CITY LIFE

The City was a lowly model in the Metro line up and most have long gone but this rare sur­vivor has been lov­ingly re­vived and is set to com­mute on into the fu­ture

Classics Monthly - - Reader Resto Metro City - WORDS: AN­DREW ROBERTS PHOTOGRAPHY: MATTHEW RICHARD­SON

You have to ad­mire some car man­u­fac­tur­ers in their var­i­ous bids to en­cour­age a sense of cor­po­rate as­pi­ra­tion – or, put an­other way, en­sur­ing that their en­try-level mod­els were as mis­er­ably equipped as pos­si­ble. a 1984 austin Metro City is devoid of a pas­sen­ger door mir­ror, a rear wiper and a heat­ing el­e­ment for the back wind­shield, halo­gen head­lamps, re­clin­ing front seats, a sec­ond sun vi­sor and – pos­si­bly my favourite de­tail of all – am­ber­coloured re­flec­tors have re­placed the in­di­ca­tor re­peaters on the front wings.

at least BL didn't place the steer­ing wheel or fuel gauge on the op­tional ex­tras’ list but judg­ing by the brochure it's clear that they would have done if pre­sented with the op­por­tu­nity. you have to a) sym­pa­thise with the copy­writer re­duced to boast­ing of ‘brake pad wear­ing warn­ing light’ as a sales fea­ture and b) marvel that as re­cently as the ‘Eight­ies it was still pos­si­ble to buy a car devoid of re­vers­ing lamps.

The sur­vival rate of the ba­sic ver­sions of pop­u­lar mod­els is tra­di­tion­ally lim­ited; these were aimed at fleet buy­ers rather than pri­vate mo­torists. They were typ­i­cally used as po­lice panda cars, by pub­lic util­i­ties or driven by sales rep­re­sen­ta­tives who had fallen foul of management. Thirty-four years ago, a Metro City was the di­rect ri­val to the Ford Fiesta Pop­u­lar, the trim names for each car be­ing rather more tact­ful than paint­ing the word ‘Cheap­skate’ on the side of doors in neon let­ters. To­day, the City is rarer than an MG Metro Turbo and a spec­i­fi­ca­tion that’s best de­scribed as ‘lim­ited’ did not de­ter an­drew Hop­kins from ac­quir­ing his City in June 2015. “The car had been off the road since 2008 or 2009 and was go­ing to be bro­ken for spares, so I’m glad I stepped in and gave her a new lease of life’.

In terms of over­all con­di­tion, ‘She wasn’t too bad’, with the Metro need­ing ‘re­pairs to make good the work on the in­ner arches, two new wings, al­though they weren't too bad, a front valance and, ob­vi­ously it needed a ser­vice’. The austin was trail­ered to Birm­ing­ham and ac­cord­ing to an­drew the car: “Fired up first time with a new bat­tery and fresh fuel and was back on the road in Septem­ber 2015. When I bought her the mileage was 25,080, and now it is 27,880 or there­abouts. The City is not my main car, as I’ve other Met­ros I use for work and shows, but I have still man­aged to clock over 2500 miles in it”. an­drew doesn’t use this car as of­ten as he would like to but this can vary re­ally, as it de­pends how many shows in a month dur­ing the sum­mer that he can get the time off to at­tend.

at­ti­tudes to­wards the Metro ap­pear to have un­der­gone a sea-change within the last decade – with a gen­er­a­tion of clas­sic en­thu­si­asts who are too young to re­call the dis­mal soap-opera that was Bri­tish Ley­land now ap­pre­ci­at­ing them on its own mer­its. It is also dif­fi­cult to ex­plain to any­one aged un­der 45 the sheer weight of ex­pec­ta­tions placed upon the Mini Metro (as the early mod­els were known) in Oc­to­ber of 1980. This was the first new model to hail from the austin Mor­ris di­vi­sion in five years and the Metro was ad­ver­tised as ‘a Bri­tish car to beat the world’, with £300 mil­lion spent on ‘the most ad­vanced car pro­duc­tion meth­ods in the world’.

