By Brian Earnest
Back in 1970, even though he had just bought a flashy new muscle car, Jim Caron just couldn’t help himself. His sparkling new 1969 SC/Rambler was fun and all, but Caron figured that the lonely old 1954 Nash Metropolitan he had seen at a local boneyard needed a new home.
“I dunno, I’m a car guy, I’ve always been a car guy,” said Caron, a resident of Las Vegas. “I had [a Metropolitan] before that, but it was all rusty… Just being the junkyard dog that I am, I had to ask the guy how much he wanted for it. I wound up giving him 40 bucks. Then I put a battery in it and drove it home.
“Now, you have to remember, at that time these cars were absolutely worthless. Hey, $50 could buy you a real car back in those days!”
Caron might not have guessed it at the time, but his decision to part with two Andrew Jacksons has blossomed into a longtime attachment to his little Nash, which is now a shiny, fully restored show-stopper that has become a permanent part of Caron’s ever-changing collector car fleet. Today, it shares garage space with some impressive company: his rare and all-original SC/Rambler, a rare ’66 Rambler wagon, a Jaguar Mark X, 1976 Rolls Royce Shadow, a 1970 Chevrolet pickup, and a 1978 Alfa Romeo Spyder that is currently being restored.
Not bad company for an orphaned sub-compact that only cost about $1,500 new and was probably only a few steps from the crusher or the graveyard when Caron decided to save it. “When I go to a show with it, it gets all the attention,” he said. “I could have a million-dollar Ferrari next to it, and it still gets the attention.”
If there was ever a car that could be described as “cute,” it was the Metropolitan, perhaps the most instantly recognizable mini/subcompact car ever sold on U.S. soil. And its curious appeal today among collectors seems as strong as ever.
“The Metropolitan [Owners Club of North America] is immense,” noted Caron. “I’m amazed at how many cars are in the club, and how many of the cars are still working.’
Metropolitans were produced from 1954-62 and didn’t change much in the looks department during that time. They were started as a joint venture between Austin, which provided the engine and drive train, Pinin Farina, which did the design work, and Nash/Hudson/American Motors, which marketed the car in the United States under various banners.
In May of 1954, Nash-Kelvinator and Hudson Motor Company joined forces, and the Metropolitan was subsequently branded the “Hudson Metropolitan.” Metropolitan then became its own marque in 1958 after the American Motors (AMC) name took over. The cars were in full production into 1960, with some factory leftovers still making it to market for two years after that. A total of 94,986 of the little coupes and convertibles were built before the nameplate disappeared.
The dry Nevada air no doubt helped keep Caron’s car intact during its early years. “It had no rust, and was originally a Las Vegas car,” he said. “Even now it has the original exhaust system on it.
“I had it for about 10 years before I restored it. It was not in great shape, but it was okay. It had a few little dings in it here and there. It was in fair shape. I drove it occasionally, but not a lot. Mostly during that time I was saving up parts for it. We didn’t have the Internet and finding parts was a lot harder.”
Around 1980, Caron decided it was time to put the Metropolitan through a restoration, and he gave it the full treatment. “It took two years and I did it all myself,” he said. “I did every nut and bolt. Doing the bodywork and getting the body straight was probably the hardest part. That, and finding parts. I have a machine shop and I had to make a lot of parts myself.
“I painted it myself … It’s called Canyon Red, which is the original factory color. I did all the upholstery myself with a home sewing machine, which was kind of interesting. I changed the interior a little bit, because it had a cheesy interior. Hounds-tooth is what it came with. The seat backs were leather from the factory, but the material was hounds-tooth, and I changed that. And it had rubber floor mats in from factory, and I put in carpeting because I like that better.
“It gets some trophies, so I didn’t do too bad.”
The “first-generation” Series A (1954) and B (1955) Metropolitans came in both coupe and convertible body styles. The first-year cars sported two-tone paint jobs. They were just 149.5 inches long and the convertible weighed in at a feathery 1,785 lbs (1,825 lbs. for the hardtop). Among their many quirks, the Mets’ had a distinctive cutout at the top of each door and a decorative scoop on the rear-hinged hood.
The car’s unique size probably turned plenty of heads when it was new, but the tub-like styling didn’t do it any favors with the buying public. The front fenders stuck up above the hood, the front end was as plain as any car on the market at the time, and all four wheels were partially covered by Nash’s trademark low-hanging slab fenders. Vinyl tops on the ragtops came in black or tan.
The continental-style spare tire setup in back was standard, and necessary in part because the cars did not have a trunk lid. “You’ve got to go in behind the back seat,” Caron noted. Interiors were done in leather and nylon cord, and a single instrument cluster held the speedometer, fuel gauge and warning lights. There was no door on the glovebox. In back, a tiny bench seat covered a 12-volt battery mounted underneath.
Motivation came from an overhead-valve 1,200cc (73-cid) Austin A40 engine that made 42 hp. It was hooked to a three-speed manual that shifted from a lever on the instrument panel.
Options included whitewall tires, a “Weather Eye Conditioned Air System” and radio with manual antenna.
A total of 13,095 “baby Nashes” were built at Austin’s Longbridge, England, factory for the 1954 model year. That tally dropped to 6,096 in 1955 before all-new Series 1500 Metropolitans arrived in 1956. In all, a total of 94,986 Mets’ were produced over the marque’s nine-year run.
Critics and car buffs were a bit surprised from the beginning by the car’s sturdiness and “big car” feel. The 1,200cc power plant was adequate for most around-town duties, and Caron insists the car generally behaves like a much bulkier machine.
“People always ask, “Where’s the propeller?’ Or, ‘Does it float?’ I say, ‘Yeah, it’ll float for a couple minutes!
“Actually, the ride and handling is really unbelievable. It’s like a big Nash ride. It’s got a very smooth ride. And they get incredible gas mileage. You can imagine, the thing doesn’t weigh very much and has just a one-barrel carburetor in it.”
All in all, Caron doesn’t find many … uh … shortcomings with his little Met’. Like a lot of other Metropolitan fans, he’s found the cars pretty much impossible not to like. For a tiny initial investment of $40, he wound up getting about 10 tons of fun.
“It’s just adorable,” he said. “Just the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.
“And it’s small enough, you could easily put it in your living room.”
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