Home » I’m Going To Defend The Most-Hated Original Mini: The Clubman

I’m Going To Defend The Most-Hated Original Mini: The Clubman

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You know about Slack Law, right? It’s this rule amongst those of us that write things for all of you to savor and enjoy that states if you talk about something too much on Slack, you have to turn that into an article. (This was an old rule we employed at the height of Gawker Media’s blogs, but I think it’s actually in the Talmud.) The idea is that if a certain subject is gripping for you to go on and on about it Slack, it’ll probably be worth just belching it out into the world. That happened today, because we were discussing an article about some Mini Clubman news that may be up already, and that made me think of the original Mini Clubman from 1969.

Generally, people don’t really like the Clubman re-design of the Mini. However, today I looked upon it with fresh eyes and you know what? It’s not so bad!

In case you wanted to see actual receipts of the Slack exchange that thrust me here, you’re in luck:

Slacklaw

The modern version of the Mini Clubman isn’t really the same as the original; the modern take on the Clubman, which came out in 2007, well within the current BMW-owned era of Mini, is what was once called the Mini Traveler, which is what the Mini wagon (ok, fine, estate) was called.

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The Clubman name was first used for a Mini in 1969, when it referred to the Mini with the re-designed front end, which is the one I want to talk about today.

Clubman Namesplainer

I just realized it sort of looks like those bottom Mini Clubmen (Clubsman? Clubmans?) are the rears of the ones above, which they are very much not. Those are just showing the embiggening growth of the estate Minis over their generations. I do like that they kept the split rear doors though, that’s appreciated.

So, back to the Clubman I want to talk about. In 1969, the Mini was 10 years old and hadn’t really had an appreciable styling update in all that time, and the world of automotive design didn’t just politely stand by and see if the Mini would catch up.

59 69mini

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The Mini was an absolutely charming design—and still is—but back in 1969 it wasn’t really recognized as a holy icon of automotive design, and the British Motor Corporation didn’t really think that original Mini bulldog face was so precious that it couldn’t be updated to feel more modern. It wanted to update the Mini and expand the range a bit, but, being BMC, it wanted to do it on the cheap.

BMC got ex-Ford designer Roy Haynes, who explained the need for an update to the press back in the day like this:

“The design of a car has to be in tune with other designs of the period. It’s probably the second most important purchase anyone ever makes and becomes an extension of the individual’s personality. But it is also a fact that it will be worth less as time passes, even if it is only standing in the garage. So it conforms to a particular modern stream, and the secondhand car is passed down the line. This is what makes it defensible to produce such a costly item on the assumption that it will be expendable. Everyone benefits, from the company workers to the consumer.”

think what he’s saying here is that because cars depreciate and don’t last forever, it’s a good idea to design them in keeping with then-current trends, because they only have a brief flowering period, anyway? Is that what he’s getting at? Honestly, I’m not entirely certain.

The original goal was to have this new, re-designed Mini be a replacement for the more upscale Minis from Riley and Wolseley. The design inspiration came from BMC’s own Austin Maxi, the larger, wealthier sibling of the Mini, and as such created a cohesive identity in the family via this new, modern, more rectilinear face.

Maxi

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Haynes’ re-design took the Maxi face and slapped it on the old Mini body, extended the front by about four inches, moved the instruments in front of the driver instead of in a little pod in the center of the dash, improved the seats, gave it real roll-down (as opposed to slide back) windows, and, well, that’s about it.

Clubman Int

The new look wasn’t really a hit with fans of the old Mini and it was said to be less aerodynamic, too. BMC hedged its bets and continued building old-style Minis, too, which would eventually outlive the Clubman design and continue on to the space-year 2000.

Minilineup

The new front end did give a bit of much-needed room under that hood, which makes the Clubman a lot easier to work on than the original Mini, which often required the grille to be removed just so you could, you know, get your hand free from where it was pinned between the generator and the body, painfully.

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Today, almost everyone shits upon the old Clubman—articles are out there alleging assault via “ugly club”—and modern Mini, on its Heritage page, barely even mentions it, only letting it appear for a fraction of a second in an animated GIF:

Mini Mini Insider World Of Mini 1969

That’s the only time it appears on the whole page there! You can literally blink and miss it.

Not only am I here to defend the Clubman design, I’ll even say that its biggest crime may be that it didn’t go far enough. If the goal was to modernize the old Mini design with minimal cost, updating the front end sure accomplished what it needed to visually, but the biggest change should have happened around back: they should have made it a hatchback.

