Home » The Mini Clubvan Was An Ultra-Rare Delivery Van That Got Hit With The Chicken Tax: Holy Grails

The Mini Clubvan Was An Ultra-Rare Delivery Van That Got Hit With The Chicken Tax: Holy Grails

Minigrail1
ADVERTISEMENT

The modern incarnation of Mini is a brand that still does things a bit differently than other automakers. It’s a marque that still builds regular cars, convertibles, and compact performance models, and you can still get them painted in more colors than “Gray” or “The Other Shade Of Gray We Have.” However, the cars aren’t so “mini” anymore and sometimes it feels as if the brand is apathetic about its own products. It wasn’t always this way. Not too long ago, Mini was willing to take chances.

One of them was the 2013 Mini Clubvan. Not even sold for a single year, the Clubman-based Clubvan was a 124 mph commercial van for the kinds of people who think the Ford Transit Connect is just too big and not fun to drive. How many people like that were there? Just 50, making this one of the rarest Minis in America. 

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Last time on Holy Grails, we took a look at one of the wilder performance cars to be produced by General Motors in the 2000s. The Chevrolet HHR SS took the humble HHR retro hatchback and cranked it up to 11 by way of a 260 HP and 260 lb-ft torque turbo four-cylinder engine. That car alone is pretty awesome, but it wasn’t the grail. That was the rare Chevy HHR Panel SS, which applied the SS treatment to the HHR Panel wagon. As a result, buyers had the opportunity to display their business name on the side of a retro-modern car that had the ability to convert rubber into smoke.

Today’s grail follows a similar pattern and a similar idea as the HHR Panel, but this one is even smaller.

P90098048 Lowres The Mini Clubvan 06
BMW

This story takes place two years after Chevrolet closed up the order books on the HHR and its variants. In the mid-2010s the market for compact commercial vans was growing. In 2013, the Nissan NV200 went on sale as a smaller alternative to the typical cargo van, and a year later, it would get a badge mate with the Chevy City Express. At the time, Dodge was also willing to sell you its Grand Caravan as a blanked-out cargo van. Later, Chrysler’s small cargo van offering would evolve into the Fiat Doblò-based Ram ProMaster City. Even Mercedes-Benz threw its hat into the ring with the Metris.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of course, the van that helped spark this market for tiny vans was the Ford Transit Connect, which had been on sale in America since 2009. These vans were pitched as more affordable, more maneuverable vehicles for business owners. Why buy a GMC Savana when you don’t even need half of the space? Unfortunately, most cargo van buyers went for the bigger vans anyway.

Now, all of these vans have been discontinued after slow sales. The final holdouts are the Mercedes-Benz Metris and the Ford Transit Connect, both slated to end production after the completion of the 2023 model year.

Perhaps the weirdest compact commercial van to come and disappear one of BMW’s Minis. In 2013, Mini gave us a van smaller than a Ford Transit Connect that focused on fun.

The Morris Mini Van

P0031411
BMW

Let’s take a look at the car that inspired it, the Morris Mini Van. Before we get to the van, we should talk about the car that birthed the van in the first place. This is a subject our own Jason Torchinsky has covered before:

If you’re somehow unaware of the original Morris/Austin Mini and its legacy, you’re lucky that I like talking about it, so prepare yourself for a vigorous synopsizing: After WWII, there was a real need in Britain for a good, cheap, fuel-efficient people’s car, pretty much the exact same motivation that birthed the Volkswagen Beetle in Germany, the Citroën 2CV in France, and the Fiat 500 in Italy. The Suez oil crisis of 1956 hit Europe hard, and this really emphasized the need for small, fuel-efficient cars in the UK.

Though small “bubble cars” with incredible fuel efficiency like the BMW Isetta and Messerschmitt KR250 were available, British Motor Corporation (BMC) head Leonard Lord hated them, and wanted to “drive them off the streets by designing a proper small car.” That’s what the missive was to the lead engineer of the project, the brilliant Alec Issigonis, and the result was the Mini.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Mini’s final design, going into production in 1959, was ingenious; it was a 10-foot-long car made up of a big box with a smaller box up front, and that smaller box contained a transverse-mounted four-cylinder “A-series” (as it was called) engine. The transmission was mounted in the oil sump of the engine for maximum space efficiency, and while modern cars generally don’t do that, the overall transverse/FWD layout eventually became the dominant automotive design of the future. (The vast majority of cars today use it).

