Coffee Break Memories : Type B or not Type B – that is the question!

Mike Humble shares more motoring mayhem from a few years ago. This one really did cause one or two moments of frustration. Didn’t you know this kind of caper is how his hair turned grey?

The Mini-Metro was another car from BL that gave me more than its fair share of grief. But they were good times!
The Mini Metro was another car from BL that gave Mike more than its fair share of grief – but they were good times!

Even though within these hallowed pages of the inter-web, I am known for championing the act of doing a job right, I’ve never been afraid to have a good old bodge and lash up from time to time. As many of you know, a bodge can indeed become a pretty good fix – one day I will share the story of how a Corgi model of a Fiat X/19 kept a 1700 Ital on the road for a while – and it worked. More often than not, though, a bodge is a bodge is indeed… a bodge!

In true Denis Nordern* style (holds clipboard and nervously gesticulates with a forefinger) let’s open the file aptly titled ‘Richard and the Metro’. I had totally forgotten about this nugget of motoring mayhem until we touched upon it during a ‘phone call a few weeks ago. Then it came back with more total recall than Douglas Quaid. Time erases the exact details of where and why the car came about, but I do vividly remember it being a black 1.3 HLS Metro (circa 1981) in seemingly lovely condition. One only wonders what that would be worth nowadays, eh?

‘Every sizable town or county once had more breakers’ yards than you could ever imagine today, you could genuinely run a wreck of a car for the sort of money you find down the back of the settee.’

Rewind a good 20+ years or more when petrol was cheap, I lived with my parents and disposable income was plentiful. My petrol-headed bandy gang used to get through cheap old nails like tap water. Helped by the fact every sizable town or county once had more breakers’ yards than you could ever imagine today. You could genuinely run a wreck of a car for the sort of coinage you find down the back of the settee. For the younger car fan reading this, those sadly long-gone times really were the halcyon golden days of bangernomics!

Anyway, this Metro… I’m certain the vendor was some kind of spit ‘n’ sawdust one man bad trader-cum-money lender type. My old mucker Richard bought this Metro for loose change and, despite it looking like a Dickinson Bobby dazzler, it had all the mechanical integrity of a domino derby. In other words, you touched one thing and the whole bloody lot would fall over.

In a very short space of time, the downpipe’s dropped off the manifold. ‘They all do that, Sir.’ Soon, this setback was followed by the headgasket blowing. As a matter of fact, I’m almost certain the damn thing broke down just 200 yards from his Mum and Dad’s house.

Not only that, but it happened right in front of the man who sold it, while he was collecting money from one of his loan customers on their doorstep. ‘You all right there, boys?’ came his cry, as we shoved this little piece of black magic in the direction of his despairing parent’s double garage for more fettling.

Simplistic charm in some areas but over complicated in others. But on the whole the Metro is a DIY friendly little thing.
Simplistic charm in some areas, but over complicated in others – on the whole the Metro is a DIY-friendly little thing. Note the blue decal on the slam panel? That’s the brake option label on 1980 to 1984 Austin Metros

Now, this was a real shame, because inside and out the car looked really tidy. It had a pleated velour interior and was still sporting the standard chrome rings on the wheels (the latter being a standard feature of the HLS and VP models). Our patience was running out after the headgasket failed. This wasn’t helped when I happened to spot a nasty bulge on one of the nearside front brake hoses, while fixing said issue. Some frantic spraying with releasing fluid, blow torching and hammering had no effect on removing said hose from the caliper – no matter what we tried.

We did succeed in loosening the hose at the other end, though. In addition, Richard planned a visit to the scrapyard to secure a replacement caliper and fit a new flexi-hose we’d sourced at the car parts store that my good friend managed at the time. The weekend arrived, the breaker’s yard came up trumps and, armed with a litre of DoT3 and 20 Marlboro, the game was on to finally get the car up and running.

In next to no time, the thick of the work was done, and – if I recall correctly – I left him to refit the brake pads and bleed up the brakes. I think I was on a promise and had to go out.

‘After pointing at the label on the slam panel his face went yellower than Charlie Sheen’s mattress – early Metros had two front brake options and a 50/50 gamble had worked against his favour.’

Arriving home, my Dad told me to give ‘El Ricardo’ (his nickname for him) a call as soon as possible. After a brief ‘phone conversation that amounted to me listening to various cursing and profanities, I gave the missus the swerve, and headed back to his house. The brake pads wouldn’t fit in the caliper. Of course, I knew the score and, after pointing at the label on the slam panel, his face went yellower than Charlie Sheen’s mattress – early Metros had two front brake options and a 50/50 gamble had worked against his favour.

To overcome supply problems owing to industrial action, component shortages and so on, BL would fit a variety of parts from differing manufacturers to the cars. Ignition components could come from Lucas or Ducellier, for example, and it used to be no different with other rival car makers either. Both Ford and Vauxhall did similar things with brakes, ignition and other components, too.

BL would fit a clearly visible warning label on the slam panel advising you of either Type A or Type B front braking systems. This was deleted for 1984, after standardising on a single upgraded brake system for the whole range – from a 1.0 City to the MG Metro Turbo.

So how did he overcome this hurdle? Simple really: by taking two sets of pads off the shelf, and fitting them to the car. Type A on the offside, and Type B on the nearside. Or was it the other way round? We’ll never know. What I can tell you is that when a good shove of the brake pedal was applied, the car would wind itself round to left hand lock without touching the steering wheel. Clever stuff, huh?

Anyway, it’s here that the mists of time start to cloud what exactly happened to that Metro, but I do recall he was glad to see the back of it!

