Chuck Redding, Sr., is a lifelong automotive enthusiast with a passion for building custom street rods. His builds exceed what is considered to be normal or typical, and tend to lean more towards unique or different.
Redding’s St. Petersburg shop with a few of his creations out front.
Two of his creations have recently been featured: His very unique Corvair MonzaRod turns heads everywhere it goes, and the drastically different Western Flyer Rocket Wagon is truly one-of-a-kind. However, this little orange and white Nash Metropolitan may just be Redding’s masterpiece.
Originally from Waltham, Massachusetts, Redding now resides in Saint Petersburg, Florida. For the past 32 years, along with his son, Chuck Jr., Redding has owned and operated Redding’s Auto Servic & Sales, just a few miles northwest of downtown Saint Petersburg. The shop is a full service, general repair center and surprisingly enough, other than his personal projects, very few street rods ever roll in the door.
“We don’t really work on rods here in the shop,” Redding said. “Our primary focus is on general repair, cars, and light trucks, we can even accommodate RV’s and medium-duty trucks, but building hot rods is strictly my hobby.”
Redding’s pretty little orange and white Metropolitan is a 1960, Series IV production. The Series IV production models incorporated several re-designs, including a functional rear deck lid, and front vent windows. The interior on the Series IV vehicles also featured a diamond pattern, and white vinyl trimmed seats.
Sales for the Series IV Metropolitan exceeded 22,000 units, making it the best selling Metropolitan ever. American Motors advertising touted the car as one of the best imports of its time. Production of the Metropolitan ended at the close of the 1961 model year, and sales of the remaining inventory continued through March of 1962.
Before we examine Redding’s Metropolitan, let’s take a quick look at the history of America’s first imported economy car. When most U.S. auto makers were going with the “bigger-is-better” attitude, the Nash Motor Company felt there was an untapped market for an economical transportation alternative, and that U.S. buyers would welcome such a vehicle.
Nash-KelvinatorNash-Kelvinator Corporation was the result of a merger in 1937 between Nash Motors and Kelvinator Appliance Company. In 1952 Kelvinator introduced the Food-A-Rama side by side refrigerator, the earliest modern side by side, frost proof refrigerator sold in America. In 1954 Nash-Kelvinator acquired Hudson Motor Company forming American Motors Corporation, and was directly responsible for the design and introduction of the Metropolitan to the American automotive market.
The first prototype was built and designed for Nash-Kelvinator by William Flajole; the car was unveiled as the NKI (Nash-Kelvinator International) in 1950 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Public reaction to this new “little car” was very positive and confirmed Nash’s theory that there was indeed a market for a vehicle of this type, if it could be produced and sold at a competitive price.
In 1952 Nash came to agreement with theAustin Motor Company in Birmingham, England to manufacture their new postwar, “personal use” automobile. This would be the first ever American-designed automobile that would be marketed exclusively throughout North America, sold and serviced through Nash, and later American Motors dealer distribution system, to be manufactured entirely by a foreign based auto maker and imported into the U.S.
The Metropolitan was also the first ever American automobile marketed directly at the lady of the house. Nash advertised the car prominently in “Women’s Wear Daily” as a perfect second car for the family; Nash also paid 1954 Miss America, Evelyn Ay Sempier to function as their official spokesperson for this new small family car.
Redding discovered his Metropolitan during a parts finding expedition for another rod he was working on. “I needed some parts for another Met I had on the rotisserie,” Redding said. “I had met this guy at one of the local car shows, he said he had a bunch of Metropolitan parts in his garage, and invited me to come by and take a look.”
Several days later he made the drive to the man’s home in North Port, Florida, about two hours south of his Saint Petersburg shop to see exactly what the man had available. “When I walked into this guy’s garage I was amazed,” he said. Not only did the gentleman have piles of Metropolitan parts, but sitting back in the far corner of the garage were two Metropolitans, all in different stages of restoration, the orange one caught his eye.
“The car was not much more that a rolling chassis when I first saw it,” Redding remembers. When he first saw the little orange car, he immediately knew, in his head, what he wanted to do with this car. His intentions were fairly simple: build the car to a stock appearing configuration, with an obnoxious power to weight ratio, a proverbial sleeper. He wanted to build a car that would have the kids with the modified imports thinking they knew a think or two about cars, only to be upstaged by this orange Metropolitan. Redding smiled at the thought and knew he couldn’t leave this man’s garage without that orange and white Metropolitan in tow.
