One of the cars I swore I would buy when I was a kid was the Nash Metropolitan. For whatever reason, the little cars really appealed to me then and still do to this day. The Metropolitan was an interesting blend of American styling and European build that is very much in line with how we do things nowadays but was quite groundbreaking in the 1950s.
After WWII Nash Motor Company, which later merged with Hudson to become American Motors, thought that a smaller car would do well in their lineup as a second car that mom could use taking the kids to school and running errands during the day. The goal was to minimize the number of unique parts on the car by having a lot of interchangeable exterior panels to save in tooling costs and these cars were shown to prospective buyers and received a favorable response, so much so that production got the green light.
It turned out that, for a smaller and somewhat struggling car maker, tooling costs were too high in the US so Nash talked to several European companies whose costs would be lower. Wow, it was a different era then! Ultimately two English companies, Austin and Fisher & Ludlow got the job of building the cars and the first ones showed up on these shores in 1954.
While our cars here were getting progressively bigger the fact that an American company was building something smaller even than the contemporary Volkswagen Beetle made waves and the little Nash Rambler started to move. It didn’t hurt that the press liked it or that it was quite frugal and even available as a stylish convertible.
Yep - with a wheelbase of just 85 inches and an overall length of just 149.5 inches with a gross weight under 1800lbs, the Met was smaller and lighter than a contemporary Volkswagen Beetle.
The initial models were motivated by a 1.2 liter Austin ‘A40’ engine driving the rear wheels but power increased over the years along with sales. In fact, in 1959 it was the second-best-selling imported car to the US with 22,209 units sold.
The company boasted their ranking in import car sales without ever telling the fact that the best selling import, the VW Beetle, outsold them almost six-to-one.
Still, total sales were under 100,000 for the entire run from 1954-62 and by the time AMC was AMC they didn’t want this little import taking sales from the home-grown Rambler American market so the story wrapped up for the Metropolitan in April of 1961.
As A Collectible Car
Almost from the beginning officials at Nash were getting correspondence from owners with tales of their positive experience with their Mets. There was such a groundswell of positivity around the car AMC’s Metropolitan Sales Manager, James W. Watson, initiated a “Metropolitan Club” to channel the enthusiasm with the goal of increasing sales.
Today parts are still relatively easy to come by and there’s a good national club for Metropolitans. These cars seem to come up frequently for sale and nicely restored examples aren’t really that pricey. Perhaps it might be time to finally satisfy my younger self and get one of these into my own garage.
Story and original photos by Anthony B. Barthel