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1954-1962 Metropolitan

1954 Metropolitan
When it officially went on sale, the Met convertible included a long list of standard equipment.
When it officially went on sale, the Met convertible included a long list of standard equipment.

The 1954 Metropolitan arrived in Nash showrooms on March 19, 1954, as a soft-top convertible and fixed-roof hardtop, both with all-steel unit body/chassis construction per Nash tradition.

Power was supplied by the 1,200-cubic-centimeter (73-cubic-inch) four-cylinder engine from Austin's small A-40, again front-mounted but modified with four-ring instead of three-ring pistons.

A 7.25-inch-diameter Borg and Beck clutch linked the flywheel to what was basically an Austin four-speed manual transmission with first gear blanked

off -- the same curious arrangement found in the then-new Austin-Healey sports car.

The shifter protruded from the dash, just under the steering wheel, since it was felt that most Americans wouldn't take to the usual European floorshift, though the Volkswagen Beetle was proving otherwise.

A second concession to American tastes involved the suspension. British drivers, like those on the Continent, were accustomed to a firm ride, with its accompanying advantages in the handling department. The typical American, on the other hand, preferred much softer springing.

The Met suspension ended up a sort of compromise, with a conventional rigid rear axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs and a Nash-designed front layout with coil springs mounted above orthodox A-arms.

Though there was some choppiness -- hardly a surprise given the diminutive 85-inch wheelbase -- the overall ride was comparatively soft. Styling was definitely American.

As might be expected, the Met bore a family resemblance to the new-for-1952 senior Nashes allegedly designed by Italy's Pinin Farina, but this was due to Nash's own Edmund A. Anderson doing most of the work on both cars.

Regardless, the Met was attractive in a square, chunky sort of way, livened up by a non-functional hood scoop, a jaunty rear-mount "continental" outside spare tire, and bright colors such as Spruce Green, Canyon Red, and Caribbean Blue (contrasting with a white roof on hardtops) that reminded one stylist of Neapolitan ice cream.

Two-passenger seating hurt Metropolitan sales, so a little four-seat wagon was considered. Unfortunately, it never made it into production.

For some reason, Nash president George Mason liked semi-skirted front fenders, so he insisted on them for the Metropolitan. After all, they had been a Nash trademark since the 1949 Airflyte and were also featured on the Rambler. (The original NXI prototype had them, too.)

The result was the same outsize turning circle that made any Nash product tedious to park and prompted plenty of curses when changing flats. By contrast, outward vision was exceptional in both body styles, helped by a gently rounded hood set slightly lower than the flanking fender crowns. The grille echoed the simple and pleasing "floating bar" motif of the 1953 Rambler.

As he'd done with his compact, Mason gave his subcompact a healthy helping of standard features. These included a radio, a scaled-down version of the famous Nash "Weather-Eye" heating/ventilation system, turn signals, foam-cushion seat, and a continental spare -- all typically extra-cost items at the time. Interiors were done in a surprisingly pricey blend of nylon cloth and genuine leather.

All this was to preclude any hint of cheapness, for Mason wanted the Metropolitan to be a car that anyone, regardless of wealth or status, would be proud to drive. It all added up to a fine little package for the money. Introductory prices were $1,445 for the hardtop and $1,469 for the convertible -- about a hundred dollars less than the cheapest bare-bones Rambler two-door.

Curiously, the first Metropolitans to roll off the assembly line in October 1953 were designated "NKI Custom." According to Met historian David J. Austin's Metropolitan Chronology in the AMC Rambler Club's Rambler Reader, it wasn't until January of 1954 that the Metropolitan name was settled on.

In February, after 1,869 cars had been built, installation of the NKI Custom badge was halted. The Metropolitan nameplate was installed beginning with car number 3,097 in March and retrofitted to earlier production.

To learn what the critics thought of the 1954 Metropolitan, keep reading on the next page.

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