In the late 1970s a race to build powerful front wheel drive hatchbacks started out of the blue. The VW Golf GTI had turned the world of fast cars on its head. No longer did you need a two seater sports car with a leaky roof for automotive fun. This faster, more practical take on modern automotive performance was the “hot hatch” and sales were going through the (not leaky) roof.
By the early 1980s a slew of great cars were on offer for the performance conscious driver. British Leyland, through luck or judgement had stopped production of the ageing MGB in 1980. This meant they could aim more resources at the new “Hot Hatch” market. As the Mini Cooper S was retired in 1971 there was space in the British Leyland range for a fast, fun small car.
A Brute Force Approach
British Leyland had an embarrassment of riches to enter this market. A wide range of platforms, engines, badges and brands could be used. Rather than build something to compete directly against the Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI, British Leyland decided on a brute force approach. The Metro, Maestro and Montego would be assigned more powerful engines and sportier suspension for “MG” badged versions. This made for wider appeal plus the added cachet of the MG badge, even if it upset the purists, being on a hatchback and not a sports car with a leaking roof.
The Metro Cooper
Making use of the MG badge for these performance biased cars was a good move, effectively creating a performance sub brand. One striking omission was the lack of a Cooper badge. John Cooper had effectively invented the hot hatch with the original Mini Cooper. It seemed logical that a Cooper version of the Metro would follow.
The Metro was a practical, modern hatchback. With a tweaked engine and Cooper badges linking it to its famous predecessor, the Metro Cooper would be a surefire hit. Work on building this had started shortly after John Cooper had driven an early version of the Metro.
He was impressed and singled out the Metro as a worthy successor to the Mini Cooper. The Cooper badge had decades of motorsport history associated with it. Certainly enough to compete with the popular new GTI models from Volkswagen, Peugeot and the like.
The Modifications Begin
John Cooper began building the Metro Cooper with his team in 1980. The new Metro would be tweaked to improve performance, handling and styling. Cooper’s team were incredibly knowledgeable on tuning the A-series engine and had assembled the parts to improve performance, styling and handling.
The engine setup included a new camshaft, larger inlet valve, polished head, twin carburettors and a freer flowing exhaust manifold. This got the engine to 88 bhp (a useful amount more than the MG Metro). Wolfrace alloy wheels and side graphics completed the updated visual package.
Metro Cooper Project Cancelled
The prototype Metro Cooper was left with British Leyland for analysis. After comparing performance figures, an issue was raised about launching the Metro Cooper at the same time as the MG Metro.
A separate concern was raised about the warranty. The Metro Cooper was never a factory backed project. As such, any aftermarket items fitted to the Metro would invalidate the British Leyland warranty, no matter who fitted them. Having to sell a car without a warranty made Wadham Stringer nervous.
The Metro Cooper was renamed Metro Monaco to satisfy any problems British Leyland might have had with the Cooper name (The Monaco was the name of a Cooper racing car).
It’s difficult to say whether the timing or the warranty was the real issue behind the Metro Cooper’s cancellation. However the cost implications were quite clear. John Cooper confirmed the list price of the MG Metro was cheaper than the car they would buy to start converting to a Cooper.
While the Cooper badge had significant cachet, it’s difficult to say how much more people were willing to pay. In the end Wadham Stringer decided the risk of selling a Metro Cooper without a warranty was too great and ended involvement in the project.
In a strange turn of fate, the Metro never really replaced the Mini. This meant that John Cooper would continue to sell Mini Cooper’s until 2001. This left the Metro Cooper nothing more than a sad footnote in history.
Other Metro Performance Variants
The need for performance variants of the Metro resulted in a wide variety of models over the years:
Paul is an automotive aficionado with a passion for cars. His passion for automobiles has only grown over the years, and for the past 11 years, he has been blogging about British sports cars. Readers can expect irreverent content about classic models, interesting car stories and more!