Let’s have a sideways look at some of our long gone, but can picked up for a song kind of cars. The Rover Metro and 100 is our first example and it’s starting to become quite collectable.
Mike Humble kicks us off with Longbridge’s offering to urban transport…
In the right colour with the right trim level, the Rover Metro and 100 offer a genuine grin-
inducing steer – even by today’s standards. They’re still dirt cheap and a few really nice
unmolested examples survive out there – act now before prices zoom –
GTa and GSi models especially
Once the darling of the urban middle-class pensioner about town, the Rover Metro and 100 series was banished to the pages of history almost 18 years ago. Yes, that’s right, 1998 saw the once great saviour of BL blink its weary eyes as it trundled out of the Longbridge assembly plant and into the West Midlands, overcast and damp daylight for the last time. Being old enough to remember the original Austin version and its blaze of glory entry to the fray in 1980, it almost seems it was built forever, but it became good nine years later.
They must have some weird kind of staying power – you still spot (if you keep a really good eye open) more post-1989 Rover Metro or 100 models limping around than the legacy shape Mini – despite the latter selling millions more over a longer timescale. I’ll let you into a secret, too – if you drive even a half-decent one, they still put a massive smile on your face in terms driver appeal. You see, from the Metro 1.1C, which was more basic than a blank sheet of A4, to the tastefully-trimmed 114GSi, they all went like the willies and offered an utterly brilliant balance of handling and ride.
Go on, admit it… Cute isn’t it? The GTi 16v was dropped in favour of a more cost-
orientated GTa model. The 8v 1.4 goes like a bomb thanks to revised gearing in
this model which is my pick of the bunch.
Having heaps of past exposure to the oily bits and a lot of K-Series engine experience, I’m happy to say these post-1989 cars give the best show of Rover’s clever (but flawed) all-alloy power unit. The range topping Metro GTi 16v with its 95 or 103bhp Twin Cam is seriously laugh-out-loud fun to drive – punchy, torquey, happy to rev till it almost pops and yet still agreeable on the fuel, too. Indeed, even the entry-level 1120cc with KiF carb and just 60bhp picks its revs up like a two-stroke Yamaha and whips along in a fashion that made an absolute mockery of the equivalent 1.1 Fiesta.
For me? Well, the pick of the lot has to be the GTa or GSi. The former offers a sporting cachet without the bills and the latter is very tastefully trimmed inside with its walnut garnishing and sumptuous upholstery. With the exception of rust, the build quality feels quite solid and the quality of the interior fixtures and fittings, despite echoing the older Austin variants after 1984, were possibly Rover’s zenith along with the R8 Series Rover 200. Some reverse engineering took place to bring the costs down in production such as the deletion of the over-specified vented front brakes on lesser models, but the whole of the range just felt that little more posher and smarter than even the equivalent VW Polo of the same era.
Oh, and it wasn’t NCAP that killed the 100 Series with ‘that famous” photo of a 100 being crashed into the Promised Land. No, quite simply, the car was hopelessly out of date in all areas except under the bonnet. Rover killed the car and saw fit not to replace it until 2003 when MG Rover gave us the amazingly crap CityRover – a car converted from a small, no-frills Indian hatchback. Very quickly, the model became even less popular than Ian Huntley-branded bubble bath and most rusted away into oblivion dying a slow and unloved death. However, nowadays, the car is becoming rather respected in retro classic circles.
This export Metro GS shows how Rover excelled at the art of the silk purse. Despite its
origins echoing the 1984 Austin revamp, it was very well screwed together. Its
featherweight clutch and slick gear change make for effortless zipping around
in town or motorway traffic.
Values now are on the up and, even though a few look as though they have been ram-raided into the Ripspeed section of an-out-of-town Halfords, a standard Rover Metro or 100 can still be bought for the right side of a grand. Ascot or Kensington SE models in the right colour look really jolly nowadays – their colour coordinated interiors of Oyster velour still stand out in terms of quality. However, a red or metallic racing green GTa in standard appearance without comedy alloys or a Howitzer exhaust has a stance cuter than a chocolate Labrador puppy. Time does heal old wounds and these motors are genuinely on the rise in terms of costs, despite the negatives of a lack of safety kit, rust and dreadful rear legroom.
Watch out for and avoid rear wheel arches that resemble a packet of broken brandy snaps and rear wheels that sit like a Triumph Herald’s when viewed from behind – that indicates knackered trailing arms – and you’re half way there. Cylinder head gaskets can fail though nowhere near as much as later Rover K-Series-engined models are known to, but on the whole they are simple to mend, cheap to run and more than happy enough to hop around in as a daily driver. Even the diesel powered by 1.5 Peugeot TUD engines scoot along really well. I once ran a 1996 ex-Rover staff 115SD that would literally run from Northampton to Derby just by showing it a photograph of a gallon of juice, let alone on the smell of an oily rag.
Want my advice? Buy a standard-looking 1.4 GTa or GSi model, lock it away in the garage and have some serious weekend fun when the sun is shining – they’re really addictive once behind the wheel!
- Still dirt cheap to buy (for now)
- All the original Metro attributes, but without the oil leaks and a gearbox made from cheese
- DIY friendly to service
- Still amazingly smooth to drive
- Laugh-out-loud steering
- Sporty and posh models look great in some colours
- Five-speed models soak up long journeys rather well
- 1.5 diesel is stupidly economical
- Rampant corrosion or neglected, worn out suspension are often the main causes of death
- Only Warwick Davis or the late Sir Douglas Bader DFC would appreciate the rear space and legroom
- Lacks safety and convenience related equipment
- Automatic CVT gearbox costs big bucks if it goes wrong
- Many succumb to the hands of the Max Power boy racers
- If it has a short MoT and last year’s advisory items weren’t attended to, it’s probably knackered by now.