By on May 30, 2014

metro1

There it stood, right next to the Michael Jordan Wheaties display.

A brand-new 1992 yellow Geo Metro convertible.

Price Chopper, a local New York supermarket chain (think Pathmark or Albertson’s on crack) was opening up a brand new location in Saratoga Springs.

The Metro would be the perfect vehicle for upstate New York’s salty roads and wickedly cold weather for one irrefutable reason. It was free… after tax, tag and title.  The only thing I had to do was figure out how to win it.

So I got busy. 150 entries a day for 3 full months. 13,000 in all. The day came for the drawing, and I won!

25 pounds of free meat. To make matters worse, I was a vegetarian at the time.

So what did I do? I got a friend’s cooler. Put in 25 pounds of filet mignon, and took a three and a half hour drive home to impress my dad.

He was impressed. Sadly, it would take me another 10 years before another Geo Metro would enter my life.

metro7

The first was a burgundy 1997 four door automatic. I bought what was arguably the shittiest of all Metros for $2000 back in 2002, and sold it for $4000. Doubled my money. Even the paint flaking on the roof and the trunklid didn’t detract from the mythical promise of exceptional fuel economy.

Unbeknownst to the buyers of these loveless shitboxes, the automatic version of the Metro drained the MPG numbers by at least 7 mpg. The powertrain was like a rubber band that gave you more resistance as you tried to stretch it out. If you drove it around town and wanted to keep up with traffic, the four-door three speed automatic got only about 30 mpg combined.

I would later find out that a a Tercel could beat it in real world driving. A far heavier and better engineered Civic could match it. Even the almost as cheap Chevy Cavalier could keep up with the Metro in terms of real world fuel economy. Once I sold that Metro, I thanked the good Lord for separating me from this piece of mobile tupperware and proceeded to focus more on W124′s, rear-wheel drive Volvos, and anything made by Subaru.

I called those nicer models the “wanna-be’s”. As in folks who wanted a Lexus or a BMW, but couldn’t afford their price premium in the used car market, would wind up buying one of these three models instead. I bought plenty of other vehicles as well. But chances are, if there was a well-kept trade-in at the auction that matched one of these three models, I would buy it. New car dealers only cared about financing the new and late model vehicles back then. Older cars were a no-no nadir. So it was relatively easy to find good ones to resell.

As time went on, I began to see those Metros regularly hit the $500 to $1000 mark at the auctions. Quality sold, and the Metro wasn’t it. Nobody wanted them until very late 05′ when Hurricane Katrina hit.

Then things started to get a bit weird at the auctions. I would see Metros matching the prices of Volvos that were not much older and infinitely more deserving of a buyer’s attention. Contrary to the frequent eulogizing of cheap defunct cars, I had zero love for the Metro. It was a deathtrap that anyone who cared about their well-being would stay the hell away from.

swift

Then I found a Metro with good seats. It was called the Suzuki Swift. A 5-speed hatchback with a 4 cylinder engine, the Swift was surprisingly fun and for $600, as cheap as the average repair for a newer Volvo. My wife loved it. My mom thought I was an irresponsible father, and after an interminable delay in market interest, I was finally able to unload it for $1500.

Why the hell did I like that thing? I had two kids and a stay at home mom to think about. Not some ancient tin can of a car.

Well, it got worse, because within three months, I would buy two more Metros.

metro3

 

The first was a 1996 3-cylinder hatchback. White. 90k miles.  $500 plus a $50 sale fee.

It was a steal of a deal. I eventually replaced the wheels and sold it for $2800. Then, I struck fool’s gold with a  first generation Geo Metro at an impound lot auction in South Atlanta.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

Imagine 27 dents, 37 dings, and three shades of green.

It was a snot rag. Three shades of green and inexplicably worth my time. The driver seat had virtually disintegrated and yet, there was an immaculate one on top of the back seat along with a driver side mirror. It was a salvage vehicle that was wrecked way back when it was worth something.

188,000 miles. Rebuilt title from Alabama. I bought it, running, for $125. I figured why the hell not.

Well, no A/C in Georgia and a slim chance for profit for starters.  I wasn’t about to put it up at my retail lot. So I drove it around the neighborhood for a bit.

