I was there : The end of the Rover Metro/100

Twenty-five years ago today, the Rover Metro/100 production lines stopped for the very last time.

Steven Ward looks back at its final stint from a sales perspective, and tries not to shed too many tears.

The slightly premature euthanasia of the final BMC model

The Rover 100 was missed by the people who sold it
The Rover 100 was missed by the people who sold it

Maybe euthanasia’s not the correct term – I mean the model was hardly in its first, second or even third flush of youth. It wasn’t a trendy or even a sensible purchase any more.  Yet, for some, the Rover 100 née Metro (we never did get used to that numerical moniker) represented a set of values which marked it out from the rest of the supermini herd.

We know, of course, what killed the dear old Metro, it was those dastardly NCAP results. NCAP seemed to be a committee of men assembled by the European Union to show us exactly how unsafe our cars were. Who cared about abdomen loadings? Not us… We Brits were not particularly bothered by such trivia and I doubt the Europeans were either.

Until, that it is, NCAP discovered a test that would shock and shake-up people’s perceptions of crumple zones and they were going to flog the images to death to make their mark on civilised society – this was going to be their calling card into our modern motoring lives forever. Renault sensibly, were to cash-in.

It never stood a chance

The dear old Metro never stood an earthly and this was the excuse BMW needed to finally pull the plug. Longbridge had made some attempt at improved crash safety – side intrusion beams and a driver’s airbag – when the 100 emerged in late 1994. Bizarrely, these modifications seemed to make the NCAP dummy’s plight even worse on the footage. Oh dear…

Still, us die-hards knew that the Metro, sorry, 100, was as safe as its contemporaries. Stout, complex, all encompassing subframes, stepped inter-locking sills, robust, spot-welded inner wings, a collapsible steering column, an award-winning safety steering wheel, fuel shut-off and a notably stiff shell which always felt very well engineered, need I go on?

Yes, and anti-submarining seats too. Probably not, you’re either convinced of the car’s crash-worthiness or you were persuaded by one of its more modern and significantly heavier rivals. I bet those who looked to NCAP for guidance were also actively avoiding British Beef at the same time.

An all-too abrupt end…

I was selling new Rovers back in the summer of 1998-for-the-S-plate and recall being taken aback by how many people wandered into the showroom and asked to buy one. Notice that, they asked to buy one.  The car sold itself and the customers who bought them were lovely people. Sadly, mainstream stocks had long since – and unexpectedly – sold out.

There were approximately 15-17 weeks worth of 100-Series orders cancelled when the car was cruelly chopped. The AA still used them as a driving school car, an invaluable sales tool for the range. The gradual wind-down never happened and that hurt people.

Sure, the range was steadily being trimmed (the diesel had been dropped, the GTa’s bespoke gearing had gone too), but there was still advertising bumph for the LE Ascot lying around.  Little tweaks had continued – trim changes, headlamp levelling and the caramelising of the little K-Series (MPI fuelling) but the car was cut short and without notice, almost as a sop to the NCAP brigade.

Falling out of fashion

That was, of course, always going to happen. In the harsh world of large Dealer Groups where used cars are stocked alongside each other according to size, the Metro was becoming deeply unfashionable (read unsaleable), despite its increasingly bargain basement price.

Where stock turnover is a ruthless 60-90 days, buying a transporter full of grey-bumpered 111is to sell along side Polos and Puntos was starting to become a bit of a gamble. The 114GSi was still a smart looking and well-equipped car that drove nicely too, but the lack of a PAS option was a bit of a hindrance when stacked alongside those two cutting-edge cars.

The dealership I was at then held no stocks of the car, barring a single courtesy car. They feared the demand would die with the car, but they were wrong and inexperienced. They wouldn’t be buying anymore, despite the steady stream of customers and my pleas. Traditional Rover Dealers knew they’d be an unprecedented demand for a discontinued BMC-derived product.

Not knowing how to replace a success

The dealership I’ve spent most of my life at stockpiled Maxis, 213s and Maestro/Montegos in anticipation of the final rush. You see, Rover Group, and all that went before it, never really got to grips with replacing a successful car and people rushed to buy a model when production ceased (we’ll ignore the 800 Series for this essay).

