Home » Pond Hopping: 1989 Metro 1.0 City vs 1994 Vauxhall Cavalier LS 1.8i

Pond Hopping: 1989 Metro 1.0 City vs 1994 Vauxhall Cavalier LS 1.8i

Metro Vs Cavalier

Welcome back to Shitbox Showdown, where we put the “eh” in vehicle. Today, we’re hopping a flight to England to see if there are any gems to be had in the classifieds. Thanks to a relatively weak pound, there’s never been a better time for Americans to shop for UKDM rides. We’re going to bump the budget cap to £2,865 or roughly $3,500 for this one because if you’re paying thousands to import a car, you better import a good one. But first, let’s check in to see if Daimler vs. Chrysler went smoothly.

Daimler Vs Chrysler

My word, that is close. After 620 votes, the Sebring won it by just 14 votes. Truthfully, I’d take the E-Class knowing full and well how rarely I saw them booked in for anything other than routine maintenance, brakes, and the odd suspension component, but that wind-in-the-hair experience certainly holds a degree of romance. Anyway, let’s grab a glass of Ribena and see what I found on Gumtree.

1989 Metro 1.0 City – £2,795

Metro 1

Engine/drivetrain: One-liter four-cylinder engine, four-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive

Location: Ashford, UK

Odometer reading: 19,000 miles

Runs/drives? “Very well,” apparently

How do you effectively replace the Mini? As it turns out, the solution in the end was to go premium. Nevertheless, the R53 Cooper was far from the first time someone tried to replace Alec Issigonis’ little gem. In fact, Austin tried several things before settling on LC8 as its mass-market supermini, otherwise known as the Metro. This little supermini had a promising start, with a period of time atop the UK sales charts and Lady Diana Spencer being a Metro owner. However, things unraveled after a few years when everyone realized that the Metro was yet another shoddily-built British Leyland product with a propensity to rust.

Metro 4

That legacy’s a bit of a shame because the Metro was reasonably clever for a car that launched in 1980. Check out those driver-centric interior controls with HVAC sliders right up next to the instrument cluster. In addition, it used BL’s clever Hydragas suspension with pressurized nitrogen-filled spheres taking the place of traditional springs.

Metro 3

Now, £2,795 may seem like an awful lot of money for a car with a reputation for being a bit shit, but this particular Metro promises to be a gem. It’s claimed to have just one owner since new and have covered just 19,000 miles. By American standards, that means it’s basically new.

Metro 2

Granted, low mileage doesn’t mean cosmetically perfect, and this Metro seems to have fallen victim to an unfortunate parking incident. Just look at that rear bumper fitment. Still, everything else from the pristine B-pillar decals to the very clean upholstery looks perfect, so this might be one of the nicest Metros you can get your hands on.

1994 Vauxhall Cavalier LS 1.8i – £2,500

Vauxhall Cavalier 1

Engine/drivetrain: 1.8-liter four-cylinder, five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive

Location: Dumfries, UK

Odometer reading: 112,484 miles

Runs/drives? Absolutely

Despite the Cavalier nameplate once being a common sight on American roads, the Mk3 Vauxhall Cavalier shares virtually nothing with the J-body cockroaches that seemingly run badly longer than most cars will run at all. However, despite occupying a more upmarket position than the Chevrolet Cavalier, the Vauxhall Cavalier was still a true car of the people. Let me explain.

Vauxhall Cavalier 2

Way back in the 1960s, the British government stopped considering company cars as taxable benefits as a way to spur on industry. Income tax was quite high, so one way to reward employees was to give them a company car, and family sedans were the ideal company car of the day. Of course, steady reforms eventually caused this tradition to largely fizzle, but company cars weren’t especially uncommon in the early half of the 1990s.

Vauxhall Cavalier 4

At the turn of that decade, the Vauxhall Cavalier was a prime pick, with trims like this 1.8i LS given to reasonably successful sales reps. Is it really surprising that a practical five-door liftback was a prime choice for scurrying up and down motorways shilling toner or other business supplies? Best of all, it was reportedly a decent car, winning What Car? magazine’s Family Car of the Year award in 1989 and 1990 back-to-back. With a drag coefficient of 0.29, it was reportedly quite quiet, and filled with soft-touch plastics before it was cool.

Of course, by the time this 1994 model had arrived, Ford had fired back with the crisp Mondeo. Just like how the Cavalier showed up the then-aging Ford Sierra, the Mondeo blew the Cavalier back to the turn of the ‘90s. Still, this one appears rather well-kept, covering a reasonable 112,484 miles. While the plastic trim has faded, the paint still looks cherry, and the styling seems to have stood the test of time.

