The cars : Mini Clubman
The Clubman was developed through BMC’s desire to expand the Mini concept, without spending too much money.
It started out as a hatchback proposal penned by Roy Haynes, and then developed into something rather less useful.
Words: Ian Nicholls
Keeping up appearances
THE Mini Clubman story starts in 1967 when BMC managing director Joe Edwards embarked on trying to sort out the mess BMC had got itself into; namely huge sales, yet meagre profits. To assist him in this task he poached from Ford its product planner and stylist Roy Haynes, fresh from working on the Mk2 Cortina. It was on 19 October 1967, the second day of the London Motor Show, that BMC announced that they had obtained the services of 43-year old Roy D Haynes. Sir George Harriman, the then 60-year old chairman of BMC, was quoted as saying: ‘I want the best men, and I am prepared to buy them no matter who they work for at present.’
Shortly afterwards Roy Haynes gave an interview to the Daily Express, in which he said: ‘I think the public today is geared to understanding the message that comes over with good clean styling. The feeling that to be functional a thing has to be ugly has gone. The natural aesthetic progression, whether it’s in cars or domestic appliances, can only be good for the individual who lays out the money.
‘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 second hand 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.’
Haynes brought from Ford other younger stylists such as Harris Mann and Paul Hughes.
Roy Haynes worked out a plan to reduce BMC’s model range down to five basic platforms and eliminate the proliferation of badge-engineered models. As well as new models he was tasked with the job of re-styling the existing cars: he worked on the forthcoming Austin Maxi, and a revised ADO16 1100/1300 known as ADO22, which never saw the light of day.
Expanding the breed
For the Mini, his task was simple: to produce a re-styled model to replace the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf at the top end of the range, with lower production costs. The Elf/Hornet was produced at a rate of only 125 per week and was subtlely different to the rest of the Mini range. The resulting car, known as the Mini Clubman had a longer nose in the same style as its bigger brother, the Austin Maxi.
Haynes also designed a revised rear end for the Mini, but management had second thoughts. The interior was designed by Paul Hughes, the three-spoke steering wheel (shown right) being pure Mk1/2 Cortina in concept, while the instrument binnacle was to survive until the demise of the Mini in 2000. Alec Issigonis believed in function over style and although his concept might have caused problems for the ADO17 Landcrab and the Maxi, for the original Mini it was perfect.
The Mini Clubman was a case of style over function, for the only benefit of the longer nose was easier engine access, and it was in fact aerodynamically inferior to that of the original. But before dismissing the Clubman as an unnecessary diversion one should remember that Roy Haynes knew what he was doing. By 1969 the Mini had been on the market for ten years – relatively unchanged. In that time, Ford had produced both the Mk1 and Mk2 Cortinas, the Anglia and its replacement the Mk1 Escort. By motor industry standards the Mini was long overdue for replacement or at the very least a facelift. After all, the car’s status as an icon would not become apparent until the 1990s…
The above text describes the car that was ultimately launched, but archive photographs show that Roy Haynes and his team had much more radical ideas for the cars external appearance. Much of the development story of the Clubman is sketchy, as both Roy Haynes and Paul Hughes appear to have avoided the attention of motoring journalists. As far as is known, they have never spoken publicly about their part in the Mini story, which is a grave omission by the motoring media, as they have an important story to tell.
It should have been a hatchback
One set of development pictures reveal a Mini with what appears to be doors similar to those fitted to some Australian and South African Mini variants which had wind up windows whilst retaining external door hinges. The bulbous rear appears to be made of clay and seems to have been an attempt to create extra boot space over the standard Mini, something offered by the outgoing Elf/Hornet. From the photographs it is not possible to deduce whether this variation had a hatchback. This concept was perhaps wisely abandoned, but a later variation on a theme had more promise.
A photograph from 30 May 1968, the day the Beatles began recording the White Album shows a hatchback version of that other ’60s icon, the Mini. Again using Australian/South African type doors this car seems to possibly made it all the way to a full metal prototype. Described as a ‘Family Three Door Super’, this car had similar rear styling to the forthcoming Morris Marina Coupe, which as it was styled by the same team should come as no surprise.
This car is clear evidence that BLMC was toying with the idea of a hatchback Mini as far back as 1968. So why didn’t BLMC push ahead with it? One can only surmise that it was a question of cost, the Mini was allegedly losing its makers money and the fact some senior management in the corporation obviously felt that hatchbacks were not the way forward, as the forthcoming Allegro and Princess did not feature them either. So, was the May 1968 hatchback Mini a lost opportunity?
Some Mini fans may pour disdain on the Clubman that eventually emerged, disliking any distortion of the original car’s shape in the same way fans of the series 1 Jaguar E-type pour scorn on the series 3, but in the wider context of 1970s car wars, the rejection of the hatchback Mini was probably a serious mistake. Buyers would have got used to this hatchback Mini had it been launched, seeing it as an evolution of the breed in the same way as they accepted each new facelift of the Ford Cortina.
In the 1960s, the Mini was bought by many as a first car. By the 1970s there was a growing market for a second car for the wife to drive whilst her husband drove a company car. The new generation of European supermini’s increasingly appealed to this market and their use of a hatchback made them more flexible for such mundane tasks as shopping. The Mini may have been technically more space efficient than the superminis, but what use is space if one cannot access it? In August 1979 the technical editor of Autocar magazine, Michael Scarlett, called for a whole raft of improvements to the Mini including a hatchback, not knowing that British Leyland had designed and rejected this a decade before in the mistaken belief that technical neglect would be compensated for by customer loyalty to the existing Mini. The launch and instant sales success of the Ford Fiesta in 1976 dispelled this naive viewpoint.
