The United States is traditionally
a land of large cars. Since the automobile established itself as
a long distance vehicle the car has grown. In the United States the
family car grew to a size where folks could travel the massive spans of highways in comfort. The small cars that developed
in Europe were really more suited to the shorter distances and smaller
roads of the countries across the Atlantic.
More than one American company had a go at selling a small car.
Bantam/ American Austin was one. The cars were tiny and cute, and
are prized today for that cuteness; but they were not suited to the expanding
roads in North America. Crosley, the company that made refrigerators
and radios, also tried the small car field. The cars were tiny and
toy like. A fellow who owned one in the fifties complained of how
the neighborhood kids would lift his over the garden fence every night,
and then he would have to round them up in the morning to get it out.
Crosley did not help their image by adding free spinning propellers at one
point to the grill of their cars.
Despite these failures another car company eyed the small car market.
This company was Nash and the push for this research came from Chairman of Nash-Kelvinator, George W. Mason. In the late
1940’s Nash began researching different types of more personal vehicles
for local use. The concept was to see if there was a market and an
interest for small personal or secondary vehicles as opposed to the massive
steel that was strolling the roadways and parking lots at the time.
design came from an independent design firm and was created by William
Flajole. The concept Flajole created was basically a two-seater that
was not as tiny as European cars and had a bit of an American flair to
it. The drawings were provided in 1948, and a prototype was produced
in 1949. In an era that was to develop into huge chrome gas guzzling
Detroit madness, Nash followed a very intelligent path with this car project.
The first model was called the NXI, short for Nash Experimental International.
The proposed price was $1,000. Mason put George Romney in charge
of showing the car. The car was showed as a way of testing the waters,
and the public were surveyed as to their interest in such a vehicle.
The result was an,” unusually strong and sustained,” public response according
to George Mason. With such a positive response the design and refining
process continued and created the basic Metropolitan that people still
love for its cute yet comfortable size.
The NXI became the NKI (Nash Kelvinator International) and Austin Motor Company, LTD of England became the producer of
the new automobile. The decision to produce the car overseas and import
the finished product was made for cost purposes. Steel supplies were
hard to obtain in the United States. Plus, tooling costs and Union
wages were extremely high as well. Austin began building the NKI Custom
in October of 1953 and the cars became available in the United States by
Spring of 1954.
In 1954 the struggling Hudson auto company merged with Nash to become American Motors Corporation (AMC). The
NKI name was soon changed to Metropolitan and the new cars were badged
as Nash and Hudson. Eventually AMC would just sell the car as a Metropolitan,
at which point only a little over 4,000 were labeled as Hudsons.
Major changes for the Metropolitan came in 1956 as the Metropolitan
became the Metropolitan 1500. There were some minor styling changes
including a new grill and a chrome line dividing a two tone exterior. Mechanically the Metropolitan received
a new engine and Transmission. The engine was the reliable Austin
A-50 with greater displacement than the earlier 1200 cc engine, and more
The Metropolitan would continue with this power train through its
demise in 1962. Well over 100,000 Metropolitans were sold during
the 8 year span of sales, but flagging sales due to styling, lack of four
seats, and rising competition from the VW Beetle, and AMC’s Rambler line
brought about the end of a small, cute, and reliable car. Eight
years was a very good run for a little car that saw few changes.
(Author’s note: I found the majority of this
information in The Metropolitan Story by Patrick R. Foster.
If you want to learn all about the special show models, the Metropolitan
owners club, the testing and marketing of this neat little car I highly
recommend this book. The book also has a great array of color and
black and white images.)
First off, to avoid confusion, the Electropolitan is a name my friend Scott
coined and I thought it sounded great. Hudson did not make an electric
Metropolitan, but the term sounds good when combining the actual name of
the vehicle with the fact that it is now an Electric Vehicle. So the definition of Electropolitan
is: A 1955 Hudson Metropolitan converted to a 48 volt Electric system
and lovingly called "Hugo" by its many fans.
I started researching Electric vehicles a year or two ago. As
gas prices shot up in 2008 I looked further into the practicality of converting
a VW Beetle. I found a couple companies selling kits. I spoke
with a man at a car show who uses his EV Beetle as a commuter car, and
I did alot of forum reading and online research. Basically though, the cost
effectiveness of the project, with the initial outlay, was not worth it
for me. So I laid my research aside except for looking into reproducing
from scratch a circa 1902 electric car for fun. Oddly a much cheaper
project as it requires a less robust motor, and would use an array of materials
I have on hand. This is a project I might do next spring.
Fast forward to January of 2009 and my students are rehearsing for
our Spring musical, Grease.
The big dilemma with this show is that one focal point is a 1940's/50's
car which the Greasers sing about, dance around etc... The car is
in two major scenes in the show. I work hard to make our productions
as professional as possible so the search began for a car to use on stage
(I could not figure out how to build anything that I would find acceptable.)
After some digging on the internet I found a fellow in NJ renting
a converted Nash Metropolitan. We put in a reservation and the car
arrived a week before the show.
The cast and crew fell in love with the little car which was designed
well for simplicity of use on stage. Automatic brakes, a simple
forward reverse switch, and a light letting you know when the battery was
low. It seemed there were some power issues on occasion though. My
students and I looked over the car with the idea of maybe making another
one to rent as this was the only one on the East Coast and the show Grease
is so popular. Honestly, there should not be much competition even
with two cars out there.
