Junkyard Find: 1959 International Harvester AM-80 Metro-Mite
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™.
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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.
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"!