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Nash Metropolitan: the first American subcompact

1961 AMC Metropolitan cars

After launching the popular Rambler, Nash worked for many years on an even smaller car. Its first public concept, the NXI (Nash Experimental International), was shown in 1949, followed after one year by the NKI (Nash Kelvinator International). The name of the car was to be NKI Custom until shortly after production began, and new badges had to be retrofitted to early cars.

The concepts were designed by independent stylist William Flajole, using the Fiat 500 chassis and running gear; the Nash Metropolitan was styled by Battista “Pinin” Farina.

Austin B-series engineNash engineered the body and suspension, but they used Austin’s little 1.2 liter (73 cubic inch) four-cylinder A-40 engine. Small but well engineered, the engine had aluminum pistons, overhead valves, a counterbalanced crankshaft, and a Zenith downdraft carburetor. Its low compression (7.2:1) allowed it to use poor gasoline, but it only had 42 horsepower; 0-60 times were around 30 seconds, nearly double that of the flat-head six-cylinder Plymouth Savoy. The transmission was a three-speed manual column shift.

Nash-AMC MetStarting in 1954, Austin built the Nash Metropolitan under contract, using Fisher & Ludlow bodies, in Longbridge, England. The car was then shipped to the United States. There were two models, both two-doors: a convertible and hardtop. They were unit-body designs, at a time when most cars were body-on-frame.

Far smaller than any American car of the era, the Nash looked even smaller than it was. It had an 85 inch wheelbase and 150 inch length, with a height of under 55 inches; its modern shape certainly stood out, and the short wheelbase and long overhangs must have made the ride interesting.

 1954 Nash
Plymouth Savoy
1956 Metropolitan
Weight 1,785-1,825 lb3,000 lb 
Horsepower 42 110 52

Shortly before the Metropolitan was launched, Nash merged with Hudson to form the American Motors Corporation. It would later drop both brands in favor of Rambler and, later, AMC, but for now, the staid, upscale Hudson dealers were sent Hudson Metropolitans.

nash metropolitan

Like the moder Mini and Fiat 500, the Metropolitan was not marketed as an economy car, but as an economical premium car, ideal for commuting; its size was designed to allow for European sales, where traditional American cars were rapidly dying out because of their size.

The retail price for the convertible was $1,479; the hardtop was $1,445. Neither was among the cheapest new American cars, and features that were optional on other low-end cars were standard on the Metropolitan, including turn signals, map light, electric windshield wipers, and dual sun visors.

Hardtops had two-tone paint; popular options included a radio, heater, and whitewalls. The radio and heater were extremely popular largely because the factory fitted them to nearly all the Metropolitans they made, giving off-the-lot customers no choice.

Nash Metropolitan carsSales were low at first, Nash Metropolitan, possibly because the Metropolitan was marketed specifically to women (its first spokesman was 1954’s “Miss America”); other cars marketed to women also failed, most notably the Dodge LaFemme.

Desite low sales, a second generation was launched in 1956; the Nash Metropolitan 1500 was upgraded to a 1.5 liter Austin B-series engine with 8.3:1 compression, resulting in 52 hp (a 10-hp boost) and “up to 40 miles per gallon.” The suspension was upgraded with longer, outward-braced diagonally placed springs, which reduced body roll and absorbed road shocks better.

AMC Metropolitan scriptThe underhood changes were matched by a new hood with a new mesh grille; a stainless-steel side strip separating the two colors; a revised interior; and a black dashboard replacing the body-colored dashboards. The upgraded 1500 sold far better than the original, though still in small numbers, despite a price increase to $1,527-$1,551 (hardtop and convertible).

Floyd Clymer brought a 1957 Nash Metropolitan 1500 up Pikes Peak, and famed reviewer Tom McCahill wrote that it was “a fleet, sporty little bucket.” Motor Trend achieved 30 mpg in traffic, and 27 mpg at a steady 60 mph; cornering, steering, and general feel were highly rated, though ride on rough roads was criticized. Quality was claimed to be surprisingly high.

Nash Metropolitan 1500

In 1959, Nash made Metropolitan its own brand, also adding a glove box door, seat adjusters, and window vents. These final Metropolitans stepped up to a 55-horsepower A-55 Austin engine.

In 1962, AMC dropped the Metropolitan. Between Nash, AMC, and Hudson, they had sold 94,986 of the Hudson, AMC, and Nash Metropolitans, enough to finally wear out the tooling, not enough to make the Metropolitans a common sight at car shows. The Metropolitan never came close to the Nash Rambler. Had they held on until 1973, AMC would have been seen as prescient; but it is not likely that the company ever recovered even the modest $2 million development cost of the original Metropolitan, and it seems likely that they only kept the car going because the tooling was already paid for.

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