From Small Things: The Nash Metropolitan and the Birth of American Motors

Diminutive size, clown-car looks, and Fifties-style two-tone paint — it could only be the Nash Metropolitan. Designed in Wisconsin and built in England, the “Met” was one of America’s first subcompact cars. More than that, it helped to make the career of a former Mormon missionary named George Romney and to transform Nash Motors into the American Motors Corporation (AMC).

1957 Nash Metropolitan side


In 1916, former General Motors president Charles W. Nash acquired the Thomas B. Jeffery Company, a struggling automaker based in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Nash renamed the company Nash Motors and managed to carve out a modest but respectable niche for it in the crowded auto industry of the 1920s. Charlie Nash was a good manager and kept the company afloat through the worst years of the Depression.

In 1936, Nash, by then 72 years old, asked his friend Walter P. Chrysler (another GM veteran) if he could recommend any candidates who might take the reins at Nash Motors and allow an old man to finally retire in peace. At Chrysler’s suggestion, Nash contacted George W. Mason, who since the late twenties had been president of the highly successful Kelvinator Corporation, a leader in the then-new electric refrigeration industry. Before Kelvinator, Mason had been an automotive executive, working at both Studebaker and Dodge early in his career. In the early twenties, he and Chrysler had worked together at the ailing Maxwell-Chalmers company, which was subsequently reorganized as the Chrysler Corporation. Mason was a colorful figure — big, blustery, and gregarious, with a cigar perpetually clamped between his teeth — but he was also a shrewd businessman who had more than quadrupled Kelvinator’s business despite the pressures of the Great Depression.

Mason rejected Nash’s initial overture, seeing no great reason to make a lateral career move. When Nash refused to take no for an answer, Mason suggested that rather than his leaving Kelvinator, they instead merge the two companies. It was an attractive alternative, allowing Nash to not only find a successor, but also expand and diversify in one stroke. Nash agreed and the result was the Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, established in 1937. Nash became chairman of the new company, a post he retained until his death in 1948, while Mason became president.

Mason had no illusions about the challenge he faced at Nash. The new company’s automotive business was on the upswing after the doldrums of the early thirties, with production for the 1937 model year reaching 77,000 units, but that was still only good for 13th place in the industry — ahead of Willys, Hudson, and Graham, but well behind Ford, Chevrolet, Plymouth, and even Studebaker. Nash cars were well engineered and attractive, but their market position left something to be desired. The only way Nash would thrive was if it offered distinctive products that the “Big Three” did not.

Nash already had some novel features, including the sophisticated thermostatically controlled “Weather Eye” heater that debuted for 1938. By 1941, engineering VP Nils Erik Wahlberg would inaugurate even more daring concepts, including America’s first true unit-bodied sedan, the fuel-efficient Nash 600. Thanks to its unitary construction, the 600 was both roomier and 500 pounds (227 kg) lighter than its competitors and capable of at least 25% better gas mileage. The 600 was followed after the war by the radically streamlined Nash Airflyte models of 1949–51, with their unmistakable “bathtub” aerodynamic styling.


In 1942, Nash’s chief engineer, Meade Moore, proposed an even more radical move: a compact car. Moore had observed that most cars were used for relatively short trips and concluded that the average American automobile was ridiculously large for such duties. He saw a niche for a small, fuel-efficient commuter car.

Mason was not opposed to the idea of smaller cars, but he was less sanguine about Nash’s future as a small, independent company. Although sales in the postwar years were strong, he knew that Nash had neither the revenue nor the capital to compete effectively with GM, Ford, and Chrysler. In 1946, he approached the Hudson Motor Company and Packard to propose that the three companies merge into a single American Motors Corporation. At the time, both Hudson and Packard were enjoying good business and neither was interested.

Rebuffed, Mason turned his attention back to Moore’s small-car proposal. He agreed with Moore that there was a market. Better still, it was one that the Big Three were not yet tapping. As Mason was presumably aware, both Ford and Chevrolet had already announced and then shelved plans for postwar compacts of their own.

Developing a compact car that Americans would actually buy represented (and still represents) a unique challenge. Unlike in many other parts of the world, a car’s running costs in the U.S. depend far more on the original price than on the car’s size, engine displacement, or even fuel economy. (The price of fuel wouldn’t become an American preoccupation until the seventies.) U.S. roads and parking spaces will generally accommodate all but the most grotesquely large automobiles, so American buyers have no overriding motivation to purchase a smaller car other than personal preference or lower price. Since small cars don’t cost significantly less to build than larger ones, automakers inevitably concluded that the latter were a better commercial bet.

