Blog : Joy is Metro shaped

Keith Adams

Joy is Metro shaped
Joy is Metro shaped

Or, pleasures that are best served simple…

While my Rover SD1 was in for its MoT at AJF Engineering, owner Adrian Fell gave me the keys to his recently discovered 1985 Austin Metro City X. As archetypal one-owner cars go, this is as good as it gets. With 40,000 miles on the clock and an as-new interior to complement its rust-free body, this Metro grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go.

Even before I’ve jumped in to the City X, I’m transported back to the sunny afternoons during the summer of 1987, when I lusted after anything built in Cowley or Longbridge, and chose my driving school because his car had a viking longship on the bonnet. Despite the choice of a Rover to start my driving adventure, the Metro always had a place in my heart – and still does. I remember the hullabaloo that surrounded its launch, and how it seemed that the collective will of Britain was behind it.

Yet, despite its journey into middle-age, the Metro was still a delightfully appealing – and quirky – package that continued to sell, despite the arrival of bigger and better rivals.

But now, looking at this mint and boxed little blighter, and I can’t help but feel incredibly nostalgic. Opening up the driver’s door and getting in continues this trip into yesteryear. It smells new and the interior really is unmarked. Being a City X, it’s as basic as they come, lacking items such as a plastic grip for the handbrake lever, and a rubber dashtop mat. But I don’t care, because I love minimalist cars. I even don’t mind the praying mantis driving position – which, truth be told, was never as bad as people said it was.

A flick of the ignition key, and the A-Plus fires into life, and settles into a smooth, tinny and utterly evocative idle. Selecting first, and pulling away, it’s the gear whine that gets me. It’s not unacceptable at all, but utterly charming – once again transporting me back to my first period of Metro ownership, back in 1990. The one-litre is game, but I’m not exactly pushing things – just snicking up the delightfully free gearbox, riding the torque curve (there’s surprisingly ample amounts), and hopping into fourth at around 30mph. Ahh, bless it.

Things that immediately stand out for me in this short run: the lovely steering, all full of feeling, nicely geared and weighted. The impressive visibility is another selling point, as are the simple ergonomics and supportive seats. And something else, really important – I am grinning from ear to ear, at the overdose of nostalgia-filled joy the City X is giving me. And it’s the first time and quite a while that any car has had that effect on me. Even before I make it back to Adrian’s premises, I’m working out the best way to make it mine – PayPal or BACS.

When I drive back in, he’s waiting for me, and detects I’m a happy bunny. ‘Lovely, isn’t it,’ He says. Not half, I think.

I have to say, the Metro’s charms might wear thin, should I venture out on to the Queen’s highway and try to commute in it. People around me might not understand my rolling happy-place, and wish it off the road during the caffeine-and-stress filled commute. And while on the quiet ex-military base that AJF is in, its performance seems more than ample, I suspect on the hell that is the A45, it might prove a wee bit underpowered. So perhaps the dream is better than reality.

Consequently, sanity is restored, and thoughts of buying this to replace something else in my fleet are washed away. But not completely. Even now as I write this, I remember that little Metro, and think, ‘ahhh…’ and rejoice in how it made me feel young again thanks to its simple – yet ample – charms.

Maybe I really do need a Metro City X in my life right now. But then, given how nice it is, I can’t see it remaining unbought from Adrian’s place for very long.


Keith Adams


  1. I had a 3 door City X in 1999 and it was a decent runabout. The nearly new Zetec engined Fiesta that followed was an absolute revelation in comparison.
    Price and contact details for the car?

  2. The City X was one trim level above the City and so, I think, got head restraints (albeit rather basic) and possibly carpet too. I think the 5 door bodydshell was quite a bit more expensive than the 3 door too.

    What it DOES have over my ’53 plate BMW 530i is a temp gauge. Go figure !

  3. Well Keith, the Metro is just one of those cars which time has been kind to.

    The engine and transmission with that once heard everywhere whine is just sublime to hear after all these years. And as for seeing that illuminated choke warning lamp…. oh bless!

