The Way It Was
Nash Metropolitan, 1958
photograph courtesy Of the Tim Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library (Automotive history collection; Mickey Mcguire and Jim Northmore Boulevard Photographic Collection)
When the Nash Metropolitan debuted on American roads in 1954, it turned a lot of heads. Autos made in the United States back then were often as big as boats, but the peppy Metropolitan was downright dinky by comparison. And, in an era of cheap petroleum, some models of the gas guzzler ruled the roads. By comparison, the Metropolitan had a teetotaler’s thirst, getting close to 40 mpg. Other cars then could hardly be called “cute,” but that adjective was invariably applied to the Metropolitan. Before the word “subcompact” entered the lexicon, the Lilliputian car was dubbed “economy.” At $1,445 for a 1954 hardtop, it was indeed a bargain. The auto was distinctive in other respects. It was among the first vehicles to be marketed especially to women; in fact, Evelyn Ay Sempier, Miss America of ’54, was its spokesperson. It was also unusual in that it was designed in the United States (by Detroit-based designer William Flajole) but made abroad, by England’s Austin Motor Co. The Metropolitan had a bit of a convoluted history. Although it was the brainchild of Nash-Kelvinator chief George Mason, Nash merged with the Hudson Motor Car Co. in 1954, to form American Motors Corp., so some cars carried the Nash badge, while the Hudson marque was affixed when sold through Hudson showrooms. For the 1957 models onward, AMC dropped both the Nash and Hudson names, and the car was known simply as Metropolitan, which was sold through the company’s Rambler dealerships. The little auto that could was manufactured through 1961, although dealerships sold surplus cars into 1962. The Metropolitan continues to attract attention through the Metropolitan Car Owners’ Club of North America Inc., and a similar club in U.K., its cuteness undiminished.