Imagine car shopping in the 1980s. Your parents are the market for a small, economical hatchback that’ll be easy to park and simple to drive. The family makes a trip to ‘big town’ to visit a few dealerships, with the Ford Fiesta, Vauxhall Nova and Austin-Rover Metro in mind. You, age seven, have been having a whale of time. A car showroom is like a toy shop and an adventure playground all rolled into one. Naturally, while Mum and Dad are looking at the thoroughly sensible Fiesta Popular and Nova Merit, something has drawn you to the more exotic Fiesta XR2 and Nova SR. They’re just, well, more awesome.
And then you visit the Austin Rover showroom. While Mum, Dad and the salesman partake in more free coffee and a glance through Metro City X paint swatches, you’re busy behind the wheel of the all-white MG Metro Turbo at the far corner of the showroom. And there, next to the Turbo is a huge wall poster, showing a Metro speeding through a forest in dappled light. But this Metro way more awesome than the one you’ve been making broom broom noises in, and graunching the gearlever back and forth despite the clutch being way out of reach. You stand, and you stare, transfixed by the poster of a strange, musclebound Metro with ‘Computervision’ emblazoned on the front bumper.
“I want that one”.
The Metro 6R4 has always been something of a unicorn to me. From the age of seven, when my awareness of cars was increasing at the very same time that Group B rallying was in the press for all the wrong reasons, this caricature of a family shopping car has lurked in a subfolder of my conscience, closed but accessible on the most fleeting of whims. To this day, I find myself thinking about the Metro 6R4 at the most inappropriate of moments.
Closed road rallying came to my village this year, and one of the cars publicised as taking part was the Metro 6R4. And it did. Walking from my house to the viewing area, we had almost reached our goal when I heard the unmistakeable howl of a 3.0-litre, quad-cam V6 engine at full stretch. Note ‘heard’. I didn’t see it. I missed it by a matter of seconds. I hereby claim the 6R4 as my unicorn. It’s vivid enough in my mind that I could describe it with enough exactness for an engineer to craft a replica over the phone, yet I’ve never actually seen one in action.
There are three at Goodwood this year, all slumbering beneath gazebos until their call to action. I actually felt a slight shiver run through me when I clapped eyes on them. I had registered their presence from a distance, they were parked at the end of a line of Toyota, Peugeot and Citroen rally cars that were profoundly interesting in their own right. I deliberately dawdled with each one, looking at them from every angle I could think of, and delaying my meeting with the Metro as if to savour the moment. Until eventually we were face to face.
I peered through every window, every vent and allowed my eyes to take in every lump, bump and protuberance. All the time, my mind returned to that showroom poster, and the Metro Turbo that impressed me with its red seatbelts and LED ‘Boost’ gauge, but lacked any of the extraordinary intakes and holes of the car in the poster. Yet the headlights, the grille, the door handles, the tail-lights, were just the same as the car that Mum and Dad had discussed in the showroom… but never actually bought.
The above image is all I need. Unicorn captured. The sound was similar to that which tantalised me so just a few weeks ago, but today, sound and vision played together. That monstrous, naturally aspirated V6 produces a rasping, angry noise, almost as if the Metro is still trying to protest againt a life of domestic servitude. “I will not go to the shops. I want to play in the forest”. The sound matches the sight, too.
Today’s WRC cars could match, if not destroy, their Group B equivalents when it comes to stage time prowess, and there are wild, bewinged variants of various family favourites. But now I’m 37, I don’t know if they have the same effect on kids today as the 6R4 did with me all those years ago. It triggered my imagination, and I have yet to recover.
(Images copyright Chris Haining / Hooniverse 2018)