Enter then, the Metro’s replacement or, then again, maybe not.

Rover took the R3 200 (below) and set about making it acceptable to would-be Metro owners. They installed the 1.1-litre K-Series engine in MPi form with a delightfully shiny aluminium alloy inlet manifold – a super, sweet unit which had to be ragged to pieces to in order make decent progress. That, to me, was no hardship, but it was alien to Metro drivers where the low kerb weight made for effortless progress.

Rover 211: Making the R3 less good…

Next Rover removed the well-weighted power steering from R3 and installed the awful manual rack from the old R8. A full four stodgy and hefty turns lock-to-lock if you remember – only, in this instance, it was a bit worse as the R3 had a lot more castor at the front end compared to R8.

Central locking was also missing on the 211 (as, in fairness, it had been on the 214i) only Rover had changed the door lock specification which give us terrible issues. The tumblers had been cheapened and they all, without fail, collapsed, meaning no entry from the driver’s door.

You’d have to enter from the passenger door and eventually the boot –  the alarm would usually go off at that point. Remember also that the 211 had manual windows. Compared to the manual windows of the Metro, they were ergonomically flawed, heavy in use and slow in operation. Likewise, the space where you rested your left foot was confined compared to Metro.

Really, it was no replacement

Here we are then, for £9995, this was your Rover 114GSi replacement. Oh, and for that money, you’d lost two doors and gained two bigger, heavier, less handy items. Rear visibility was much poorer than the Metro too and the 211’s tailgate, while having an internal handle, opened a bit high for some.

Finally, the ultimate indignation – the 211 had no dashboard shelf. Not surprisingly, traditionally loyal customers flocked to Hyundai and Kia in their droves.

My company car was the 211 demo. I loved it and have many fond memories of racing it, but I had to point out that it was heavily (sensibly?) optioned and that to get one to my spec added well over a £1000 to the base price.

Rover customers were the best

People left their names in order to buy that one remaining 114GSi courtesy car. Rover and BMW were crazy. You see, up to this point, Rover customers were the best customers in the game for car finance.

They gave big deposits, never ever missed a payment and quite often bought again as soon as the finance was cleared. They were the most loyal and most honest people in the land and Rover had just barred the entry point to many of them.

Lucrative wasn’t the word – most took CPI as a matter of course. What was left of the Metro’s image soon tumbled away to nothing. The AA stopped reconditioning them before they were entered into sale and nothing looks worse than damaged alloys, which most of them had (damage and alloys!).

Let’s not forget either that the Metro was a big hit with the Motability user choosers. The driving schools, daily rental fleets and Motability were previously precious sales to Metro as they gave potential customers a ‘soft’ and lengthy test drive and familiarised the car with impressionable drivers.

It wasn’t perfect, but what is?

I must, at this point, say the Metro/100 wasn’t without its faults. The rear wheelarches rotted away, something introduced with the R6 back in 1990 and quite perplexing as to why. The rear radius arms wore alarmingly quickly. Central locking solenoids failed with depressing regularity. The fuel tank seams split. The upper front suspension arms wore out on the heavier diesels.

I could go on and on and on as it was so dated and quite frail in many respects. However, despite it all, the Metro/100 was such a sweet little thing. Handy in size, refined in powertrain, sweet to ride and sharp to steer. The interior was thoughtfully designed – all round visibility was outstanding (at 88% was this ever bettered PK fans?) and the thing just looked so restrained and tidy.

How could anyone not fall for its charms? Indeed, with the plethora of BMW MINI models being launched and previewed, I for one am eagerly awaiting the day they rediscover the mighty Metro.

French Rover 100 straight off the cover of a fashion magazine...

Steven Ward


  1. Ho avuto una 111SL ed una spettacolare 114GTi, avrei voluto un’altra Serie 100. Sono stato in trattativa per un’Austin Metro da reimmatricolare ma nel mio paese la burocrazia fa schifo. Amo la Rover Serie 100. Un saluto dall’Italia.