That had been the conclusion of Ford and Chevrolet and it was the attitude of many Nash executives. Early on, the only ones at Nash-Kelvinator who really believed that Nash should venture where GM and Ford had declined to tread were Mason, Moore, controller Jack Timpy, and George Romney, who became Mason’s special assistant in 1948. Nonetheless, Mason stuck to his guns, leading to the compact Nash Rambler, launched in April 1950.

1950 Nash Custom Landau front 3q copyright 2006
George Mason believed the compact Nash Rambler would be more successful if it was marketed not as cheap transportation, but as a luxurious second car for upscale buyers. As a result, the initial model was this well-trimmed Rambler Custom Landau, with an electrically retractable fabric roof. Priced at $1,808, the Rambler was actually more expensive than the much bigger Nash Statesman. (Photo: “1950-nash-001” copyright 2006 (photographed by Douglas Wilkinson (DougW at English Wikipedia) for The copyright holder of this file allows anyone to use it for any purpose, provided that the copyright holder is properly attributed. Redistribution, derivative work, commercial use, and all other use is permitted. The image was resized in 2008 by Aaron Severson.)


Even before the Rambler debuted, Mason and Romney were already thinking about an even smaller car. In late 1948, Mason hired Detroit design firm Kehrig-Flajole Associates to develop a prototype of a subcompact automobile dubbed NXI, for “Nash Experimental International.”

Kehrig-Flajole was an appropriate choice for the project; William Flajole had previously been a designer at the coachbuilder Murray, where he had led the development of a compact car proposal for Ford. The proposal had been rejected by Henry Ford II in 1945, but after the end of the war, Flajole began giving public lectures on the virtues of smaller cars. His talks attracted the attention of Nash VP A.M. Wimble, who in turn suggested Flajole to George Mason. At Mason’s direction, Flajole created a series of sketches for the NXI project and then developed a prototype, based on a Fiat 500 “Topolino” imported for the purpose. The prototype, built in great secrecy at Kehrig-Flajole’s Utica, Michigan, workshops, was completed by late 1949.

While Mason liked the results of Flajole’s work, he was still hesitant about public reaction. The Rambler was already small by American standards — 175.8 inches (4,465 mm) long on a 100-inch (2,540mm) wheelbase — but the Topolino-based NXI was fully 31 inches (78.3 cm) shorter on an 84-inch (2,134mm) wheelbase. (By comparison, a 1950 Nash Ambassador was 210 inches (5,334 mm) long on a 121-inch (3,073mm) wheelbase and a 1950 Chevrolet was 197.5 inches (5,017 mm) long.) Mason decided to hedge his bets with a remarkably elaborate market research program.

In early 1950, the NXI prototype was shown in a series of “Surviews” (surveys/previews — what today would be called focus groups) around the country. The results were promising, so Nash followed up by sending out more than a quarter of a million questionnaires entitled, “Does America Want the Economy Car?” The unusually candid questionnaire included pictures and specifications of the NXI, but admitted that it was strictly a trial balloon and that no specific production model was planned.

Nonetheless, response to the NXI was enthusiastic. Encouraged by these results and by the relatively good reception the Rambler had received, Mason decided to go forward. Production cost, however, remained a daunting problem. Since the small car would share even less with other Nash models than the Rambler did, the company accountants estimated tooling costs at more than $20 million, far more than the company could afford.


In late 1949, George Mason had signed an agreement to supply England’s Donald Healey with engines and running gear for a small number of Nash-Healey sports cars. Perhaps inspired by that enterprise — and the 1949 devaluation of the British pound — Mason decided to outsource production of the NXI to a British company.

In late 1952, Nash announced that bodies for the new car would be built by the English firm of Fisher & Ludlow, Ltd. with engines and running gear purchased from the Austin Motor Company (which had recently merged with its old rival Morris to form the British Motor Company, or BMC). Thanks in part to the currency devaluation, the tooling costs were only $800,000, low even by the standards of 1952 and a fraction of what it would have cost to tool for production in the States.

