Austin Metro (Metropolitan)

THE CRAYFORD METROPOLITAN

 

By 1981 Crayford and the British Motor Industry had reached a turning point. Cars up to this point had year on year, got bigger, thirstier and more expensive. Even the humble Crayford Cortina had grown during its twenty year production run, by 1981 the Mk.5 model had developed into a 2.3 litre V6 luxury tourer that cost as much as a Jaguar Mk.1 240.

Public demand was turning to small economy cars, Leyland tried to rekindle the success of the Mini with the all new Metro while Ford countered with its first small car, the Fiesta. At Crayford the bold decision was made to develop a new small and cheap convertible. Even bolder was the decision to hedge their bets and develop both the Metro and the Fiesta as Crayford convertibles at the same time. The Crayford factory was split into two teams, with David McMullan heading the Ford Fiesta convertible project, they called it the 'Fly' after a small light carriage. Partner Jeff Smith meanwhile led the Metro convertible team, and they called their project the ‘Metropolitan’, spurred on by their disbelief that Leyland had neglected to take out patents on all Metro-related names.

When both projects were ready to launch there came a huge bombshell, a small, west end based, design company called Rapport Ltd., contacted Crayford to say they too were about to market a Metro Convertible and accused Jeff Smith and Crayford of plagiarism, stopping just short of accusing Crayford of industrial theft. The design of the two conversions were indeed almost identical in every way. With Rapport Ltd. threatening to sue, Crayford decided to stop the project dead rather then face an expensive and lengthy legal dispute and the inevitable disruption it would cause. The two Crayford Metropolitan prototypes, one in metallic blue (OKR 591W) and the other metallic green (TKO 316X) where not sold to the public, instead they were used by the two Crayford director's secretaries as company cars. This very unpleasant episode was a huge upset for Jeff Smith who never really recovered from such a false accusation.

Oddly the Rapport Metro convertible also failed, it may be that they too feared the legal costs had Crayford fought the case. Their convertible project collapsed with little sales, eventually it was passed on to Abingdon Motors of Abingdon where it become the ‘Abingdon Metrosport’, but again, they too found no market for the car. The conversion added £1,750 plus V.A.T per unit to the car.

It is amazing, when comparing both company’s brochures, just how similar these vehicles were.

History records David McMullan’s Fly project was the only winner with huge sales successes, especially for the XR2 Fly.

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