It ran fine. Perfect. After replacing the driver seat and tossing the old one in a nearby dumpster, I decided to sell it at the one place that could give me a price premium for unique crappy cars.

Ebay.

Old Peugeots at the auctions? Ebay.

A Volvo 780 bought for $90. A nine-year old Subaru Impreza with nothing but primer for paint that I bought for $76.25 out the door? Both ended up on Ebay.

Low-mileage Crown Vics, Colony Parks, Mark VIIIs and 1st gen Priuses with body damage. All I had to do was buy them, take 24 pictures, and write up a glorious soliloquy of pithy summations worthy of an Ebay audience. They brought strong money.

I would buy, sell, and meet the new owner at Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport with a free Starbucks in my hand. I averaged about 150 deals a year during the mid-2000′s and about a third of them were on Ebay.

This car held onto my conscious thoughts like a fungus. One day, I decided to do a financial spreadsheet. Like a lot of former financial analysts, I suffered from this nasty little OCD-like tendency to put anything that required a long-term mathematical answer into a spread sheet.

This time, I pitted the Metro against a 2001 Yamaha XC125 and did the math to figure out which one would be cheaper in the long run if you maximized their passenger count. Long story short, the two trained monkeys riding a scooter wouldn’t match the five Pygmys that would be stuck in the Metro.

Now that I figured out the Fantasyland part of my life, I decided to sell the Metro. My first law back then, which I still abide by now, is to never fall in love with a car.

10 days later, the Metro sold for all of $700. This is where things got weird. The very next day, the buyer drove 6 hours from western Tennessee down to Atlanta to meet me. He was one tough looking, intimidating, son of a gun.

Sunglasses, tattoos, one of my friends remarked that he had the smell of shit and spit. I said one word, “Hi.”, and for the next hour, all I did was listen to a really nice guy tell me about every single Metro he has ever bought while staring at my reflection on his sunglasses. This guy was made for this car. I pocketed the $700 and decided that I had made a match in small car heaven.

All these memories came back to me this evening for one reason.

mirage

 

The new Mitsubishi Mirage. I have yet to drive it. But the Mirage is probably the first car whose parsimonious pedigree harkens back to that nearly forgotten world of basic cheap cars in the United States.

In today’s world, where a basic economy car comes with over 100 horsepower, 15 inch aluminum wheels, and 10 airbags, the Mirage strikes me as something that is worthy of the old Metro’s econobox heritage.

So count me in as one guy who is willing to cheer for a contender that is a pure pretender.  I look forward to buying them real cheap when 2020 comes around. Who knows? By then the Mitsubishi Mirage may replace the Geo Metro as the penurious used car of choice for the modern day tightwad.

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44 Comments on “Hammer Time: Memories of Metros...”


  • avatar
    gearhead77

    During the late 90′s when I worked for Enterprise, we had tons of these and Ford Aspires. Just an awful time for small cars, the Metro was probably the winner of that shyte show, not by much. We had Mitsubishi Mirage and Hyundai Accent in the same class, it was almost a treat to drive those instead of the awful Metro and Aspire. Only things worse to drive were 3 spd auto J bodies or Corollas.

    A late 90′s Hyundai Accent seemed to be a much better car than these awful autobox Metros and Aspires. I could see the possibility of fun with a manual version of these cars, but I don’t get the love for these things. Except the convertible, still a deathtrap, but at least it was different and a droptop.

    I can smell that funky Suzuki interior aroma, which didn’t age well under rental abuse. A 30k rental Metro you did not want.

    • 0 avatar
      pdieten

      Yup, Enterprise rentals – that’s how I had my one and only experience with the Geo Metro. Daily driver went to the shop in ’97 for a window replacement and I needed a rental on the cheap. So they gave me a Metro. Only one problem – my shoulders are 21″ across. Good thing it was summer, because I drove that damned car around for two days with my arm hanging out the window. I was too offended by that to even bother to notice the car’s general junkiness otherwise. Really wish I’d spent a few extra bucks for a nicer car…

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Had a Metro in grad school and it was pretty swell for a constricted existence of very little parking and even less of a car budget.

