Junkyard Find: 1959 International Harvester AM-80 Metro-Mite

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin

Looking at my Junkyard Find posts for 2020, I find that I’ve been neglecting American trucks for much of this year (I don’t consider the PT Cruiser to be a true truck, despite being categorized as one by the federal government). For that reason, I’ve decided to share this thoroughly used-up IHC Metro-Mite stepvan before the year ends.

It appears that the original owner of this van was the Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Company, a Bell System tentacle otherwise known as The Phone Company. MST&T became Mountain Bell in 1969.

After that, this truck went into the fleet of an electrician in Estes Park, Colorado. That’s the location of the Stanley Hotel, inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Perhaps this van was used to haul supplies for electrical repairs in the most haunted rooms at the Stanley.

Now it resides in a self-service yard in Denver, about 60 miles south of Estes Park.

The ancient tires are rock-hard and permanently flattened, and the inside of the van has about six inches of dirt buildup on the floors, suggesting decades sitting outside in the harsh High Plains weather.

One reason that this van may have been retired back in the 1970s lives just next to the driver: a 1.5-liter BMC B engine, rated at 51 horsepower in 1959. Some really interesting British cars used B power, including the MGA, MGB, and Nash Metropolitan… but such a small and primitive engine proved unsuited for hard use in a delivery van driven on American highways. Interestingly, the prototypes of the IHC Scout were heavily influenced by the Metro-Mite’s design and used the B engine. IHC realized that few Americans would buy a Jeep competitor with an overworked British engine, so the base Scout got a 2.5-liter four-banger made from one bank of the company’s 304-cube V8.

It’s tough putting a floor shifter on a manual-transmission-equipped forward-control van, so the Metro-Mite got a three-on-the-tree manual rig.

I doubt a stock Metro-Mite could get much beyond about 50 mph on level ground, especially with the power-robbing thin air in Front Range Colorado, but perhaps some daredevil Mountain Bell drivers got some serious momentum going on long downhill grades.

However, I think that Dymo top-speed label was there to let the drivers know the scale of the speedometer once most of the numerals fell off, not as official Bell System policy.

The Metro-Mite was quite small, weighing just 2,800 pounds, and its forte was always slow-speed deliveries around town. You wouldn’t want to sit in this punitive driver’s seat for the haul between Pueblo and Grand Junction, even if you could tolerate the 20 mph trudges up steep grades and the violent turbulence from 18-wheelers on open highways.

Amazingly, the original owner’s manual remained with this truck until the end.

For links to more than 2,000 additional Junkyard Finds, head over to the Junkyard Home of the Murilee Martin Lifestyle Brand™.

Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • MRF 95 T-Bird MRF 95 T-Bird on Dec 14, 2020

    The International Harvester Metro was the mainstay bread/milk and utility van for years. I recently saw a restomoded one converted for use as a food truck in Brooklyn. IH must have designed the Metro-Mite because they saw the popularity of post war compact imports like the VW Bus and Citroen H Van as well as American compact cars like the AMC Nash Metropolitian, Rambler and Studebaker Lark.

  • Mdoore Mdoore on Dec 17, 2020

    I think one of these Vans starred in the movie Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in the iconic scene where Jeff Bridges was driving and encountered the girl on the motorcycle. He made a lude pass at her and she reacted by pounding the fender with a hammer before speeding ahead. Jeff responded by hanging his body out the door shouting "I Love You"!

  • Varezhka I have still yet to see a Malibu on the road that didn't have a rental sticker. So yeah, GM probably lost money on every one they sold but kept it to boost their CAFE numbers.I'm personally happy that I no longer have to dread being "upgraded" to a Maxima or a Malibu anymore. And thankfully Altima is also on its way out.
  • Tassos Under incompetent, affirmative action hire Mary Barra, GM has been shooting itself in the foot on a daily basis.Whether the Malibu cancellation has been one of these shootings is NOT obvious at all.GM should be run as a PROFITABLE BUSINESS and NOT as an outfit that satisfies everybody and his mother in law's pet preferences.IF the Malibu was UNPROFITABLE, it SHOULD be canceled.More generally, if its SEGMENT is Unprofitable, and HALF the makers cancel their midsize sedans, not only will it lead to the SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST ones, but the survivors will obviously be more profitable if the LOSERS were kept being produced and the SMALL PIE of midsize sedans would yield slim pickings for every participant.SO NO, I APPROVE of the demise of the unprofitable Malibu, and hope Nissan does the same to the Altima, Hyundai with the SOnata, Mazda with the Mazda 6, and as many others as it takes to make the REMAINING players, like the Excellent, sporty Accord and the Bulletproof Reliable, cheap to maintain CAMRY, more profitable and affordable.
  • GregLocock Car companies can only really sell cars that people who are new car buyers will pay a profitable price for. As it turns out fewer and fewer new car buyers want sedans. Large sedans can be nice to drive, certainly, but the number of new car buyers (the only ones that matter in this discussion) are prepared to sacrifice steering and handling for more obvious things like passenger and cargo space, or even some attempt at off roading. We know US new car buyers don't really care about handling because they fell for FWD in large cars.
  • Slavuta Why is everybody sweating? Like sedans? - go buy one. Better - 2. Let CRV/RAV rust on the dealer lot. I have 3 sedans on the driveway. My neighbor - 2. Neighbors on each of our other side - 8 SUVs.
  • Theflyersfan With sedans, especially, I wonder how many of those sales are to rental fleets. With the exception of the Civic and Accord, there are still rows of sedans mixed in with the RAV4s at every airport rental lot. I doubt the breakdown in sales is publicly published, so who knows... GM isn't out of the sedan business - Cadillac exists and I can't believe I'm typing this but they are actually decent - and I think they are making a huge mistake, especially if there's an extended oil price hike (cough...Iran...cough) and people want smaller and hybrids. But if one is only tied to the quarterly shareholder reports and not trends and the big picture, bad decisions like this get made.