  2. Thank you very much for this heartfelt point of view. Seen from France, I fear EuroNCAP test failure is nothing compared to the terrible reputation the Metro/100 had here. Each owner I knew used to compare these cars with a lottery where you rarely win… It seems that what seemed funny with a 2CV or a Panda or a Renault 4 was just wrong with a Metro.

  3. Interesting that runouts were consistently badly planned, especially after repeated launch failures when build up volume targets were not met. May as well repeat that MGR looked at reintroducing the 100 when BMW left the scene. Shame that crash resistance wasn’t a higher priority and the Rover 25 NCAP results weren’t that good either.

  4. Possibly the beginning of the end for Rover after the glory years from 1989 to 1995, as the 200 was too expensive and big to compete against superminis like the Fiesta and the 211 was underpowered, and dropping the 100 lost the company a loyal customer base. I know the 100 was becoming old fashioned by 1997, but there should have been a successor developed earlier in the nineties that had similar proportions but was more modern and safer. Also dropping the diesel 100 at the height of the boom in diesel sales was a weird move.

  5. This is a bizarre article. What are you trying to say? That Rover should have kept selling something that had been shown to be a death-trap, just because customers wanted them, and because they were good for the commission that you earned on the finance sales?

    • I took it to read that Rover were very fortunate in having such a loyal (if ageing) customer base that a lot of competitors would kill for, but then dropped them like a hot potato when there was no longer a product to supply them with. The later CityRover was too little, too late and the Rover 200/25 was too big, as it was by then a product from the class above. It should have been replaced by around 1994 by a joint venture product, funded by then new owner BMW.

  6. I think it’s going over the top to call them a “death-Trap”, they were no worse than many other cars of that era. My late wife had three over a number of years two Metro’s, and a Rover 100. She loved them.

    • Well have a look at the NCAP test and thank your lucky stars that your wife never had crash in any of them. Did VW pull the Polo? Ford the Fiesta? No, because their cars got 3 stars. In 1997, The Metro got 1 star, so you are completely wrong when you say “they were no worse than many other cars of that era”. They were much worse. The difference between being killed and surviving was buying a Polo or a Fiesta, and not a Metro. That is why BMW did the responsible thing and withdrew the Metro from sale. In spite of what this poorly written article says, that was a very good decision.

      I don’t agree with the article at all. It’s basically a former salesman gloating about how he was able to make good money out of schmucks, who were too stupid to realise that the car they wanted to buy, is the car that they shouldn’t have been buying, for their own safety

      • For 100 years people drove cars where you took care knowing that a serious crash would result in either serious injury or death. Now drivers are so convinced by the invulnerability offered by their cars they’ve forgotten how to drive. I had a blue metallic Austin Metro, a red MG Metro Turbo and finally a River 100 GTi in green metallic all of them a hoot to drive and on a twisty mountain road you could trash more or less anything else.

  7. Yep sorry this is frankly rose tinted although I must agree the GTI was ok. The Metro would have needed a completely new front end at a minimum to get an NCAP rating of anykind and the new mini was in development which was more in line with the new trends and massively safer. I actually have some projector slides of Metro prints taken in the Studio. I acquired them from a new desk (probably the 50th owner) about 15 years ago I should get them scanned properly.

  8. Much as I love the Metro – my first car was one and I had another which was much better by the time of the NCAP it was ancient being well over 20 years old at heart despite looking better than it had any right to.

    I think the bigger problem was the over ambitious pricing of the R3 Rover 200 which despite being a great car should have been sold as what it was designed for – a Metro replacement which would have allowed the HHR to directly replace the R8 which it would have been good at rather than competing with Mondeos et al

  9. Interesting recollections and observations of the end of the Metro/100 and the Rover market at the time. However the opening gambit of belittling the NCAP with a preposterous ‘we knew best’ stance, not to mention the unnecessary side swipe at the EU, is a real letdown for this website.

  10. The arrogance and hubris on display in this piece stand as a perfect example of why The Company failed over and over and over and over again.

    The car was hopelessly outdated, they were milking it without caring to properly invest, and they ran out of road. To say on one hand that appalling crash test result killed the car, and also that customers didn’t care about crashworthiness while simultaneously acknowledging that Renault made it a USP and made hay from it must have taken some mental gymnastics.

