MG Metro Turbo
British Leyland (owned by the UK government) had no funding for niche sports cars and needed mainstream models that would sell in volume. To kill two birds with one stone, British Leyland stopped production of the MGB and MG Midget and began using the MG brand on the mainstream Metro, Maestro and Montego cars for sportier variants.
The burgeoning hot hatch market had reached a head of steam by the early 1980s. The VW Golf GTI, introduced in 1976, had started things off and as a way into this market, using the MG badge on a sportier existing model was the easiest way to do it.
The Mini Cooper was too old to be considered viable competition at this point so British Leyland had transformed the Metro into the MG Metro to compete. It was expected to contribute 10% to sales of the entire Metro range, but had actually contributed an impressive 25% not long after launch. To add to the range, another sporting Metro model was planned.
With the old A-Series of the Mini underneath the Metro’s bodywork, there was limited tuning potential. Modifying the A-Series and keeping it naturally aspirated was expensive and would make for a highly strung engine. Not great for day to day use. Instead, British Leyland began work with Lotus on turbo charging the A-Series engine. This would provide an increase in power over the MG Metro and provide another hot hatch option to sell.
A Metro Cooper?
The Cooper badge was also considered, but John Cooper’s business model was to sell modifications to increase the performance of the standard Metro. British Leyland were worried about giving sales away and decided that anyone using Cooper modifications would void their warranty.
The Cooper brand wasn’t synonymous with the Metro like it was with the Mini, so the MG brand was used instead. John Cooper’s brief stint selling modifications to Metro owners was over. The handful of Cooper Metros are probably worth a lot due to their rarity.
Lotus used a Garrett T3 turbo above a specially cast manifold to generate the increase in power. Unfortunately the Metro’s 4 speed gearbox was the same fragile unit the Mini used. The increase in power from the turbo damaged the gearbox easily, so the turbo waste-gate was modified to allow the boost pressure to leak until it was needed, to limit unnecessary load on the gearbox. The engine was re-engineered substantially and contained new valves, pistons and sodium lined exhaust.
MG Metro Turbo Driving Experience
As rare as these cars are, owners are a friendly lot and I’ve managed to have a go in both the MG Metro and the Turbo. The MG Metro Turbo seemed more relaxed and a less frantic drive than the MG Metro. The increased weight and naturally more muscular engine seemed to give the Turbo more options to go fast, whereas the MG Metro needed throwing around more. The hydrogas suspension gives the car a lot of roll while retaining grip. It’s an odd sensation, but certainly better than the standard Mini suspension I had experienced in the past.
The fragile gearbox also caused issues with the way the car drove, as the four spaced out gears meant you could easily change gears and be left “off boost” and waiting for the turbo to do its thing.
The MG Metro Turbo had many benefits. It inherited the standard cars practicality and combined it with the characterful A-Series turbo.
The car also benefited from the MG badge although staunch MGB fans would argue that the badge shouldn’t be used for a mere hatchback. Those dyed in the wool MG fans might not have seen the appeal of a hatchback, but the world had changed. The hot hatch made performance motoring available to more people than ever before – with a practical layout a decent engine and tweaked suspension, the once humdrum hatchback had democratized fun. No longer would you need a two seater convertible for a fun drive. In hindsight, this might have taken more effort to realise for British companies that had long been able to sell two seater sports cars with little challenge.
Rover and MG continued to push into the hot hatch market with mixed results. The Rover Tomcat, MG Maestro, MG Montego, Mini ERA were all pretty good all rounders. They struggled to generate the acclaim that the Golf GTI and Peugeot GTI got, but had successfully steered the company in the right direction.
With Rover no longer around and MG now avoiding sports cars altogether, these would be some of the final “fun” cars built by the company.
|MG Metro Turbo|
|Engine:||1275cc Inline 4 Turbo|
|Top Speed:||110 mph|
|Price when new:||N/A|