Thanks for the invitation to document the steps and mind-set required to tackle a formidable restoration project, such as our 1956 Nash Metropolitan. In the past I made numerous partial restorations of vintage automobiles. However, most of these were in fairly good working and cosmetic conditions, and did not result in a great deal of labor. But this project was in such poor condition that it required an intense effort to bring it back into a fully functional car. Something I’m sure of, I had not truly realized the effort required to properly finish the car. Updated estimation, we believe that approximately three thousand man-hours are in it so far.
This particular endeavor afforded some initiatives that drove me on. Specifically, the little car had served us well during the five years of our stay in the UK. It was economical to drive (around forty-two miles per gallon). It was small and easily negotiated the narrow country roads that were the norms at the time we were there. Additionally, it was stylish for the era, and many said: "it was ahead of the times". Besides, the price was right, and one could purchase the car for less than fifteen hundred dollars.
Furthermore, after examining my motives closely, I realized this effort afforded closure to an emotionally difficult period in our lives. My wife and I lost our first son while rushing him to a hospital in that little car. He had contracted spinal meningitis, which we had learned of at a later date . . . but enough of the nonessential.
We became aware that a Metro of the same year and color of our original was available for seven hundred dollars in Tucson, around April of this year. The car was already in parts. The doors had been removed and many of the smaller bits-n-pieces were stuffed into boxes, stored in the cab area. I learned that an elderly gentleman had purchased the car fifteen years earlier with the intent to restore it. Unfortunately, shortly after he purchased it, he developed Lou Gehrig's disease and passed away due to compound medical complications. Consequently, years later, his widow wanted the garage space cleared for her use, and put the car up for sale.
After purchasing it, I had to determine what type of restoration I wanted. Was the car to be used strictly for show, or in my case, a nice looking driver that could be used occasionally in show at local antique gatherings? I settled on the latter. However, I wanted to keep it as original as possible. There were some exceptions, which I’ll list: Specifically, the interior was originally somewhat bland. We upgraded the materials and quality of the workmanship. This part of the task was sent out to a local upholstery shop. Secondly, because of living in the high desert area, my wife insisted on a fully functional air-conditioning system. This required that the entire cab area be insulated throughout with aluminum foil/felt material (bonded to the floor, doors and above the head-liner). Originally, the floor had just a rubber mat, but now I installed an auto grade carpet. This effort was not farmed-out but was completed by me. I upholstered the forward section kick-panels and rear seat area quarter panels as well. The A.C. unit to be used was pulled from a wrecked Geo Metro. Its small size and low power requirements, matched the Nash Metro’s requirements nicely.
My eldest son constructed an auto-body rotary ‘spit’ for the project. After completely stripping ever bolt nut and washer from the car, the body was mounted to this apparatus so it could easily be turned/positioned for full work access. The floor’s rusted panels had been removed and new material welded into place. The two doors also had to be welded, due to many major fatigue cracks and metal separation from long use by previous owners.
The whole car was jet-washed, sanded, primed and painted with factory original Sunburst Yellow inside the engine, cab, and trunk compartments. The exterior finish was applied by a locally operated body shop in Benson.
Hours and hours were spent individually sand-blasting every part. These were fixed as needed, primed and painted with engine enamels of appropriate colors. Then came all the essential engine and transmission fixes, etc. The differential was replaced with an MG 3.9 rather than the 4.22 gear ratios it came with. Other Metro owners recommended this change for coping with America's higher highway speeds and I followed their advice.
All the hard to find parts were mostly available on E-Bay, though there were two out-of-state parts houses that catered to Metro restoration for those really hard to find parts. Several orders were made directly from the UK. Surprisingly, these were quite reasonable. All the rubber materials (grommets, window and door gasket, etc.) had to be replaced, these were available only through dealers in the States.
As the car went together, I realized the carburetor was too badly worn (excessive clearance in the throttle butterfly shaft) which resulted in a rough idle. Unfortunately, unlike the newer aluminum carburetors, the Zenith was a zinc casting, and all the wear was in the intricate brass shaft, negating re-bushing possibilities for a fix. Consequently, I searched for a suitable replacement, because the used originals were going for three hundred-fifty plus dollars. I settled on a Webber that was intended for VW service, though this also required enlargement of the main fuel jet for the Metro service.
The amenities that were added included an instrument gauge cluster for temp, oil pressure and battery charge. These were tucked up below the dash. Also a door switch to operate the cab courtesy light was installed, and a backup light was also fitted.
With that, the car came together nicely and is giving enjoyable hours of driving. It turned out to be a real crowd-pleaser, initiating friendly waves and toots of the horns by passersby. Would I do it again? . . . The answer is probably not; just getting too old and rickety for my old age, hi-hi. From now on, I’ll stay with restoration of vintage AM radios! Although, as ‘icing on the cake’, this little car will have to have a mobile transceiver installed. Sorry, no room for the 'fire bottles', but a nice compact ‘rice box’ will have to do.
Hi agn . . . appreciate all the comments and e-mails that were passed on.
My thanks to Larry, KO6SM, for his interest and comments. However, fixing that old radio was one of my early tasks in the Metro’s restoration effort. As you can imagine, all the caps needed to be replaced, along with tubes, though the 12-volt vibrator was still functional.
Additionally, the speaker’s cone was a complete waste. Fortunately, I was able to find an exact replacement from E-Bay for under twenty bucks, and the paper cone still had lots of wear left in it (unusual size at 4 x 7 inches). It turns out that replacing the speaker in that radio is a major restoration problem, which requires that the old speaker’s frame be sent out for rebuilding/replacement due to the fact that no other size would easily fit in it’s place.
The other problem with that radio is its marginal design (no RF stage, antenna right into the converter). However, keeping things original was the name of the game. I was able to get an exact ABS plastic copy of the dial and other knobs (the old phenolic ones were wasted) making for a nice restoration.
When my wife and I were in the UK, all we could receive on the Met’s radio was BBC and Radio Luxembourg. At this location, the best it will do is the two stations around Willcox and several just south of the border. So much for the technology of years past, hi-hi. I’m tempted to take the old case and stuff into its innards a solid-state implant, but that’s sometime in the future.