Friday April 13, 2018
A major pleasure of the classic world is encountering a car that you a) had only ever read about and b) were convinced had completely vanished off the face of the planet. A vehicle that fulfils both of these criteria – the Austin Metro Cooper was shown at the NEC show last month. It might even be the only surviving example and, incredibly, it is a car that its owner Chris Dawson encountered ‘when I started work at the Cooper Garage in the early 1980s; it would be parked by my office window!’
When the Metro was launched in October 1980 there was no overt performance version and so in the following year John Cooper offered a conversion to tempt all enthusiasts who might have otherwise considered a Ford Fiesta. Any standard 1.3 litre manual transmission model could gain twin SU carburettors and a Cooper camshaft among other mechanical improvements. There was also a set of very fetching alloy wheels and – naturally for the early 1980s – some side stripes. The result was unveiled in 1981 and the motoring oppress found it be a very potent small hatchback with a top speed of 103 and 0-60 in 11.6 seconds. In the words of Autocar when they tested a modified HLS ‘Now Cooper have produced the Metro Ton Bomb’ - or, as Chris puts it ‘The name “Cooper” says it all’.
The original plan was to sell the Cooper via the Wadham Stringer dealership network with advertisements apologising for ‘keeping you waiting almost ten years (the Mini 1275S had ceased production in 1971) but we think you’ll find the Metro Cooper conversion well worth the wait’. However, as Chris notes, ‘there was no factory backing’ from British Leyland’. One probable reason is that the MG Metro was due to be unveiled in May 1982 and BL were not keen on the idea of an in-house rival that would steal its thunder. Abingdon had closed in 1980 and there was inevitably going to be a considerable amount of publicity surrounding the return of the Octagon badge. The Metro Cooper was re-branded as the “Metro Monaco” and by the end of the 1980s both versions had passed into motoring memory.
The Dawson Metro was once used by John’s son Michael Cooper but when Chris found it in Swindon in October 2017. He commented: ‘It needed a complete overhaul– and I do mean everything. The Metro hadn’t been started about 20 years. She’s just been standing’. But the car was ‘All original down to the key rings and with the original accessories such as the electric windows. When something like this comes along, you just don’t say “no”’.
Today Chris is a leading member of the Mini Cooper Register and he is still researching the Metro’s history. Any early example of this crucial BL model is now a rare sight - especially the conversion that could have taken it in a new direction, so the chance to see this exclusive car that excludes the spirit of 1981 should not be missed. And, best of all, it is a classic with a strong connection with its new owner – ‘It was one of the first cars I drove when I started at Coopers as service receptionists and in a way it feels as though it has now come home’. Absolutely.