BMC was definitely toying with the idea; Alec Issigonis, the Mini’s original designer, was already working on a possible Mini replacement with a hatch, and design studies of the Clubman did have versions with modified rear ends and one with a real hatchback, as you can see in the lower right:

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Hatchbacks

The original Mini design would have lent itself really well to a hatchback update because there was a weld seam right at the rear, where the rear body panel was installed, that could have easily been swapped for a new rear end with a hatchback, and no need to modify any other body panels. I can’t think of another car that could be modified like this quite so easily, and yet still somehow BMC was too cheap to do it, and as such the Clubman’s body updates stopped before the windshield.

So, sure, in the end, it was just a face graft to drag the Mini into the 1970s. But when I look at it today, I have to say, I kind of like it. It works, in its way, a lot better than you’d think it should, all things considered. I mean, look at it, here in the hot 1275 GT form:

1275gt

It’s got a bit of a forward rake to that front end, which gives it a sort of purposeful, eager stance, the bumper is a nice clean bit of understated jewelry, and that newer, simpler face somehow manages to change the character of the car without looking too much at odds with the rest, and that’s something of an achievement unto itself. Look what happened to Ford of Argentina when they tried to drag the old ’60s Falcon into the 1970s:

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Falcon

Ooof, now that’s a car in a Halloween mask. I think the Clubman pulled off this same challenge with a lot more success, and I think I’m done hearing people badmouth this little unloved child of the ’70s.

You’re okay in my club, man.

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GearHeadGrrrl
GearHeadGrrrl
2 months ago

Let us not forget that a lot of the Cooper S bits lived on in the Clubman 1275GT, which Richard Longman turned into a helluva racer…

jb996
jb996
2 months ago

As the owner of Porsche 996, I can appreciate the Clubman. One little headlight/frontend change, and the purist get apoplectic.
They’re nice looking cars.

sonofLP500
sonofLP500
2 months ago

I was there, if still in shorts, and the facelift really worked at the time.
It was when the Mini was heading towards being reviled in the British press as a symbol of the backwardness of the UK car industry in the 1970s and ’80s (looking at you, car magazine), before being rediscovered as the fun runabout in the 1990s, thanks to Japan buying enough every year to make it a real business proposition in the meantime and keep it in production.
The Clubman face looked good for what it was supposed to achieve, admittedly best on the estate version, and the 1275GT looked eager to get up and go.

JakobKsGarage
JakobKsGarage
2 months ago

It looks too nose heavy, like some kind of Audi Quattro or something. And really too bad the rounded 1950ies lines on the the rest of the car didn’t get anything at all. A very easy day at the office for Roy Haynes..

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
2 months ago

I thought the original Mini wagons were called Countryman, but maybe that only applied to the wood trimmed models.
I have always been a little annoyed at BMW Mini for calling the long roof Mini the Clubman instead of the historically correct Countryman or Traveler and instead applying the name to their bloated crossover thing.
As mentioned above the longer squarer Clubman nose is at odds with the rounded Mini sedan and is far more harmonious the longer and squarer wagon, van and pickup although AFAIK no Clubman commercials were officially built

Mantis Toboggan, M.D.
Mantis Toboggan, M.D.
2 months ago

A bit off-topic, but what is this Slack thing I read about? I get that it’s some kind of messaging app used mostly by media professionals, or at least those are the people who write about using it publicly. My question is, how is it different from and superior to a group text or the many, many other communication options available to us today? Is it really or is it just one of those things that’s hip so you say it out loud, the modern day equivalent of “I’m on the road but I’ll email you from my BlackBerry?”

phuzz
phuzz
2 months ago

Really, it’s not much different from something like Microsoft Teams, or Discord.
I think the reason they repeat the name is that it’s slightly more elegant to say “we discussed it in our Slack” than “we discussed it in our work messaging app”. I guess we need a new word in English that means “generic group messaging app converstation”, the same way ‘text’ is used to mean some kind of direct message.

Just Jeepin’
Just Jeepin’
2 months ago

Rather reminds me of AMC’s disastrous redesign of the Kaiser Jeepster Commando. I’d love to talk to anyone from that era who was familiar with their thinking wrt the Jeep acquisition; they really seem to have struggled to understand what the Jeep style was.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Jeep_Commando_C-104.jpg

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
2 months ago

The clubman front clip is used for lots of vtec swapped minis.

We need a good chunk of articles about the ADO series cars. There were some incredibly interesting different experiments done by BMC/BL.

Also, my 86 Mayfair was almost the exact same poo gold as that 1000 about halfway through the article!