Af 34855 2 (1)
BMW

The Mini was a packaging triumph that would go down in history as one of motoring’s icons. The vehicle also made for an excellent platform for a series of small commercial vehicles. Just a year after the launch of the Mini, BMC launched the Mini Van. The van, which came just five months after the Mini itself went into production in August 1959, was targeted at tradesmen and those working what we’d call blue-collar jobs.

The BMC Mini Van and its variants (Austin Seven Van, Austin Mini Van, and Morris Mini Van) start off with a familiar Mini body, but with a floor extended by 9.8 inches and a wheelbase extended from about 80 inches to 84 inches.

In order to maximize interior volume, BMC relocated the battery and spare tire to behind the seats and between the floor pan and loading area. The fuel tank was also under the loading area. This allowed 45.9 cubic feet of cargo hauling abilities. Other changes included a firmer suspension and a slightly higher rear ride height.

P90116886 Lowres Austin Mini Van 1982
BMW

In terms of options, BMC trimmed the commercial van down significantly compared to its passenger-hauling siblings. Mini Vans didn’t have any chrome and the grille was simply stamped steel painted body color. Inside, the cabin was spartan. A rearview mirror was an option and the best feature to note was a heater. Still, you got a whole car for just £387, or £7,348 today ($9,356 USD).

Mini says this van, which sold from 1960 to 1986, is the spiritual predecessor of the 2013 Mini Clubvan.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Modern Mini Clubvan

P90116888 Lowres Austin Mini Van 1982
BMW

In the summer of 2012, Mini unveiled what it called the “world’s first premium compact delivery van.” Apparently, this means “for the first time, trend-conscious commercial users can now make a stylish and sophisticated statement when carrying out deliveries to their equally discerning customers.”

At the heart of the Clubvan is the Clubman. (Now, confusingly, the modern-day Clubman is not exactly a take on the Clubman of old. The Clubman name was applied in 1969 when the Mini got a new, blocky face. The technical predecessor of the modern Clubman was actually the 1960 Mini Traveller, which was a more utilitarian, longer Mini wagon with barn doors like today’s Clubman. The Clubman Estate, which is a bit closer to the Clubman of today, didn’t appear until 1970. Reportedly, the reason why Mini called the reincarnated wagon “Clubman” has to do with the fact that BMW did not own the rights to “Traveller” back then.) 

Damimage.narrow.1280w.j 16794284
BMW

When the Clubman finally launched in 2007, it was based on the second-generation R56 Mini hatch. In its press release, Mini said that the Clubman is identical to the Mini hatch up to the B-pillar. From there, the body gets 9.4 inches longer with a 3.1-inch longer wheelbase and 3.1 inches more legroom.

Mini Clubman 2007 Wallpapers 5
BMW

In addition to the longer body, the Clubman nods to the past with a set of barn doors, and access from the side of the vehicle is aided with a rear-opening partial door. At the time, the automotive press hailed this as the “big Mini.” If only they knew what was coming even further down the road.

This, finally, brings us to the Grail, recommended by NebraskaStig:

ADVERTISEMENT

I want to nominate the last true breadvan for sale in the USDM, the 2013 Mini Cooper Clubvan (ClubVAN) as a candidate. Take a base Cooper Clubman and try to skirt by the chicken tax via remove the rear seats, pepper tinting the rear windows and saying voila(!) to selling the last 2-seat shooting break sold in the US.

Supposedly only 50 sold, some with a manual.

I’d like to think In an alternate universe, there would’ve been a dealer JCW option, where Mahk Mini of Westhamptonshire was a neo Yanko, but alas, 121hp must due to start with. Imagine an Isle of Man race on Martha’s vineyard by the local florists and bakeries! I picture one of these getting a GP heart transplant at some point in the future.

It’s very utilitarian, very compromised, very rare. And very Autopian.

P90115445 Highres Mini Clubvan
BMW

Firstly, I still adore user handles with “Stig” in them. Top Gear may not be what it used to be, but the Stig is still one of my favorite characters of all time. Anyway, when Mini concluded that American buyers wanted a tiny Clubman panel wagon, it started importing the Clubvan from Mini’s Plant Oxford in the UK. Mini made mild changes to create the Clubvan. According to BMW’s own press release, the rear glass remained but was blanked out:

The absence of rear seats allows the Clubvan to focus squarely on maximising load-carrying capacity. The cargo area is 115 centimetres long and, even at its narrowest point just behind the rear doors, 102 centimetres wide. The partition behind the front seats, comprising a solid aluminium lower section and an upper section of stainless steel grating, is firmly attached to the vehicle body. The partition prevents objects in the load compartment from slamming forward into the passenger compartment under heavy braking. It also allows loading right up to the roof, so that full use can be made of the rear compartment’s 860 litres of cargo space. The MINI Clubvan has a maximum payload of 500 kilograms.

