Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Austin Metro: A British car to beat the world

Austin Metro: A british car to beat the world
Wow! Remember that? October 1980? When the nation was gripped with national pride at the thought of "our" boys giving those tinny Japanese, weird French and rotten Italian superminis a darned good hiding?

Remember the ad campaign? With the formation of Metros (or Mini Metros to be correct) heading towards the edge of the cliffs at Dover?

I recently managed to get hold of this cassette tape. They were apparently distributed to dealers at the time of the launch, something to play whilst the punters got to grips with the wondrous space-efficiency of the cabin, the neatness of the split-fold rear seat and the lack of a five-speed gearbox.

The tape is brilliant. It begins with a rousing and classically funked-up version of "Rule Brittania", which becomes a generic synth-lite soundtrack played whilst a male voice extols the virtues of the "Britishness" of the car.

"It's the brainchild of a British design team, it's been developed by British engineers, and it's built by British workers, in a new, British, factory. But what about 'leading the world'? Is it really better than all those European and Japanese hatchbacks?"

You can guess what the answer is.

"The answer's yes. In ANY language."

And so it continues.

The first Metro I saw was owned by a neighbour who brought it home on the day of launch. It looked GREAT in bright Pea Green with gold pinstripes, shining on a W-Plate. If memory serves, it may well have been an "S" variant, incredibly rare in the 1980s, let alone now.

Somehow we really did think that this car was going to be the saviour of the British motor industry. Magazines raved over it, proclaiming it as a true successor to the Mini. It kind of was for a while, but it wasn't long before the build and rust problems took precedence in the mind of the public over the engineering quality. The slightly unbalanced styling didn't help either, same with the underpowered and controversially "badge-engineered" MG and MG Turbo variants. Remember the red seat belts?

Nowadays they are largely unloved and almost forgotten. An early one with the full-size grille (and the povo-spec ones with the indicators and sidelights in the bumper) in a retro colour is an incredibly rare sight now. That's a real shame. They are absolutely hilarious to drive, inheriting many of the characteristics that made the Mini so great, and a few that made the Metro not-so-great (the wheezy A-Series wasn't replaced until the K-Series powered revamp many years later). They are STILL amazingly space-efficient, and the earlier pepperpot-shod MGs and Turbos are quite stylish in a retro-80s-cool kinda way.

A British Car To Beat The World? Nearly.

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