1957 Nash Metropolitan front 3q
The Nash Metropolitan looked like a scaled-down version of the big Nash sedans of 1952, including their shrouded front wheels. The latter were introduced with the 1949 Nash Airflyte cars, partly at the insistence of George Mason, who wanted Nash styling to be instantly identifiable. Shrouded wheels were more aerodynamic, but increased the turning circle noticeably and made tire-changing a hassle. The Z-shaped side trim was added for 1956, allowing two-tone paint jobs.

The production car bore a distinct resemblance to Nash’s 1952 Golden Anniversary models, the styling of which had been publicly credited to Italy’s Pinin Farina, although they were primarily the work of Nash styling chief Ed Anderson. The NKI (Nash-Kelvinator International) Custom, as the little car was initially called, shared the Golden Anniversary cars’ grilles, curious cut-down doors and skirted wheels, making the subcompact look like a big Nash that had shrunk in the wash.

In January 1954, three months after the start of production and about two months before it made its public debut, the car was renamed Nash Metropolitan, reflecting its intended purpose as a small urban runabout. There were two body styles, a hardtop coupe and a convertible, both with a tiny, mostly decorative fold-down rear seat. Suspension and running gear were a combination of Nash design and Austin components while the engine was Austin’s 74 cu. in. (1,200 cc) B-series four.

1957 Nash Metropolitan front
Nash Metropolitans used Austin’s OHV B-series four-cylinder engines — initially 1,200 cc (73 cu. in.), later expanded to 1,489 cc (92 cu. in.). The latter produced 52 gross horsepower (39 kW), upped to 55 horsepower in 1959. Austins had a four-speed transmission, but to keep costs down, the Met had a three-speed, created by the simple expedient of removing the first gear from the Austin gearbox. Note the stylized “M” badge on the grille; this car was built after the abandonment of the Nash and Hudson nameplates. The grille is also different from those of early models.


The Nash Metropolitan went on sale in March 1954 with base prices under $1,500 — around $100 less than a basic Rambler DeLuxe sedan or a six-cylinder Ford Mainline business coupe. Although it had only 42 hp (31 kW), the Metropolitan coupe only weighed about 1,800 pounds (820 kg), so its performance was similar to that of the bigger, six-cylinder Rambler: 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) took about 22 seconds and top speed was around 75 mph (120 km/h). Fuel economy was commendable: More than 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) was possible even in city traffic, with close to 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km) on the road.

Sadly, the Metropolitan was not nearly as nimble as its tiny size suggested. In keeping with American tastes, its suspension was soft, producing vague, sloppy handling. Nash built a prototype of a sportier version with a twin-carb, high-compression engine, four-speed transmission, and tighter suspension tuning, but it was never intended for production.

Mason’s initial projection was for 10,000 sales and the Metropolitan met that target handily; sales for the 1954 calendar year totaled 13,905. Had Nash paid to tool the Metropolitan in Kenosha, it would have been a money-loser, but since the total development costs had been only $2 million, it was a modest success. Mason extended his contracts with Fisher & Ludlow and BMC.

1960 Nash Metropolitan 2010 Chicago Geek CCBYSA30 Generic
Stretching 149.5 inches (3,797 mm) overall, the Nash Metropolitan is about the size of the modern, BMW-designed MINI, although the Metropolitan rides a shorter, 85-inch (2,159mm) wheelbase. It was nominally a 2+2 thanks to the tiny folding rear seat, but Mets are two-seaters for all practical purposes, since the rear seat was only suitable for small children or pets. Base price of the coupe was $1,587 in 1957; the convertible was only $24 more. (Photo: “Can Someone Buy Me This Car, Please?” © 2010 Chicago Geek; used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license)


By that time, George Mason’s attention was elsewhere. In 1952, he had once again approached Packard and Hudson about the prospects of a merger. Although both again refused, by the end of 1953, it was clear that Hudson could not survive on its own. Sales of the dated “Step Down” Hudsons were plummeting, the compact Hudson Jet was proving to be an expensive disaster, and Hudson’s business — like that of all the independent automakers — was being slammed by a vicious price war between Ford and Chevrolet.

On January 14, 1954, Hudson agreed to a friendly merger with Nash. Effective May 1, 1954, the two companies became the American Motors Corporation, the fourth-largest automaker in the U.S. George Mason became both president and CEO while Hudson CEO A. E. Barit became a consultant and a member of the new board of directors. George Romney became vice president.

