- The Washington Times - Friday, May 11, 2001

When John Nichols was teaching at Taft Junior High School about 40 years ago, he could see the future and it didn't please him.
Many of his former students went on to McKinley High School. After school hours he often witnessed some of those same teen-agers cruising sometimes dangerously around the neighborhood in cars packed with friends.
His own two children, Lavern and Nathaniel, were about to join that age group, and Mr. Nichols feared for their safety. He decided that a small car would eliminate distracting friends, so he started shopping. Even Ford Falcons, Chevrolet Corvairs and Plymouth Valiants were large in those days.
One day in 1963, the answer to his dilemma appeared on the Uptown Motors lot at Upshur Avenue and Georgia Avenue in the form of a slightly used 1962 Nash Metropolitan coupe. With a wheelbase of 85 inches and a weight of 1,890 pounds, the car seemed ideal for his daughter and son. Upon learning that the diminutive car had a sturdy 91-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, Mr. Nichols was sold. His wife, Eunice, went along with the plan even though she wouldn't be able to drive the car with its manual transmission.
As it turned out, the Nicholses' daughter, Lavern, like her mother, never drove the car. Son Nathaniel drove the little Nash, which cost $1,673 when new, and his sister through their matriculating days at McKinley High School and at Howard University.
With the children graduated and gone, Mr. Nichols began using the Nash, since it was so easy to find the parking spaces that larger cars had to pass by. He recalls winning a $10 wager with another teacher on whether six persons could fit in the car. Mr. Nichols won by lowering the back of the rear seat in order to take advantage of the trunk space.
Beneath the rear-seat cushion, on the right side, is a compartment to hold the battery.
In 1980, Mr. Nichols says, he put the Nash in storage, where it languished for about 15 years.
He discovered after the fact that 94,986 cars like his had been produced between 1954 and 1960. Production ceased and Metropolitans left unsold by 1961 were retitled as 1961 models and likewise for the 412 retitled 1962 models.
In 1999 Mr. Nichols decided to put his Nash back on the road. Once the green and creme car was out of storage, Mr. Nichols found out the hard way that the brakes were bad. "I hit a car," he concedes. Fortunately, the only damage was to the driver's door of the Metropolitan.
That minor damage was soon straightened, along with the installation of a new carburetor and new door locks.
After the steering was adjusted, Mr. Nichols says the car runs and handles great. The longest trips he has taken in the little car have been "back home." That's what Mr. Nichols calls the area in and around Salisbury, Md.
The speedometer may register speeds up to 85 mph, but Mr. Nichols hasn't pushed the limit. He does say, however, that his Metropolitan can keep up with the flow of traffic.
Amidships, on either side of the car, is a jack port below the rocker panel. When jacked up, both wheels on one side are lifted. Mr. Nichols learned that the screw-type jack can be operated much more efficiently when the door is opened.
Accessories include a heater and radio. The early Metropolitans had trunk space accessible only through the rear seat. Later models, like Mr. Nichols' car, actually have an exterior trunk lid just behind the wraparound rear window.
At the rear of the Nash is the spare tire, with the gas cap to the right. Inside the cozy car, the turn-signal lever is above the horn button at the center of the two-spoke wheel.
The dashboard is a study in simplicity. The ignition is in the center with the lighter to the right and the starter to the left. The starter has to be pulled for activation.
The centrally located radio has five louvers in place of a grille.
Everything in the tiny car is small, including the sun visors and ashtray.
Unusual in this day and age is the headlight dimmer switch, which is on the floor.
After 38 years of service including a 15-year hibernation Mr. Nichols is beginning to see the recycling of nature.
His grandson Steven in Media, Pa., is very interested in taking the reins of a certain 1962 Nash Metropolitan.


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