    To further imply that customers who stayed away from this demonstrably less safe vehicle because they were somehow “fuss pots” shows the arrogance and contempt for customers that lead BMC and it’s many hopeless children to the grave.

  11. Perhaps scrapping the Metro in 1995 and pricing the 200 more in line with its rivals would have been a better move, and would have seen the car finish on a relative high. The Metro had been a big success as both an Austin and a Rover, and 1.5 million had been sold in 14 years, and the Rover version brought the car into the nineties with better engines, five speed transmissions and a diesel version. The 100 to me was an attempt to keep an ageing product alive for a few years.

  12. I drove a 114GSI and a 114GTA and loved them. I acquired them after they had gone out of production and after seeing the NCAP crash video. I took the admittedly somewhat naive
    view of how many times am I going to drive into a concrete block! Now apparently I’m a schmuck, oh well never mind, Happy Christmas!

  13. Do appreciate the Metro/100’s all round visibility. At the same time it would have probably had a better chance archiving an improved NCAP rating similar to period 1997 opposition like the Two Star Micra, Punto, Corsa and Clio if not the Three Star Polo and Fiesta had they been willing to produce R6X.

    The R3 was never really going to be able to properly replace the R6, short of Rover having a sub-R3 model in the pipeline pre-BMW takeover in the manner of an earlier Rover-ized Honda Logo, whose NCAP rating was at least comparable to contemporary supermini opposition (it is not clear if the Logo’s platform was also Civic based) and would have allowed Rover to slightly increase the size of R3.

  14. My former girlfriend was once involved in a massive smash whilst driving her Rover 100. A taxi ploughed into the side of her and wrote the car off. She was uninjured though.

    Then a few years later her Ford Ka went up in flames on the M62 and she only just got out in time.

    So I’ll side with the Metro/100 in this case if nobody minds.

  15. Also, I forgot to mention that her Rover 100 destroyed a brick wall whilst in the process of being bashed into, so it can’t have been that flimsy.

    • Oh dear seems like a lot of BBC viewers in the comments. NCAP was just another EU fiddle to drive the British car industry out of business, while the subsidised French car industry went along happily. Remember it was only against EU rules if we wanted to subsidise Rover, it was perfectly fine for other countries.

  16. Some harsh/serious comments here. Surely it’s all just light hearted entertainment. I’d like to thank Steven for a very well written and interesting piece . Just the type of story I enjoy reading on this site.

  17. The Metro/100 was a 1970s product developed when crashworthiness standards were quite inadequate plus not a priority for either the builder or the buyer. By the 1990s ot was hopelessly obsolete and should have been retired well before the NCAP fiasco. The 100 was too small to upgrade, as were other cars with a poor showing like the Seis ento. The NCAP initiative has made an incredible job of upgrading automotive safety standards, even in less developed areas of the world like Latin America where LatinNCAP shows the crappy cars which are still been produced there due to lax safety regulations and lobbying by car manufacturers. BMW did the right thing retiring the 100 although they made a terrible job replacing it. There are still many Rover 25s around and the R3 would have been a good 100 replacement. Looks like the terrible 211 didn’t make into Spain at least, but 200 pricing was completely unrealistic, in Golf the bracket when the Golf was the most expensive car on its category here. I own a 1997 216 cabrio with the R3 dash and the building and material quality isn’t Golf like

  18. I was unfortunate enough to witness a head on collision between a metro and a heavily laden Ital estate, both cars doing over 50mph (Ital had a blowout on a dual carriageway & crossed lanes). The force was enough to flip the Ital and send it airbourne for 20 feet -both passengers coming through the windscreen after thier seatbelts snapped. The Metro coming to a dead stop. Amazingly, all survived, including the 70+ year old passenger of the metro. The driver had badly injured legs but no wonder – the car did well to keep a passenger cell at all.

    • Sounds nasty, it was lucky all involved survived!

      My Brother managed to write my Mum’s Metro off by accidentality skidding on ice & hitting a stationary VW Polo, which came out much better. All the front of the Metro was caved in, though it was 10 years old so rust was beginning to take root.

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