When even the cheapest modern supermini is equipped with all manner of modern conveniences, the MG Metro and its turbocharged sister are a breath of fresh air.They are lightweight, responsive, and perfect retro hot hatchbacks.
Despite a few drawbacks shared with lesser Metros - a rather bus-like driving position and the limitation sof the four-speed gearbox - the 72bhp 1275cc A-Plus engine buzzes along nicely. On the 93bhp Turbo, it all feels much more urgent - more capable of scaring the odd Golf GTI. On twisty back roads you'll have no trouble keeping up with supposedly faster cars and there's a go-kart quality to its direction changes, which makes it feel just like a grown-up Mini. The rasping exhaust, and rumbling A-series add to the familiarity.
The steering lightens up nicely once under way and the brakes respond sharpely, aided by larger front discs than on the standard Metro. There's a pleasingly chunky feel to the smaller three-spoke steering wheel - its beefier rim was one of the main additions to the Metro interior, along with more heavily-bolstered seats and some snazzy detailing including red seatbelts and carpets. On the other hand, the dashboard differed little from the standard models, so anyone familiar with other Metros will feel right at home despite the more colourful cabin.
The facia is farily basic, containing just simple ventilation controls and a handful of switches, although the MG did get different graphics for the instruments. The minimalist design contributes a feeling of space despite the compact external dimensions and everything is logically sited. Which means you can just get on and enjoy extracting all the performance this little MG has to offer.
Torque 85lb ft@2650rpm
Top speed 112mph
Gearbox 4-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
All of the Metro’s bodywork can rust, so pay close attention to the length of each sill, the rear wheelarches and the bottom of each door, particularly rear doors of five-door models. The front and rear valances also rot, especially around the seams – take a look from either side, as they’re double-skinned. Other rot spots include the fuel filler surround, rain guttering and front corners of the footwell, plus the inner rear wings and spare wheel well. MG and Vanden Plas Metros had a sunroof, so make sure the drain holes haven’t clogged, leading to the surround corroding.
The metal around each headlamp rots, as do the front wings, the strengthening panels on the bonnet’s underside, and the base of the windscreen and bulkhead. Scrutinise the front and rear subframes. The front one isn’t rot-prone but the rear one is, as are their mountings – repairs means removing the subframes for welding. New subframes are available or you can buy used ones, ready to fit, for £70 (front) and £120 (rear).
You can still get most body panels. Genuine and pattern parts crop up regularly, although you’re more likely to find wings, bonnets, door skins and valances than floorpans. Bear in mind that the Turbo featured different pressings compared with the standard Metro. Bonnets have extra louvres, while the wings have cut-away wheelarches, and these panels are now scarce. Also, standard Metros had a grille that’s blanked off on the nearside, but automatic and MG models need the extra cooling; fit the wrong grille and you’ll regret it.
All pre-1990 Metros featured the A-series powerplant. It was heavily reworked for the Metro, for greater efficiency and reliability, hence the A+ tag.
Renowned for its toughness this powerplant takes hard use (even neglect) in its stride. But whereas most engines display low oil pressure when they’re about to expire, the Metro’s doesn’t. Up until the point where it goes bang, it can appear healthy. Leaks are normal, mainly from the gearchange and timing chain oil seals.
Poor running can usually be traced to a soaked ignition system, thanks to the distributor being on the front of the engine.
Valve guides and stem seals wear out, especially on 1275cc engines, leading to clouds of blue smoke once the power is applied after the over-run. Timing chain rattle is endemic to 1.0-litre cars – fitting a duplex chain assembly for around £100 will cure it.
If you’re looking at a Turbo, make sure the blower is in good nick. Large clouds of exhaust smoke mean the turbocharger has worn out, possibly because it hasn’t been allowed to idle before switching off after a run. Things are worse if the wrong oil is used – all Metros use 15/40, which should be changed every 3-5000 miles.
Just two different transmissions were fitted to the Metro: a 4-speed manual or a 4-speed auto, the latter offered only with the 1275cc engine. The manual transmission whined loudly in first even when new, but the ‘box is tough, with serious abuse or a lack of maintenance needed for problems to crop up.
The automatic transmissions are less durable and rebuilds are costly at £900. Fitting a used unit is the usual solution – they’re £150. If the car is jerky when moving off, the bands need adjusting. This should be done periodically to maintain smooth progress.
The rack-and-pinion steering is durable, as is the suspension. Some owners find the Hydragas suspension daunting, but it’s nothing to be afraid of. Top up the system every three years or so and problems will be kept to a minimum.
Problems can occur, such as corrosion of the pipe joints, leading to fluid leaks, so check the condition of each union. Ensure the ride height is even left and right; the system is connected side-to-side at the rear, but not at the front. Topping up the system is easy, with new pumps around £300 and used ones £100-200.
A iety of wheels were fitted to the Metro and they’re all interchangeable, with many owners fitting alloys as they look nicer. Late pre-facelift cars (summer 1984 on) had imperial pressed-steel wheels, but later cars had metric items, with tyres costly and difficult to source. As a result, the earlier wheels are still popular.
The split braking system features four-pot callipers, but parts are available and cheap. The Turbo and GTA got a ventilated disc system which can be retro-fitted if the correct cooling slots are fitted to the front valance.
There’s little brightwork to worry about, aside from chrome surrounds for the grille and windscreen on the Vanden Plas. All cars carried badges or decals. Those for the MGs are available from the MGM Club.
Original interior trim has dried up and there’s no repro stuff being made, but there are plenty of second-hand parts available, especially for MG rather than Austin models. Earlier Metros had trim that has usually disintegrated, so fitting later seats is the solution; even K-Series Metro parts will fit with some tweakery. Vanden Plas cars had wooden door cappings which tend to delaminate, which can be costly to repair.
All Metros feature a basic electrical system. Aside from poor earths and bodged looms, there aren’t any pitfalls. If any bits are needed, used items are plentiful.
The Metro was already a fine small car, and the extra power of the MG iants certainly ratcheted up the entertainment factor. They still suffered from the issues that afflicted the 'cooking' models, corrosion being the biggest problem, but they are DIY-friendly. Finding a solid example is the key, but this pocket-rocket will certainly put a smile on your face.