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
2 months ago

The Clubman is the Super Beetle of Minis, and just look at what nice Super Beetles are going for now. Time has a way of mellowing critics

JOAO VICENTE DE ARAGAO DA COSTA
JOAO VICENTE DE ARAGAO DA COSTA
2 months ago

I was diggin it until you talked about the lovely Ford Falcon made in Argentina (that made it not until the 70s but til the 90s with that nice Granada look if I’m not mistaken)! Saw a lot of them in my childhood in South Brazil in the late 80s.

tacotruckdave
tacotruckdave
2 months ago

Yeah my take is on the gentleman who tried to marketing speak his way out of the redesign. Frankly the main reason car companies redesign cars is simply to make all current car owners feel they own an old car. Yes even the last year of a model buyer feels his car is old when the new one comes out. So marketing says get the new model it is better your neighbors and friends wont think you are poor. They have everything invested in buying a new car as quick as possible. Cars are lasting longer owners should be owning longer. Same issue with Jaguar. As long as it lasts out the warranty the company wins. It gets sold quicker and a new one is bought. A manufacturer only makes money on the 1st time the car is bought. Unless you sell expensive parts to the 2nd and 3rd owner. You know those damn Germans can make a reliable car. But know last the warranty and make increased profits on the parts.

CSRoad
CSRoad
2 months ago

The original “Clubman” was fine as an attempt at a makeover on the aging Mini.
Minis were tinny, cheap and lovable, change made a bump in the road of acceptance it wasn’t all bad just different.
I don’t think the BMW MINI and it’s offshoots are anything other than at best, badge engineering or at worst, cultural appropriation, however measured as cars they were/are OK. I’d never own one, my brother has owned a couple in his love affair with German cars and the stories of expensive maintenance have proven true.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
2 months ago

Ringo Starr famously had a Mini modified with a hatchback for his drums & it appears to have worked quite well as per the speculation in the article:
https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-fpoPigS6xDc/YO2FZXMQGPI/AAAAAAAAPZM/yBoCVFOGbmkt5YYYaFlOApJ2YuddNtZnwCLcBGAsYHQ/w393-h418/LLO%2B836D%2BRingo%2BStarr%2BMini%2B3.png

mr.choppers
mr.choppers
2 months ago

Amazing that you managed to write this entire article without mentioning the Bertone redesign done for Innocenti; a modern take which was indeed a hatchback and was even sold alongside the other two versions for a moment.
British Leyland’s ability to waste and misapply resources never seizes to amaze.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
2 months ago

While I think the basic elements of the Clubman’s design are fine, it’s how they are portioned that gives the Clubman such an odd look. It seems to me that the whole front end is rather top heavy, with the grill, lights, and bumper placed up higher than they should be. This coupled with the front end rake makes the car look like it doesn’t have a chin. The other issue is that that they didn’t really do much to update the rest of the body, which makes the front seem out of place. I think if BL had squared off the rest of the design to match it would have been received a whole lot better.

As far as classic Mini redesigns go, I think the Innocenti version was what BL should have looked at. It’s the same basic car underneath, but wrapped in a nice, modern (for the times) sheetmetal with a rear hatch.
https://www.hagerty.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Innocenti-Mini-05.jpg

awesomeaustinv
awesomeaustinv
2 months ago
Reply to  Marc Fuhrman

The Clubman nose would’ve looked much more at home on the Riley Elf/Wolseley Hornet version of the mini body, since that had more squared-off tailfins and a proper trunk in the back. I’m not sure why they decided to stop building those when they were designing the Clubman, seeing as the Clubman was supposed to be the replacement of those cars.

DoYouHaveAMomentToTalkAboutRenaults
DoYouHaveAMomentToTalkAboutRenaults
2 months ago

I was unaware that the original Clubman was disliked. It’s one of the most coveted versions here in Portugal, especially the mighty 1275 GT (technically not a Clubman, I know, but it has the same fascia). I always liked it a lot. Growing up in a time when Minis were everywhere (they were built locally in a joint venture called Mini IMA, which also license-built the Moke) it was always so refreshing to see a slightly different one. Panel vans and station wagons were also built locally and sold quite well, but I don’t think they ever made a van version of the Clubman.

Buzz
Buzz
2 months ago

I’d take a Clubman GT over a Moke any day of the week. Maybe someone can explain to me why the Moke isn’t the most reviled mini, but to me they look like ugly little gnomes.

mdharrell
mdharrell
2 months ago
Reply to  Buzz

I assume the Moke gets a pass on aesthetics because it was so clearly designed for a minimalist utilitarian military purpose. Besides, they’re a lot of fun, although I’ve only ever driven one in modified racing trim:

https://www.murileemartin.com/UG/LAZ17/800-_MG_4355.jpg

Buzz
Buzz
2 months ago
Reply to  mdharrell

This is the only Moke I’ve ever seen where I’ve thought “yeah, I can see why someone would want to own that.” As I’m reviewing the photos now, I’m realizing it was better looking in my memory than in actuality.

https://bringatrailer.com/listing/1967-morris-mini-moke-2/

LTDScott
LTDScott
2 months ago
Reply to  mdharrell

I too have driven that exact Moke and it was fun, but not representative of the average Moke.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
2 months ago
Reply to  mdharrell

