Oh Car, Wherefore Art Thou?

My tragic affair with a 1957 Metropolitan

By Jeff Salter

Our topic this week is about uncooperative machines, appliances, or vehicles. I’ve had ‘em all, I guess, but perhaps the most uncooperative – yet it still has a warm place in my heart – is the 1957 Nash Metropolitan.

For those of you who don’t know, this was mostly a British car (and shared some components with the MG) but was marketed by the (American) Nash company, which also handled Ramblers (among others). It was a two-seater convertible with trunk storage that you could access only through the fold-down rear seats. [In later model years, they added a small trunk hatch.]

I don’t believe I have any digital pix of mine, but here’s a different one for visual reference:

Metropolitan-front

I had just separated from active duty in the U.S. Air Force (summer of ’74) and moved back to my hometown with a wife and child. My father-in-law, who worked on vehicles, had located this beat-up 1957 Metropolitan, which some LSU fraternity had painted purple and gold and driven in campus parades. Dad got it running again and presented it to us. Only problem was that its title had been through (as I recall) seven owners since it had last been registered. So when I went to the license bureau to get the thing road-legal, I had to pay for those six title transfers which had NOT been recorded. The State of Louisiana was not going to turn a blind eye to recalcitrant title holders who didn’t pony up. A lawyer friend from church went with me to that office to talk them out of making me pay the PENALTIES associated with those six other unrecorded title transfers.

With a little help from Dad, here and there, but mostly by myself, I slowly worked on the body (sanding, painting, new vinyl top), the brakes (needed all new wheel cylinders, brake shoes, plus a master cylinder and slave cylinder), and various aspects of the engine (don’t recall what). But the biggest problem was in its wiring.

Those frat guys had lost the horn button, so they fabricated one. They moved other switches (like the starter button and the turn signals) to the glove compartment lid. And there were many other idiosyncrasies. Bear in mind that the Metropolitan, like other British cars, used a positive-ground system (as opposed to negative ground)… so many U.S. standard automotive electrical things just didn’t work on it.

I had to have an ignition key custom made for it, because the keys had disappeared among those numerous title transfers. I even hired somebody to weld a steel plate to the floor so the driver’s foot wouldn’t push through the rust and drag on the street! I also installed a speedometer cable, bought a new windshield, and things I can’t even remember anymore. [This was the car which, when I was un-mounting the dashboard to work on the wiring, it fell on top of my face and gouged a deep cut into my right eyebrow.]

I think you can perceive by now that this car had a LOT of work invested in it before it even got legally on the road again. Well, once we got it running, we found out just how temperamental it was.

Metropolitan-back

The Met, as we called it, would usually start okay, and it loved to go on 30 minute drives. But if you stopped during that half hour, it would not start again. And after it had put in its 30 minutes, it required a 90 minute nap before it was willing to move again.

I consulted every shade-tree mechanic I knew trying to figure out the problem – other than the Met simply being obstinate – and the term which kept coming up was Vapor Lock.

The shade-tree cures for vapor lock included things like placing wooden clothes pins on the fuel line, installing an insulated barrier to keep the exhaust manifold’s heat from reaching the carburetor, etc. I think one “cure” had something to do with a voodoo doll, but I never tried that one.

Well, Denise and I learned to live with the Met’s Vapor Lock anomaly. We’d plan trips which lasted about 30 minutes (or less) and allowed at least 90 minutes rest before we’d attempt to drive either home or to another stop. And it worked — about 66% of the time. But when you least expected it (and most needed the car to run), the Met would come down with a fresh dose of Vapor Lock.

It got to where, when I’d return from a weekend of Reserve duty at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, I’d walk in the door and say, “Where’s the Met? Let’s go get it.” Sometimes it was at the mall, sometimes A&P, and sometimes the post office. Wherever Denise had been that tripped over that 30 / 90 algorithm.

My memory is a bit fuzzy now, but I also remember a LOT of “push-starting” with the Met. I can’t recall if that was a battery issue, a faulty generator, or if it was tied into the vapor lock diagnosis, but there were many, MANY times I’d be pushing the Met (by hand) and screaming to Denise, “Pop the clutch!” I also recall many instances when I was BOTH the pusher and the popper and I wish we’d had cell phone cameras in those days to prove how agile I was at flinging myself into the moving automobile and turning the key and popping the clutch before it stopped rolling.