Vauxhall Cavalier 3

On the inside, this Cavalier is a touch scabby. The owner reports that some trim bits like the A-pillar panels need a bit of gluing, but that they’ll “try to get round to sorting these before sale.” Otherwise, the gear knob is missing, but a new clutch and MOT until November 2024 is sure to allay some fears.

So, which lesser-lauded British peoples’ car would you put your money on? Are you going for the sales rep special or getting brave with a bit of BL tin?

(Photo credits: Gumtree sellers)

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37 Responses

  1. I had a ’96 Saab 900 and quite liked it, and I’d quite like to compare my memories of it to the Cavalier which donated a good portion of its structure to those Saabs.

    I might even be able to sell the Cavalier to a local postal worker without losing my shirt.

    The Metro belongs in someone’s collection – not mine, but someone’s – being driven around town occasionally. (Well, maybe a lot more than that if Mr. Harrell’s in the market for another…)

  2. Oooh, I like the idea of foreign market shitbox showdown. It gives it some nice variety.

    I don’t know anything about either of these cars but I chose the Cavalier. I think it looks better and in the hypothetical situation of me importing it to the US, it would be much more usable here than a 1.0L Metro. Plus the novelty of having a very different type of Cavalier here would be fun too.

  3. As much as I’d like to drive around singing “Riding in the MetroooOOOoooo”, I can’t see spending that much on a British car built at the end of the 70’s. I’ll save 250 quid for a few pints and trips to the local chippy and take the Opel-er-eh-Vauxhall.

  4. “…BL’s clever Hydragas suspension with pressurized nitrogen-filled spheres taking the place of traditional springs.”

    It wouldn’t have been worth developing if it only took the place of the springs; it instead takes the place of both the springs and the shock absorbers.

    1. Like say Coil overs? Because you know when you cannnot find anything for this metro that would be the route you would have to go to keep the little feller on the road.

      1. There are conversion kits for eliminating the Hydragas displacers in the MGF but not for the seemingly less beloved Metro (which I no longer have) or Allegro (which I do still have). Fortunately there are people in the UK who will do their best to refurbish these displacers, although as the surviving units get older this is becoming more problematic.

  5. Neither one of these has any appeal. That Cavalier may not be a J-body, but I recognize the engine from about a million 1980’s Sunbirds, Skyhawks, and Firenzas, and that’s not good.
    I certainly hope the beater-hunters in jolly old England have more to choose from.

  6. Ah yes, the Metro. Not the Austin Metro, not the Rover Metro, a car from those couple of years when the Austin name was too much of a liability but the Metro had not been polished up to Rover standards.

  7. Having owned both back in the 90s, I can tell you that 112,000 miles on a cavalier is end of life. But a Metro will run forever. Sure, there’s rust to contend with, but find a solid one and it will outlast all of us.

  8. I learnt to drive in a Metro same year as that one (their was a time when half of UK new drivers learnt in a metro as they were used by the largest driving school BSM). I later had a Cavalier the same as that except the sedan rather than hatchback body style. Cavalier is night and day the better car, although I guess the low mileage of the Metro will appeal to brand enthusiasts.

    Cavalier for me.

  9. Man, I remember seeing the Cavalier as the Vectra A everywhere as a kid; I didn’t like the design then and I don’t like it now. Now it it were a MkII Cavalier / Ascona C in one of the hot versions (SRi 130 / Calibre), it would be a completely different story.

    As it is, I’ll happily take the Metro.

  10. I can’t imagine going through the aggravation of importing a car just to end up with either one of these, but of the two I’d have to pick the Cavalier. I get depressed just looking at the Metro, and I’d wager that driving it would be even worse.

  11. British person here, who has driven both cars.

    Trust me, it’s the Cavalier.

    The Metro was designed in the 70s and is essentially an updated Mini. It used the same A-series engine (albeit upgraded to “A plus”) and the same sump-mounted 4-speed gearbox. This isn’t the vastly improved “Rover Metro” of 1990 which had the properly interconnected suspension for a much improved ride, plus the K-series engine and (at last!) a 5-speed box. Even so, it still crumpled like paper in a crash.

    As well as being 2 whole size classes larger than the Metro, the Cavalier really pushed the repmobile category forwards. No it didn’t handle as crisply as the Peugeot 405, but it had great build quality, a nice interior, loads of space, and was available that amazing red top engine.

