Monday, October 28, 2013

Alameda Street Sighting - 1956 Nash Metropolitan Convertible

There are some cars that, when you see them, you just have to smile. One of the cutest vehicles to come out of the 1950s has to be the Nash Metropolitan.

The Metropolitan was a revolutionary concept for an American manufacturer, a small car marketed to women as a second vehicle to be used for shopping or commuting. It was not the first of its kind in the budding subcompact segment, as several companies had tried compacts in the 1930s and 1940s like Crosley and American Bantam. Chevrolet came up with the stillborn 1947 Cadet concept and Willys devised the horribly named 6/66 prototype, neither of which went into production. The small car market, miniscule as it was, was dominated by imported cars like the VW Beetle, British sports cars and the occasional odd French Renault or Citroen. Most American manufacturers at the time dismissed the market segment, as buyers preferred full-size cars. One of the few American small cars in the early '50s, the Hudson Jet, failed pretty badly. The six-cylinder Willys Aero also sold in small numbers. Then Nash designed a tiny bathtub on wheels, contracted with Austin to build it in England, and sold it in North America as the Metropolitan.

The Met was offered as a hardtop or convertible, with an Austin-sourced four and a three-speed stick. While famed Italian designer Pininfarina had been involved with design work on other Nash products, he didn't want to be associated with the almost comical-looking Metropolitan which used similar corporate styling. The cars came well-equipped despite their small size and low price. They were not without their foibles, of course. The car had no trunk, only a storage cubby accessed by folding down the rear seatback. It was a surprisingly good handler on the road thanks to its light weight, though on the highway the little engine had to rev unusually high to keep up with traffic.

This Metropolitan was a lucky find for me. I was driving through Alameda and happened to spot it halfway down the block to my left while crossing an intersection. Were it not for Alameda's 25-mph speed limits I probably would have missed it. The color combination is hard to miss, a bright red over white with the trademark dogleg divider first seen in 1956. The color is a unique treatment I haven't seen before; usually the white lower paint follows the body crease across the hood and ends halfway up the headlights instead of following the body seams straight down on the leading edge of the fenders. It's a Series III car with the larger 1.5 liter Austin engine and various improvements. It was around this time that management was getting ready to market the Metropolitan as its own brand, without Nash badging. I suspect this car may be a late 1956 model as the front bears only the stylized "M" badge and no Nash logos. For that reason I initially thought the car was a '57 model, but a posting on the New York Times website by the owner specifies the car as a '56.

Condition is quite good; I'd call it a nice driver. There are a few scratches and a dent on the driver's door, otherwise all the trim's in place and looking shiny. The owner affectionately calls it Rosie. It's an appropriate name for a cute, playful looking roadster that turns heads and makes people smile everywhere she goes.




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