Wasn’t it the car that prompted the wheelbase rule in Lemons?
And, I’m honored to comment in the company of people who raced it: y’all got gonads

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
2 months ago
Reply to  TOSSABL

Seeing as the Moke was allowed to continue racing in Lemons for years after that rule came about, I don’t believe so. If I recall correctly, it was the team that had planned on racing a Subaru 360 that brought it about. Which was probably for the better, since that became a really cool street car build powered by a Honda Fireblade motorcycle engine.
https://www.stanceiseverything.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/subaru3607.jpg

DoYouHaveAMomentToTalkAboutRenaults
DoYouHaveAMomentToTalkAboutRenaults
2 months ago
Reply to  Buzz

I always found the Moke to look like absolute ass. I love bare-bones, fun-oriented versions of utilitarian cars, and I can’t find any redeeming qualities in the Moke. Citroën and Renault nailed it with the Mehari and the Rodeo (especially the Rodeo 5) respectively. Even the questionable Meyers Manx and its many copies get a pass. But the Moke, for some reason, never did it to me.

Arch Duke Maxyenko
Arch Duke Maxyenko
2 months ago

It looks like a MOPAR badge engineered Mini

martywit
martywit
2 months ago

I don’t know if the 1275GT could be considered hot since it was only fitted with a single SU carb as opposed to the earlier Cooper and Cooper ‘S’ models with twin SUs. Performance wasn’t as good, and it was geared well either (it had a very low final drive ratio).

Only interesting tidbit might be that in later years the 1275GT was perhaps one of the first cars to optionally be fitted with runflat wheels and tires (Denovo).

mdharrell
mdharrell
2 months ago

With my history of Mini-adjacent A-Series ownership (Metro and Allegro), I’ve spent enough time around Mini clubs to observe that, although some Clubman owners still have a bit of residual defensiveness, the overall Mini attitude around here is more “live and let live” than dismissive divisiveness these days. I suspect a contributing factor is the unavoidable realization that surviving Minis of any type (and, to a large extent, their enthusiasts) aren’t getting any younger or more numerous and we’re all in this together.

beachbumberry
beachbumberry
2 months ago
Reply to  mdharrell

I had both an 86 Mayfair 1000 automatic and a 71 ado16 Austin 1100 in burgundy (also automatic ) I’ll fight over the sheer enjoyment of the automatic a-series when they worked. They could be locked into desired gears, or just pointed in a direction, floor the pedal, and go like a go cart. Loved those cars!

MiniDave
MiniDave
2 months ago

You’re wrong – in the sedan it does NOT work, the proportions are all wrong, and it looks vaguely Toyota-ish……but……in the Wagon (Estate) it works perfectly, as the wheelbase is also 4 inches longer, and now the proportions work perfectly…..although it still kinda looks like something Toyota would have built.

I owned a 1980 Clubman Estate (identical to the one in your article actually) and I currently still own a 2009 Clubman that I ordered brandy new. The barn doors are a PITA in many ways because opening one doesn’t really give you enough room to put anything in or take it out, so you almost always wind up opening both – which isn’t THAT big of a deal really, but that bar right down the middle of your rear view vision is not great. I would much prefer a hatch like the ……well, hatches have – that opens upward. There were aftermarket rear doors available in fiberglass (good thing too as the rear doors are prone to rusting out the bottoms) that open either upward or to one side (either – not both) to remedy this on the classics, no such apparatus exists for the modern version.

That said, I really like(d) both of my Clubbies and plan to keep the new one “forever”, and in fact I’m also trying to buy my old classic back again. I already have 3 classic Minis (well, one is an Innocenti), what’s one more?

Flying Monstera
Flying Monstera
2 months ago
Reply to  MiniDave

When I was a kid my mother had a 1976 Mini Clubman Estate (which I still own with 32000 miles on the clock) and I fully agree that the proportions are spot on. From my being a kid and throwing school bags in the boot days, the barn doors are much easier to open than a hatchback in confined spaces – the main downside as you say is visibility from the bar between the windows but after 5 minutes on a dirty British road you can’t see anything out of the back anyway.

nlpnt
nlpnt
2 months ago
Reply to  MiniDave

I absolutely agree. The same could be said of the 1979-80 square front of the Ford Pinto, and even the AMC Pacer’s raised hood/tall grille facelift, they all looked much better and more balanced on the wagon versions.

Pappa P
Pappa P
2 months ago
Reply to  MiniDave

You’re right, that front end definitely gives off vintage Toyota vibes.
I think that, coupled with the muscle car side striping and the gorgeous colour of the car pictured above is what has me salivating right now.

A. Barth
A. Barth
2 months ago

“is what was once called the Mini Traveler”

At least they didn’t call it the Mini Pikey.

Kakairo
Kakairo
2 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

That was a close call, considering Austin was building this car when the Mini launched: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austin_Gipsy

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