The Nash Metropolitan is an odd car. It was sold as an ideal second car due to its size at a time when every other manufacturer subscribed to the "bigger is better" philosophy of car design. But was it the practical choice it claimed to be?
(Full disclosure: I wanted to drive a Nash Metropolitan so badly that I annoyed a friend who works at Mosing Motorcars until he let me do it. I mean, look at it. LOOK AT IT.)
This car in particular was a 1962, but it was only MkIV of a car that had only minor changes since its introduction in 1954.
First thing's first if we're testing the everyday usability of this beast: where are the cup holders? Not only do I need caffeine to function, but this is 'Murica, land of the drive-thru. Not having a cup holder in today's world is an insult to freedom. Proof that the terrorists have won, or something.
Well, there isn't any. Not a single one. Perhaps this is because it predates drive-thru culture being a thing, but I'm just going to blame the fact that it was assembled by Brits. I'm pretty sure the whole Boston Tea Party wasn't just a protest against taxes, but also a strike against the lack of potable liquid transportation space on boats and carriages, too.
"I can't take this on my horse? Dump it in the SEA."
On the other hand, the whole bizarre British-American origins of the Metropolitan could explain why it's built like a Tardis. My over-six-foot friend folded into it without any issues whatsoever. Perhaps it's not so impractical after all.
This diminutive car is oddly cavernous inside, especially if you're short enough to consider quitting your day job to be the World's Tallest Circus Midget. Head room? Not an issue.
The interior is spartan with only one gauge in front of you, but it is airy and open. I would have preferred a tachometer instead of a speedometer, but as a daily runabout, you're more likely to be worried about following speed limits over revving the pants off the car's tiny four-cylinder engine.
The only option you get is a radio, though, so hopefully you don't live anywhere up north and/or it's not summer yet. You can tilt open the A-pillar quarter glass and open the window, but if it's between late April and late October, you'll have to get used to the idea of being sweaty all the time. That's not practical anymore in a world where everyone expects you to have aircon in your car.
The car's beltline is low enough that I don't even have any issues seeing over the dashboard even if I do feel dwarfed by everything else—especially the Camaro steering wheel a previous owner had installed.
But how much—exactly—could this little car carry? If we're trying to determine how practical a car this, we need to determine how much it holds.
I just happened to have the perfect measure of infinite space: most of my collection of Fisher-Price Puffalumps.
Puffalumps (for those of you unfamiliar with my LeMons team mascot) are stuffed animals made of silky parachute material that range from 8"-12" in height. The average Puffalump in my collection is approximately 0.2 cubic feet in size. They're lightweight and can cram into a lot of places, but the point wasn't to squish them out of shape. The point was to see how many Puffalumps of varying size and vintage could fit in the littlest Nash's trunk.
I was astonished when I made it through the first box of thirty-two Puffalumps with ample space left to fill. Even the trunk was surprisingly spacious, and we hadn't even put down the back seat for additional cargo space.
When the trunk finally looked as if could fit no more Puffalumps without smashing their delicate vintage stuffing too much, the trunk held fifty-one of the little animals.
That's the thing about a daily driver, though: often, cargo just gets tossed into the back seat. Why bother opening the trunk at all when you can fit everything you need to carry in the back seat?
In that case, it holds the entirety of the Puffalump collection I had brought: sixty-two of the little guys total. The split folding bench seats in the front made it easier to stuff Easter Bunnies and Christmas Mouse into every nook and cranny of the little car.
I had left two Canadian-market-only unicorns and one very large prototype bear at home since they were outliers from the average size of the Puffalumps and wouldn't be an accurate measure of space compared to the others. Even then, I could have easily put both unicorns on top of the back seat pile and had the 3' long bear ride in the front passenger seat or the trunk.
The back seat folds over as well to allow ample space for more awkwardly proportioned items, too.
Even with half the back window blocked by toys, I felt as if the Nash still had better visibility than many modern cars. The trunk doesn't ride as high, allowing you an incredible view out the back of the car.
Not even the spare tire, which is adorably mounted in a color-coordinated Continental kit on the trunk, is an obstruction to your view. There's another point for the practicality of this car: you get a full-size spare, not some silly useless doughnut or a repair kit with a note to call OnStar.
Lest we forget the actual point of having a car at all, I needed to find out how the little Nash drove. Did it do the basic functions of being a car as well as it stored Puffalumps?
In short: no.
First off, the handbrake is to your left, in the floor. I cannot think of a less practical location for a handbrake in a car with a manual transmission. Want to pop it on to keep from rolling backwards on a steep hill? Then hopefully you like bending over.
Secondly, the three-on-the-tree was so vague that it wasn't the best example for a person like me who's only driven four-plus-on-the-floor transmissions to start off with. The general direction in which it moved was a lot like my mom's old automatic Ninety-Eight: up for reverse, and down to move forward. Further down for moving forward at a higher rate of speed.
Never mind the lack of modern safety equipment or seat belts. If you're worried about those, go buy a Mazda2 instead. Rather, the worst thing of them all from a drivability perspective for a person who's only 5' 4" is the fact that the bench won't move forward. Not an inch.
The Metropolitan's four-cylinder had plenty of grunt to putter the tiny car around at city surface road speeds, which was a pleasant surprise.
I didn't drive it very far before I realized that I lacked the ability to reach far enough to really finesse the pedals enough to keep the little Nash from spinning its wheels on gear changes, so there you have it.
The Nash Metropolitan now joins the illustrious ranks of the R35 GT-R , the new Camaros and the McLaren 12C in the category of "cars that remind me I'm short." It's the last car I'd have expected to put on that list.
You could presumably make a Nash Metropolitan work as a daily driver, provided it was a cooler month without too much inclement weather and your legs are longer than mine. However, for the rest of us, perhaps it's better just to get a modern subcompact, complete with cup holders, adjustable seats and HVAC.