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.