April 6, 2020 by Doug Breithaupt
The Metropolitan is not an American car. It was built in England by Austin, has a British engine and was a captive import car for Nash, Hudson and later, AMC. It was sold in the U.K. after 1955 as an Austin Metropolitan. The design, however, was American. Offered from 1953 to 1961, the Met was an effort to provide Nash and Hudson dealers with a basic car that could compete with the VW Beetle. Today, the Met would be classified as a sub-compact. It was the first car to be marketed directly to American women as a second car. Described as cute and fun, the quirky Nash’s 1950’s styling and colors have made it niche collectible for over 50 years.
The Tootsietoy company was the only one to offer a contemporary small-scale Met. They produced a 1953-54 first generation convertible that has become one of the rarest and most valuable Tootsietoy models on the market with prices often exceeding $300 or more. I was lucky to find one many years ago.
For decades, the Tootsietoy Met was the only option for small-scale collectors. It was not until 2000 that another Met became available. The Metrorail by Hot Wheels is a quarter mile drag racer that has exchanged the 1200-1500cc Austin 4 cylinder for what appears to be a small-block V8. Hot Wheels did not make this up. Met bodies have been used for drag racing cars. Hot Wheels recently selected a Met street rod during their Legends Tour to duplicate as a new casting.
In 2003, two new Metropolitan models appeared. The best came from Johnny Lightning and represents a 1958 series III. The original release was in turquoise and white and a hard-top model. It came with a collector card. This is easily the most authentic Met to date. More recently, a convertible version was offered. It has been produced in a variety of authentic colors including those you see here, as well as black, yellow and with hot rod flames. It also came as part of the Holiday series in hot pink chrome. Note that these models include the opening trunk that was added with series III models. The JL Met castings are still in production and it is likely we will see more ice cream flavor colors in future.
The largest Met in small-scale came from Muscle Machines in 2003. The cartoonish shape make the scale difficult to gauge. It came with a plain bonnet or with an exposed V8 motor. Like the Metrorail, it represents real examples that have been customized by owners. The model is identified as a series I Met from 1954. As such, it should not include a trunk. When I purchased this one I had a choice of the stock bonnet or one with a huge V8 poking out. My selection is obvious. Other than the cartoonish dimensions, this model is well detailed and the paint is excellent.
In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit to having owned a 1961 AMC Metropolitan. I must also admit that I disliked the car very much. I found it barely had enough power to be safe in traffic and the three-speed required RPM’s over 4,000 at any speed over 50. The tiny drum brakes were simply scary. The cabin was uncomfortable with nowhere for your left arm to go. The Mets began to rust on the boats that brought them over and even a full body-off restoration seldom solves the problem. For me, the Met was cute yes, fun no. I traded it for a pickup truck.
All this did not stop me from wanting to have more Mets in small-scale and I even have some extra packaged models. Any toy car example of a car I have owned is always welcome.