1955 Hudson Electropolitan
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The United States is traditionally a land of large cars.  Since the automobile established itself as a long distance vehicle the car has grown.  In the United States the family car grew to a size where folks could travel the massive met ad section spans of highways in comfort.  The small cars that developed in Europe were really more suited to the shorter distances and smaller roads of the countries across the Atlantic.

More than one American company had a go at selling a small car.  Bantam/ American Austin was one.  The cars were tiny and cute, and are prized today for that cuteness; but they were not suited to the expanding roads in North America.  Crosley, the company that made refrigerators and radios, also tried the small car field.  The cars were tiny and toy like.  A fellow who owned one in the fifties complained of how the neighborhood kids would lift his over the garden fence every night, and then he would have to round them up in the morning to get it out.  Crosley did not help their image by adding free spinning propellers at one point to the grill of their cars.

Despite these failures another car company eyed the small car market.  This company was Nash and the push for this research came from met ad Chairman of Nash-Kelvinator, George W. Mason.  In the late 1940’s Nash began researching different types of more personal vehicles for local use.  The concept was to see if there was a market and an interest for small personal or secondary vehicles as opposed to the massive steel that was strolling the roadways and parking lots at the time.

     The Metropolitan design came from an independent design firm and was created by William Flajole.  The concept Flajole created was basically a two-seater that was not as tiny as European cars and had a bit of an American flair to it.  The drawings were provided in 1948, and a prototype was produced in 1949.  In an era that was to develop into huge chrome gas guzzling Detroit madness, Nash followed a very intelligent path with this car project.   

The first model was called the NXI, short for Nash Experimental International.  The proposed price was $1,000.  Mason put George Romney in charge of showing the car.  The car was showed as a way of testing the waters, and the public were surveyed as to their interest in such a vehicle.  The result was an,” unusually strong and sustained,” public response according to George Mason.  With such a positive response the design and refining process continued and created the basic Metropolitan that people still love for its cute yet comfortable size.
The NXI became the NKI (Nash Kelvinator International) met ad and Austin Motor Company, LTD of England became the producer of the new automobile.  The decision to produce the car overseas and import the finished product was made for cost purposes.  Steel supplies were hard to obtain in the United States.  Plus, tooling costs and Union wages were extremely high as well.  Austin began building the NKI Custom in October of 1953 and the cars became available in the United States by Spring of 1954.

In 1954 the struggling Hudson auto company merged with Nash to become  American Motors Corporation (AMC).  The NKI name was soon changed to Metropolitan and the new cars were badged as Nash and Hudson.  Eventually AMC would just sell the car as a Metropolitan, at which point only a little over 4,000 were labeled as Hudsons.

Major changes for the Metropolitan came in 1956 as the Metropolitan became the Metropolitan 1500.  There were some minor styling changes including a new grill and a chrome line dividing a met ad two tone exterior.  Mechanically the Metropolitan received a new engine and Transmission.  The engine was the reliable Austin A-50 with greater displacement than the earlier 1200 cc engine, and more power. 

The Metropolitan would continue with this power train through its demise in 1962.  Well over 100,000 Metropolitans were sold during the 8 year span of sales, but flagging sales due to styling, lack of four seats, and rising competition from the VW Beetle, and AMC’s Rambler line brought about the end of a small, cute, and reliable car.   Eight years was a very good run for a little car that saw few changes.

    (Author’s note:  I found the majority of this information in The Metropolitan Story by Patrick R. Foster.  If you want to learn all about the special show models, the Metropolitan owners club, the testing and marketing of this neat little car I highly recommend this book.  The book also has a great array of color and black and white images.)


So, what is an "Electropolitan"?
  gas pump

First off, to avoid confusion, the Electropolitan is a name my friend Scott coined and I thought it sounded great.  Hudson did not make an electric Metropolitan, but the term sounds good when combining the actual name of the vehicle with the fact that it is now an Electric Vehicle.  So the definition of Electropolitan is: A 1955 Hudson Metropolitan converted to a 48 volt Electric system and lovingly called "Hugo" by its many fans.

The concept:

I started researching Electric vehicles a year or two ago.  As gas prices shot up in 2008 I looked further into the practicality of converting a VW Beetle.  I found a couple companies selling kits.  I spoke with a man at a car show who uses his EV Beetle as a commuter car, and I did alot of forum reading and online research. Basically though, the cost effectiveness of the project, with the initial outlay, was not worth it for me.  So I laid my research aside except for looking into reproducing from scratch a circa 1902 electric car for fun.  Oddly a much cheaper project as it requires a less robust motor, and would use an array of materials I have on hand.  This is a project I might do next spring.

Fast forward to January of 2009 and my students are rehearsing for our Spring musical, Grease.  traffic stop The big dilemma with this show is that one focal point is a 1940's/50's car which the Greasers sing about, dance around etc...  The car is in two major scenes in the show.  I work hard to make our productions as professional as possible so the search began for a car to use on stage (I could not figure out how to build anything that I would find acceptable.)  After some digging on the internet I found a fellow in NJ renting a converted Nash Metropolitan.  We put in a reservation and the car arrived a week before the show.

The cast and crew fell in love with the little car which was designed well for simplicity of use on stage.  Automatic brakes, a simple forward reverse switch, and a light letting you know when the battery was low.  It seemed there were some power issues on occasion though.  My students and I looked over the car with the idea of maybe making another one to rent as this was the only one on the East Coast and the show Grease is so popular.  Honestly, there should not be much competition even with two cars out there.

As I researched the car conversion I looked into the components used on the car we rented vs. the kits available to make the car a fully roadworthy conversion.  The price actually came out cheaper when using a roadworthy conversion.   That and the roadworthy conversion uses most of the original vehicle mechanicals which I believe are more durable.  I thought a little bit more and then put the idea aside until I came upon the perfect car on ebay.