    Also, that dealer sticker is to die for!

  4. The first car my wife and I bought jointly was an ’86 on a D plate Metro 1.0L 5 door in White Diamond, back in ’92. To this day it was the daily runner we kept longest. Whenever I see a Metro now, I long to see it pull away in first so I can listen to that fabulous 1st gear whine. Heaven! AJF’s one is in the right colour as well, Azure Blue – best colour on the AR chart.

  5. I’ve got an 82′ Auto in the same colour with only 5k on the clock. Get admiring glances wherever she goes, even now I’m amazed just how tiny they are compared to modern cars and I never tire of that glance back over my shoulder whenever I park her.

  6. I echo Mike’s comments; the Metro really has aged remarkably well. Pleasing on the eye and still fun to drive

  7. Its a bit spartan, but does the job very well, like the colour, did they still had metric wheels fitted at that time I wonder, nice blue colour bodywork, Regards Mark

  8. Yes, metric tyres on that.

    I had a 4 door 1986 City X, just like that but in metallic blue and with the 1275 engine.

    Lovely car, until it rusted away and the synchromesh wore out. Great fun to drive, and such a good use of space.

  9. I hope to have my 1988 stone grey metro turbo back on the road this summer after giving it a full rebuild, i can’t wait.

  10. I learn’t to drive in a ’86 1.3L 5 door and what a great little car. The Nova of the time was awful to say the least. A friend wanted to learn a bit later and he had a Metro… Love them to bits. It will always have a space in my heart. The 114GSi’s in Tahiti blue would be the one for me now.

  11. The good old days of manual steering, windy windows and a choke! We’ve all gone soft nowadays. I’ve got a bit of a hankering for a basic little old car to take me back to my youth, although I’d probably feel a bit scared in one during the cut and thrust of rush hour traffic in Leeds!

  12. My first new car was an ’85MY 1.0 Metro L 5-door in Targa red. One trim level up from what people used to call the Metrocity Plus. It was only kept for around a year, due to its general lack of performance and unpleasantness on long journeys. It must have rusted away long ago, but according to the insurance database, the numberplate C111JOE lives on.

  13. Metros have a certain “joie de vivre” – they go down the road like a puppy dog wagging its tail – unlike my Omega, which behaved like an irate warthog first thing in the morning…

  14. @Mark That may be, but there are better examples of the Metro out there. That one just looks like an AMC Pacer, no offence. Will say, it is quite cute, but so are most small cars. Its name was not too tainted over its lifetime, meaning that I’m quite surprised that there was not an effort to make the Metro more of a British Panda to the Mini’s 500, especially under BMW.

  15. Mike – like the choke warning light – love the caravan warning light! Had a Montego and that lit up whenever towing to let me know it was still behind me when indicating! Not sure what I’d want to tow with a 998cc Metro though!

  16. @18 It would be impossible now with a modern caravan as like cars they have gained a significant amount of weight but my parents managed to tow back in 1983 a mid 60s small caravan called a Thompson Mini-Glen (apparently worth a fortune now)

    Its so nice to see such an early 5 door example still around and in good condition, although I’m more of an R6 man I still have a soft spot for the Austin and MG versions.

  17. @18 With earlier R17 800s, if you fitted a tow bar and put a heavy duty flasher unit in place of the standard unit, then the caravan symbol on the dash would function as the legally required trailer indicator light when a trailer was connected. I have to say earlier R17s, because some bright spark in the Rover Electrical Department took the bulb and wire away as a cost reduction exercise. He justified this by claiming that hardly anyone was buying the Unipart tow pack.

  18. “The City X was one trim level above the City and so, I think, got head restraints (albeit rather basic) and possibly carpet too.”

    They all came with carpet, but depending on year the X came with a clock instead of a blank panel on the dash, a glovebox lid, and split rear seats over the City.

    “if you fitted a tow bar and put a heavy duty flasher unit in place of the standard unit, then the caravan symbol on the dash would function as the legally required trailer indicator light when a trailer was connected.”