    Whatever else may be said of them, Metros had decent driver’s seat lumbar support and mine made a fine office chair once the car was kaput. None of that Thrombosis Tonight! feeling after 12 hour days of startup translator’s work. It never put pressure on the underside of my thighs the way a conventional chair does.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Very nice (and surprisingly appropriate) lead-in to the 2014 Mirage analogy. Just when you think the dirt-cheap, penalty-box econo-car is extinct, another one pops up. The Mirage has gotten a sound thrashing from every reviewer (most recommend spending the money on a 2-year old Corolla or Civic, instead) and, thus, fits right in with the Metro, a car that was widely panned when it was new, too. And, yet, like the proverbial automotive cockroach, they refuse to die and keep on running.

    FWIW, the old Aveo really doesn’t qualify. Although it fit the criteria of being dirt cheap, those actually have a poor quality drivetrain reputation and aren’t likely to achieve cockroach status.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m seeing a lot of 2005-6+ newer Aveos popping up on Craigslist with thrashed valves, needing new engines, etc. It seems the 60k interval for having the timing belt replaced is a HARD rule, and one should do so every 40-50k just for a little bit of insurance on keeping the car alive.

  • avatar
    jmo

    I recall a review of the Geo Metro convertible that stated, “It has the body rigidity of a rubber slipper.”

  • avatar
    oldyak

    Our Geo Metro was by far the least expensive to own and maintain of any car I have ever had!
    3 cyl. base model hatchback that would swallow a lawnmower or a weeks groceries!
    Tinny as all get out..like riding in an oil drum but it didn’t stop the wife and I from making a trip from Memphis to Cincinnati.
    The wife totaled it out on a icy off ramp..Too bad!
    I bought it for $1200.00 and they gave us…$1200.00
    She now drives a BMW M roadster but would trade it in a minute for ‘her’
    little Geo…
    Go figure

  • avatar
    glwillia

    I had a $500 3-cylinder 5-speed ’95 Geo Metro hatchback for a little while back in 2006. That car was surprisingly nimble and fun to drive. Of course, it’s a total death trap, but what fun cheap car isn’t?

  • avatar
    LambourneNL

    Rented one of these in the late 90s. To date, this is the only car I’ve driven that would noticeably slow down and speed up as the AC compressor cycled. Incredibly annoying.

    Rented a base spec Plymouth Voyager the week after. Might as well have been a Rolls Royce in comparison.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    “Sadly, it would take me another 10 years before another Geo Metro would enter my life.”

    No one has ever said this in the history of the world.

  • avatar
    MK

    Well done Steve, brings back memories. Cars like these are what really got my dads used/salvage/bhph car business off the ground in the 90s.

    Although he bought more Sprints and Saturns at the auctions than anything else there were quite a few Geos around at any given time as well, what wasn’t worth fixing got put in the field for parts on the next one that came up at auction. Made me chuckle about the one with the rebuilt title from Alabama, heck that may actually BE one of his old ones! Lol

    He found out that it was easier to make more money buying a lot 300-500 cars and selling them for 2500 than more expensive ones and having to hold inventory.

    I was always amazed at the market for these really inexpensive little econoboxes, mainly due to the fuel mileage, cheap buyin costs and relative reliability. The first gen Saturns were also true cockroaches you still see running around getting 40 mpg. I didn’t have much interest in any of these things but I could appreciate the economics.

  • avatar
    Tim_Turbo

    Disappointment-when you drive 2 hours into the middle of nowhere following a blind lead from a friend of a friend who knows a guy who knows “a guy who has an old Japanese convertible in his barn” he wanted to sell cheap only to arrive and find a proud owner of a Geo Metro convertible.

    I was thinking RX-7. Or maybe even a first gen Miata. Or anything else. A freaking Geo Metro never crossed into my mind.

    Wayne Carini I am not.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    When I was 15 working in a grocery store I remember one of the young cashiers buying a Metro for $100 off her boy friend in the meat department. $100 for a fully functional working car….

    I glanced over the new Mirage at the auto show a few months ago. Whatever I get needs to be good on gas and cheap. The rep walked up to me and asked me what I thought…. well, it was cheap. Pretty cheap awful looking car; you can just see it all over the thing. With used Fiat 500′s dropping in price pretty quick, I’m probably not getting the mirage.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim_Turbo

      While I appreciate cheap econboxes for what they are, and the purpose they serve-the funniest thing I saw on the Mirage was the…”housing”…I guess you call it for the back up camera. Oh my.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Credit where it’s due; that little 3-banger had a sweet spot on the highway around 71 mph where all the resonance in the NVH died down to a minimum and you could actually hear the stereo.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Entertaining read, Steve. Although I still believe that the “ultimate cockroach” is the VW Beetle. Other than being reasonably diligent about changing the oil every 3,000-5,000 miles (no oil filter), you really could not kill that engine.