* Younger readers may wish to type his name into YouTube

Mike Humble


  1. Somewhere at home, I have a picture of a Metro brake disc which split into three parts, all of which tried to get through the caliper at once. The driver’s comment – “it’s grabbing a bit” – was probably a masterpiece of understatement.
    Also met a chap with a Mark 3 Cortina, whose discs sheared into a disc-shaped part and a hub-shaped part. Stopping the discs was easy, stopping the car was hard.

  2. I’ve heard of Peugeots & Citroens having an odd mixes of parts in the same production run, making things interesting when ordering spares.

  3. I used to work for a motor factor in the 80’s and I well remember the A type (Lockheed) and B type (ATE) calipers. If the sticker on the slam panel was missing (as it often was), an easy way to tell which ones were fitted was to look where the brake wear sensor wire came out of the friction material. If it was central between the holes for the split pins it was Type A, and if it was offset to one end it was Type B. Happy days!
    Richard, you are correct about the Peugeot/Citoen/Renault brake parts – they were an absolute nightmare with both Girling and Bendix systems being fitted, sometimes with a mixture on the same car! An easy way to tell which brakes were fitted on the rear without taking the drums off was to look at the back of the wheel cylinders. If the fluid pipe and bleed screw were aligned horizontally they were Girling, and if aligned vertically they were Bendix.
    The Vauxhall Viva HB was as bad with Girling and Lockheed brakes and very often you would find Girling on the front and Lockheed on the back which rather made a mockery of the instruction to use Girling fluid in Girling systems and Lockheed fluid in Lockheed systems! Presumably one was supposed to put a bit of each in the reservoir!

  4. Ford fiesta mk1’s were also guilty of odd parts, some having Bosch or Lucas distributors and of course viva HB’s, my father had one and I clearly remember him having problems getting brake parts because the front was Lockheed and rears were hiring, then after he bought a second front suspension complete with brakes the front callipers were now girling.

  5. I can remember the good old days of my local scrapyard, now sadly gone. I needed a new starter motor for my Mark 2 Cavalier. Rather than pay the villainous dealer price of £ 150( in 1995), the local scrapyard had one from a written off Cavalier for £ 15. If I paid one of the staff another £ 15, the job would be done in an hour. I saved £ 130 and got my car back in the road in an hour.
    Of course, elf and safety, EU regulations and the like have seen most scrapyards go, which is a big shame.

    • How silly blaming EU regulations, I went and pulled some bits off a car in a yard in wisbech only a few weeks ago, just like in the old days. Beside, we have Ebay now.

      • Ebay is no good as sellers want silly money for the bits, at least in a scrapyard you could get bits dirt cheap and at least so it in the metal before you buy it (and not have to wait a week for it to come)

        • Ebay is no good for fragile parts either, as couriers tend to throw small parts about and treat large parts (such as body panels – yes I once bought a door off ebay to replace a surprisingly rusty item on a 406) as trampolines.

  6. I vividly recall that brake option sticker on my father’s 1981 1.0L (which he owned from 1983-1990. It replaced an ex-Sussex Police 1977 Chrysler Avenger fitted with a Rapier H120 engine!), as well as the ‘rotating pulleys’ warning sticker, which to a young pup like me was rather frightening.

    I can’t remember which type of front brakes the car was fitted with, though!

  7. Interesting,both my metros (’82 city, owned from new, and ’83 VDP which I’ve had for 15 years) have the sticker bang in the middle of the slam panel, red for type A, blue for type B, I have one of each, lucky me.
    This would not confuse anybody apart from Stevie Wonder. Whereas, my 2.2 Hdi GT 407 has a mishmash of bits from the 1.6 to the 2.7 all over the steering and brakes, but all you really have to do is use your brains and check what you have before you order bits.

  8. Never spent much time on early Metros, but I can well recall a friend’s Citroen Visa which actually had different makes of brake components on each side. Strangely it did not pull to either side and passed the MOT. We ended up replacing the Bendix caliper on one side with a Girling (IIRC) when one of the pistons seized just to even things up.

    Getting spares for the thing became a nightmare as you had to remove the part first and take it to the motor factor to compare it with what they had on the shelf. In one case we ended up looking at Peugeot parts which were identical to the ones fitted to his Visa, but they were not the ones in the book!

  9. Manufacturers using a risky single sourcing strategy for components to keep production logistics simpler is a relatively new development.

    Finding either ATE or Girling brakes on a car was not that uncommon in the past.

    Long gone are the times when French or Italian cars had instruments from Veglia or Jaeger. Veglias had round, bold lettering, thicker needles and a red last digit in the trip counter. Jaegers had slimmer, rectangular lettering, thinner needles and a yellow trip counter element. When ordering such cars, you never knew which instruments you would get. Imagine such a thing in today’s days of brand management and corporate design. A Supplier not only deciding the way the instruments look but also stating his name in large letters on the instrument faces…

    French cars in the Sixties or Seventies often came with lighting equipment from either Marchal, Ducellier or Cibié that often was not freely interchangeable. Sometimes you even had to remember the manufacturer of your car’s screen wipers because Ducellier rubbers wouldn’t fit Marchal wiper arms.

    I also remember one of my Alfas for which I couldn’t even get ignition points because it was equipped with a Marelli distributor and all cars such equipped were supposed to stay in Italy and not be exported.
    That particular car had many more parts that were not normally used on exported cars like Carello lamps instead of Cibiés. It even had Weber carburettors which officially were illegal outside Italy because they created dirty exhaust gases instead of Solexes or Dell’Ortos intended for export cars.

    Small wonder it came with a handbook in Italian language…

    • BL did similar things with Maxis: Some had Ducellier distributors, while others had Lucas units. Also Maxis from Seneffe came with different, non-interchangeable headlamp units. These had a nice feature though: They could be switched to be used for driving on both sides of the road without sticking tape on them…

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