I don’t remember having the Met with us in Baton Rouge, during my year of grad school, so it’s possible we both realized the B.R. traffic was too intense and the city much too large for us to risk being stranded with that 30 / 90 vapor lock algorithm.

But we did run it in Jonesville for 2.5 years. I worked in Harrisonburg, which was about a 25 minute drive from Jonesville, so on most days that I drove the Met, it took me safely from home to work and then it had all day to rest up for the drive back home.

We didn’t bring it with us to Shreveport in 1980, probably for the same reason we didn’t trust it in Baton Rouge. Eventually, we traded it to Denise’s sister for a well-used VW bug which their Dad had also worked on and gotten running.

I neglected to mention that during the years we drove the Met, I was always looking out for parts, especially trim. Eventually I purchased (from a junk yard) a 1962 Met which I had intended to use for parts to more completely restore the wiring of the ’57 we were driving. But, alas, I ran out of time and money and ended up forfeiting the parts car.

I miss that Met… and wish we could have held on to it. Somerset has an old car rally – SomerNites Cruise – one Saturday each month for the six seasonable months each year and it would be cool to take that Met downtown and show it off. Alas, in those younger years, we had neither time, money, nor space to store a hobby that large and unproductive… but I still think about it.

Now I’ve never satisfactorily determined exactly what Vapor Lock is, but if it’s anything like the symptoms this Metropolitan exhibited, then I think I have a case of it myself.

More about Cars

In a blog about four years ago, I addressed several of my early vehicle relationships, so you’ll likely want to know about the 1947 Plymouth Special Deluxe (among others):

https://fourfoxesonehound.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/my-first-vehicles/

Question:

What about you? Have you ever had an appliance, car or machine that just would NOT cooperate?

[ JLS # 276 ]

 

 

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About jeff7salter

Currently writing romantic comedy, screwball comedy, and romantic suspense. Twelve completed novels and five completed novellas. Working with three royalty publishers: Clean Reads, Dingbat Publishing, & TouchPoint Press/Romance. "Size Matters" -- Oct. 2016 "The Duchess of Earl" -- Jul. 2016 "Stuck on Cloud Eight" -- Nov. 2015, "Pleased to Meet Me" (novella) -- Oct. 2015, "One Simple Favor" (novella) -- May 2015, "The Ghostess & MISTER Muir" -- Oct. 2014, "Scratching the Seven-Month Itch" -- Sept. 2014, "Hid Wounded Reb" -- Aug. 2014, "Don't Bet On It" (novella) -- April 2014, "Curing the Uncommon Man-Cold -- Dec. 2013, "Echo Taps" (novella) -- June 2013, "Called To Arms Again" -- (a tribute to the greatest generation) -- May 2013, "Rescued By That New Guy in Town" -- Oct. 2012, "The Overnighter's Secrets" -- May 2012. Co-authored two non-fiction books about librarianship (with a royalty publisher), a chapter in another book, and an article in a specialty encyclopedia. Plus several library-related articles and reviews. Also published some 120 poems, about 150 bylined newspaper articles, and some 100 bylined photos. Worked about 30 years in librarianship. Formerly newspaper editor and photo-journalist. Decorated veteran of U.S. Air Force (including a remote ‘tour’ of duty in the Arctic … at Thule AB in N.W. Greenland). Married; father of two; grandfather of six.
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18 Responses to Oh Car, Wherefore Art Thou?

  1. Patricia Kiyono says:

    Wow. All I can say is that you and your wife have a LOT more patience than we have! I never learned to drive a stick shift, so I wouldn’t be able to drive a car like your Met. And no, I don’t know what Vapor Lock is either. On the bright side, the 30 minute limit would limit the amount of driving, so you probably saved gas money.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      It was certainly frustrating. In those days, we had no choice but to accept “free” stuff (like this car) even though we likely realized it would be very expensive to get running and maintain. I would have neither the energy or the patience to tackle such efforts now-a-days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Denise says:

    Comments or Memories of the Met- Jeff forgot to mention the colorful aspect connected to the Met. The car came to us purple with gold unartfully applied (frat boys on a bender with spray paint). As Jeff repaired and replaced body parts in his not so spare time, the car body was different colors – Pink door, yellow gray (bondo over purple paint) fender, purple hood, and blue backside plus different shades of white on all places designated white! As i arrived at church one spring morning, our preacher, Dr. Guy Futral, laughed upon seeing the colorful car and said, “I see you’re driving an Easter Egg!”

