It was to sail like a tiny boat through the waves of suburban America. With a wheelbase shorter than a VW Beetle, the Nash Metropolitan was conceived as an ideal city ‘stopping and shopping’ car.
It grew, via several years of committee discussion, from a genuine desire to create an American economy car, allied to Nash’s determination to use its advanced and available ‘Airflyte’ technology, into a gloriously eccentric mess.
Its monocoque construction sat heavily on its tiny frame, wholly enclosing not just the wheels but a host of standard features that anywhere else would have been optional. Innumerable ‘surviews’ (survey + preview) imposed demands that could only be fulfilled economically if the entire car was made and assembled in Britain, and shipped back for sale in the USA. By 1954, when it was introduced, it was already an anachronism. America was launched on its postwar mind-set of big-finned, bouncy-riding, long-distance highway languor, and the Nash Metropolitan wasn’t it.
Nevertheless, like one third of nearly everything worth treasuring, the Nash Metropolitan achieved greatness — but only in hindsight. Every idea it encapsulated was ahead of its time, like its size, urban convenience, and interior fittings. Initially, it was slow, unwieldy, and unreliable (most of its innards were doctored from existing British Austin components); and it looked lumpy and dumpy in both its hardtop and convertible options.
By 1957 when it was released in Europe, it was vastly improved (unless you attempted taking an ‘S’ bend at speed when it rolled like a drunken sailor), but its styling proved too outré for a society still too fractured by war and restraint to enjoy it.
Now we recognize it as a stylistic benchmark of its era, and a brave attempt to live the future before it arrived.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
USA (built in UK)
1954 (until 1961)
1,200 cc OHV Straight Four
Top speed of 70 mph (113 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 28-30 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The Nash Metropolitan’s notoriously adorable ‘cuteness’ has always appealed to society’s rebels, including Jimmy Buffet, Jay Leno, Paul Newman, Elvis Presley, HRH Princess Margaret, ‘Weird Al’ Jankovic, Kenneth McKellar and Alma Cogan. Other ‘enthusiasts’ have converted the car to anything from a stretch limo to a twin-track snowmobile. Style Is everything.