    Dangerous? Of course! Let me count the ways: snap oversteer which would roll the car at 25 mph; seats poorly anchored to the floor would flop backards if you were rear-ended; gas tank in the front of the car, above your legs.

    Still . . . a fun car to drive and, for its time, economical: about 25-27 mpg.

  • avatar
    Syke

    I owned one, bought new. ’94 Metro hatchback, black with every option available except the automatic transmission. Stickered at $9200.00. Got it for my live-in girlfriend.

    And we both loved the car. Reliable, fun to drive, it did the job very well, and Heather got another four years out of it after we split in ’98. Will never understand the slagging on that car, it was very good value for money when new.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      I agree and I guess the slagging is just another instance of car guy syndrome fed with 20 years of progress since those days. The Metro gave us Japanese reliability for a 4-figure purchase price. I also had a ’94 hatch.

      It was also one of the most incredible arrangements of available interior space. Before buying another truck after school, I moved all our medium & small stuff into a house with one sans all but the driver’s seat. Lotsa trips, sure.

    • 0 avatar

      I paid $1700 for mine three years back. A ’97 4 door, 4 cyl, 5 spd WITH AC! Floor it all week long = 35 mpg. Anything less than and you’re around 40 mpg. The trunk is shockingly cavernous. The damn thing now sports 208k mi. IT NEITHER BURNS NOR LEAKS OIL. Slow?? Woefully.

      Sometimes I pretend the AC button is a power boost. Turn the AC off, it feels like the engine torque suddenly doubles.

      But the parts so cheap it’s exciting. I feel like I’m totally cheating the system. I can actually pay the advertised price of tires. And it’s completely simple to work on. If I had to GIVE it away today, it would have cost me around 14 cents / mile (insurance, gas, depreciation…everything). I use it for business and write off 56.

      These cars like the Mirage aren’t bad people. They’re heroes!

  • avatar
    calgarytek

    Anyone 1988 – 1994 Suzuki Swift GTI much?

  • avatar
    mcarr

    A friend of mine had a history of getting absolutely horrible cars for free. And then they would try to kill me when I was riding with him.

    First one was a 1977 Dodge Aspen which looked great, but rusted away from the inside out. Driving down the road one day, we hit a bump, and the right front shock gave way and broke through the hood, making the car slew off the road.

    Then there was a mid 80′s Nissan pickup that set my shoes on fire.

    With the Metro he got from a salvage yard, one day we were ordering from the McDonald’s drive-thru. The cashier girl deadpans, “your car’s on fire”. Like it was a daily occurrence there. We turned around and you couldn’t see out the back through the black, acrid smoke. We grabbed our lunch and drove to his house trailing black smoke. Pulled in the drive and the engine seized because we had turned all the oil into a smoke screen.

    There was also a Grand Am, and a early 80′s Dodge pickup, but that’s for another time.

  • avatar
    red60r

    I always expected someone to be selling ice cream bars out of the white convertible models.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    I hate you just for the fact that you won a car and 25lbs of meat. You are THAT GUY. That lucky dog who can actually win things based on random chance.

  • avatar
    MattPete

    Back in the early 90s, I was the delivery driver for a jobber in Knoxville TN (we served all the GM dealers in the metro area). Our first car was a 3-cylinder with a stick shift, the second one we got was a 4 cylinder with an automatic. Driving a 3 cylinder Metro with the hatch stuffed full of batteries was definitely an interesting experience. Whatever mediocre handling it had unladen went into the ridiculous zone once the hatch was stuff full of heavy car parts.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    You filled out 13,000 little contest forms to win a little crapcan Geo Metro convertible? I’d have whacked someone over the head with that 25 pounds of free meat and carjacked them before I’d have even filled out 13 entry forms for this thing.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    “Nobody wanted them until very late 05′ when Hurricane Katrina hit.”