P90117116 Highres The Mini Clubvan 03
BMW

The high-quality carpeting covering the flat load compartment floor and side walls is fit-for-purpose and stylish in equal measure. Six attachment loops recessed into the floor at the edge of the load area can be used to secure cargo of all shapes and sizes, preventing items from sliding around when the vehicle is on the move. Elsewhere, an anthracite roof liner runs the full length of the vehicle, two additional load compartment lights illuminate proceedings during loading and unloading, and 12-volt sockets in the cargo area can be used to power electrical equipment.

The MINI Clubvan shields its cargo from curious eyes while on the move and during drop-offs thanks to a combination of opaque, blocked-out glass in the rear side windows and Clubdoor, and the darkened glass in the rear doors. The side window surfaces are body-coloured on the outside and have polycarbonate reinforcement on the inside.

P90117107 Highres The Mini Clubvan 03
BMW

Unsurprising is the fact that there do not seem to be any reviews of the Clubvan in America. As I said at the start of this piece, Mini sold just 50 of these things and they weren’t on sale for even a year before disappearing. In fact, the existence of the Clubvan was so brief that when Green Car Reports reached out to Mini about the status of the Clubvan, it found out that the van had come and gone already.

That said, the Clubvan is just a commercial version of the Clubman, which means this MotorWeek review is applicable:

In short, you can expect that mid-2000s Mini “go-kart” handling and good agility. Though, MotorWeek found the base engine leaving its testers wanting more oomph. In terms of cargo area, the Clubvan sported 33 cubic feet of cargo volume, less room than the 63 cubic feet offered by the Chevy HHR Panel and a fraction of the 129 cubic feet offered by the Transit Connect.

ADVERTISEMENT

Mini Screws Up

P90098052 Highres The Mini Clubvan 06
BMW

Alright, so Mini created a tiny commercial vehicle that should be way more fun to drive than a Ford Transit Connect. So, what happened? Why did Mini sell just 50 of these cars?

Well, it goes back to what NebraskaStig said above. Mini removed the rear seat and added the cargo area before shipping the Clubvan over to America. That meant that the Clubvan was subject to the notorious 25 percent tariff known as the “Chicken Tax.”

The 2013 Mini Clubvan was $26,000, far more than the $21,400 commanded by a base Clubman. The situation was more dire when you compared it to other small commercial vans. The Clubvan was $3,000 more expensive than a Ford Transit Connect and $5,000 more expensive than a Nissan NV200.

You weren’t getting more power for the price, either. The Clubvan was powered by the base Clubman’s 1.6-liter four that made 121 HP and 118 lb-ft of torque. That was good for a 60 mph acceleration time just under 10 seconds. 

9adwlglo Eibtyrfsxu
Cars & Bids Seller

What gives? Well, Ford reportedly evaded the tariff by importing Transit Connects as passenger vans and then converting them into cargo vans. Apparently, Ford jumped an estimated $181 million in import duties by doing so. BMW did things by the book, avoiding penalties, but the Mini Clubvan paid the price.

ADVERTISEMENT

I bet the Clubvan could have been initially successful if it was cheaper. Imagine if Mini was able to slash $6,500 off of that price, undercutting the larger small vans. I could see these being used for pizza delivery, tech support, and other small businesses that don’t need vans but still want professional vehicles. Ultimately, BMW cited low interest and the Chicken Tax for why it pulled the plug after just 50 units. Perhaps worse is the fact that given what we know now about small vans in America, this would have just died later on, anyway.

That said, the Clubvan has remained on sale in other countries where smaller commercial vehicles seemingly make more sense.

P90098062 Highres The Mini Clubvan 06
BMW

Because of this blunder, the Clubvan is one of the weirder vehicles to be sold by Mini in America while also being one of the rarest. There are just as many 2013 Mini Clubvans out there as there are Mini Cooper S John Cooper Works World Championship 50 limited editions in America. Sure, the JCW has nearly twice the horsepower, but it doesn’t have the kind of breadvan-ish style found in the Clubvan!

The Clubvan is so rare that when you Google it, the search engine asks if you meant “Clubman.” I found none for sale on Facebook, none on Craigslist, and just one at Cars & Bids that sold for $11,500.

