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UK’s rarest cars: 1981 Austin Mini Metro Standard, one of only 10 left

Andrew Roberts
1981 Austin Mini Metro Standard, one of only 10 left

There is no sitting on the fence when it comes to the Metro, a car originally intended to replace the Issigonis-designed Mini. Matthew Lynch, who has owned this splendid Applejack Green example since the start of 2018, says: “You get a lot of people coming up saying, ‘Wow, I had one of those as my first car’ or ‘I learnt to drive in one’ – and then the complete opposite reaction; ‘It was a [expletive] car then, and it still is’.” 

Lynch confirms that his car is one of the few left from the first year of production. It is also, apparently, “the only one left in Applejack Green”.

Lynch also notes that the Metro “gained a reputation for being a pensioner’s shopping trolley that was only good to rust” – which is quite a contrast to the anticipation created by the advertising line of the “British Car to Beat the World” when it was launched in late 1980.

Of course, that same year also saw the Morris Ital unleashed on a public agog with indifference, for that was a museum piece as compared with the forward-looking Metro. Not even the slightly desperate (not to mention jingoistic) TV commercial could not quell the sense of excitement of this potentially world-beating product. 

The entry-level Standard version meant a spectacular lack of creature comforts such as a rear wiper, while the seats were vinyl rather than the cloth of the next-spec-up L trim

To view a W-registered Metro Standard is to be assailed by memories of 1981 – the last days of three-channel television and a time when the socially aspirational craved a Sony C7 Betamax video recorder and when BL’s supermini was genuinely fashionable.  

Car magazine thought it represented “a very big step towards widening the acceptability of the small car”, Metros appeared as Panda Cars in the uber-depressing soap opera Juliet Bravo, and of course the future Princess Diana drove an L.

Margaret Thatcher arrived in a Metro to open the Intentional Motor Show in Birmingham in October 1980, where the model was launched Credit: Graham Turner/Hulton Archive

The range was facelifted in 1984, but by that point the market was dominated by the Fiat Uno and the Peugeot 205.   

As a Standard version, the Lynch Metro is inevitably less luxurious than the Vanden Plas we featured last year; even a rear wiper and cloth trim were the preserve of the L and upwards. In the early 1980s, such limited equipment levels were par for the course and for your £3,156 you gained electric windscreen washers, a dipping rear view mirror plus seats “tailored in an attractive embossed vinyl”. 

Only 10 such poverty-specification versions are known to survive – and Lynch’s fascination with the Metro dates back to 2012. “One of my very good friends had two 1983 MG versions, and he let me take one for a spin. Being an impressionable teenager, I thought it was a great little car and have wanted one ever since.”

The 1.0-litre A-series engine was mated to a four-speed gearbox

Aside from the distinctive paint finish, Lynch especially enjoys the transmission for although customers were starting to complain about the lack of a fifth gear (and the venerable A-series pushrod engine had been around since 1951) he “loves the whine of the first gear” even if there is “a lot of travel across the ’box between second and third”.

Nearly 25 years after the demise of the Metro name, Lynch believes that attitudes to the Metro are “changing now. Most people have good comments towards the car in person though, especially at the forecourt”.

The Applejack Green example is “going to be a permanent fixture along with my MG ZT260 for summer use”.  And who could resist a car with “seat belt and brake wear warning lights on a 1981 car – way ahead of its time”?

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