    Not quite the description, it should flash when the trailer indicators flash to confirm operation of the trailer indicators, not to confirm a trailer is fitted. It is indeed a legal requirement in the UK, and relates to all trailers not just caravans, so a small camping trailer for example. You either have to have an audible warning or flashing light. Volvo’s used to have a light that came on if the trailer indicators ‘failed’ to work. Bear in mind the same instrument pack was fitted to the Maestro, Montego and Freight Rover, all capable of dragging much larger trailers.

  19. I have not driven an old shape Mini since passing my driving test but the Austin Metro to start learning in was the closest I got to the Minis driving position and yet it made me laugh after driving it unlike the peugeot 309 and Renault Clio both diesels at the time.

    The first car I bought was a Fiat Uno 1.1 fire and it too had character in feed back from the wheel and handling but Rovers Metro even 100’s were still a bit expensive on till the euroncap results showed in the news of 1997 they came tumbling down after.

  20. My Mum had a base spec (ie not even a radio!) chocolate brown Metro from 1984 to 1994.

    It mostly served us OK during that time, though towards the end it was getting flaky & a bump thanks to my brother skidding on ice spelt the end for A156MBA.

    I’ve still got a set of keys & the front plate, & the hand book could be around somewhere.

  21. I had a c reg metro van,with MG trim and engine,god it was quick thanks to dave vizzards bible-tuning BL’s A series!

  22. Happy memories of my 1988 Austin Metro 1.0 L. Great little car. Used to get me from Durham to London and back in a day with no problem.

  23. I’m afraid this car is way over specced for me. My ’82 City dispensed with such pointless extra’s as a passenger sunvisor and nearside mirror, also why a rear wiper? I just used to get out with a cloth every now and again. I still have the car in my garage too.
    My current 11 reg old model Chevrolet Aveo has the same happy poverty feel, green lights in the dash, sadly I had to have A/C not made without.

  24. Those dreadful TD tyres were a fortune at the time and didnt last long, especially on the front, can you still get them?

  25. My Mum had a burgundy poverty spec Metro which she abused on a daily basis. I had the misfortune to drive her to the airport in it. At the first roundabout the oil warning light came on and I pointed it out. The response was “Oh! Is that what it is?”. I tried to measure the oil level but wasn’t able to find any!. Quick pit stop for oil and we made it. When it was stolen, it was found 1/2 a mile away with half a tank of fuel. It might have been related to the seat back not being secure resulting in the driver falling backwards. Even desperate thieves know a bad ‘un. (PS I have 2 Metros =I’m a fan)

  26. A basic Metro City X type like this was probably adequate for most of us, then and even now? Basic but does what it says on the tin… OK – Tin can on wheels.

  27. “Those dreadful TD tyres were a fortune at the time and didnt last long, especially on the front, can you still get them?”

    I wouldn’t say they were dreadful, in terms of ride, handling, wear they were no worse than the original 12″ ones. Trouble is they were expensive (because of their limited market penetration) The idea behind them was if you had a puncture at speed they still allowed a degree of control before you brought the car to safe stop. Really like a basic Run-flat tyre.

    The front tyres always wore out more than the rears, but the 12″ ones wore no worse. Trouble is because they were expensive, a lot of people bought the remoulds rather than new Michelins or Dunlops, the remoulds didn’t last long!.
    You can get ‘TD Compatible’ tyres yes, though they’re not actually TD tyres.

  28. “@ Dennis
    You had to step up to the L for split rear seats, but as you say, a rear wiper was standard”

    I had a D reg 1.3 LE as a first car. An L with the economy gear ratios. It came with a dash Clock as i remember, and a Mono Radio, I seem to remember i found the wiring for the RH speaker in the door, and got a speaker from a breakers, hey presto a twin speaker radio.

    There was quite a big jump in equipment levels from the Base Model City to the VDP. Some behind the scenes, like the VDP/MG had a timer relay for the rear wiper whereas the City X just had an on/off rear wiper.

