The Austin Mini Metro was introduced to the expectant world in 1980. It was a make-or-break car for British Leyland, which was losing billions of pounds of taxpayers' money. (Every car they launched subsequently, as Austin Rover and finally as Rover has been make-or-break, seemingly, and they have continued to lose money for the taxpayer, for British Aerospace, for BMW and for the guys that bought the company for ten quid.)
It was to replace the ageing Mini. It didn't. Never mind, the Metro found its own little niche.
Matchless, Maestro Metro
The Metro nearly wasn't called the Metro. British Leyland organised a poll among assembly line workers asking them what the new little car should be called. You'll get a better built car if the workers feel that in some sense it is their car. Of the three options, "Metro" only just beat "Maestro", which meant BL didn't have to think very hard what to call their next car, the medium-sized and surely intentionally ugly Escort "competitor". "Match" was only voted for by the loonies who actually wanted the company to go bust (about 5% of the workforce).
Long live the Morris Minor?
The A-Plus engine in the Metro was a development of the A Series engine the Mini had been using for years and years, and which had originally appeared in the early 60s in the Morris Minor. They had spent a packet on redeveloping it, though, and despite its age it delivered amazing fuel economy. Oh, and it was the first ever engine not to need a 6 month service. Not the fastest little car around perhaps, but still...
If it ain't broke
BL's Supercover breakdown trucks carried both a mechanic and a psychiatrist, because BL cars' breakdowns would cause their owners breakdowns as well. The Metro had to be reliable or the whole company would break down.
So it was some delight that on the Metro's launch day, someone rang in to a national radio station to report a sighting of the first broken down Metro on a motorway hard shoulder.
As it happened, the Metro owner must have been listening - they rang in to say they weren't broken down at all, but had stopped for some perfectly innocent reason.
I wonder how many BL executives broke down between these two phone calls?
The end of the Mini
No no, the Mini itself didn't end. (Not until 2000 - and there's that horrible new BMW MINI now.) But it didn't take long for the Austin Mini Metro to become just the Austin Metro. Still, I bet your average person in the street would recognise the car as a Mini Metro rather than Austin Metro (if they recognised it at all).
MG had stopped making sports cars years before, yet another in the long line of British marques disappeared into history. Then, the MG Owners Club got a mysterious phone call from BL, asking them to come over and look at a new car.
Yes, it was the MG Metro, an ever-so-slightly tuned-up 1.3 Metro, with an MG badge on the accelerator pedal and red seat belts. The MG Owners Club apparently agreed that the MG Metro was in the spirit of the original MG sports cars, and it hit the streets. Later there was an MG Metro Turbo, which actually went quite fast, but it was a pretty scary, temperamental beast.
If you had piles of cash (£30k?) and liked driving to Sainsbury's really quickly, you could buy the Metro 6R4 rally car. You couldn't do much shopping, because the inside back of the car was engine, but presumably you could drive back and forth to Sainsbury's really quickly, buying one item at a time.
Alternatively, for about the same amount of money, you could pay someone to slice the top off a Metro and replace it with an elaborate umbrella-like thing. I believe these things are called "convertibles" and are for people who like pollution, rain and sunburn.
OK, so Rover had never actually gone away, but it kind of links with the previous heading, and it's a weak play on words because of the Rovers return pub in Coronation Street, which I never watch by the way.
Eventually the name Austin bit the dust, leaving the name Rover as the only one to survive British Leyland with any remnant of good associations. Was it a risk to slap the Rover badge - supposed to be about big executive cars - on to the little Metro?
Well, they did it, and revised the Metro while they were at it. Once again it became a pretty damn good car. This was largely because of a brand new engine, the K Series, which was probably the best little engine you could buy at the time. There's a K Series engine in the car we own now. There's a K Series in the Lotus Elise!
Things begin to get ugly (NEW Nov 2001)
My reactions when the Rover Metro was re-launched as the Rover 100 were mixed to say the least.
Actually that's a polite way of putting it.
I hated it.
Anyone tempted to email me to complain please at least read to the end of the page before doing so.
There were only really two changes - the name, and an external re-style. These were the only two things I found objectionable.
So the car started out with clean lines, tidy proportions and balanced features. It looked smart and friendly. Businesslike and fun. Stylish and sexy. (I'll stop now.) Then Rover seemingly left it in front of a radiator so it melted into a blobby, ill-defined mess. They tried to make it curvacious, modern, aerodynamic, upmarket and elegant. Instead it looked like the elephant man hunchback of Notre Dame's worst nightmare gone wrong with lumps on.
Er, I may have got a little carried away and overstated my case. But if you change something, shouldn't you make it better?
And, of course, the change in name was a tragedy. The classic, evocative, friendly, statesmanlike, noble, immaculate and magnificent "Metro" became the anonymous, cold, clinical, heartless and sinister "100". Yes it fitted with the rest of the Rover range (the unforgettable "200", the well-loved "400", the heart-warming "600" and the almost-a-member-of-the-family "800"), but do you think that sold one more car? ("I hadn't been considering a Metro, but when they changed the name to be consistent with the rest of the range, I was first in the queue as the dealer opened the very next day.")
Still, as time went by, I forgave Rover for the re-style. This happened when I got used to the new shape, and couldn't quite remember why I'd hated it so much when it came out. It looks all right now to my eyes. The conclusion is that car designers can get away with anything. Look at the Ford Focus, for example. That's the best selling car in the country!
I've never forgiven them for killing the Metro name, though. Did you know that there was a company selling Metro badges that you stick on your car in place of the 100 ones? No, I didn't know that either. Do you suppose it's true?
I may get emails about this bits from Rover 100 owners (and Ford Focus owners). To Rover 100 owners I will say this - remember that this is still a fansite for your car. Your car is great. You are great. (But wouldn't things be even greater if the badge on the back still said "Metro?") To Ford Focus owners I will say this - ha ha!
Hitting the buffers
All good things come to an end, apart from cliches which go on forever. Click on the link below to read on. Have your hankies ready.