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50 Years of Engineering - 1980: British Leyland release the Metro

24/03/2020
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To celebrate Fircroft’s 50th Anniversary, every week EngineeringPro will be highlighting an engineering accomplishment made between the years 1970-2020. This week we’re looking at 1980 and the release of British Leyland’s Metro.

The Austin Metro has an interesting place in automotive history and a special place in many people’s memories. It was first unveiled to the public in October 1980

The Austin Metro has an interesting place in automotive history and a special place in many people’s memories. It was first unveiled to the public in October 1980, and it went to become one of the best-selling cars of the decade. In fact, during its production run over 2 million vehicles were sold in the United Kingdom alone.

The Metro was initially manufactured by the state-owned company British Leyland, which had been nationalised in 1975. BL hadn’t released a brand-new vehicle in almost five years and the Metro was central to the company’s plans for future profitability. This meant that the vehicle’s fortunes attracted significant public attention.

The name itself was chosen through a ballot of BL employees who were invited to choose between three names – Match, Maestro or Metro. Its launch was also supported by a now-infamous marketing campaign by the Leo Burnett advertising agency, in which it was suggested that to buy a car manufactured overseas would be unpatriotic. The Metro was described as ‘a British car to beat the world’.

The Metro had an enthusiastic reception and it attracted a very loyal following. Contemporary road testers noted that it offered good fuel economy and had great handling. It also made effective use of the available space, for example through folding seats, and had good quality upholstery. This led to it being named Car of the Year by ‘What Car?’ in 1983.

The Metro had an enthusiastic reception and it attracted a very loyal following.

The early success achieved by the Austin Metro was shaped by the 1979 fuel crisis. Fuel economy was an increasingly important consideration for buyers and many people were looking to downsize their cars whilst retaining some of the benefits of a larger vehicle. British Leyland attempted to capitalise on the popularity of the Metro by offering a broader range of choice for customers after 1982. This included higher-specification models such as the MG Metro 1.3 which had a top speed of 103mph. Other new models included the top-of-the-range Vanden Plas which featured a radio-cassette player, electric front windows, a trip computer and leather upholstery. This approach was very successful and 1983 proved to be a record-breaking year with over 180,000 Metros sold.  

As the 1980s marched on British Leyland became slower to react to changing customer expectations, and its rivals were simply more innovative and adaptable.  Rival manufacturers embraced larger ‘small cars’ which offered greater practicality. The Metro’s sales began to wane following the release of an updated Ford Fiesta MK2 in 1984 which was more spacious, had better fuel economy and had more modern aesthetics. The Metro also faced increasing competition from similarly sized new cars such as the Peugeot 205 and the Fiat Uno, which were more technologically advanced and had 5-speed gearboxes.

 During its production run from 1980 – 1998, over 2 million Metros were sold in the United Kingdom

During its production run from 1980 – 1998, over 2 million Metros were sold in the United Kingdom and it was one of the most enduringly popular cars of the time. However, its overall success was to some extent limited by British Leyland’s inability to invest on the same scale as its competitors. More technologically advanced rivals, such as the Ford Fiesta, increasingly caught the popular imagination and captured the lucrative small car sector of the market.  The Metro has a unique place in British automotive history and it played an important role in showing that small cars with good fuel economy could also be practical and great fun to drive.

 

The road ahead: move your automotive career into the fast lane with Fircroft

At Fircroft, we’re proud to recruit technical and engineering professionals for some of the leading global automotive brands. Register your interest for job alerts or explore our current job vacancies and apply today.

 

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50 Years of Engineering - 1980: British Leyland release the Metro - Time to read 4 min
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