Back in 1983, the affordable sports car was pretty much dead. A once thriving market was at its knees and MG was suffering. The MGB had been axed in 1980 and the Abingdon factory closed. The badge would live on although initially in a very different guise, a 3 door city car.
Austin had introduced the Mini Metro in 1980 with the intention of replacing the much loved Mini. It was more spacious, safer and had much more contemporary styling, perfect ingredients to compete with Ford’s Fiesta and Renault’s 5. Seeing as there were hot versions of both of these, it made sense for British Leyland to go after them with an MG version of the Metro.
The MG Metro was launched in 1982 with a worked over version of the venerable 1275cc A-Series. A cam change, head work and a bigger carb saw 71bhp from the 4 cylinder OHV motor. Clearly this wasn’t enough as in October of that year the MG Metro Turbo was introduced with 93bhp thanks to a Garrett T3 turbo. Lotus even had a hand in the uprated suspension and advanced (for the time at least) boost control.
Metro Turbos were even entered into the British Touring Car Championship in the early 80’s. The race cars had around 200bhp, still from under 1.3 litres, and initially had full works support. Drivers included Tony Pond who would go on to compete in Group B rallying with the bonkers Metro 6R4 and F1 driver Martin Brundle. Although there were no major successes, they often kept up with and beat much larger more powerful machines.
The Turbo was produced until 1990, with a facelift in 1984, the car suffered from problems throughout its life. The main reason why it needed the complex boost control was to lower torque below 4000rpm by limiting boost to 4psi. Above 4k, a controlled boost leak tricked the turbo’s wastegate into rasing pressure to 7psi, giving the headline power and torque figures. This was supposed to protect the standard 4 speed Metro gearbox from eating itself, something which still happened far too easily. Add poor build quality, frequent rust issues and unsurprisingly low residuals into the mix and they are a very rare sight on UK roads.
Although technically a failure, British Leyland should be applauded for trying to produce a fairly sophisticated hot hatch with a limited budget at a very troubled time. It’s a fantastic slice of 80’s retro inside and out with its red carpets, red seatbelts, model-specific alloy wheels and subtle bodykit. Besides, handling by Lotus can never be a bad thing.