The Metro had the most difficult follow up since the second Godfather film. By 1977 the Mini was beginning to show its age and British Leyland were revising designs for a replacement. A mass market utilitarian car, the Metro was launched in 1980, intending to replace one of the all time motoring greats, the Mini.
As well as providing a great drive and cost effective transport; the Mini was an icon of British pop culture and had a classless quality. Expectations were high for a performance variant too. The Mini Cooper’s exploits on rally stages across the world are legendary. It was a 3 times winner at the Monte Carlo Rally and saw success in other forms of motorsport too. Would British Leyland be able to produce a worthy sequel to the Mini Cooper?
British Leyland & Badge Engineering
In 1980 British Leyland had retired the MGB and with it, the most popular of MGs. In 1982 the MG badge was added to the quick Metro to make it sportier sounding. It was a clever move, especially given all the badges and brands British Leyland owned at that time. MG badging was later used on the Maestro and Montego for their respective performance models.
The 1982 MG Metro was well specified with a spoiler, 13″ lattice wheels, body coloured bumpers and “MG Metro”graphics on the doors. The 1275cc A-Series engine got a new camshaft and head with bigger valves. This engine also used a bigger SU carburettor than the Mini ever did. This all resulted in 20% more power than the same engine in the Mini (aside from the very late Cooper models).
The Metro had zero motorsport heritage so when British Leyland started building a Group B rally car, basing it on the Metro was a chance to transfer some of the glamour of motorsport onto the normal Metro. The end result was the 1984 Metro 6R4. The 6R4 compared well against rivals from Audi and Peugeot. Unfortunately the Group B rally series would be cancelled in 1986 after some serious accidents. This resulted in an end to the 6R4 project for both the race car and the clubman road version.
MG Metro Driving Experience
I’ve driven a few MG Metros over the years, mainly as a result of looking to upgrade from the Mini I had. The MG Metro made use of Hydragas suspension (a development of the hydro-elastic suspension that was sometimes used on the Mini) which is a spring-less suspension system. It makes for an unusual ride, the cars small size and free revving engine goad you into throwing the car around and the Hydragas responds by letting the car roll into corners, but gripping better than you’d think. It’s far more comfortable than the stiffly sprung Mini, but doesn’t have the initial bite when turning into a corner. Thin A pillars provide a great view out the front and the Metro smother bumps where a Mini would bounce over them. The later Metro GTI adopted the de-rigueur badging of the VW Golf GTI and Peugeot 205 GTI. This car wasn’t remembered as fondly as its European rivals but received high praise in Autocar magazine.
The Metro could do little about its illustrious forebear. It was small like its predecessor and had a similar driving position, but lost some of the charm, fun & ingenuity of the Mini. Replacing the Mini was always going to be a difficult job. The Metro went on to sell over 2 million units over a production run of 18 years. The Metro was actually was one of the most successful of all the British Leyland cars produced. It sold in high numbers, had a long production life under a variety of other names starting with Mini-Metro, then Austin Metro, MG Metro, Rover Metro and then it became the Rover 100 and the Metro badge was retired. While the Rover 100 struggled on until 1998, the Mini continued in production to 2000 despite it’s ancient design.
The MG Metro has swooped under the radar into classic status without any warning. Reading through various articles confirms it was something of a dark horse in the early 80s. With just 65 MG Metros remaining road legal, its rarity (mainly due to the UK Scrappage scheme) will push it into classic status. I think it’s well earned – The MG Metro isn’t The Godfather II of sequels, but it does help you appreciate how good the original was.
Road trip, car show or track day Ed is sure to be there taking photos and notes to blog about. Ed has a particular fascination with the volatile history of the British sports car industry, hence this website!