This year saw the anniversary of a few BL / Austin Rover / Rover Group Cars. In these edition of our blog we look at the Austin / MG / Rover Metro - which celebrates its 40th Birthday this year.
British Leyland introduced the then Austin Mini-Metro on 8th October 1980, Marketed as the 'British Car to beat the world' it was originally intended to replace the mini.
Some of the Mini's underpinnings were carried over into the Metro, namely the 998 cc and 1275 cc A-Series engines, much of the front-wheel drive train and four-speed manual gearbox, and suspension sub frames. The Metro used the Hydragas suspension system found on the Allegro but without front to rear interconnection. The hatchback body shell was one of the most spacious of its time and this was a significant factor in its popularity. The space efficient interior was also lauded for the novel 60/40 split rear seat which was standard on higher specification models. The original Mk.1 Metros also featured David Bache's signature "symmetric" dashboard design (also used on the Range Rover and the Rover SD1), where the main dashboard molding consists of a shelf, onto which the instrument binnacle is simply mounted on the left or the right hand side – this arrangement saves the tooling cost of two separate dashboard moldings for right and left-hand drive. Initially, the Metro was sold as a three-door hatchback only (as were most of its competitors), with a choice of 998cc (1.0 litre) or 1275cc (1.3-litre) petrol engines.
The name was chosen through a ballot of BL employees. They were offered a choice of three names, Match, Maestro or Metro. Once the result was announced, the manufacturer of trains and buses, Metro Cammell, objected to the use of the Metro name by BL. The issue was resolved by BL promising to advertise the car only as the "Mini Metro", although after a while the Mini Metro name disappeared. There were also van versions, introduced in late 1982, known as the Morris Metro. From late 1985, after the Morris name had been discontinued, it was sold as the Austin Metro 310, and after the Austin badge was also dropped it became simply the Metro van.
Launch prices for the Metro were as follows:
MiniMetro 1.0 £3,095
MiniMetro 1.0L £3,495
MiniMetro 1.0HLE £3,695
MiniMetro 1.3 £3,995
MiniMetro 1.3HLS £4,296
At the end of 1987, the Austin marque was shelved. The Austin badge was removed from the cars, which continued to be manufactured with no marque badge, just a model name badge. Rover management never allowed Rover badges on the Montego or the Maestro in their home market, although they were sometimes referred to as "Rovers" in the press and elsewhere. They wore badges that were the same shape as the Rover longship badge, but which did not say "Rover". By this stage, Rover was in the final stages of developing the new Rover 200 Series and Rover 400 Series models in conjunction with Honda, and it was also working on a replacement for the Metro.
During the 1980s, the media had published photographs of the "Austin AR6" concept car, which would have been a completely new design, but towards the end of the decade Rover decided to restyle and re engineer the existing Metro design instead.
The new Rover Metro was finally launched in May 1990, being a heavily revised version of the original Metro and fitted with a new range of engines, these included:
1.1 L K-series SPI 8V or single carb 8V I4
1.4 SPI K-series 8/16V
1.4 MPI K-series 8/16V
1.4 L PSA/TUD3 diesel I4
In December 1994 the revised R6 model appeared. In the United Kingdom, Rover finally scrapped the Metro nameplate, replacing it with a new name, Rover 100, which had been adopted on continental Europe on the Rover Metro's launch in 1990, due to the weakness of the Austin marque in Europe.
The mechanics of the car remained much the same with 1.1 and 1.4 petrol engines and Hydragas suspension, but there was now the option of a Peugeot-sourced 1.5 diesel rather than the previous 1.4. The exterior was altered in an attempt to disguise the car's age, meet the increased cooling requirements of the Peugeot motor and offer a reduced-format Rover family grille. This was achieved through fitment of new front and rear bumpers, sill covers, rear boot handle and headlamps, bonnet and grille.
In 1997, the Rover 100 gave a poor performance in EuroNCAP crash tests (despite the improved safety features, including side impact bars in the doors and an optional driver's airbag, the 1970s design was showing its age) – it was at the time the only car tested to receive a one-star Adult Occupant Rating. Other small cars tested at the same time received 2 or 3 stars out of five. The passenger compartment was subjected to severe structural damage in the frontal-offset test and results showed a high risk of injury to all body regions for the driver. Meanwhile, the side impact test also showed high injury risks.
The Rover 100's dismal safety showing was not its only problem by 1997. It was fast falling behind the best cars in its sector when it came to design, build quality, refinement and specification, although it remained strong in terms of fuel economy and affordability. Unlike the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Vauxhall Corsa, the Rover 100 could still provide sub-£7,000 motoring.
Facing a complete collapse of sales, Rover withdrew the 100 from production – marking the end of nearly 18 years of production.