  29. Worcestershire registered by the look of it. I learnt to drive in an early Metro and have always retained a soft spot for them. CVW 301X was my BSM chariot

  30. That’s amazing, brngs back memories! my parents had two metros ntn450x in metallic blue which was a City which had some after market mods to provide luxuries such as a rear heated window, rear wiper and a mono AM radio, great little car, i went like stink even though it was only the 1.0 version. Was scrapped in 1995 by the looks of things, so lasted 13 years.
    c198prg was a city X 2 door in moonraker blue, bought new in 1986. again the 1.0 engine but tuned differently so economy was better but performance was much, much worse! never rode or handeled as well, and no after market mods, so as basic as they came! this only stayed with us until November 1987 when it was replaced with a fiesta more mod cons, but just not as nice somehow! the metro was scrapped in 1998 so it would seem.
    I’d really love a ride in a metro again, just for old tmes sake! can anybody help?

  31. I remember going to look at one of these poverty spec Metros with my parents when I was learning to drive (a red one on an E-plate IIRC). At the time my parents owned a X-plate Ital Estate HLS, and even we found the lack of equipment on the Metro a shock. In the end my parents bought a two year old D-plate Metro Mayfair, which was much more refined. Mind you, the front wings rusted away before the six-year anti-corrosion ran out (phew! – the ones on the Ital just outlived the warranty), the steering wheel was on wonky, and it dripped about an egg-cup full of oil every time you parked it (never any more, never any less, no matter how long you left it). But bless, it poottled up and down the A1 at a steady 70mph all day long. Only trouble was if you stopped for a pee you had to wait half an hour for it all to cool down enough to start again!
    Happy days!

  32. @ Angus Huntley — try these or
    MARCH 2012
    11th.Austin Morris Day, Weybridge, KT13 0QN.

    APRIL 2012
    8th & 9th.25th Midlands Festival of Transport, Weston Park, Shropshire, TF11 8LE.
    8th.MG Era Day Day, Weybridge, KT13 0QN.
    14th.6th Pride of Longbridge, Cofton Park, Birmingham.
    15th.Chasewater Classic, Cannock.
    15th.Southern Classic, Chichester College.
    21st & 22nd.33rd Bristol Classic, Shepton Mallet SA4 6QN.

  33. What’s that caravan-towing light on the dashboard? Did anyone actually think of towing anything in a 1.0 litre Metro?!

  34. “At the time my parents owned a X-plate Ital Estate HLS, and even we found the lack of equipment on the Metro a shock. In the end my parents bought a two year old D-plate Metro Mayfair, which was much more refined.”

    Although not really any worse than a Fiesta Popular of the time.

  35. “What’s that caravan-towing light on the dashboard? Did anyone actually think of towing anything in a 1.0 litre Metro?!”

    Read my reply further up.

  36. “I’ve seen at least one Citroen 2CV with a towbar.”

    They tow those little 300kg trailers you can get in Halfords quite happily. Fine for Camping gear or taking stuff to the tip. According to the handbook a Metro 1.0 can tow up to 850kg, although i would imagine that would be hard work. 600kg is probably more realistic.

    I’ve already answered why they have a trailer warning light though, comment 23 above.

  37. This sounds like a longshot to some people, but the spirit of poverty spec low cost motoring lives on in the Nissan Pixo. Think about it a new one can be had for six grand, it can do over 50 mpg with ease and road tax is £ 30 a year. The downside to all this economy is a spec which is as bog standard as a modern car can get, no rev counter, no power windows and no aircon, although it does come with a reasonable CD player and central locking to keep the thieves away. Also like the Metro, it tends to get very noisy above 60 mph, but the benefits of the running costs and the low used price, plus Nissan reliability, make the Pixo the new Austin Metro.

