AUSTIN METRO REVIEW

 

An interesting and likeable British supermini...

The Austin Mini Metro was launched in 1980 amid much patriotic fanfare, and in its 17-year production run – including later Metro and Rover 100 models – over two million cars emerged from Longbridge. With the proven A-Series engine and trim levels ranging from 1.0 Standard (later ‘City’) to 1.3 HLS, the Metro was a solid competitor to the likes of the Mark 1 Fiesta and Renault 5. Plush ‘Vanden Plas’ trim arrived in 1982 with optional leather upholstery and wood trim, the same year also seeing the launch of sporting MG variants. The economy-oriented HLE model never met the 80mpg claims, and typical BL quality issues affected early cars, but improvements meant the Metro evolved into a capable car.

While not as groundbreaking as the original Mini, the Metro was spacious and economical. It was quite advanced for its time, too (options included Dunlop’s innovative Denovo run-flat tyres). And with decent performance, a smooth ride, and nippy handling, it can still entertain today.

VITAL STATISTICS

Austin Mini Metro 1.0, 1981

Engine                                    998cc/4-cyl/OHV

Power (bhp@rpm)                  44bhp@5250rpm

Torque (lb ft@rpm)                 52lb ft@3000rpm

Top speed                                87mph

0-60mph                                  18.9sec

Consumption                            42mpg

Gearbox                                    4-speed manual

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

BODYWORK & CHASSIS
 

Patchy BL build quality meant that most cars succumbed to rust, and there are some specific places to investigate. The bottom of the doors, the sills, and the front valance below the bumper were common problem areas. A good look underneath is advisable, too, as the floorpan in the front footwells was susceptible to rotting out, as were the mounting points for the rear subframe. However, remaining examples are likely to have been repaired, and replacement panels are easily available if further work is necessary. Faded paintwork and damaged exterior trim are other things to look for.

 

ENGINE

The venerable A-series engine means there is little to worry about here. A complete re-build or replacement is within the scope of the DIY mechanic, and there are a huge number of Mini specialists to call upon for parts or advice. There are some well-known weak points to watch out for, including oil leaks and worn timing chains. Blown head gaskets, failed water pumps, and leaking core plugs aren’t uncommon, but regular maintenance should prevent many of these problems occurring. However, the ease with which these engines can be maintained is one of the plus points of Metro ownership. Everything is easily accessible and service items are cheap so there is little excuse for a previous owner not to have kept things in tip-top condition. 

 

RUNNING GEAR

Simple four-speed transmissions make for an easy ownership proposition. Manual ‘boxes can suffer from selection problems due to a faulty reverse-gear bush, while worn synchromesh may affect hard-used cars – a reconditioned unit is a cost‑effective cure. The popular automatics are largely trouble-free. Like the Mini, the transmission was mounted in the sump and shared the engine’s oil supply, so regular oil and filter changes will help to prolong gearbox life. Steering and braking systems were conventional and only regular maintenance is needed. The suspension is a little more tricky, employing the clever ‘Hydragas’ system at each corner. While this gave an excellent ride, repairs are difficult as replacement units aren’t available new. Specialist equipment is required to recharge the units, and while this may fix a car that appears to sag, be wary if problems continue. Corroded suspension pipework is common, but replacement pipes are easy to fit.

 


INTERIOR

Simple four-speed transmissions make for an easy ownership proposition. Manual ‘boxes can suffer from selection problems due to a faulty reverse-gear bush, while worn synchromesh may affect hard-used cars – a reconditioned unit is a cost‑effective cure. The popular automatics are largely trouble-free. Like the Mini, the transmission was mounted in the sump and shared the engine’s oil supply, so regular oil and filter changes will help to prolong gearbox life. Steering and braking systems were conventional and only regular maintenance is needed. The suspension is a little more tricky, employing the clever ‘Hydragas’ system at each corner. While this gave an excellent ride, repairs are difficult as replacement units aren’t available new. Specialist equipment is required to recharge the units, and while this may fix a car that appears to sag, be wary if problems continue. Corroded suspension pipework is common, but replacement pipes are easy to fit.

 

OUR VERDICT

Despite coming from a British Leyland that was not at its best, the Metro was actually a fine small car. It outperformed its competitors with a superb combination of comfort, versatility, and excellent handling and roadholding. Suspension issues aside, simple mechanicals make the Metro an attractive proposition for the classic enthusiast while a wide network of parts suppliers and specialists guarantee low running costs too. Find a nice, rust-free example and you’ll certainly enjoy what this British small car has to offer. 

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