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Thursday, February 19, 1998 Published at 17:31 GMT


Metro tootles off to car park in the sky

Metro number 2,078,219 has come off the Rover Cars production line at Longbridge in Birmingham and gone straight into British motoring history for one simple reason. It is the last.

The car which started as the Austin Mini Metro, but is now known as the Rover 100, and which became the UK's best selling small car, has been axed by the company.

[ image: A grainy photograph of an early Mini Metro]
A grainy photograph of an early Mini Metro
The model has, Rover says, reached the end of its natural life.

Spokesman Vin Hammersley said: "The car is 18 years old. We've got the new Mini coming out, there's the new Rover 200 at the bottom end coming into the territory. And when a car gets that old, it goes.

"But it has undoubtedly been a fine car. It's sad that it's going, but it would be even sadder if it didn't go and made us uncompetitive."

Although the car is unlikely to be widely mourned, it nevertheless has an important place in Britain's contemporary history.

Industrial strife

[ image: Austin, Morris, British Leyland, Rover, now owned by BMW]
Austin, Morris, British Leyland, Rover, now owned by BMW
In 1980, British Leyland - which was later re-named Rover - was punch-drunk after years of industrial strife. The Metro provided a make-or-break chance to take on the European and Japanese imports, with the ultimate hope of saving the British car industry.

British Leyland hoped that the Metro would do what the Mini had done 21 years earlier, become an enduring worldwide favourite, and save the British car industry.

The mere fact that the Metro survived until December 23 last year, when Rover quietly made the last one, is a measure of its success.

Longbridge lives

Rover is now, of course, no longer British owned, having been bought by Germany's BMW in 1994. But the car industry lives on: both the new Mini and Rover 200 are to be made at Longbridge.

[ image:  ]
The name Mini Metro, originally under the Austin marque, was chosen by a ballot of Leyland workers. The original model was designed in just over six weeks, and the cheapest model was £3,095, undercutting its main rival, the Ford Fiesta, by £65.

The last model, which in Longbridge tradition was signed by the workforce, is now being handed over to the Heritage Trust for safekeeping.

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