  12. Cavalier, cause the front of the metro has “something” going on. Red overspray on the crooked grill leads me to wonder what else is amiss and undisclosed.
    Does the UK have the same type of sleazy used car dealers?
    However in the dealers inventory there’s this that caught my eye
    2001 Citroen Berlingo Multispace 1.9 D Forte 5dr MPV Diesel Manual £999.00

  13. I voted Metro because I’ve actually driven one and liked it. Admittedly mine was a City X with a 1275 but basic little go karts have a certain charm even 80s BL can’t erase.
    The Cavalier is too normal and a Mondeo drives so much better

  14. My first inclination was buy both, 5 gallons of gas and a Bic lighter. After looking a little longer I voted for the Cavalier because no matter how nice the condition of the shit box, it’s still a shit box. If I ever got the Cavalier right it would be bearable in a way that a mint refreshed 1.0 metro never could.

  15. I’m sure the Cavalier is the better car, but that Metro calls me back to my shitbox roots: it’s tiny, basic–and even a bit jacked up. Slow car almost fast: woot!

  16. I don’t know much about these cars, but I will admit that I am surprised that their prices are as high as they are. My only reference to the British used car market was Top Gear, and I recall watching Clarkson, Hammond, and May pick up late-90s cars about 10 years ago for around these prices (or often less — sometimes under £1,000). Granted the cars they bought weren’t mint condition examples, but they ran — often in very unfavorable conditions. If newer cars had depreciated by that much, I would have expected these to drop even more.

    I do realize that a lot has happened in the world (and in the car world specifically) in the past several years, so it’s possible that our British friends have been hit by car shortages just as hard as we Yanks have and those “cheap car challenges” would be very different if filmed today.

    1. Hello from England!

      Back in the early 2000s I bought a lot of cheap cars, a £50 BMW E30 320i, a £700 RX7 FC, Nissan Silvia for £700, £100 E30 325i, £600 535i, another RX7 but with a 4.6 V8 for £500.

      All of those cars would sell for 10k plus now. There are cheap cars out there, but nothing fun or interesting.

  17. I’ve only driven one Metro. It had such weird steering that I struggled to keep it on the road at 45mph. It was my mother-in-law’s car, so I assume it was set up for being driven while being two-bottles-of-wine-before-breakfast drunk. I once pretended to throw the keys away so she won’t drive while drunk, and she spent an hour searching for them in my garden before passing out. Fun times. Other than the weird steering it was terrible.

    My brother’s Metro was an “MG Metro” and was “sporty” in that it had red seat belts, but in all other ways still terrible (and slow: 0-60 in 10.7, top speed 103mph).

    While the one I drove was definitely broken: I read a thing once about Lotus Engineering and one of the handling assessment tests they did was to throw half a turn of steering lock on to a car at speed (50mph I think?), let go of the wheel and measure how many wobbles it would take to straighten itself. A good car would correct almost immediately. The only car they ever tested that got progressively worse over-corrections until it inevitably spun was a Metro.

    The Cavalier though, especially a 1.8, is just a car. Nothing more, nothing less. A slightly bigger Astra, which is what most Astra drivers aspired to.

    I chose the Cav. Especially with it’s magic 23 month MOT (MOT is only valid for a year).

  18. Metro for me. It’s kinda goofy, would make a fun conversation starter at a cars and coffee or two, and looks like something I could just about store under the workbench or out in the shed next to the mower the other 363 days of the year.

  19. The idea that anyone would pay 2.5k for that vintage of Cavalier over here is insane. That’s a sub-1000 pound car, right there(well under that price IMO). 2.5k gets you into something MUCH nicer in the UK. I mean, I voted for it, because rare as a functioning Metro is these days, no one in their right mind would buy one, but you’d have to hold a gun to my head to pay that price for a 90s cavalier when I could get an Insignia for the same money, if you wanted to keep it in the same family.

    1. You sum it up well. Neither has classic status. The Metro is the most basic possible, smallest engine version in the final year before it became a rather brilliant car with the K series engine, 5 speeds and interconnected Hydragas. The Cav was a decent repmobile in its day but you seem to be paying a premium for the wrinkly seat cover and can get much more modern transport for cheaper.

      1. Even with the K series the Metro was still a bit shit. I remember driving my friends mothers Rover 100 metro with the wipers that would fly up at anything over 65mph, nice!. A classmate of mine had a K series GTi, that was a genuinely fun thing to throw around. Anything with the A series, besides maybe the MG turbo, isn’t worth the hassle. Just buy a Mini instead, although I suppose finding one of those for lass than 3k is a struggle these days.

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