The Geo Metro often serves as a punch line for small-car jokes, but even modest machines have their benefits. To illustrate this, we've invited Jalopnik reader Matt Moore to speak about the distinguished joys of the sweet Met life.
Every so often, we find ourselves caught up in the new-car crush of Bigger! Faster! Fancier! and neglect the noble econobox. The workhorse of the long-haul commuter, the subcompact is an unjustly maligned hero for the frugal. Fuel-efficient microcars may be simple and without flash, but gosh darn it, they're honest and easy to live with. We've asked one of our regular readers to tell us why he loves his three-cylinder wonder. The bold emphasis is ours, but the love? That's all his.
My daily driver is a 1991 Geo Metro 5-speed with 254,000 miles on the clock and a current Kelly Blue Book trade-in value of $138 (Edmunds puts the "True Market" trade-in value at $58). My mother-in-law bought it for my wife when she was in high school in 1996. Ten years ago, you could pick up one of these cars for $400. That same car now, even with ten years of extra mileage, goes for around $800 to $1200. Last summer, on three separate occasions, people walked up to me on the street and offered $1500 to $2000 for my car.
I get 40-45 miles per gallon without trying at all. Given my 55-mile daily commute and $3-per-gallon gas, my Geo saves me $1500 a year on fuel over my Chevy Silverado. There're guys on the internet who've gotten Metros up to 75 mpg and higher.
The motor's simple enough that I can work on it myself, so it saves me a ton on mechanic's fees. I've torn the little engine down to a bare block twice. A thought for everyone who makes fun of my 55-hp, three-cylinder Suzuki G10: I can lift my motor out by hand.
On a recent junkyard trip, I got the wheels, front hubs, and brakes for the 13-inch wheel [conversion] off a 1991 Metro convertible. I mostly did this because 12-inch tires were suddenly very expensive — even online — but the improvement in braking performance due to the larger vented discs was absolutely incredible! Inspired by the idea of improving rather than simply maintaining, I went back and got the front stabilizer bar off a Metro sedan (mine had no stabilizer bar at all). Wow! Amazing improvement! Why didn't I do this years ago?
Whenever I get around to buying a LeMons car, it'll probably be a Metro or Suzuki Swift (same body). For starters, I know the car intimately, and that'll make hopping it up on the cheap a whole lot easier. What's more, fairly simple suspension work (i.e. the brakes and stabilizer) can turn it into a great handler. If I can find a Swift GT cheap enough, I'll really be set. The GT adds a cylinder and a double overhead cam, and puts 100 horsepower into a 1600 lb car. I've ridden in one, and it was awesome.
The 1991 MSRP for the Metro was $6750. And this car, when most of its contemporaries have long been converted into Chinese razor blades, still outperforms a lot of brand-new hybrids on fuel economy. I wonder what would've happened five years back if GM had revived this little jewel, with cheap 20-year-old high-mileage technology, and sold it for $9,999 right as gas prices spiked and the $18K Prius became the new gotta-have. Would it have changed GM's fate? Done on its own, I doubt it, but a high-mileage philosophy across the fleet couldn't have made things any worse than they became under the Big-Ass Truck & SUV regime. GM might still be king, and the Federal Department of General Motors an idea to be laughed at, instead of a sad reality.
Yeah, my car looks like a piece of junk. The hood is held down with cargo straps. The windscreen is cracked. The dash trim is gone-stepped on during a heater core replacement project-and the windows don't like to go upward. Bits of interior trim have disappeared over the years, the seats don't match, only one 3-inch speaker works and you have to yell to be heard over the wind noise. The driver's side window crank falls off every time I slam the door.
But I love this car. It's carried my butt nearly 200,000 miles, never once left me stranded, and all it asks for is gas once a week, oil every now and then, brake pads and a clutch once in a while. Blue-book values provide a great scale of what a car is worth when buying or selling, but they don't put any value on owning it. They don't give a rat's ass about my ability to fix things myself versus paying some un-trustworthy schmuck $80 an hour. They never measure the inconvenience of monthly payments and higher insurance rates. They don't know how wonderful my car sounds at 63 mph in 5th gear. They don't care at all about personal knowledge of an individual car.
My wife and I dated in this car. My kids love riding in it. And I love driving it. Maybe I'll go for a drive tonight. Nothing like a deserted country road on a warm spring evening, engine purring like an affectionate cat, window down, arm playing in the wind.
Where'd that dang window crank land this time?