After World War II, the American public wanted new cars, not rehashed models from before production halted in 1942 for national emergency production. As a result, U.S. carmakers offered products in all price ranges.
Returning GIs started families, the suburbs grew at an unprecedented rate and peaked in the 1960s. Many growing families had moved away from the cities and needed economical ways to commute to their jobs in the cities.
Enter, the American-designed and British-built, Nash Metropolitan measured less than thirteen feet in length, and was often called America’s first sub-compact car. Production began in October 1953. Over the next eight years, over 95,000 Metropolitans were produced and sold by Nash/Hudson, then Rambler, and finally AMC.
They designed it as a second car in a two-car family, for Mom taking the kids to school or shopping, or for Dad to drive to the railroad station to ride to work. A commuter/shopping car with a resemblance to the big Nash, but the scale was tiny. The Metropolitan’s wheelbase was shorter than the Volkswagen Beetle.
The miniscule two-seater came as convertible or hardtop models. No extra-cost, standard features (optional on most cars of that time) included electric windshield wipers, cigarette lighter, interior map light, and a continental-type rear-mounted spare tire with cover. While an AM radio, heater, and whitewall tires were listed as optional extras, it appeared all Metros left the factory with these items. Trunk space was accessed by folding the seatback forward.
In December 1956, the Austin Motor Company of Britain acquired the rights to sell the Metropolitan to non-North American markets. Modifications allowed manufacture of both left and right-hand drive models.
Several more changes came in 1959, including a glove box door, seat adjusters, vent windows, opening trunk lid and tubeless tires. The last Metropolitans came with a British-made 55 hp Austin engine.
Production of the funny little car stopped in 1960, but ‘leftovers’ were sold for under $1700 for another two years.
In popular culture, “The Little Nash Rambler” song was released in 1958 and often thought to refer to this teeny car. It was actually based on the larger, four-seat, Nash Rambler.
With the 1960s, came the birth of “muscle cars”, cheap gasoline and the need for speed. National pastimes included drag racing, and a return to NASCAR racing.
While some manufacturers offered one or two “economy” models like the Chevrolet Corvair and Ford Falcon, the little Metropolitan had no future. It faded into memory and became a curiosity for collectors.
Hollywood did not forget. The little car can be seen in: Clueless (1995), The Wedding Singer (1998), Blue Hawaii (1961) and others. It made many TV appearances, including Starsky & Hutch, The Ghost Whisperer, Square Pegs, and even The Simpsons!
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