  38. I bought a 1983 3 door metro city in about 1994 to use purely for a 50 mile round trip commute mainly on the motorway. I was after anything small & economical and this one came along. It was really basic, no passengers sun visor or door mirror, but the front seats were superbly comfortable. It did the commute bravely every day for 3 years. I only remember one day it did not want to get up, in the middle of a bad winter and I did not know to give the plug leads a wipe with a dry cloth every week to get the salty residue off. apart from the annual mot & weldathon and usual wearing out bits it never really needed anything. And it had a particulary loud gear whine in first which I loved.

  39. Comparing the picture of the cabin of the City X with my memories of the Mayfair the differences were;

    1) a lid on the glovebox (theough this regularly opened itself when driving down Fenland roads
    2) two more air vents (one where the clock is on the City X, the other on the left of the steering wheel). The Mayfair had a digital clock but I can’t remember where it was. It might have been built into the roof near the rear view mirror mounting.
    3) a stereo cassette radio (with auto-reverse IIRC)
    4) a cigar lighter
    5) a complete binacle that appears to be missing on the City X beneath the ashtray that had push out sections to hold up to six cassettes (on my later Rover Metro GTa this had changed to an open holder which would spill its contents on sharp acceleration)
    6) The gearstick was squarer and stubbier and had a nice rubber cover
    7) leatherette cover on the handbrake
    8) padded and cloth covered head restraints
    9) the seats looked somehow plusher were a single colour and matched with the door trims, head restraints etc. in a fetching grey (along with the gearstick and handbrake cover).

    On the whole a much more pleasant place to sit and watch the traffic pass you by.

    Can’t comment on the contemporary Fiesta Pop as I didn’t know anyone who had one!

    I do remember that we looked at a brand new Metro City as well before buying the Mayfair from the local dealer (St. Ives Motors (Hunts) Ltd.) secondhand. At two years old it cost half the price of the new City and the dealer advised that we would want to specify the optional wash/wipe on the City (for about £300 I think) as he claimed that every one that he’d sold had come back to have it retro-fitted.

    Did anyone else have problems with the boot release on the Austin Metro? Ours would come apart at the most inopportune moments (on average about every 50th push of the button). I got quite quick at removing the trim from the boot and pushing it all back together again. Thankfully this was one item that was redesigned for the Rover Metro – to me probably as big a deal as fitting the K-series engine 😉

  40. “The gearstick was squarer and stubbier and had a nice rubber cover”

    Same stick, but had the rubber cover/knob over it. The Centre console also surrounded it, making it appear shorter.

    Don’t ever remember problems with the Boot releases on the metro’s i had.

  41. The horrid little gearknob in lower end gnomes wan’t nice I found, and even the L had that cheap gearknob for quite a while. Swmbo’s first car was a C reg 1.0L which she paid £45 for, and it was knackered. Jumped out of 2nd all the time and the hydragas was flat as a fart. Up until around D reg, even the top spec Metros had a Motorola MW/LW radio cassette. AR then switched to Philips digital units. There wasn’t much difference in spec between the L and City X at the time of the Mk2 launch. The L had the flush headlamps & split rear seat, and that was about it.

  42. “The horrid little gearknob in lower end gnomes wan’t nice I found”

    It was originally the Allegro’s gear knob i think.

  43. I never understood why on the cheaper models they used the separate Headlamp/indicator unit. It must have been more expensive to fit separate units than a single integral one.

  44. I did wonder why the headlights were different on some models. Some has mentioned that the recessed ones were an off the shelf unit rather than specially made.

  45. “Some has mentioned that the recessed ones were an off the shelf unit rather than specially made.”

    That’s right, but being as they’d already designed and were making the all in one units there seemed, little point fitting the off the shelf ones to the cheaper cars. Ford fitted the same headlamps and bumpers on the cheap Fiesta models as they did on the expensive models.

  46. For the Mark 2 Fiesta however, Ford had a different dashboard on the lower series (Pop, Pop Plus and L) compared to the higher series (S, Ghia, XR2) – which is very un-Uncle Henry ish!

  47. True, but externally they still looked similar. No one wants to buy a car then advertise the fact they bought the bottom of the range one to everyone who passes it in the street.

