Steve and Margie Fowler are an unusual pair of car enthusiasts in that both get actively involved in the construction of their cars.
Steve’s background as a retired community college auto tech instructor gives him the knowledge to accomplish all the mechanical and electrical chores required, and a couple of short stints teaching basic auto body and painting gave him enough skill to tangle with that part, though he freely confesses he’s no expert.
Margie’s contributions come in the interior and overall color design. She has taught classes in costume design, and many years and cars ago started doing the upholstery on the many cars they have redone over the years. Before Steve’s retirement and their relocation back to Arizona, they ran a small business in custom auto upholstery and related services. They are both actively involved in the Rim Country Classic Auto Club, Steve currently serving as president, and Margie being last year’s car show chair, positions they both have held in another club before they relocated here.
In the early years of their marriage, while they were raising a small herd of kids, Steve bought and sold a lot of cars as a way to earn extra money, and Margie frequently helped redo the interiors, acquiring skills along the way. Then for a number of years, Steve took up flying as a hobby and didn’t go through multiple cars every year. But after medical issues effectively grounded him, they joined the street rod scene, doing a ’26 Ford Track Roadster (since sold), then a ’35 Packard that Margie claims as hers, a ’53 Studebaker that’s all his, a ’47 Stude Truck that was sold to finance their shop, and now their current project, a ’58 Nash Metropolitan Convertible, which they had acquired and saved as a project to keep them occupied in retirement for a while.
The Metro, nicknamed Minnie (as in Mouse), was acquired as an abandoned project from a fellow that realized it needed more work than he could do or afford to have done.
The car was originally from Arizona, and was dragged to northern California then back here before its resurrection. The resurrection involved replacing floors and some framework that was completely rusted out, straightening essentially every panel to some degree, swapping in more modern chassis pieces as well as a modern injected V-6 with a 5 speed, completely redoing the dash and electrical system, then a complete replacement of the interior with a newer design and painting the exterior in a classic Metro red-and-white color scheme. In the process, every bit of the work other than the final buffing of the clear coat (thanks to Jodell at Chore Solutions for his fine work) was done by the two over the last year and a half. Miss Minnie (Mouse) will make her debut at the Rim Country Classic Auto Club 20th Annual Beeline Cruise-In Car Show, coming topless, but still G rated.
Miss Minnie’s tale
Our Metropolitan’s story starts with a couple of shattered dreams, but has some interesting twists to it. A doctor in northern California travelled all the way to Casa Grande, Ariz. to buy a project car from Wiseman’s Auto Salvage, a wrecking yard known for years for its collection of old cars. After hauling the car all the way home, he discovered that he had really bitten off way more than he could chew.
The little ragtop had sat topless for years, and even in Arizona, that leads to problems. The floor of the car was completely rusted away, the interior was practically non-existent, and the mechanicals were in only fair shape. He decided to donate the car to the local college auto tech program as a project. The program already had too many project cars, but it was decided to accept the donation with the idea of selling the car as-is to add funds to the student scholarship account.
In time, the little flamed yellow hulk was sold, and came into the possession of Steve and Margie Fowler. They then dragged it back to Arizona upon retirement to begin the restoration process, with the idea of doing a simple car on a retiree’s budget.
Left over from another failed project was an engine and transmission from a 1986 Firebird that had been destined to be swapped into an RX-7, but the project was abandoned, and they had purchased the parts to help the owner recoup his investment. It turns out that this engine will squeeze nicely into the Met’s engine bay and is powerful enough to wake up the performance without overwhelming the car.
So the die was cast, and the project got underway late in the fall of 2011. The remains of the old floor was carved away and rectangular tubing was used to replace and reinforce the frame structure, after which a flat floor of heavier gauge sheet metal was formed and welded in. Mounts were fabricated to install the engine and transmission and a new tunnel cover was fabricated to cover the transmission while allowing for future access and service, if needed. Some research turned up the fact that many chassis parts were shared with MG Midgets, and so some scrounging acquired the parts to upgrade the front suspension, rear axle and brakes to more modern designs. Some additional swapping and fabrication got a safer tandem master cylinder and hydraulic clutch system adapted in. The rest of the chassis was gone through and brought up to snuff so it should be safe on the road.
The electrical system was in tatters, so the car was completely rewired to allow for the electronic controls on the fuel-injected engine, as well as new control switches for everything else. The Fowlers were able to rescue a few critical items such as the “Trafficator” turn signal switch that is installed in the center of the steering wheel, and the heater and wiper parts. The stock steering wheel was large in diameter, so with a spare as a starting point, it was cut down and remanufactured a couple of inches smaller.
The gauge cluster was toast, and a rebuilt one is very pricey, so it was found after a little research that a Jeep CJ cluster could be adapted (readily available and reasonably priced) and is nearly identical in appearance. A radiator for a 6 cylinder early Mustang turns out to be an easy and inexpensive replacement for the well-used stock one. A number of other parts were modified or fabricated to complete the mechanical transformation. Bucket seats from a Chrysler import were modified a little and recovered, as well as custom-made door and side panels and rear seat parts to complete the interior. Early on, it was decided to go with a red-and-white exterior color scheme similar to the factory, but with an interior scheme that focused around the hounds-tooth fabric used originally but with a few embellishments to spiff it up a bit.
The Fowlers have a friend with a stock hardtop version of this car in the same colors that he calls Mickey (Mouse), so we decided ours would be Minnie, as she is pretty small. And so, with a little more power, a straightened, repaired and painted body and a completely redone interior, Minnie is ready to hit the road and give the Fowlers some driving pleasure on the kind of mild days that convertibles love and that we have in such abundance in Arizona.