By on December 14, 2020

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, RH front view - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars
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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, dashboard - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt 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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, sign - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAfter 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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, interior - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsNow 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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, engine - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsOne 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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, dashboard - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsIt’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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, dashboard - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsI 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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, speedometer - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsHowever, 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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, driver's seat - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsThe 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.

1959 International Harvester Metro-Mite van in Denver junkyard, owner's manual - ©2020 Murilee Martin - The Truth About CarsAmazingly, the original owner’s manual remained with this truck until the end.

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12 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1959 International Harvester AM-80 Metro-Mite...”


  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    This is an interesting find, but I must ask: Why is such an old and obscure vehicle still occupying a space in this junkyard? When does it go to the recycler?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    This is a neat and unique find. I have seen a restored version of one of these that a local realtor put their name on and drives around on a regular basis for advertising purposes. This would make a cool restoration project and it appears that the vehicle is complete.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Interesting that they used a BMC engine. Looks like this version used a single carb manfold instead of twin SUs. Wonder if it was their transmission too.

  • avatar
    mcs

    Here’s a link to a famous Metro:

    https://www.loudersound.com/news/aerosmiths-original-tour-van-restored-to-its-former-glory-for-us-tv-show

  • avatar
    spookiness

    You can see several of these in the “Cool” song/dance scene of West Side Story, which is set in a large garage.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    What is with that odometer reading?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    @mcs–Thanks for the link very interesting. My nephew just restored my Grandfather’s 63 IH 1000 stepside pickup with a straight six 3 on the tree. Always interested in reading a story about an old International.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    Amazing find. Thanks for posting. :-)

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    The mileage says 016,028 which I am going to guess is miles but is it only 16,028 miles or is it 116,028 or more with the 0 fixed and not moving? I doubt the mileage would be too much more than 116,028 with such a small engine and being a local service truck but I could be wrong. If this van was retired in the 1970s it either was retired because it was worn out or maybe because it was replaced with a larger more powerful vehicle. At the time this was retired it had little or no value. It wouldn’t surprise me if the engine turned over and could be brought back to life. Possibly this van was not crushed because the owner of the salvage yard wanted to keep it and maybe thought about saving it for someone who might be interested in restoring it. This van might have some value because of its age and uniqueness but it will never be as valuable as a muscle car or a true collectors car but it would be a neat restoration project and would attract interest at a car show.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    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.

  • avatar
    mdoore

    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”!

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