Whatever Happened To The Metro Cooper?

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.

As soon as the Metro was announced, I drove the car. It handles, if anything better than the Mini. It’s a good little motor car, it has a nice ride, it’s like the Albert Hall inside, but pretty small outside.

John Cooper interview for mini tech news December 1982

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.

Picture Copyright Lancaster Insurance [more info here]

 “We developed quite a simple larger inlet valve, polished head, slightly higher C.R., twin carburettor, new exhaust manifold. We experimented with several different camshafts and we got 88 HP which is easy enough anyhow, and put a set of alloy wheels on it. We were going to modify about ten cars a week for Wadham Stringer who were going to sell them”

John Cooper interview for mini tech news December 1982

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.

“At this time Leyland were interested and yet they weren’t. Some people wanted to bring the Cooper back and other people didn’t and there was a lot of political wrangling going on up there. Anyway, we said we just wanted to modify a few a week and Wadham Stringer wanted to sell them and they had plenty of orders for them at that time. They told us to bring a car up, and we left it with them, and they were going to decide at that time whether they were going to have a warranty on it”

John Cooper interview for mini tech news December 1982

Other Metro Performance Variants

The need for performance variants of the Metro resulted in a wide variety of models over the years:

1981 Metro Cooper (2 prototypes produced)

1982 MG Metro (120,197 produced)

1983 MG Metro Turbo (21,968 produced)

1985 Metro 6R4 (205 produced)

1986 MG Metro 9x 6 cylinder turbo (1 prototype made)

1990 Metro GTa (Now Rover 100)

1990 Metro GTI (Now Rover 100)

“I wish they had told me three months earlier… If they’d just said Look, we’re going to bring out the MG, it’s going to be cheap and that would have been it. Well then we changed the name to Monaco which took the heat off a bit because it wasn’t a Cooper. It was Cooper they were worried about, the Monaco they didn’t worry about”

John Cooper interview for mini tech news December 1982
Austin Metro Cooper 1.3 Feature 1981
Autocar article on the Metro Cooper
Metro Cooper
Engine:1300cc inline 4
Power:88 bhp
0-60:11.6 Seconds
Top Speed:101 mph
Price when new:£5,500

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