Part of my issues finding one could relate to the search engine problems. Either way, they’re definitely out there, but Clubvan owners clearly aren’t interested in giving them up. So, clearly Mini must have done something right.

ADVERTISEMENT
P90117092 Highres The Mini Clubvan 03
BMW

Do you know of or own a car, bus, motorcycle, or something else worthy of being called a “holy grail?” Send me an email at mercedes@theautopian.com or drop it down in the comments!

Support our mission of championing car culture by becoming an Official Autopian Member.

Image17

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on whatsapp
WhatsApp
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn
Share on reddit
Reddit
Subscribe
Notify of
28 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Teva Youngblood
Teva Youngblood
8 months ago

Well, looks like we just bought one and the dealer didn’t know what he had. One of only 50? SWEET.

86,500 mi for $9999. We were in the market for another Mini as a commuter and this one popped up locally. Stopped in to check it out and – huh, couldn’t pass it up….without even realizing it was a ClubVAN.

The World of Vee
The World of Vee
9 months ago

I had a R55 Clubman S that I tuned to the absolute gills (340whp) and it was one of the best little cars I ever owned. I always thought it would have been a hoot to swap in that drivetrain into a clubvan because they’re just so ridiculous

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 months ago

I hate the chicken tax. The only automotive good thing was the bonkers bed mounted seats in the Subaru BRAT. I would have gladly traded them for VW Squareback vans, Suzuki Mighty Boys and a VW T3 Doka. Heck we might have even got the high roof Volvo wagons the Swedish post office used.
On historical note the Clubvan is effectively a reverse of the original since IIRC the van came out first and the wagons were made by adding side windows, a rear seat and wood trim on the Countryman.

Astrass
Astrass
9 months ago
Reply to  Slow Joe Crow

Gotta protect the domestic mega-Titanic truck industry!

Ron888
Ron888
9 months ago

To this day i still dont know if the reason for the chicken tax still applies.You’d think that would be easy to find out but nup.Nothing.I cant find anything on the interwebs.

I mean the EU still taxes chicken heavily, but is that why the US continues the tax on light trucks,or has this all become a convenient way to protect the auto industry?
Until i hear otherwise i’ll give america the benefit of the doubt.Simply because the EU was built on protectionism and their historical sins in this area are massive

Steve Lee
Steve Lee
9 months ago

The base engine was perfect! No power means the gas pedal stays pinned to the floor, and you have to drop down three gears on the highway to make a pass. Sounded great with an intake and exhaust. Plus you have to play the momentum game going around corners. Such a fun car.

SonOfLP500
SonOfLP500
9 months ago

Kudos to BMW for a press release full of actual info, rather than reams of jargon-filled “lifestyle image” PR-speak. Special George Orwell prize for “The partition prevents objects in the load compartment from slamming forward into the passenger compartment under heavy braking.” “slamming” as opposed to “transitioning” or similar: I likee.

Bruno Hache
Bruno Hache
9 months ago

I’ve seen one my whole life and it was at a BMW dealership that had just opened in Atlantic Canada. It stayed on that lot for a couple years.

Dwegmull
Dwegmull
9 months ago

If you are looking for a US based review, Doug DeMuro did one: https://youtu.be/c7QGXP4nxAs?si=L94mPUG9B-7BIQkU

Last edited 9 months ago by Dwegmull
Tim Cougar
Tim Cougar
9 months ago

I recall journalist Jamie Kitman bought one. He got a good discount because it had been sitting on the dealer’s lot unsold and they wanted it gone.

Jamie Kitman
Jamie Kitman
9 months ago
Reply to  Tim Cougar

That is correct and I still own it. Six speed manual, light blue and only 17,000 miles, there might be more 970cc Cooper S from the 60s in America than ClubVans. The mechanics at my local Mini dealer are dumbfounded when it rolls in, though it is serviced like any other. In its ten years it has needed nothing but regular maintenance though its hatable run-flat tires could stand to be replaced, because of age and hatability.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
9 months ago
Reply to  Jamie Kitman

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that an owner of one of the 50 sold in the US would be reading here. Thanks for chiming in with your experience

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
9 months ago

Hmm, this brings up an interesting question. Since the Clubvan must have been federalized to sell even 50 in the US, the 25 year rule should not apply and we should be able to import them today, right?

How does the chicken tax work? Does it only apply if the vehicle is being imported for resale? Does it apply to used cars? If I wanted to import a Clubvan from Europe, would I have to pay 25% of the used car sale price?

