How To Replace One Icon With Another: Had I Known You Better Then.

The following is a re-edit of a piece posted by MotorMartin on DriveTribe under The Junk Yard banner run by Tony Yates, perhaps better known as @Xinterceptor.

Here’s a quick quiz to get you thinking today. I was born in 1980 and soldiered on until 1991, there were once over 1.5 million of me but today there are only 478 registered on U.K. roads, I continued with a different name but was basically the same right up until 1997. What am I?  

Given up yet or just want a clue?

According to the Austin Metro is seriously endangered. If it were an animal there would be adverts and pamphlets asking you to sponsor a Metro to receive a monthly newsletter and photos as it limps along into its dotage. But this isn’t a soft and fluffy animal that looks at you with sad, wide eyes, it’s the much maligned eventual replacement for the universally revered and adored Mini.  

Picture the scene, hoards of sobbing Mini enthusiasts, continuing to bury their heads in the sand regarding the Mini’s (ahem) shortcomings, awaiting for their first glance of the all new Austin Metro. A car that, upon launch, was set up to compete against the Fiestas and Novas of this world and was expected to be British Leyland’s exciting saviour. Then, after the drip, drip of leaks, official leaks, rumour and misinformation the car that actually appeared in the hallowed halls of the NEC Motor Show on 8th October 1980 was actually rather good. 

Car Magazine at the time even went as far as saying the following regarding the all new Austin Metro, “At last a British Car that no-one needs apologise for.” Which wasn’t all that surprising as the Metro was initially available with trim variations ranging from the 1.0 Basic model right up to the 1.3HLS model. What a beauty that was. Indeed, in the first few weeks and months of production the Austin Metro was the best selling car in it’s segment, only being eclipsed once the updated Fiesta was being bought by the fine people of Essex in their droves.  

Now put aside your prejudices and look at the facts. Here was a car that was British built, spacious and modern looking. With Hydragas suspension giving the Metro surprisingly good ride and handling and it’s updated A+ series 1.0 and 1.3L OHV engines producing 48bhp at 5500rpm and 60bhp at 5250rpm respectively, hardly the cutting edge of performance but they were certainly not outclassed at the time. Indeed, with an extremely patriotic advertising campaign seeing the Metro repelling all foreign invaders in a manner that even Churchill would have been proud of, the British public kept on buying and putting the Metro on drives and in garages all across this green and pleasant land of ours. 

And then, in 1982, Austin introduced the World’s car buying public to the car they didn’t realise they wanted and the car that they most certainly did, the luxurious and superbly titled Vanden Plas and the higher performance MG versions. The Vanden Plas, as it’s name implied, featured higher levels of luxury and equipment, while the slightly more powerful MG Metro 1.3 was sold as a sports model with impressive stats of 0–60 mph in 10.1 seconds and a top speed 105 mph. The Vanden Plas received the same MG engine from 1984 onwards apart from the VP Automatic, which retained the 63 bhp 1.3. The luxury fittings marking out the Metro Vanden Plas took the form of a radio-cassette player, electric front windows, an improved instrument panel with tachometer and a variety of optional extras such as trip computer leather trim, remote boot release and front fog lamps. Steady on there British Leyland. 

Just over a year later, the Metro Turbo was added to the MG line-up, becoming a big seller, too. Featuring a Garrett T3 turbo, the engine was worked on by Lotus to develop 93bhp. It could have been more, but power was capped to prolong gearbox life. MG Metros never really overcame the car’s humble beginnings though, especially with fans of the marque who saw the car as badge engineering of the worst kind but despite this, the MG improved upon all predictions, with sales making up around 25% of the Metro range at the time. 

With the Mark II refresh being released in 1985 and the eventual dropping of the Austin name, the Metro was still being improved and remained a bestseller on the forecourts despite increased pressure from the opposition. The Metro was eventually available in a variety of different forms ranging from the basic through to a cabriolet stopping off at the ludicrously fast and furious 4WD mid engined MG Metro 6R4 Group B, World Rally Car of 1985.  

Despite the Metro’s worrying reputation for unreliability and an almost Lancia like propensity to disappear in a pile of rust, the Austin, MG, Rover Metro and subsequent Rover 100 are becoming really rather collectible and display an retro image that is becoming rather more appealing as time marches inexorably towards this British Icon’s fortieth anniversary. 

Where will you go?

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