Photos by June Valentine
The Metropolitan was an adorable, little car with an against-the-grain personality when compared to the eye-round-roast-sized automobiles of its day. There is a magic to these diminutive cars that many consider charming, and that evoke memories for many. The Metropolitan Pit Stop Museum in Valley Village, Calif., is an historical caretaker for that charm and those memories by promoting and preserving the pint-size car — and it’s free to visit.
Although there is no admission charge, most people are probably attracted to the museum by its façade, which is oddly embellished by a Metropolitan that appears to have crashed into the building. Close inspection reveals the attraction is actually the tail end of a Met attached to the wall. By the time gawkers piece together the nature of the museum’s draw, the museum has hooked its visitors, who are not disappointed by what lies behind the museum’s walls.
Many of the Metropolitans on display are unique versions that cannot be found elsewhere. And, of course, there are several examples of the production versions that many enthusiasts fondly recall.
On display is an example of the earliest Met, a 1953 Nash NKI (Nash Kelvinator International). When Nash later used the Metropolitan name, NKI owners were given the option of having Metropolitan scripts retrofitted, free of charge.
The wildly futuristic 1955 Met Astra-Gnome concept car looks like it could fly into the future, and it very well may have inspired Luke Skywalker’s “Landspeeder” vehicle in George Lucas’ original “Star Wars” film from 1977. It also appears to have loaned its front fender design to Buick’s 1963 Riviera. The Astra-Gnome was designed as a dream car for American Motors by Richard Arbib upon a Nash Metropolitan platform. Among its notable features is an electric glass-bubble top that allows passengers to walk into the vehicle, and a massive center fin on the trunk — both features of vehicles in the animated cartoon “The Jetsons,” which came years after the dream car. The Astra-Gnome was found boarded up on the top floor of a
garage in New York City. When Jimmy Valentine, the founder of the museum, tracked down the Astra-Gnome in 1980, he restored it.
Two Metropolitan station wagon prototypes were commissioned by American Motors in 1956. AMC designed one with the spare tire mounted on the back, which prevented the tailgate from opening. The other was conceived under the styling baton of Pinin Farina, and this Met did not have a tire on the back, allowing the tailgate to fold downward. The AMC prototype was destroyed, but Valentine found the Pinin Farina styling study. An AMC engineer had acquired it after tutoring AMC President George Romney’s two sons. He drove it until it became rusty, then stored it in his garage.
Another unusual Metropolitan in the museum is a 1957 fire chief car with a ladder wagon attached. It was used at the Catskills Game Farm to transport kids around its petting zoo. The wagon was made by the Overland Trailer Co., of Lexington, Mass. The firm made trailers for Crosleys and then switched to Metropolitans.
In addition to the fire chief car, Valentine acquired the 1961 Met Westerner show car. It was one of four AMC regional show cars: the Cape Cod, the Palm Beach, the Fifth Avenue and the Westerner. The Westerner has a pearl-silver-white exterior, custom interior and special wheel trim.
In addition to the automobiles, the museum’s gallery has Metropolitan literature, photos, artifacts and collectible items. The walls have magnificent paintings depicting a town square consisting of a 1950s diner, showroom and fire house, as well as English and Arizona landscapes.
Jimmy and Eve Valentine’s daughter, June Valentine, runs the museum. In addition to the repository, Metropolitan Pit Stop provides routine maintenance, restoration and repair services. There are 14,726 parts needed to build a Metropolitan, and the Met Pit Stop carries them all. The Met Pit Stop is also known for having the best-fitting and highest-quality Met parts.
It also does everything from oil changes to engine rebuilds, and it states that a restoration at Met Pit Stop is less expensive than at a random restorer since the latter has to learn aspects about the car, whereas June’s technicians already know everything there is to know about the Metropolitan.
If you like stories like these and other classic car features, check out Old Cars magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.
Want a taste of Old Cars magazine first? Sign up for our weekly e-newsletter and get a FREE complimentary digital issue download of our print magazine.
*As an Amazon Associate, Old Cars earns from qualifying purchases.