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FEB 10th 2015

Nash Metropolitan: tackling Lavant and Sainsbury's car park...

CCK Historic owner Shaun Rainford returns to the paddock from a successful shaking down session and beckons me towards his Nash Metropolitan race car. It’s lunchtime, and he wants to pop down to the road to the local Sainsbury’s. You see, while this car is fully race-prepared – the lowered ride height and tuned B-series engine see to that – it’s also equipped with a passenger seat and has an MoT and tax disc. So it can drive straight off the circuit and on to the road.

Today marks the first outing for the freshly re-commissioned car since its racing debut at the 2012 Revival, the team at Sussex based classic car specialist CCK Historic having brought it to Goodwood for testing ahead of the 73rd Members’ Meeting

It’s probably no great surprise that this is the first Nash Metropolitan I’ve been in; they’re much more common on the other side of the Atlantic, having been originally sold in the UK only in very small numbers by BMC. What’s even less of a surprise is that this is the first Metropolitan race car I’ve been in. CCK specialises in the quirkier contenders for the Revival’s St Mary’s Trophy – and now the Members’ Meeting – and this car fits right in with its ethos of taking cars that aren’t natural racers and putting them on the grid. There were no famous Metropolitan race cars in period, but the team at CCK do have a photo of one attacking Paddock Hill bend at Brands Hatch – so it’s not entirely unchartered territory.

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If it’s unconventional as a racing car, then this example also makes unusual transport for the lunchtime run. The bench seat has gone, in its place two bucket seats. The passenger seat is a generic period seat trimmed to match the original door cards and rear bench that remain fitted. Big switches in the dashboard, which were for the now-removed radio, outnumber the original instrumentation, which numbers just the speedo with a small fuel gauge built in. Temperature, oil pressure and revs are monitored by auxiliary dials mounted to the custom-made roll cage. The interior is as immaculately prepared as the exterior, and contains enough of the original fitments to ensure the 1950s charm has not been obliterated.

The B-series engine settles into a noisy idle which only gets louder as we head through the tunnel under the circuit and out to the road. The sound of the straight-cut gearbox – its four-speed H-gate replacing the original 3-speed column mounted shift – joins in to ensure that this Nash sounds every bit a racing car. No sound deadening, of course.

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Inside, it’s strictly a 2+2 and, to my surprise, not much more spacious than, say, an MG Midget. A decent-sized boot means that we could have chosen to do a weekly shop if we’d wanted to, but the carrier bags would have had to be fitted around the bespoke aluminium fuel tank that now occupies most of the luggage area. At least this one has a boot lid; the earliest cars didn’t, and you had to poke your luggage into the boot from inside the car, a la ‘Frogeye’ Sprite.

So why did CCK settle on building a Metropolitan in the first place? It was the result of a pub-fuelled bet to build the most inappropriate racing car. Despite the car’s rarity in the UK, it didn’t take long to find one. Shaun takes up the story: “I went to a car auction at Paddock Wood in Kent, but the area where all the cars were parked was flooded with a few inches of water and nobody was looking at the lots. But my wife is into horses, and had her wellies with here and waded in.” She identified the Nash as a good one, and when it came to bidding Shaun had little competition. He clinched the road legal car, which admittedly would have needed work just to keep standard, let alone build to competition spec, for just £1200.

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As it turns out, the Metropolitan is a more suitable racing car than its boulevard styling would suggest. The front suspension has double wishbones, while at the back you’ll find telescopic dampers. These were things dreams were made of in the 1950s, and make the Nash very easy to set up. The BMC parts bin mechanicals are also eminently tuneable. The B-series now features all steel internals and is producing about 170bhp.

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The result was a respectable ninth place on the grid at its first Revival outing, although mechanical problems blighted the car. The engine blew up in qualifying when touring car champion John Cleland was at the wheel (he shared the driving with Shaun). A spare engine was fitted but, despite having been previously tested, it wouldn’t rev properly. But the crowd was behind the Nash; when Cleland stalled on the line, a huge cheer erupted when he got going. This is a car that makes everyone smile, whether on the track or a trip to the supermarket. It gets a positive reaction wherever it goes. Despite the mechanical problems, the Nash finished both its races at the 2012 Revival.

After the event, the car was pushed into CCK’s museum and left resting until last summer, when preparations for 73MM began. It’s now fighting fit and ready for next month’s meeting where it will once again be Shaun at the wheel. It’s sure to be a crowd favourite; let’s hope that this time it reaches its full potential in the race.

And if not? It can always fall back on its role as a shopping car…

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