MG Metro

Robert Diamante is a lucky lad. He owns a very rare model MG, that seems to be getting rarer by the year because it is also one of the least coveted. But Rob's has had a complete make-over and is set to be around for many years to come - due in no small part to the fact that it resides in Australia.

Family connections

The MG Metro Turbo is anathema to many MG "purists", but there is no doubt it really does belong in the MG family. Remember that almost since the brand's beginnings, MG produced saloon cars and by the 1950s were making sporty versions of what might otherwise be considered fairly mundane family cars.

The MG ZA/ZB Magnette was based on the Wolseley 4/44, while the Magnette MkIII was the "sporty" version of the BMC Farina range of family cars, that included the Morris Oxford Series V, Austin A55 Cambridge MkII and the Wolseley 15/60.

BMC's "badge engineering" reached its logical pinnacle in the early-1960s, with the launch of the front-wheel-drive ADO16, or 1100 series - with the Morris and MG versions the first. We had the history of all ADO16 models in Issue 2 of this magazine.

The MG 1100 received a much-awaited upgrade in 1967 with the fitting of the 1275cc engine, to become the MG1300. However, as popular as the car was - some 124,860 of the 1100 and 32,549 of the 1300 were built - it was always overshadowed by the flagship MGB and the "people's sportscar" Midget.

The MG1300 was discontinued in 1973. As far as many people, particularly those born since, were concerned MG meant sports cars. When the end came for the Midget in 1978, it was mourned by enthusiasts around the World. At least they could console themselves in the knowledge that the MGB would carry the marque forward.

The Demise of MG

Sadly, the MGB's days were numbered, particularly in a company run by people who saw Triumph as being the brand to carry the flag for British sports cars. The ill-fated Triumph TR7 had been launched in 1974 as an eventual replacement for the MGB, despite the MGB's continued popularity, especially in the US. Unfortunately, like most Leyland cars of the time, the TR7 suffered from chronic build quality problems and reliability issues with its under-powered 2lt engine.

Although both were addressed with the closure of the factory at Speke, Liverpool, where on-going union strife had become intolerable, and the move of production to the former Standard factory at Canley, near Coventry, the reputation of the TR7 was in tatters. There were high hopes with the launch of the convertible and V8 versions of the TR7, and the quality of cars built at Canley was certainly far better than before.

Production of the MGB finally ceased in 1980, along with the closure of the Abingdon factory, amid loud protest from MG enthusiasts and dealers alike.

It would appear that British Leyland (BL) was not prepared for the uproar that would ensue from the closure of Abingdon. Clearly, the company did not realise the value of the MG brand.

It seems odd that BL chose at this time to move production of the TR7/TR8 again, this time to the Rover factory at Sollihull rather than to Abingdon, where a revised version of the TR7 could have been built in both Triumph and MG badges - as had been planned from the beginning of the TR7's existence.

In his book British Leyland: The truth about the cars (1980), Jeff Daniels said; "The fact remains that MG forms no part of Leyland's own plans, and means that the Corporation's sports car future is now tied to the Triumph name."

The reality was that all available funds were being poured into the LC8 project - that would eventually emerge in 1980 as the Mini Metro - and that there was little or no money available to design a replacement for MGB or TR7.

Sales of the Triumph continued to slide, and production finally ceased in mid-1981. From that point BL had no interest in producing another sports car.

Almost replacing the Mini

Meanwhile, the Metro had been released in October 1980 amid a ground swell of patriotic fervour. Billed as The British Car To Beat The World, the Metro was immediately successful in its home market and looked like it just might be the car to save British Leyland.

The Metro had originally been conceived to replace the Mini, but as it grew in size it was soon decided to retain the Mini, with the Metro as an additional, complimentary model. Although some people have reported that the Metro did not eat greatly into sales of the Mini, and it is true that Mini sales were in significant decline before the release of the Metro, the numbers show that Metro did almost immediately reduce Mini sales by over 50%.

In 1979, some 165,502 Minis were built at Longbridge. The Metro was launched in October the following year, with sales reaching nearly 33,000 in three months, and Mini production fell by 15,000 to just over 150,000. However, in 1981, the first full year of Metro production, Mini production was down to 69,986 units, while Metro had soared to 165,745.

Metro continued to sell well, reaching almost 1.5 million sales by the time it was re-engined in 1990, with a further 600,000 or so being built with the K-series engine, as the Rover Metro and Rover 100.

MG Reborn

According to F. Wilson McComb, in MG by McComb, although a high-performance version of the Metro had always been planned; "my information is that the decision to call them M.G.s came a couple of weeks before the ordinary Metro was unveiled to the public…"

The A-series engine had been significantly upgraded for the Metro and was now known as the A-plus. It was the 1275cc version of this engine that was used in the MG Metro, which was launched on 5 May 1982.

Undoubtedly, BL had learned from the public reaction to the closure of the Abingdon factory; "the Corporation's own advisers having recommended the name of M.G., not Triumph, as the recipe for commercial success", according to McComb.

"Towards the end of the year", McComb continues, "Sir Michael Edwards wrote: 'The MG name is now proudly back on a BL product…The moral of the episode is clear: you mess around with the famous marque names that are loved and cherished by enthusiasts at your peril!'."

The MG Metro benefitted over the Austin version by having a modified camshaft, bigger valves, exhaust extractors and a compression ratio of 10.5:1 (up from 9.4:1). Apart from the fact it had a single HIF44 SU carburettor, the engine had effectively been "Cooperised", to produce 72bhp - the Mini Cooper S had produced 75bhp with twin carbs and 9.7:1 compression.

Steering, brakes and suspension were unchanged from the standard Metro, but the car did receive alloy road wheels, sports seats, a smaller steering wheel and a small spoiler on the rear hatch to improve aerodynamics.

The rest of the changes were cosmetic, and included "a great many octagons and red stripes scattered about the outside and inside of the car" (to quote McComb), "red carpeting, red stitching on the steering wheel and the gearlever cover, even red seatbelts - for BL, seemingly still unfamiliar with M.G. history, had apparently decided that red signified M.G."

Raising the bar

While the MG Metro was well accepted by the general public, with the press equally enthusiastic, BL had a far more potent version in store. Only five months after the launch of the MG Metro, in October 1982, a turbo version was revealed at the British International Motor Show, Birmingham - the MG Metro Turbo - with sales beginning in January 1983.

The engine featured stronger pistons and big-end bearings, a nitrided crankshaft, sodium-cooled exhaust valves, double valve springs, a high-volume oil pump and a redesigned head with larger water galleries.

The radiator was improved, engine mounts stiffened, a competition clutch and electronic ignition fitted and the final drive ratio was lifted from 3.44:1 to 3.21:1.

The spring rates of the Hydragas suspension were increased by 10% and a rear anti-roll bar was included. The front anti-roll bar was increased in size and the front suspension stiffened up overall, with improved geometry.

The front spoiler was improved, and included air scoops that let air onto the front disc brakes, to aid cooling. The brakes themselves were very capable power-assisted AP four-pot callipers on ventilated discs. There were also wheel arch flares that covered the new 13" alloy wheels.

Bold Metro Turbo stickers were emblazoned across the flanks of the car, while inside was essentially unchanged apart from Turbo monikers on the front seats and the steering wheel centre.

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