As I researched the car conversion I looked into the components used
on the car we rented vs. the kits available to make the car a fully roadworthy
conversion. The price actually came out cheaper when using a roadworthy
conversion. That and the roadworthy conversion uses most of the
original vehicle mechanicals which I believe are more durable. I
thought a little bit more and then put the idea aside until I came upon
the perfect car on ebay.
The project begins:
There are times that the stars align and shout,"do this!" This
happened shortly after we finished our spring musical. In a fit
of insomnia one night in late March '09 I searched ebay for a Metropolitan.
I found one in California. No engine (great! don't need it!),
a bit battered
looking, but my gut said it was solid. I clicked "Buy It Now!"
for $990.00 and bought the car. I received an email the following
day from the owner, Kelley Young, about what a nice surprise it was to wake
up and see the car had sold. We chatted back and forth about what
I was going to do with the car and it turned out that Kelley had worked in
props for the film industry. This just added to my gut feeling that
this all was a good idea.
I made shipping arrangements and waited for the car to arrive. From now on I will use a different shipper for cars. The
little Met showed up on the leading lip of a flatbed that also carried
a huge back hoe. I knew the car was loaded on the truck from a rollback
tow truck, so I asked the Ukrainian truck driver how we were supposed to
remove the car. He replied,"you have forklift!" I said I had
no such thing. Rather frustrated at what should have been a simple
job I went home, picked up two huge wooden ramps I had made years ago, and
brought them back so we could roll the car off the trailer. What a
pain in the neck!
I had promised my rollback truck driver, Bob, that this move would
be an easy one compared to the last two (he helped move the Porsche out
of a labyrinth of narrow alleys in the city, and an Austin Champ I had
out of a rickety building down a narrow and muddy path.) Bob's
reaction to my promise of an easy move was,"so, the car is in Afghanistan
and we need a sky crane to get it out?" I promised him no, this will
be an easy removal off of a truck. But Murphy's law struck again. Luckily
the Met without an engine is so light I was able to hold it and steer it
at the same time down the ramps onto Bob's truck. Bob still had issues
backing up my steep and narrow driveway though afterwards. He has
whole rants dedicated to my driveway.
Moving forwards: I started work on the car within a few days. I literally
had to shovel the interior clean of years of animal feces, the remains
of the seat cushions, twigs, and lord knows what else. At one point
I got the bad idea to wash and scrub the interior. This only saturated
dried urine and created a horrible stench in my driveway. I wanted
to make sure the car was clean before taking it into school.
After cleaning the car one of my stage crew students, came out to
help with some initial work. We removed the gas tank, exhaust system,
and some other unneeded parts. The really really really
nice thing about working on a car from California is that 95% of the
bolts unscrew like they were put in yesterday. This makes all the
money I spent on shipping worth it!
Our school's Principal gave me permission to bring the car into the
stage workshop so I could work on it with the students. I ordered
a tow bar from Metropolitan Pit Stop and then took the car to school. The
rest of the restoration story is in the restoration gallery where pictures
can tell so much more than words. The students took to this restoration
like ducks to water. Their time and efforts helped complete this
restoration and conversion in 4 months time!! Thus 10% of rental proceeds
from the car go to the Owings Mills High School theater program as a thanks
to my students.
The Electric conversion is a 48 volt conversion kit offered by Wilderness EV.
While this seems to be a complete kit I have found out they took some shortcuts
in the wiring. I am redoing the wiring now for safety purposes. While
the kit is fairly complete it is not "easy". While Wilderness provides all the parts, and has adapter plates ready
drilled for VW Beetles, things get a little different when doing a car
that has not been done before. The standard adaptor plate that Wilderness
has should fit any car. This heavy duty adaptor fits the Met transmission
fine and only required the marking and drilling of holes.
The kit also includes an adaptor from a clutch for your specific vehicle
to attach to the clutch shaft on your transmission. Therefore I have drilled
the holes in the adapter plate myself. I cut down the transmission's
clutch shaft using a carbide blade on a Milwaukee Sawzall (this took
around half an hour). I also designed with student assistance the
mounting bracket which holds up the transmission in absence of the engine.
I made the bracket out of 2" angle iron sections and smaller angled
The end result is that with the 48 volt kit the Electric Met can do roadspeeds
up to 48 mph. If I do another conversion down the road I will use a
72 volt conversion for better road speeds. The car drives up hills fine
and is quite fun to toddle around the neighborhood in.
Detective work: I like to know the stories of my cars. Kelley Young was unable
to tell me much about the Met prior to his purchase of it. We have
learned much in taking the car apart though. The car appears to have
been registered through the 1970's. From the lack of an engine and
a severely bent rod going to the clutch master cylinder we can theorize
that the clutch went, the engine was removed to fix the clutch, and that
expense or time got in the way and the job was never finished.
Also, we can tell the car was hit once on the driver's side. The
damage was severe enough to cause replacement of the driver's side door,
and straightening of the door sill below it. This is evidenced by
the paint on the door under the panels. On the passenger side the
door is green as the car was originally. On the driver's side the door
is dull black, a typical color for replacement parts. Also, the driver's
side door sill has a whole opened up in it, and the area that was straightened
is still discernible. The hole was hidden under the aluminum sill
Here is a video of our first test run outside the school. I keep
receiving emails asking about the sound on the video. Then I remind
folks that electric cars are nearly silent.
The Metropolitan Pit Stop
is a top notch place to purchase Metropolitan parts from. If they do
it in their catalog, just ask for the part. If you want the part
lightly used then ask and they will find it!!
A wonderful staff, great selection, quick shipping, and a great knowledge
base. This is the place to
purchase parts from!!