    Liked by 4 people

    • jeff7salter says:

      I had forgotten how many colors we had going on. I guess the parts car was pink and white, so that would explain the door. I didn’t recall replacing a fender, so maybe that was just some yellow primer? who knows. Wish we could find some photos…

      Like

  3. Ted Talley says:

    Jeff, this is delightful. And too bad you couldn’t have kept it. One highlight of local car shows in Joplin when we lived up there was a woman who had a pink and white Metropolitan convertible with a huge Pink Panther stuffed toy always displayed in the passenger seat. As to vapor lock, this was the diagnosis for the 72 Ford convertible years ago (and I still have it) when it simply decided to stop on the Will Rogers Turnpike halfway between Joplin and the Tulsa airport. We sat there for a twenty minutes. The engine and fuel line cooled down and it started up again. Luckily the airline believed my strange car problem story and booked my daughter on a later flight at no penalty. Oddly it never happened again and a mechanic said it was probably a combination of the engine heat on a longer haul plus the near 100 degree temp on the plains that day. Which brings up the question: Did the Met act up worse in summer vs. winter?

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      thanks for commenting, Ted. I had heard of other people experiencing vapor lock in their automobiles, but not with the perversity displayed by the Met.
      I can’t recall whether it was better or worse in the hot or cold seasons. For one thing, it was quite drafty, so I’m guessing we drove it less during winter months.
      So your Ford returned to the game after only 20 minutes? Hmm. Must be a Detroit thing. Ha.

      Like

  4. jeff7salter says:

    One thing I forgot to mention, which certainly affected our use of the Met — Julie was born in Dec. 1975, so she was a baby and toddler while we were driving this cranky car. Even back in those days, when we knew less about child safety restraints and there were no laws to speak of, we were worried about somebody that young riding around too much. Not to mention that if / when the Met took its vapor lock siesta that whoever had been driving would have to CARRY little Julie.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jeff7salter says:

    Denise reminded me that we had some yellow panels on our Met. I think I remember how that came to be, but it wasn’t because I’d gotten fenders (or whatever) from another car. As I was sanding off the purple spray paint (from the LSU guys), I must have discovered that the original car had been yellow and white. So in the areas where I could take it back down to the factory color, it ended up yellow. Of course, there were many areas where removing the purple merely exposed red primer or gray primer instead. In the regions where I reached bare metal, I would reply primer… and it was usually gray. I don’t recall much (if any) bondo work per se… but it’s certainly possible.
    Gosh, I wish I still had that cranky little car.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Joselyn says:

    It looks like it would have made a very cute lawn ornament.

    I’m sure a video of you pushing the car and popping the clutch would be priceless.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a cute car! We had a ’76 Blazer that my husband got from his family when we got married in ’82.THAT thing had a temperamental fuel-filter problem.We hung onto it long after it was safe to drive.One of my brothers-in-law always wanted it. A few years ago I said, PLEASE come and get it.It is being reconditioned slowly but surely in Oklahoma.
    My father had a ’57 Chevy station wagon that I wish I had for old car rallies!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      yeah, that ’57 Chevy wagon would be a treat to see. Not nearly as many of the wagon made as the ’57 Chevy 2-door or 4-door.
      What shape was it in when your dad got rid of it?

      Like

      • I was about 12, Jeff.I remember that the body was in good shape.I don’t remember why he got rid of that one. A few he lost in wrecks, one great one he had was lost in a fire when my sister insisted that he let her friend fix it…and there was a fire in that guy’s unlicensed shop.
        In fact, my sister may have had a hand in the ’57 wagon’s departure: It wasn’t a ‘cool car’ back then.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. The Met sounds like it was a lot of work but it looks like it would be fun to drive. That would be a great car to have at that car show

    My current vehicle shuts off while I’m driving. I have yet to take it to a mechanic but have been told from a gentleman at church that it sounds like it is vapor lock. I told him it starts right back up. Then he and the other guys who were listening said a New fuel filter should fix The problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jeff7salter says:

      I’m positive I replaced the fuel filter on our Met… because I routinely did that for any old car and it was usually quite inexpensive — around $3 or $4 as I recall.

      Like

  9. jbrayweber says:

    It’s a sickness to own a car like that. You loved it, otherwise you wouldn’t have put up with the trouble.

    I owned a 1969 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with a 350 motor. It was a beautiful midnight blue with a white interior and white ragtop. Loved that car. It was fairly reliable as old muscle cars that had the wheel driven off of it could be.

    Jenn!

    Liked by 1 person

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