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
9 months ago

Yes, importing it on your own will subject you to the 25% tax

Also, the Clubvan is just a Clubman with a gutted interior and vinyl panels over the rear windows. The covers themselves are probably available at your local BMW dealer or online.

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
9 months ago

I can see the appeal of a right sized delivery vehicle to a small business. I can’t see it with BMW maintenance costs.

Hotdoughnutsnow
Hotdoughnutsnow
9 months ago

When I was a kid, we had a ’74 Pinto Wagon. One day on a trip to the mall, we saw the “Cruisin Wagon” version (you know the one; with the porthole window and the cool stripe package). I was smitten. I have loved miniature vans, transports, and clubvans ever since.

Mark Tucker
Mark Tucker
9 months ago

I just want to say how much it still irks me to see photos of old Minis credited to BMW. I know it’s legally correct, but it’s just not right.

Squirrelmaster
Squirrelmaster
9 months ago

A vendor that my company bought equipment from back in the 2016/2017 timeframe had one of these, though I had no idea how rare it was. I always found that version of the Clubman charming, but all the horror stories that vendor told me about keeping their Clubvan on the road has permanently scared me away from them. If memory serves, the Clubvan got replaced by an NV200. Womp, womp.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
9 months ago
Reply to  Harrnack

<redacted> nevermind, I was drunk.

Last edited 9 months ago by Rad Barchetta
Nlpnt
Nlpnt
9 months ago

IIRC you could never build-and-price one on the miniusa.com website. It was still listed as a “Future Model” when it was announced they were being discontinued.

I’ve seen exactly one in the metal, in the same creamy white (were there any other colors?) and decaled up as a parts chaser for the BMW-Mini dealership. They also sell Hondas, which makes me wonder how a version based on the Fit would’ve done with more interior space, at significantly lower cost than a Mini or a Transit Connect since they were almost 10 grand cheaper even in fully-trimmed 5 seater hatchback form and gen 3s were made in Mexico thus exempt from the Chicken Tax under NAFTA or whatever it was rebranded as in the last season of The Apprentice.

Maymar
Maymar
9 months ago

It’s been a while since I’ve seen it in person (to confirm if it’s a legitimate Clubvan vs a Clubman with blanked out windows), but I’m fairly sure a local chain of bakeries has one for a delivery vehicle. At a minimum, Google suggests the nearest Mini dealer had a ’14 Clubvan for sale in 2017, so it’s possible.

https://s3-media0.fl.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/yV6lWphDqNH2qh_GM_08OQ/o.jpg

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
9 months ago

WOW I had no idea they ever sold that shit here!

BMW likes to brag about not making any commercial vehicles (poking fun at M-B)

I can see why this failed though, and it’s not just the lame-ass chicken tax. Let’s face it, the BMW Minis are some of the worst cars ever made, and breakdowns aren’t good for business! Not being able to make deliveries will hurt any business. If the Clubvan’s driver is an employee and not the owner of the company, they end up paying that driver lots of overtime just to wait for the tow truck to arrive.

Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
9 months ago
Reply to  Dogisbadob

That tiny cargo capacity is less than half of my station wagon. Granted, my wagon is probably longer, but it’s not a huge car.

FuzzyPlushroom
FuzzyPlushroom
9 months ago
Reply to  Jack Beckman

My Yaris is seven cubic feet down on space (25.7 versus 32.8), but it’s also 8″ shorter. Not exactly damning for the Mini, but at less than two-thirds the price after folding down the rear seat and having someone wrap it, the Yaris and its competition from Japan, Korea, and the US (especially, as Nlpnt mentioned, the new-for-’13 49.4-cube-with-all-the-seats-down NAFTA-compatible Fit) were simply better value, just as they were better value as commuter cars than ordinary Minis were.

As smallish wagons go, a Volvo 245 offered 41 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 76 cubes with ’em down, but that’s a 190″ car versus the Mini’s 156″.

Taco Shackleford
Taco Shackleford
9 months ago

OOOh I do like these, and HHR panel vans also, but my holy grail panel van is the euro spec LC Prado 2 door panel
https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-9hPeW0FhPN4/WtfnACiM1uI/AAAAAAAAxJ0/5Fq2wbp_43IwlDf0J_b3__o5IJn9Fk4DACLcBGAs/s1600/2018_toyota_land_cruiser_prado_utility_01.jpg

VanGuy
VanGuy
9 months ago

Holy crap! If that’s comparatively rare to the HHR panel SS or the Clubvan, I see no reason it can’t have its own grail article. That is an extremely distinct look

Last edited 9 months ago by VanGuy
28
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x