Mason still had his eye on Packard, which he hoped would become the upscale division of the new corporation. He had already made an agreement with Packard president James Nance to buy Packard’s new V8 engines and Ultramatic transmissions for AMC use, since neither Nash nor Hudson yet had a V8 of its own. The Packard board, however, was distracted with the possibility of a merger with Studebaker and rebuffed Mason’s merger offers, although neither party closed the door to future possibilities.

Later that year, Mason was hospitalized with an attack of acute pancreatitis. He subsequently developed pneumonia and died on October 9 at the age of 63. In the wake of Mason’s death, George Romney became president and CEO of American Motors.

1957 Nash Metropolitan roof
Most Nash Metropolitan hardtops had the roof painted white, which makes them look like convertibles with the top up. The divided rear window, similar to that on full-size Nash sedans was becoming anachronistic by the mid-fifties as automakers shifted to curved, one-piece backlights.

Romney’s ascendancy quickly put an end to the prospects of a merger between AMC and Studebaker-Packard. Neither Romney nor Nance held a particularly high opinion of the other and neither was interested in any deal that would put the other in charge. Nance initially told the press that he would be taking over control of AMC from Romney by January 1955, but about a week after Mason’s death, Romney publicly scuttled that possibility, announcing AMC was not contemplating any further mergers.


Had anyone other than George Romney taken over AMC, it’s quite possible they would have abandoned the Rambler and Nash Metropolitan and focused on retrenching in the middle-class sector. Hudson and Kaiser’s compacts had been commercial failures and GM president Harlow Curtice had declared that small cars were a passing fad. Some AMC executives still felt similarly.

Romney’s commitment to compact cars, however, exceeded even Mason’s. Mason had never intended to give up on big cars; he saw the Rambler and Metropolitan as useful sidelines, but sidelines nonetheless. Romney, however, saw compacts as the way of the future. His instincts were borne out when the 1955 Rambler line outsold all of that year’s bigger Nash lines combined. A year later, Romney decided to drop the Nash and Hudson names and apply the Rambler badge to all of AMC’s remaining products except the Metropolitan.

1957 Nash Metropolitan dash
Nash Metropolitan interiors were relatively plush, in keeping with George Mason’s belief that small cars should not be marketed as cheap cars. Most Metropolitans had a radio and Nash’s excellent Weather Eye heater, although both were nominally optional. The 80 mph (129 km/h) speedometer was only slightly generous; top speed of a 92 cu. in. (1,489 cc) Metropolitan was perhaps 78 mph (125 km/h). The auxiliary gauges under the left side of the dash are not stock.

Thanks to its overseas production line, the Metropolitan survived the AMC merger and consolidation despite meager 1955 sales of only 6,096 units. Starting in August 1954, it was sold by both Nash and Hudson dealers, although the cars themselves were identical save for badges and emblems. The Metropolitan received some modest styling and mechanical changes in November 1955, including a slightly bigger, 91 cu. in. (1,489 cc) engine with 52 horsepower (39 kW). After the Nash and Hudson brands were dropped, the Met was marketed and sold simply as “Metropolitan.”

In the fall of 1956, BMC, perhaps concerned about slow sales in North America, asked Romney for permission to market the Metropolitan under the Austin nameplate in overseas markets where AMC had no presence. Around 9,400 “Austin Metropolitans,” many of them right-hand-drive, were sold in the U.K., Europe, and New Zealand between 1956 and 1961.

U.S. sales of both the Metropolitan and Rambler lines rallied after 1957 thanks to the “Eisenhower recession,” which sent big-car sales plunging. George Romney’s impassioned support of compact cars and tongue-in-cheek derision of “Detroit dinosaurs,” which had seemed quixotic only three years earlier, suddenly sounded prophetic. The best Nash had ever achieved was tenth place in domestic sales, but by 1959, Rambler was in sixth place, ahead of Buick and Dodge. It was fourth for 1960 and achieved third place in 1961, behind only Chevrolet and Ford.

1957 Nash Metropolitan tail
Early Nash Metropolitans had no trunk lids, so the only trunk access was through the rear seat. An external trunk lid was finally added in 1959, although the location of the spare wheel still made access rather awkward. The Continental-style spare was added primarily to increase cargo space (which was not generous in any case), but it added a sporty touch.

