Thursday, 14 June 2007

Motoring memories 1 – the launch of the Austin Metro at the NEC Motor Show in 1980

Back in 1980 there was only one story at the Motor Show – the launch of the new Metro, seen as a make-or-break model for British Leyland, then under the management of Sir Michael Edwardes, in the face of scepticism from the recently elected Thatcher government.

At some unearthly hour – I think it was 5am - my equally car-mad school pal Bruce and I got a lift from Bruce's dad to the station for the long journey from deepest Essex to Birmingham. If I remember correctly, we arrived at about 9.30 but the official opening time was 10. Even so, in the excitement (yes, I agree this seems fairly sad from today's perspective), we ran for what felt like miles through the station and the NEC complex to the exhibition entrance, and were rewarded with the discovery that the doors were already open. For a short while, we had the show more or less to ourselves, and made an immediate bee-line for the Metros on the BL stand. We sat in that year's hottest car and gave it a quick once over before deciding to come back later on for a proper look. Of course, when we returned, the BL stand was just one enormous bun-fight with hundreds of eager punters all clamouring to touch or even just catch a glimpse of the Metro, and we couldn't get anywhere near the cars again.

The Metro was a success but it had to soldier on well beyond its sell-by date – its replacement would have been the MINI but BMW kept that for itself, so the short-lived City Rover, based on Tata's Indica had to do the job for MG Rover instead.

Bruce and I have attended many motor shows together since, including, most recently, the latest London show at Expo in Docklands last year. But none have matched the 1980 Brum show for excitement.

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