205 GTi vs Fiesta XR2 article in mind, would featuring front-rear interconnected Hydragas as on Alex Moulton’s R6 development Metro from the start have allowed it to significantly close the gap against the Supermini opposition of the time during the 80s in terms of ride and handling compared to the existing Austin (and MG) Metro’s Hydragas layout?

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