The project begins:

There are times that the stars align and shout,"do this!"  This happened shortly after we finished our spring musical.  In a fit of insomnia one night in late March '09 I searched ebay for a Metropolitan.  I found one in California.  No engine (great! don't need it!), a bit battered met on ebay looking, but my gut said it was solid.  I clicked "Buy It Now!" for $990.00 and bought the car.  I received an email the following day from the owner, Kelley Young, about what a nice surprise it was to wake up and see the car had sold.  We chatted back and forth about what I was going to do with the car and it turned out that Kelley had worked in props for the film industry.  This just added to my gut feeling that this all was a good idea.

I made shipping arrangements and waited for the car to arrive.  met arrival From now on I will use a different shipper for cars.  The little Met showed up on the leading lip of a flatbed that also carried a huge back hoe.  I knew the car was loaded on the truck from a rollback tow truck, so I asked the Ukrainian truck driver how we were supposed to remove the car.  He replied,"you have forklift!"  I said I had no such thing.  Rather frustrated at what should have been a simple job I went home, picked up two huge wooden ramps I had made years ago, and brought them back so we could roll the car off the trailer.  What a pain in the neck!

I had promised my rollback truck driver, Bob, that this move would be an easy one compared to the last two (he helped move the Porsche out of a labyrinth of narrow alleys in the city, and an Austin Champ I had out of  a rickety building down a narrow and muddy path.)  Bob's reaction to my promise of an easy move was,"so, the car is in Afghanistan and we need a sky crane to get it out?"  I promised him no, this will be an easy removal off of a truck.  But Murphy's law struck again.  Luckily the Met without an engine is so light I was able to hold it and steer it at the same time down the ramps onto Bob's truck.  Bob still had issues backing up my steep and narrow driveway though afterwards.  He has whole rants dedicated to my driveway.

Moving forwards:
I started work on the car within a few days.  I literally had to shovel the interior clean of years of animal feces, the remains of the seat yuck cushions, twigs, and lord knows what else.  At one point I got the bad idea to wash and scrub the interior.  This only saturated dried urine and created a horrible stench in my driveway.  I wanted to make sure the car was clean before taking it into school.

After cleaning the car one of my stage crew students, came out to help with some initial work.  We removed the gas tank, exhaust system, and some other unneeded parts.  The really really reallyschool nice thing about working on a car from California is that 95% of the bolts unscrew like they were put in yesterday.  This makes all the money I spent on shipping worth it!

Our school's Principal gave me permission to bring the car into the stage workshop so I could work on it with the students.  I ordered a tow bar from Metropolitan Pit Stop and then took the car to school.  The rest of the restoration story is in the restoration gallery where pictures can tell so much more than words.  The students took to this restoration like ducks to water.  Their time and efforts helped complete this restoration and conversion in 4 months time!!  Thus 10% of rental proceeds from the car go to the Owings Mills High School theater program as a thanks to my students.

Electric Conversion:
The Electric conversion is a 48 volt conversion kit offered by Wilderness EV. While this seems to be a complete kit I have found out they took some shortcuts in the wiring.  I am redoing the wiring now for safety purposes.  While the kit is fairly complete it is not "easy".  Whilemotor Wilderness provides all the parts, and has adapter plates ready drilled for VW Beetles, things get a little different when doing a car that has not been done before.  The standard adaptor plate that Wilderness has should fit any car.  This heavy duty adaptor fits the Met transmission fine and only required the marking and drilling of holes.

The kit also includes an adaptor from a clutch for your specific vehicle to attach to the clutch shaft on your transmission. Therefore I have drilled the holes in the adapter plate myself.  I cut down the transmission's mount clutch shaft using a carbide blade on a Milwaukee Sawzall (this took around half an hour).  I also designed with student assistance the mounting bracket which holds up the transmission in absence of the engine.  I made the bracket out of 2" angle iron sections and smaller angled pieces.  

The end result is that with the 48 volt kit the Electric Met can do roadspeeds up to 48 mph.  If I do another conversion down the road I will use a 72 volt conversion for better road speeds.  The car drives up hills fine and is quite fun to toddle around the neighborhood in.

Detective work:

I like to know the stories of my cars.  Kelley Young was unable to tell me much about the Met prior to his purchase of it.  We have learned much in taking the car apart though.  The car appears to have been registered through the 1970's.  From the lack of an engine and a severely bent rod going to the clutch master cylinder we can theorize that the clutch went, the engine was removed to fix the clutch, and that expense or time got in the way and the job was never finished.

Also, we can tell the car was hit once on the driver's side.  The damage was severe enough to cause replacement of the driver's side door, and straightening of the door sill below it.  This is evidenced by the paint on the door under the panels.  On the passenger side the door is green as the car was originally.  On the driver's side the door is dull black, a typical color for replacement parts.  Also, the driver's side door sill has a whole opened up in it, and the area that was straightened is still discernible.  The hole was hidden under the aluminum sill plate.



Here is a video of our first test run outside the school.  I keep receiving emails asking about the sound on the video.  Then I remind folks that electric cars are nearly silent.



The rental website for the electric Metropolitan

Met Pit Stop

The Metropolitan Pit Stop is a top notch place to purchase Metropolitan parts from.  If they do not have
it in their catalog, just ask for the part.  If you want the part lightly used then ask and they will find it!!  
A wonderful staff, great selection, quick shipping, and a great knowledge base.  This is the place to
purchase parts from!!

Metropolitan Owners' Club of North America

The owners' club for Metropolitans.  They have a nice newsletter and a very useful website.