After coming to an agreement with the previous owner, Redding returned with the Metropolitan to the familiar confines of Reddings Auto Service and began working on his latest project. The first step in the build was to modify the engine bay for the planned350cid Chevrolet power plant. He started by widened the engine bay and removing the inner front fender wells; he also removed and relocated the firewall seven-inches aft to accommodate the small block Chevy.
“The engine bay was the toughest part of the build,” Redding said. The previous owner, for some unknown reason, had completely painted the car, and had also installed a sub-frame with a Fat Man front suspension. “I wanted to save the paint and Fat Man suspension, so getting in there with a torch and sawzall was pretty touchy,” he said.
Once he finished the modifications to the engine bay, he turned his attention to the chassis and suspension. The Metropolitan was produced with a unibody construction, and due to the meager weight of the car at 1,785 pounds, suspension components were rather lightweight for what he had in mind. He retained the Fat Man Suspension that was in the car when he bought it, and extended the front subframe the length of the car to provide added stability and strength to the overall build.
“The new frame allowed me to install a little larger springs and shocks in the back of the car,” Redding stated. The Mustang differential that was already in the car was too wide, forcing him to remove and narrow the housing and drive axles some four inches. He upgraded the brakes to provide the anticipated stopping power that would be required to rein in his little orange beast, with 11-inch single-piston discs on the front, and 10-inch drums in the rear.
Once satisfied that the chassis would handle the load, Redding moved on to the task of installing the drive train. His engine of choice was the 350 cubic inch, small block Chevrolet, naturally aspirated. The first motor he dropped in the engine bay had been sitting on a stand in the back of the shop for a while.
“The first motor was just a little too hot,” he said. “When I first started it up and rolled out the shop to shake it down, it wouldn’t go anywhere, it just sat and spun the tires.” He exchanged the motor for a more mundane version, and that worked reasonably well. “I went with the mostly stock 350 and used a 700R4 transmission to help calm it down; I still ended up using a 2.73:1 rear gear to keep the tires on the ground,” he said.
The body of Redding’s Metropolitan is 100% steel, and original to the car. He eliminated the continental style spare tire from the back of the car, opting to utilize the area to house the fuel filler neck. The filler cap is from an early model Dodge Charger, and the taillight assemblies feature the orange European Lucas lens.
Front and rear bumpers have been painted to match, and the front headlights have been upgraded to Halogen. The car remains on a standard 85-inch wheelbase, and sits on custom chrome, 16-inch American Racing Wheels wrapped with low profile Sumitomo rubber. The door handles have been shaved, and all original badging has been removed. The grille is original to the car with the exception of the added bow-tie.
Redding entrusted the interior of his Metropolitan to long time friend, and upholstery guru, Jimmy Long. Long operates a small upholstery shop just down the street from Redding’s shop, and operates solely on a referral basis. Long is responsible for the carpet, the door panels, and both seats. The seats were done in a matching orange and white vinyl, in a very clean vertical pattern; both door panels follow the same theme and match the seats perfectly. Seat belts were special ordered in orange and the hand fabricated floor mounted console houses the sound system, gauges, and the Lo-Kar shifter. Redding installed a GM tilt steering column, and Auto Meter gauges provide Redding with all of the vital signs of the small block Chevrolet under the hood.
Speaking of under the hood; Redding finished the entire engine bay, and underside of the hood with polished stainless steel, to give a mirrored appearance when the hood is opened. The hand fabricated exhaust headers exit the engine bay through the stainless steel fender wells, travel under the car and terminate just in front of the rear wheels. The chrome Edelbrock intake and 750 Edelbrock carburetor add to the overall mirrored look under the hood, and last but not least, he has installed his signature see-through, color coded distributor cap as he has on all of his builds.
When asked what was next on his list, Redding sat back in his chair, rubbed his chin and calmly stated, “I’m not entirely sure, but I think it might be a rat rod of some sort, whatever I decide to do, I promise it will be something really bizarre, and your magazines will be the first to know.” Personally, this author can’t wait to see what this man comes up with next. It’s for sure, if Chuck Redding builds it, it will be cool, stay tuned.
Article courtesy of Rod Authority, written by Chuck Green.