It is quite no­tice­able how, in the first half of the decade how there was com­par­a­tively lit­tle public­ity for the Mini, as it was

the new hatch­back that BL wished to em­pha­sise. How­ever, de­tails such as the driv­ing po­si­tion in the Hop­kins Metro would have been em­i­nently fa­mil­iar to any­one trad­ing up from a two-year-old 1000, as would that dis­tinc­tive trans­mis­sion whine.

The orig­i­nal base ver­sion of the Metro was the ‘Stan­dard’, but in 1982 the City of­fered ‘elec­tric wind­screen wash­ers, car­pets and door-op­er­ated cour­tesy lights’ (wow) for £3259, al­though a rear par­cel shelf and mud flaps for the rear wheels were clearly deca­dent lux­u­ries. The ad­verts em­pha­sised how, for this very rea­son­able sum, you too could own one of the most up-to-the-minute ve­hi­cles in the UK, for at that time there was a per­ceived so­cial di­vide be­tween a sparsely equipped hatch­back and var­i­ous Eastern Euro­pean im­ports. Fur­ther­more, the mo­tor­ing press widely ac­claimed the Metro: in 1981 Car mag­a­zine stated that it had taken ‘a very big step in widen­ing the ac­cept­abil­ity of the small car’ and that it was ‘ com­pact, lively, very eco­nom­i­cal, com­fort­able, roomy and en­dowed with the at­tributes of larger cars. The City, just as much as the MG and Van­den Plas which de­buted in that same year, helped the Metro to be­come the best-sell­ing car in Bri­tain by 1983.

un­for­tu­nately, the Fiat uno and the Peu­geot 205 were launched at the same time, while the in­tro­duc­tion of the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion Fiesta cre­ated yet more of a chal­lenge for Bri­tish Ley­land. The au­tumn of 1984 saw the ar­rival of the im­proved Metro MkII but by the mid-‘Eight­ies the brand was start­ing to suf­fer from a lack of

de­vel­op­ment funds. The owner of a City would have been un­likely to have ex­pected a five-speed gear­box (they would prob­a­bly have con­sid­ered them­selves for­tu­nate to drive a car fit­ted with seats), but those who looked at the more ex­pen­sive ver­sions were start­ing to de­mand a more ad­vanced tech­ni­cal spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

The ex­ten­sively re­vamped rover Metro made its bow in 1990 and rep­re­sented far more than a change of badge, no mat­ter what alan Par­tridge might think. To­day, the sur­viv­ing examples from its first ten years are now guar­an­teed to cre­ate a stir at vir­tu­ally any clas­sic gath­er­ing you care to men­tion. When out and about, an­drew finds that his City is an ‘ab­so­lute de­light’, as well as be­ing ‘so dif­fer­ent' to his daily driver, which is a top spec­i­fi­ca­tion ver­sion. an­drew reck­ons this Metro holds the road well, is nippy and sprightly – and will keep up with mod­ern traf­fic. It could even be ar­gued that as this a car al­most en­tirely devoid of dis­trac­tions, it al­lows an owner to ap­pre­ci­ate the unadul­ter­ated spirit of the Metro. Be­sides, who could re­sist a car so spar­tan that it even lacks a sec­ond rear fog lamp?

There's no scabby rust stained rear arches and door bot­toms on this fine look­ing Austin Metro City.

The Metro City pro­vided no frills mo­tor­ing for a gen­er­a­tion of mo­torists who'd learnt to drive in a Mini or an 1100. Hound­stooth pat­terned up­hol­stery like this combined with oddly coloured dash­boards were very much in fash­ion when the Metro was launched in 1980.

a low waist­line al­lows plenty of light into the Metro's rea­son­ably spa­cious cabin. Ba­sic trans­port at its best – an­drew's Metro gets a lot of at­ten­tion when its out and about.

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