26 October 2013

UNSUNG HEROES: Rover Metro

The revised Rover Metro was a huge leap over the earlier Austin model. It's a shame history hasn't treated the Metro well, so here's some recognition it deserves.



THE METRO was arguably the saviour for British Leyland - even to a larger extent, the British motor industry. It was 'the British car to beat the world', that also played a major role in BL's turnaround and getting it on the road to recovery. It became one of Britain's best selling cars throughout the 1980s.

By the end of the 1980s, the Metro was getting on a bit. Ford launched an all new Fiesta in 1989, which for the first time was available with five doors. That also meant a wider range of models and better practicality for the Blue Oval's new supermini. Renault launched the new Clio to replace the much-loved 5, that continued to be sold alongside the Clio.

The Fiat Uno was being updated, as was the Volkswagen Polo and the Vauxhall Nova. With some major tweaks to keep them going just that bit longer. The popular Peugeot 205 was still selling well and showed no signs of ageing.

Austin Rover (which was later renamed to be the Rover Group) decided on heavily revamping the Metro for the 1990s. While the Metro was a popular car, the earlier Austin models also had its fair share of flaws, which Rover addressed with a fine tooth comb and filed out the rough edges.

New Metros got Rover K-Series engines. 

The new Metro became available with Rover's brand new K-Series engines and PSA-sourced five-speed gearboxes. A new engine was what the old Metro was crying out for as the old A-Series unit was already ancient by then.

Under the bonnet, the Metro had a new layout with the gearbox placed next to the engine, instead of under the sump from the older car. As a result, performance, fuel economy and refinement were major improvements. Rover also interconnected the Hydragas suspension on the Metro to improve the ride, as well as maintain the good handling they became renowned for.

The range was also broadened, with more engines to choose from with 1.1 8-Valve, 1.4 8 and 16 Valve engines. The Metro for the first time, later became available with a diesel engine and had the 1.4-litre PSA unit - which were also used in the Peugeot 205 and the Citro├źn AX.

Rover launched the Metro with a wider range of trim levels than the earlier Austin model tailored to buyers' tastes or budgets. From basic, entry-level, no-frills Metros, there was also sportier models with the GTi and GTA models, which in effect, replaced the old MG Metros. Then there was the plush GSi Metro replacing the old Vanden Plas Metro. There was even a Metro cabriolet for cheap, wind in the hair motoring.

On the three door Metros, the fuel filler was also relocated from down near the rear wheel arch, over up to near the window. This made it easier for owners to put petrol in their Metros. It was also done for safety reasons, something which the earlier Austin Metro suffered from, and some older models suffered from fuel leaks.

Besides new engines, build quality was one of the other major changes and improvements. The fit and finish with higher quality materials for the dashboard and the upholstery lifted the interior of the Metro. Rover also put right the driving position with repositioned pedals, more adjustments and better ergonomics.

The Metro soldered on. In 1995, it was visually updated and renamed as the Rover 100.

Cosmetic changes to the Metro were subtle over the old Austin model. The revised Rover model with a smoother and rounded off edges. With a smoother looking, grille-less front end which kept in line with Rover's DNA of cars, as seen on their bigger cars from 200 to 800. At the back, the rear numberplate was repositioned from the bumper to the tailgate, and the Metro sported new rear light clusters.

One of the key ingredients to the Metro's success was it being a flighty little car. It gained popularity from being an unpretentious and practical little runaround, that was fun to drive, cheap to buy and run. Rover essentially built on the Metro's strengths, by filing the rough edges that the earlier Austin model had.

The new Metro was a success and was well received by the motoring press and owners. However, the tweed image they carried was a stigma attached to it. Even though it was thoroughly re-engineered, which were big and welcomed improvements. Rover also kept the Metro going for too long and rested on its laurels.

Time caught up with the Metro. Due to its age and with new arrivals such as the: Fiat Punto, Volkswagen Polo, Nissan Micra and the Vauxhall Corsa, meant it was starting lag behind the competition.

Even if Rover gave the Metro a visual update which later became the Rover 100 in 1995. Given a new grille with revised rear light clusters, new colours and trim models. That itself, wasn't enough to keep it fresh and competitive against its rivals.

Then there was the abysmal safety score from the crash test by Euro N-Cap in 1997. Which did the Metro/100 no favours at all. This would have had an adverse effect on sales, and put the nail in the coffin. In the following year, Consuquently, Rover eventually pulled the plug on the ancient Metro/100 in 1998.

Today, the Rover Metro is very much in banger territory. They're vanishing off the roads - though rust will have claimed many examples. Surviving Metros and 100s are likely to be lovingly preserved by pensioners who've owned them from new.

Then there's the handful of enthusiasts who have modified Metros (most likely to be GTA and GTi models) and shoehorned the 1.8 VVC K-Series engines into them.  Older Austin and MG Metros have a small yet loyal following, and it's likely to be the case for the later Rover Metros and 100s.

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