Metropolitan sales were strong during the recession, despite minimal advertising: 15,317 for 1957, 13,128 for 1958, and 22,309 for 1959, enough that sales of the overseas models had to be temporarily halted to meet U.S. demand. By the start of the 1960 model year, though, its days were numbered. The Metropolitan’s styling and engineering were now almost eight years old and it wasn’t a great deal cheaper than the new Ford Falcon, Chevrolet Corvair, or Plymouth Valiant. Metropolitan sales didn’t justify the costs of a replacement and so production came to an end in the spring of 1961. By then, sales were slow enough that unsold 1960 models were re-certified as 1961 or 1962 models. The last few cars were sold in March 1962.

Later that year, George Romney parlayed the success of American Motors into a successful run for the governorship of Michigan. He followed that with an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1968 and subsequently became Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 1969 to 1973.

Romney’s successor at AMC was sales VP Roy Abernethy, who did not share Romney’s affection for compacts and tried with mixed results to move AMC back in a more mainstream direction. Abernethy’s successor, Roy Chapin, Jr., even tried introducing sporty models like the Javelin and AMX and allowing the Rambler American to die after a last, exciting gasp in 1969. Chapin subsequently tried to reinvent the compact economy car with the Gremlin and Pacer, but by then AMC had lost too much ground to rival manufacturers.

Much like the modern smart fortwo, the Nash Metropolitan still has a strong cult following. Thanks to its adorable styling and admirable frugality, the Metropolitan was more successful as a conversation piece and fashion statement than as practical transportation. Still, it was America’s first successful subcompact car and it set a precedent for marketing foreign-engineered or -built cars under domestic nameplates, a trend that has since made the distinction between “domestic” and “import” very hazy indeed. As automakers scurry to bring their small European- and Japanese-market cars stateside, the old Metropolitan once more looks like the wave of the future.



Our principal sources for the history of the Metropolitan included Dave Austin, Metropolitan Owners Club of Perth, Western Australia, www.metropolitan-library. com, accessed 20 January 2010; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); Arch Brown, “Why Studebaker-Packard Never Merged With AMC and other revelations by Governor George Romney,” Special Interest Autos #66 (December 1981), pp. 50-55; Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002 (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Jenni Current, “Met Pictures,” Hoosier Mets, n.d., www.hoosiermets. com, accessed 24 December 2008; John A. Conde, “Meet the Met,” Special Interest Autos #6 (July-August 1971), p. 35–37, 56; Jim Donnelly, “Amazing Mets,” Hemmings Classic Car #53 (February 2009), pp. 14–19; Ken Gross, “Motores Prudentiores: 1962 Nash Metropolitan,” Special Interest Autos #29 (July-August 1975), reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Postwar American Independents: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002); John F. Katz, “SIA comparison Report: ’57 Metropolitan vs. ’57 Volkswagen,” Special Interest Autos #129 (June 1992), pp. 10-17; Charles D. Test, “History of Metropolitans,”, n.d., www.chuckstoyland. com, accessed 26 December 2008; and the Nash Metropolitan Wikipedia® page (, accessed 24 December 2008).

Additional details came from the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Cars That Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International, 1981); John Baker’s “Nash Metropolitan” page on Austin Memories, n.d., www.austinmemories. com/ page29/page29.html, accessed 28 December 2008; Arch Brown, “1941 Nash 600: Bristling with innovations, this pre-war economy car offered excellent value” and “The Man Behind the ‘600’: George W. Mason,” Special Interest Autos #60 (November-December 1980); “Another Visit with George Romney,” Special Interest Autos #77 (September-October 1983), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Hudsons: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Terry Ehrich (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News: 2001); and “Why Studebaker-Packard Never Merged With AMC and other revelations by Governor George Romney,” Special Interest Autos #66 (December 1981), pp. 50-55; and Michael Lamm, “1950 Nash Rambler: America’s First Successful Post-war Compact,” Special Interest Autos #24 (September-October 1974), both of which are reprinted in The Hemmings Book of Nashes: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, ed. Richard A. Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2002); David L. Lewis, “Ford’s Postwar Light Car,” Special Interest Autos #13 (October-November 1972), pp. 22–27, 57; Karl Ludvigsen, “The Truth About Chevy’s Cashiered Cadet,” Special Interest Autos #20 (January-February 1974), pp. 16–19; “PERSONNEL: Changes of the Week, Oct. 25, 1954,” TIME 25 October 1954, www.time. com, accessed 26 December 2008; and from James Arthur Ward, The Fall of the Packard Motor Car Company (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995).