  48. @Richard16378 I think the recessed lights were the same used on the Allegro and a few other models like the Marina etc? might be wrong but they certainly look like them

  49. They’re the more modern version of the old 7″ round units, larger versions of these were used on the Sherpas and even the First LR Discoveries.

    Still seemed crazy fitting them. I mean they had to specially design and make the moulding to go around them…

  50. I have owned my 1984 City x from new and is now 28 years old and it has been a perfect car, I love it. Only problem is the TD wheels /tyres or lack of them but what a good idea they were. Have just bought a set of mark 1 MG wheels from e-bay. I also own a mark 2 MG Metro which I have also owned from new it has only done 30,000 miles, it is in Arum white a very rare colour now, there are some photos of it on the BMC/ Leyland day site. Hoping to come to Pride of Longbridge in it this April to show the ex workers what a beatiful car they produced.

  51. Thanks, brings back memories of my youth working in the Parts department of Kennings, when these were released.

    Drove my fair share, can remember being one of the drivers delivering 6 to Derbyshire Police when it broke down on the M1 whilst on route.

    Happy days

  52. The recessed lights were cheaper standard-sized items and were non-halogen. The integral indicator type were brighter halogen units for the better trim levels.

    Jumping out of gear would be broken engine mount, the RH rear mount bracket would split with rough use as would the diff to exhaust downpipe bracket. Turbo mounts had metal dome and tougher rubber, also fitted i believe to the BSM (british school of motoring) fleet and i would expect to the police ones too

  53. “Thanks, brings back memories of my youth working in the Parts department of Kennings, when these were released.”

    I bet you remember the part number for the Seat tilt bowden cable then.

  54. Brings back memories of the moonraker blue mg metro i had new in 1985,this was a import from belgium that were popular buys at the time because they were a lot cheaper than uk prices,even after been changed over from left to righthand drive,i sold it after 3 yrs just as the rust started,but had many memories with the girlfriend(now the wife)of going all over the country in it.

  55. I can still clearly remember the Top Gear show featuring the 1984 facelift/5dr Metro. BL updating a relatively new, still successful car – things really seemed to be on the up!!!!

  56. I had a X plate Metro City, the steering wheel was a very old design, probably dating back to a 1960 Mini or Austin A35 peanut, the steering wheel black two spoke design, the rim a small diameter solid plastic, nothing to cushion the palms and fingers as you held on.

    Enjoyed driving the Metro which I owned for about 9 years, cheap to run and easy to fix, but I gave up in the end due to rust and noisy differential bearings, a 1994 Nissan Micra 1.3Lx was the worthy succesor, though I did consider a K series 1.1 Metro with the Alex Moulton front rear interconnection. If only the Nissan had the same suspension as a K series Metro!

  57. My best friend had a cream coloured City X, which he bought when six years old, and kept it until it was 13 years old when terminal rust meant it was uneconomical to repair( also he had no money to replace it). The little Metro was as basic as they came in the early eighties, it even lacked a lighter and he fitted a second hand two band radio as obviously the car lacked one, but it had extremely low running costs( 45 mpg was excellent when it was made), was very cheap and easy to repair, and for all it got very noisy above 60 mph, it certainly had plenty of go and drove well. More importantly it always started and apart from some minor electrical niggles and trim coming apart, was reliable.
    People knock the Metro now, but it was probably the car that saved British Leyland and over a million buyers over 15 years suggest the Metro must have done something right. Personally, though, I would go for a 1300 as the engine is quieter and capable of 95-100 mph depending on the model, economy isn’t that much different to a one litre and it doesn’t feel as stressed on the motorway.

    • Cabin boom noise was loud and unpleasant at 45 to 50 mph, I had a 1982 1.0 City 3-door, but run at 60 mph and the cabin boom dropped away to an acceptable level, and my regular weekend long journey of 175 miles passed far more quickly

  58. can somebody help i have an austin metro 1988 1.0 L, it appears to be difficult to purchase tyres as they are metric size 165/315 any ideas please.

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