Classics World’s Paul Wager test drives and reviews the Metro Clubman…

The elderly gent out walking his Labrador had every right to look confused. As to whether it was the sight of a pristine 1989 Metro trundling past or a clearly deranged photographer shouting “Now we’re Metroing!” from the verge was unclear though.

He had every right to be surprised though: when was the last time you saw a Metro in daily use? Suddenly the car which was supposed to replace the Mini (but never did) has become a rare sight, with seemingly more of the early cars having survived than the later examples like this one. Indeed, registered in 1990 this must be one of the very last A-Series Metros made before the revamped Rover Metro arrived.

By the late ’80s, the Metro had found itself in rather an odd position, its maker having reinvented itself with premium aspirations which had left the Austin brand far behind. A Rover-badged Metro would have to wait until the K-Series engine was added for 1990, which left Metros of this era without a marque – like the Maestro and Montego, they were badged simply as Metro.

The example we have here is the Clubman in 1.0L spec and its two local owners have covered just 38,000 miles in it since it left the Lex Mead showrooms in nearby Cheltenham. The most recent owner parted with the Metro only because he decided to give up driving and despite it not having travelled far in recent years the car’s service book is fully stamped up. The folder also contains every old MoT, almost all the car’s previous tax discs and it comes with two original keys.

With most of the early ’80s Metros being finished in dull colours, the bright red of this car really makes it stand out and it’s fascinating to see how Austin Rover managed to update the interior with plush seats, a revised dashboard moulding and the chunky stalks used on everything from Rover 800 to Discovery.

You’d expect a 38,000-mile car to be pretty solid in the bodywork department and this one doesn’t disappoint. Front wings were always a Metro weak point but these are reasurringly pristine and in fact the only blemish we could find was some surface bubbling by the offside rear wheel.

Metro Clubman

ON THE ROAD
I must have been in a 38,000-mile Metro at some point in my life (after all, my grandmother bought one new in 1982) but I really can’t remember what they’re like as new cars. But now I know: without the creaks and rattles which come from age and neglect, a Metro can be surprisingly civilised. Find the oddly positioned ignition lock, twist the trademark Austin Rover bendy key and the A-Series sounds so familiar, as does the drop gear whine as we set off. The 1-litre A-Series was good for 47 bhp and 55 lbf.ft and with the car weighing in at just 771kg it feels reasssuringly eager.

I’d forgotten how easy the Metro was to drive and its large glass area and lightweight controls put some modern hatches to shame, even if that rubbery shift is straight from the Mini era.

Metro Clubman

VERDICT
If you like Metros then you’ll love this. It’s a genuine survivor and an example of a car which is becoming a real rarity, with DVLA listing less than 20 examples of the Clubman L still in use.

It’s also a reminder of a largely forgotten era for Austin Rover which at the time was just entering its all-too-brief golden age in partnership with Honda.

One thing’s guaranteed: at any car show, your 38,000-mile Metro Clubman L is going to arouse far more interest than yet another expensively restored Mk1 Mini… and you won’t be buying any of those for the £2995 being asked for this one.

Metro Clubman

TECH SPEC
Engine: 998cc
Power: 47bhp
Top speed: 86mph
Fuel consumption: 40 mpg
Gearbox: four-speed man