Special thanks to Chris Custin of MOCNA for correcting a factual error in a comment on 20 December 2015.

This article’s title was suggested by the Bruce Springsteen song “From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come),” originally written for Springsteen’s 1980 album The River, but not released until 2003.


Add a Comment
  1. Aaron,

    I’m really, really, really surprised that you didn’t consult Patrick Foster’s "The Metropolitan Story" book for this article.

    It’s easily the best book Foster ever wrote, and I consider it the standard text on the subject. It really provides the human side to the story featuring extended interviews with Flajole and others who were at Nash/AMC at the time.

    I like stories that include quotes from the people who created these auto histories. It keeps them from reading like book reports. "The Metropolitan Story" has personal perspective in abundance.

    I’m not a big Foster fan (by any stretch), but he had access to Metropolitan Sales Manager Jim Watson’s personal files, so I consider this book authoritative and well written.

    I recommend it for all Metropolitan fans! —-Todd Ruel

    1. I didn’t have access to a copy of it, unfortunately, and the only copy the public library system had at that time was reference, so it would have been difficult to get at it.

  2. Hi AAron;

    The History of the Metropolitan with respect to William Flajols contribution is a bit misleading in your History synopsis in my estimation in certain sections of your fine article on the Met.

    Specifically, when your article states that “Bill Flajole revamped the styling of the NXI prototype to resemble Nash’s 1952 Golden Anniversary models.” , I believe that at face value this statement is not correct. Actually, it is more to the truth of the matter that the creation NXI prototype was the sole reason why the entire Nash lineup was updated by 1952. It was a result of the presentation to Mason of the finished NXI in late 1949 that lead directly to Nash changing their entire lineup to resemble what the NXI had created-namely a hood lower than the fenders, armrests incorporated into the door panels, and McPherson strut type suspension.

    Those were the main highlights. Nash could not tool up fast enough to reflect these changes, and the earliest date to incorporate the new design concepts was 1952. Flajole did not revamp anything. He gave Nash all they needed with the NXI and Nash subsequently ran with it as fast as they could.

    Flajole had to threaten to sue Nash in order to be compensated for the changes that took place to their entire line in 1952. At first, he was only paid for producing the NXI, but eventually was compensated by Nash before any legal action actually took place soon after the 1952 line was unveiled.

    Best wishes!

    Chris Custin

    MOCNA History Team

    1. Chris,

      Thanks for your comment. I move it to the Metropolitan article rather than the administrative message so that other readers will have a better chance to see it. (I also redacted your email address — if you really want to include it, I’ll put it back, but I fear the spambots will immediately pounce on it!)

      I removed the line about Flajole updating the car, since as you say that much is incorrect. As for the NXI being the source of the 1952 Golden Anniversary styling, I’d like to see more evidence on that before making a judgment on that.

      To be clear, Nash did not use MacPherson struts, which were then a recent invention subject to a Ford-owned patent. In a MacPherson strut, the shock absorber tube/spindle effectively replaces the upper wishbone/control arm and provides wheel location as well as damping. The Nash suspension, first seen in 1950 on the Rambler, was still double wishbone — it just had high-mounted coils, sitting on top of the upper wishbones, above the spindles. (A lot of U.S.-market unitized Fords did the same thing, including the Falcon and most of its direct descendants.) The point of high-mounted coil springs is to improve ride quality, which is definitely why they were adopted for the Rambler and the Met and presumably why Nash subsequently incorporated them into the rest of the line. It helped that the big Nashes were already unitized; high-mounted coils, like struts, really need a unitized or at least semi-unitized structure because the spring loads go directly into the body.

      1. The point of high-mounted coil springs is that the upper end of the spring can react against the unibody wheelhousing, whereas a spring mounted on the lower control arm generally reacts against a frame projection/spring pocket located just under the upper control arm. If there’s no frame to form a spring pocket, a low-mounted spring becomes a challenge.