    The increasing inability of TTAC writers and commenters to distinguish between the apostrophe and the prime symbol is KILLING me.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      WTF? Laptops only give you the prime. So it must be a conspiracy including Dell, HP and Apple to kill you. What did you do to make them hate you?

      Besides, in the quoted usage, ain’t no punctuation mark belong after the 5. Before it, yeah. Maybe you has a fever?

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        Correct, Kenmore. My gripe was about *where* the character in question was used, not which actual keyboard stroke it was. 2005 should be abbreviated as ’05, not as 05′. As used in 05′, the character is a prime symbol and indicates units such as feet or minutes.

        I don’t mean to single Steven Lang out. The error is becoming increasingly common, which is why it drives me nuts.

        • 0 avatar
          Kenmore

          You need to find a happy place in the tattooed, fathead Babylon that America has become. Yes, we’re increasingly oafish, simplistic and illiterate in public discourse, if “discourse” is still a viable description of the dumbed-down spewage promulgated by all popular media sources.

          But there are still refuges where concise, articulate and proper English are regularly served. I’ve chosen professional historians as my solace. Funny, but another place I’ve found exemplary writing was when I researched RFCs of the Internet Engineering Task Force to check my grasp of the Japanese docs I was translating.

          Find a happy cloister to preserve your sanity.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Well, if you want to get all huffy and hyper-technical on what is in essence, a blog, feel free.

      You also happen to be wrong. An apostrophe isn’t used to signify the abbreviation for a year. For that, you need a grave. That little mark on the upper left hand of your keyboard is where you find it.

      Everybody and their dog uses an apostrophe because Word, Google Docs and WordPress all show it to be the correct punctuation. From the viewpoint of a reader’s flow, it’s also less jarring since the grave mark is all but ignored in this day and age.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        Apologies, Steven. I didn’t intend to single you out. This error annoys because it’s becoming so common on the internet, not because you in particular made it.

        I’m not speaking of the shape of the character itself or what it’s called–in practice the grave accent, apostrophe, and prime mark appear the same in hand-written English and in many on-screen fonts–but where the character goes.

        Abbreviating 2005 as 05′ is like abbreviating government as govt’. It doesn’t make sense, and it makes my brain hurt. And it seems to be winning out over ’05 on the internet in general and on TTAC in particular, which is why I’m huffy. (Well, that and because I should be doing some PITA end-of-month stuff at work.)

        And I won’t get into a pissing match without a hard-copy English textbook in front of me, but I’m not sure you’re right about the grave accent.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grave_accent
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostrophe
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_mark

        (Gack, I’m complaining about the internet and then citing Wikipedia. OK, here’s an actual school that agrees with me: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/621/01/.)

        Playing the “this is blog” card is weak sauce. It’s not untrue, but it’s weak sauce.

        Have a good weekend. No, seriously.

        –Featherston

  • avatar
    JMII

    The thing I remember most about Metros of this year was how often they were the “big” prize on the Price Is Right. As the early 90s were my college years watching the Price Is Right was a given. To this day anytime someone says “a brand NEW car” I quickly add “a Geo Metro LSI convertible, with… floor mats”. Total joke of a vehicle.

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    My wife flipped out when gas went over $3 a gallon & was ready to trade our B-bodies for a Corolla car note. After some compromising, I picked up a 1996 Geo Metro hatch with 67k miles for $1600 bucks, mint condition. All it took was that first trip on the freeway & a tractor-trailer blowing past to get a For Sale sign to go back on it a few short months later. Sad thing was, I had almost taken a liking to it at that point. It was a deathtrap…best riding small car I have ever been in of that size though. Like almost every other small car I’ve experienced, gas mileage was not as advertised.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      That whole fuel mileage thing as we know isn’t quite accurate. It seems worse in small cars and hybrids. I drove a Prius briefly. If you drive it in “Eco” and accelerate at a traffic impeding rate, you might get close to the EPA. Drive it to keep pace and not impede traffic, you won’t.

  • avatar
    honda_lawn_art

    Hilarious read, especially the part about some Metros going for as much as a typical repair for a newer Volvo. I’ve often compared car repairs to the purchase of a cockroach car.
    For as old as they are, Metros are still the best ‘forever’ car because it’s about the only one where you can consistently find perfectly working examples for less than $1500.


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