Farewell to the Metro, the car we never quite fell in love with

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The Independent Online
It was supposed to be the Mini for the 1980s, a nippy little run around that would rescue the British motoring industry from the onslaught of the Japanese.

Eighteen years on, the last Metro trundled off the production line yesterday, outclassed and outsold by snappier models with snappier names; Polo, Clio and Micra.

At its death the Metro wasn't even British any more, having come under the ownership of the Bavarian uberfirm BMW when Rover was sold to the Germans. It will be replaced by a new Mini, to be built jointly by Rover and BMW.

The Metro started life as in October 1980 as the Austin Mini Metro. It was initially the saviour of British Leyland, which before the car's introduction hadn't manufactured a big seller for years. But had a chequered career, suffering from a lack of funding. After each attempt at revamp and relaunch it would rocket to occupy top spot in its class, the most super of the super minis, but plummet swiftly as it failed to keep up with the competition.

The high point of the Metro's journey came early on when its picture went around the world, carrying the then Lady Diana Spencer away from the cameras during her engagement to Prince Charles.

Falling sales and sneers from other drivers dented the little car's image, but by far its lowest moment was unconnected to manufacturing problems.

The Metro attracted infamy and humiliation for its owners when, in 1994, it was revealed as the sexual partner of choice for a disturbed 20-year- old man, who was treated for his fetish at the Institute of Psychiatry in London. The Metro's biggest fan said he found it particularly arousing when the car's exhaust pipe belched fumes.

Despite this, the car enjoyed periods of more conventional popularity, its sales pushing past the two million mark.

It was even voted Best Small Car in the World by Autocar and Motor after its 1990 relaunch. The trouble was that even the redesigned car began to look outdated as it failed to keep up with its competitors.

Often derided for its cramped interior, and, some said, unattractive look, the original Metro had an engine dating back to the Morris Minor technology of the 1950s. Despite being branded "the car to beat the world," drivers complained it whined at speeds over 45 miles per hour.

Still, that didn't stop its manufacturers from trying to add some sales with a little badge engineering - the hatchback was renamed the Rover Metro in 1990 and eventually became the Rover 100 in 1994.

The last Rover 100, in a striking silver finish, was waved off from Rover's Longbridge plant in Birmingham last week. It was signed by all of the 1,200 people who worked on it and handed over to the Heritage Centre Motor Museum in Gaydon, Warwickshire.

Although production has stopped, a last batch of cars, no doubt future classics, are still available. They come in three and five door models, 1.1 or 1.4 litre K series engines and five different trim levels. Prices range from pounds 6,500 to pounds 10,000. A bargain.