        A disadvantage of the high-mounted spring/unibody wheelwell stamping, is reduced engine-compartment side clearance. This takes a toll in exhaust routing and allowable overall engine width, with emphasis on cylinder-head width on V-type engines. None of this would be a particular problem for an in-line engine.

        In short, designers who want a unitized body (using front control arms and coil springs) are stuck with a high-mounted spring. Designers would not want a high-mounted spring so much that they’d design a unit body to implement that spring location.

        Of course, if you ditch the front coil springs entirely, you can have a unit-body with smaller wheelhousings, by using torsion bar springs on the lower control arms as Chrysler did.

        1. A high-mounted coil does react against the upper portion of the wheelhouse, but I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that high-mounted springs are obligatory for monocoque cars with coils and wishbones, which is demonstrably not true. There are a variety of ways to create a spring perch with unit-bodied cars, but probably the most common is to have the spring react against the underside of the front crossmember, which you can do even with struts (see the Ford Fox platform for a well-known example of the latter).

          Nash adopted the high-mounted springs principally because they wanted longer coils for better ride quality. Wahlberg’s patent filing (US2635895A) also claims that approach is cheaper, which was probably a consideration.

          1. My comments were based on 1) Unibody/Unit/Monococque construction, 2) suspensions having upper and lower control arms, (double wishbone) and 3) coil front springs. The designer is forced to put the coil spring on the upper arm, reacting against the wheelwell.

            The Fox platform does not use an upper control arm. The suspension is a variation of the MacPherson Strut, except it uses a spring on the lower control arm, therefore it’s no big deal to react against a spring pocket in a frame or some extension of the crossmember.

            I’ve seen Fox-body variations where the spring is mounted on the strut like a true MacPherson. When the spring is on the strut, it may be high-mounted, but then it reacts against the wheelhouse not the crossmember.

            If there is a unit-body vehicle with upper and lower front control arms (not a Strut or Strut-variation) using a coil spring; and it isn’t mounted between the wheelhouse and upper control arm, I don’t know about it.

          2. Let’s try this again: Older front-engine monocoque cars generally have longitudinal rails running inboard of the front wheels, providing a demi-frame or pseudo-frame that carries the engine and transmission mounts. Mounted between those rails, usually, is a transverse crossmember, which passes under the engine sump and then flares up at either outer end. With double wishbone suspensions, the wishbones are mounted near each end of the crossmember, in the areas where it flares upward. The coils typically sit on each lower wishbone and act against the underside of the crossmember. This provides a fairly tidy installation and also makes it possible to isolate the front suspension from the structure by interposing rubber bushings between the crossmember and the longitudinal rails. In some cases, there’s a full front subframe that serves the same purpose, but the principles are basically the same.

            Examples include older RWD Fiats, pre-1977 Toyota Coronas, early ’60s Opel Rekords, the Volvo Amazon and 140, and many others. None of these cars used struts, all were unibody, all had double wishbones with coil springs, and none of them mounted the spring atop the upper wishbone. Take a look at some brochures or service manuals — it was really very common. Some of the period brochures illustrate the layout very clearly.

            Keep in mind that unitized construction came into use for mass-market cars a full decade before the MacPherson strut was invented and well before Nash thought of putting the coil atop the upper arm of a double wishbone layout. Most of those early unit-body cars had independent front suspension, frequent (though certainly not always) with coils.


    1. The dates may well be correct — toward the end, Metropolitan sales slowed a lot, so some cars were sold well after production had actually ended. In those days, re-titling an unsold vehicle at the end of the model year was less legally fraught than it became later, so it was not uncommon, especially for independent companies.

  4. Apart from the Metropolitan Wagon prototype, were other variants considered or even a slightly larger more powerful replacement with improved rear seats (thanks to being enlarged to about 160-inches)?

    1. Not to my knowledge. The sales probably didn’t justify the tooling expense that would have been involved in stretching it meaningfully, and by 1958, AMC had revived the short-wheelbase Rambler American for people who wanted something bigger than a Met and smaller than the midsize Rambler.

  5. I have been looking for a long while trying to find out how many Hudson metropolitans were made, can anyone help me with this?

    1. I have not seen any breakdown of how many Mets were badged that way, I think perhaps because it was a decision made after the cars were manufactured and imported. All the production figures I’ve seen are simply for Metropolitans, total.

