There's plenty of life in the old Metro yet...

Bargains abound when buying a used Metro, but watch out for driving- school cast-offs, says James Ruppert

Easy to park, easy to drive, economical and cheap to repair. That's the profile of the perfect driving-school car. It is also a pretty convincing list of reasons to invest in a secondhand Metro. Just don't combine the two and get lumbered with an ex L-plate model that is close to collapse. Yet anyone who learnt to drive in a Metro will know just how friendly these little cars are.

That puts the Metro at the top of the shopping list for first-time owners and second car buyers who need no-thrills, cost-effective transport. With mpg in the forties, insurance premiums at laughably low levels and a plentiful supply of parts it is difficult to go wrong with this car.

Launched with a patriotic fanfare in 1980, the Metro was essentially the old Mini sporting a bigger overcoat. The hatchback body made all the difference in terms of practicality, but it could never, as was intended, replace the lovable Mini. These early versions now seem quite crude, but are useful and the engines unburstable.

Although the ancient running gear is noisy, for A to B excursions an early Metro for only a few hundred pounds won't disappoint. Go for the larger 1.3 engine in HLE/Mayfair trim that is comfy and well equipped. From 1985 five doors made the Metro even more practical and proper family runaround. An important date, however, is 1988 when the range was revamped and build quality improved. Expect to pay around £2,000 for a tidy 1.3 Clubman.

The best Metros are rebadged Rover models from 1990 onward. Out went the old engines, replaced by more flexible units with five-speed gearboxes. At last the Metro could comfortably leave the confines of town with confidence. The fit and finish of these cars is very good, combined with a big car feel and sophistication you won't get with the usual Euro hatches. The 1.4 engine in S trim offers the best combination and prices start at £3,500. When it comes to performance steer clear of the old MG versions, especially the Turbo. Opt for the later GTa. But bear in mind that all Metros are fun to drive and the big insurance premium for a GTi 16-valve is seldom worth the bother.

The twin enemies of the older Metros have been rust and British Leyland build quality. Look for rust on the sills, inside the engine bay on the wings, and lift carpets to examine the floors. Mechanically the old Metros are tough, with slight oil leaks and noisy gearboxes being common, but hardly fatal, faults. Blue smoke from the exhaust and thumping from the lower part of the engine indicates serious wear and neglect. The Hydragas suspension can leak, causing the car to list. Listen out for clicks from the front wheels when on full lock pointing to shot CV joints. Remember, everything can be cheaply replaced, so use faults as a bargaining tool and get estimates for repairs.

By contrast, recent Rover Metros are virtually flawless, but ensure that the car has a full service history. I dipped my toes in the water at the murkiest Metro level with the sole intention of finding the cheapest example possible. That meant investing in the local Loot free-ads paper. In a village just outside Cambridge was a 1.0 litre W-registered car for only £100.

Amazingly there was three months' MOT and one month's tax. It was legal, although the seller admitted it needed some work. Serious prodding revealed a fairly rotten rear subframe that would need replacing; several other areas needed attention. The front seats were well worn which indicated a hard and possibly professional former life involving L plates. However, the seller was prepared to drop to double figures, £75, to clear it off his drive.

I then telephoned the legions of Metro specialists to track down parts. Metro Mania in Dagenham, Essex, had just about everything that was needed, while Specialised Automotive Services had a new subframe for £49 that it would fit at my home. I calculated that this Metro could be legally mobile for around £200. Alternatively, there were some other Metros in the paper that promised a year's MOT and trouble-free motoring for around £500. That's the great thing about Metros, there are always plenty to choose from in the bargain basement.

Hike your buying budget up a little further and the Bucks Mini Centre has a number of enticing propositions. What it will do is build you a brand new Metro to your own specification. It had three old Metros in stock, the most recent being an A-reg example which Doug said he could "make into something really special for about £1,500". I could pick the colour, interior, engine size and Bucks Minis would do all the hard work. I was very tempted.

If I did not fancy concocting a Metro of my own then there was always the standard sporty Metro GTa. The Octagon used car centre in Aldershot had a 1989 example that had been slashed from £3,795 to £2,995 in new- year promotion. A smart car, the centre bent over backwards to make it even more attractive at a financed £63.39 per month.

But, money aside, the safest Metro buy will be at a Rover dealer. SMC, with three large sites in west London, also had a sale on. A low-miles (6,000) '93 Si automatic, the ultimate town car, tipped the scales at £6,995. Cheapest of the Rover Metros on offer were some '93 1.1 s at £4,995. All immaculate, warranted and ready to drive home. Mind you, I was still considering the miser's Metro back in Cambridge, until I found out how chequered its earlier career had been. Guess what its original owner had been. That's right, driving instructor.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?