The definition of the "lowest and most responsible" bidder on city contracts may be turned upside down if a local court clears the way for the highest bidder to get the job of building subway cars.

The Philadelphia Urban Coalition has asked Common Pleas Court here to prevent the city from awarding the work to the three lowest bidders. The civic organization wants the contract to go to the only firm that will build the cars locally -- in this case, the Budd Company.

However, the Build Company also is the highest bidder.

Budd has offered to construct 125 Broad Street subway cars for $81.4 million. That's $13.2 million more than the lowest bidder, Nisho-Iwai, a Japanese subsidiary of Kawasaki Corporation.

But giving the work to the Japanese firm, or to the Canadian and Italian companies that also want the work, would actually be more expensive in the long run, the Urban Coalition argues.

Budd would be forced to close its operation in the northeast section of the city and 1,400 persons could be thrown out of work, according to F. Joseph Maginn, Budd's sales manager.

Charles W. Bowser, an attorney for the Urban Coalition, contends that "foreign firms cannot be considered responsible bidders under the city charter."

Budd is owned by a German company, but it is the only bidder that would build the cars in the United States.

The city solicitor's office said Philadelphia would lose the 80 percent of the cost of the cars the federal government is supplying if the lowest bidder is not chosen.