Seven years of planning, design, replanning, redesign, and more than £275 million went into British Leylands Austin Mini Metro. Although not as revolutionary as Alec Issigonis' Morris/Austin' Mini was in 1959, the then new front-drive model from the nationalised British factories was nevertheless an attractive little family 'hold-all', incorporating the basic aims and design features of its preedecessor - front wheel drive, transverse engine (with transmission gears in the engine sump), and maximum interior space coupled with minimum exterior dimensions.
With an overall length of only 134.05 in (340.48 cm), almost the shortest in its class at the time, the Mini Metro had adequate leg and knee room for four adults and a mass of luggage. It's true the 88.62 in (225.09 cm) wheelbase (apart from the Fiat 127, which took the honours at the time for being shortest in class) and the 12 inch wheels resulted in the front wheel arches obtruding somewhat into the front compartment and robbing long-legged drivers of a little too much space, but in general it was a masterpiece of design, like the Mini, a fine example of getting the 'quart into the pint pot'!
In spite of its modest exterior measurements the entire range of Mini Metros had really large doors for easy entry and egress, and the rear seat (on all but the base model) folded and splis 'two-thirds and one-third' making the permutations of passengers and loads (in conjuncction with the folding rear parcels shelf and hatchback) highly variable
Ingeniously, the rear parcel shelf could be stowed (with clips) behind the folded rear seat, or it could be instantly removed. With rear seat upright and in one piece the luggage compartment had a useful capacity of 7.5 cu. ft (212.47 liters), but when the seat was folded forward in its entirety the maximum carrying capacity was no less than 45.7 cu. ft (1294.68 liters). The split rear seat enabled long loads to be accommodated, with either one adult on the small seat, or say, an adult and a child occupying the larger seat.
The rear tailgate was large and lifted high for loading, but there was a deep body-lip, which although contributing greatly to body structure rigidiity, did nothing to assist with the stowing of heavy or bulky loads. In the UK there were five basic models, from standard Metro with 998 cc 44 bhp (32.81 kW) engine to Metro 1.3 H LS, the top model, with 1275 cc 63 bhp (46.97 kW) motor
In between there were interesting variations on the four-cylinder cast iron pushrod ohv theme, one verrsion of the 998 cc engine being produced with a low compression ratio to operate on 91 octane fuel for fleet users (commercial travelllers cars) in which form the motor developed 41 bhp (30.57 kW). Another 998 cc model, the HLE, had a small-port high-compression engine, smaller (SU) carburetter etc., and the (higher) gearing of the 1275 cc Metro. In that form the car had a less sprightly performance (though adequate) but returned extremely low fuel consumption figures.
Shortly after announcement official consumption figures were issued which made the Metro HLE the most economical car in Europe, putting it ahead of the Renault 5 GTL, hitherto Europe's most-miserly model. British Leyland spent huge sums of money on a vast, highly-automated factory (Westworks, Longbridge, Birmingham) to produce Metro, the expenditure towards power-units for the new car was kept within funds by utilising the four-cylinder ohv (with non-crossflow head) series motors which had been in use since the Austin 'A30'
days. In spite of that, by strengthening the crankcase and crankshaft, using larger and modified bearings, and many alterations within, the 'A-Sries Plus', as the reconstituted units were christened, revealed themIves to be a match for anything from Continental Europe - light lays, overhead camshafts and crossflow heads notwithstanding.
Not only were the modified engines powerful enough, they exhibited exceIIent torque, and as already mentioned, exceptional fuel economy. The upmarket range with 1275 cc engine (marketed as the 1.3) two Metro models were announced, one, the 1.3 S with sporting body finish, and rev. counter etc. (but the standard 1275 cc engine); the other, the HLS, with top upholstery and internal trim. There were also optional extras such as detachable sunroofs (in metal or acetate), as well as fascia computers, Dunlop Denovo 'run-flat' tires, headlamp washers and so on.
Not only was the new Mini Metro billed as a cheap car to buy (in the UK it was some £300 less expensive than the Ford Fiesta 1100) but so as a cheap car to run, and to maintain. The major servicing period was quoted as 12,000 miles (19,500 km) or one year, and replacement items such as the front wings were secured by 13 bolts which could easily be removed for crash damage convenience. With an aerodynamic co-efficient of 0.41 (better than any other car in class) the Mini Metro L (high compression 998 engine) was good for 87 mph (140 km/h) and 53.1 mpg (5.32 lit/100 km) at 56 mph (90 km/h), and the 1275 cc models had a maximum of 97 mph (56 km/h) with 51.2 mpg (5.51 liters/100 km) at a constant 56 mph (90 km/h).
he all-independent suspension was by Alex Moulton's well-proven 'hydragas'
system, but not interconnected front-to-rear as on the Austin Allegro
. The rear gas spring units were instead interconnected to equalise static fluid pressure between them, and damping was integral. The front units, however, utilised external telescopic dampers as there was no intemal damping. The ride quality was good for a car of such small dimensions, and short wheelbase.
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". The Metro did too until May 1990, when it was relaunched officially as the Rover Metro in 1990, heavily revised and fitted with a new range of engines.