    2. I think they showed up only as Metropolitan (no indication of Nash or Hudson) on the title and registration.

    3. There were 4357 Metropolitans that were badged as Hudson.

      1. June,

        Thanks a lot for the info!

  6. ” … Around 9,400 “Austin Metropolitans,” many of them right-hand-drive, were sold in the U.K, Europe … AND NEW ZEALAND (BUT NOT AUSTRALIA) … between 1956 and 1961…”

    1. I didn’t know it was sold in New Zealand; I’ll add that to the text. Thanks!

      1. Yes, and they were marketed as “Nash” too, even though Austin was the higher profile brand in NZ at that time. In comparison, Nash was practically invisible. The Metropolitan could have easily been marketed instead as an “Austin.” My guess is that it was so unlike any other Austin that NZ motorists were used to, so they took the safe road and sold it as a Nash. Just a guess. Also, no idea why Australia didn’t get any. Bigger market, yet nothing. A RHD Metropolitan was sold in Melbourne, Australia recently which was ex NZ-new.

        1. It’s an interesting question. I can see a couple of possibilities: Australian Motor Industries, which assembled AMC products in CKD form for Australian sale, also imported and assembled Standards and Triumphs (and later the Toyota Corona/Tiara), so they may have decided that adding a competitive 1.5-liter model with completely different running gear didn’t make much sense. They might also have looked at the Metropolitan’s sales potential and decided it wasn’t worth devoting the assembly plant capacity in Port Melbourne. (The tariffs on imports were such that I can’t imagine there being much market for a straight import.) Conversely, AMC might have decided it wasn’t worth setting up CKD kit production.

          1. AMI in Australia started Rambler production at the tail end of the Metropolitan’s product run (1961.) Their foot-in-the-door AMC product was the Rambler Classic. British Motor Corporation Australia were otherwise building their own Austin and Morris cars in Australia. You got me thinking and this seems to make sense to me: AMC did the deal with AMI in 1960 and therefore BMC Australia would not have had the Rights to bring in the Metropolitan for 1960 and 1961. Laws were really strict in Australia too. Laws favoured local assembly and tariff concessions could be gained by the inclusion of local content (seats, carpets, brakes, A/C, interior trim, etc.) There would be no benefit in bringing the Metropolitan in to Australia as a fully built-up car, and probably not even a viable proposition. New Zealand was less strict. For New Zealand, AMC did the deal with Campbell Motor Industries (CMI) to build Ramblers long after production of the Metropolitan had ended (CMI began building Ramblers in 1964.) Prior to CMI, Ramblers were built by VW Motors in Auckland, from 1958. They also had the Nash and Hudson franchise – they would have easily brought in the Metropolitan as well as building the Ramblers. I am going to look into that. (NOTE: All Rambler production records were destroyed when Toyota took over AMI. The same thing happened in New Zealand, when Toyota took over CMI. With the passage of time, information is very hard to verify. No records. However there is a New Zealand Nash Metropolitan Owners Facebook page with some info.)

          2. If AMC’s deal with AMI was in 1960 and assembly started in 1961, Met production had already wrapped up — AMC was down to leftovers at that point — so it would make sense that they wouldn’t bother. The Rambler American filled essentially the same role, albeit less economically of fuel. (American standards for that were much more relaxed at that point, since the U.S. market considered anything under about 3.5 liters a dinky little engine.)

  7. The company Charles W Nash bought was called the Thomas B Jeffery Company, not Jeffrey. Their cars were originally named Rambler, around 1912 they were renamed Jeffery.

    1. You’re right — what an embarrassing mistake. I am correcting it throughout the text. Thanks!

  8. What exactly was so good about the Weather Eye heater?

    1. The Weather Eye system was the first real modern integrated heating and ventilation system. When the Weather Eye system was introduced in the late thirties, automotive heaters were essentially space heaters, sometimes gasoline-powered, sometimes using exhaust heat, and ventilation generally involved opening a window (or the windshield, a feature that was on its way out when Nash introduced Weather Eye). A Weather Eye heater provided thermostatically controlled mixing of fresh and heated air, managed interior airflow through pressure variations (prewar Nash advertising claimed Weather Eye could circulate air at 600 cfm with the windows closed), and used a heater core heated by engine coolant. The actual control layout varied over the years, but the principles were very similar to what eventually became the automotive norm.

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