Development of the Clubman appears to have run parallel with the Issigonis 9X Mini replacement. The time table seems to have been this. Roy Haynes joined British Motor Holdings on 19 October 1967. Then on 17 January 1968, BMH announced it was merging with the Leyland Motor Corporation effective from May 1968, although in reality details were far from settled and the deal nearly fell through. Also that month Mini production ceased at Cowley and all UK built Mini’s now emerged from Longbridge.
Then on 27 February 1968, BMC, acting as if it still had an autonomous future announced a high-level reshuffle of BMC directors’ areas of responsibility as part of a streamlining process before completion of the BMH-Leyland merger. The move centred on the decision by Alec Issigonis, BMC’s technical director, to devote himself full-time to more creative and forward looking concepts of research and development. More of an engineer than a professional administrator, Issigonis had asked to be relieved of executive responsibilities for the operational and administrative aspects of the corporation’s engineering functions. He planned to continue as technical director, answering to Joe Edwards, managing director, and would advise the board on long term vehicle research projects. Alec Issigonis’s previous executive responsibilities were to be divided among three other BMC directors.
In the new appointment director of engineering, Charles Griffin, became the executive responsible to the managing director for all aspects of the corporations product engineering work concerned with vehicle mechanical units such as engines, transmission and suspensions. As deputy director of engineering, Stanley Dews would be responsible to Griffin, supporting him in directing the various aspects of product engineering, with special responsibility for administration of the department and its day-to-day operations. Responsibility for body styling, structure, trim and finish would remain with Harry Barber, assistant managing director of Pressed Steel Fisher, who was directly responsible for these specialised functions to Mr Edwards. This was the moment when Issigonis went off to develop the 9X Mini replacement.
Then on 18 April 1968, Joe Edwards resigned from the new British Leyland Motor Corporation, feeling unable to work with Leyland executives, some of whom were highly critical of BMC management practices. In May, BLMC officially came into existence with Sir George Harriman as chairman and Sir Donald Stokes as Chief Executive. In reality Harriman had agreed to step down in the autumn to be succeeded by Stokes. Stokes took over the running of the former BMC volume cars part of BLMC, now renamed Austin Morris. He then drafted in Harry Webster from Triumph to replace Alec Issigonis as Technical Director. On 18 September 1968, Sir George Harriman stood down to be replaced as chairman by Sir Donald Stokes, who appointed George Turnbull from Triumph as Austin Morris managing director. BMC/BLMC’s European sales director, Filmer Paradise, was promoted to home and overseas sales director for the whole of Austin Morris.
The upshot of all this corporate upheaval was that Roy Haynes had gone from being answerable to George Harriman, Joe Edwards and Alec Issigonis to Sir Donald Stokes, George Turnbull and Harry Webster. Harriman had been a great believer in badge engineering, arguing that some markets preferred some BMC brands over others, in Australia the Mini was badged as a Morris. Stokes and Paradise took the opposing view. It is highly likely that had the BMH/Leyland merger not taken place then the Clubman would have appeared with individual BMC marque badges. Would these have been Austin and Morris and/or the upmarket Riley and Wolseley? One of the decisions taken by the new management was to move Roy Haynes styling studio from Cowley to Longbridge, which was to have far reaching consequences.
And bizarrely there is another complicated twist to the Mini Clubman story. In the 2006 book, Jaguar Scrapbook by Philip Porter, Oliver Winterbottom, then a Jaguar Cars stylist claimed: ‘We did the front end of the Mini Clubman. That was done at Jaguar. We did some Italian Mini designs. We only did some sketches and off they went on one of the Old Man’s trips to Longbridge, when he was trying to justify how he fitted into the big corporation. He’d offered to assist with various things.’
The Old Man referred to was Jaguar’s founder and chairman Sir William Lyons. Oliver Winterbottom later continued his career at Lotus and TVR. The plot thickens…
However in February 1969, Roy Haynes suddenly resigned from British Leyland. He told David Benson of the Daily Express: ‘There has been a difference of opinion between myself and other directors… The move to Longbridge is not a happy one, but most people are prepared to work in most places. It goes deeper than that. I am leaving for personal reasons and I don’t want to elaborate.’
David Benson reckoned Haynes had quit BLMC because his wife ran a successful business in Essex and refused to move. Until then Roy Haynes had commuted between Cowley and Danbury, Essex, but the extra distance to Longbridge may have made this impossible. A British Leyland spokesman commented: ‘We are very sorry to lose Haynes, but his resignation was because of his domestic commitments in Essex and he did not wish to move to Birmingham.’
The first production Mini Clubman saloons were assembled in May 1969, followed by the first estates in September of that year.
The Mini Clubman was launched by the new parent company BLMC in October 1969, though whether any were actually sold to the public before January 1970 is open to question. At the time the big film in the cinemas was Guy Hamilton’s all star aviation blockbuster Battle Of Britain. BLMC exploited the vogue for 1940s nostalgia as The Times in its October 1969 issue reported:
‘Wizard prangs at Earls Court’
As the last few days tick by to the opening of the Earl’s Court Motor Show next Wednesday, the publicity men of the two major contenders on the home market-British Leyland and Ford-are already getting in each other’s hair. The latest cause celebre is a film produced by British Leyland for showing to its dealers to promote the new Mini Clubman announced today. This features three of the new super-minis complete with RAF red, white and blue roundels and driven by heavily moustached types wearing flying helmets circa Battle of Britain. Performing suitably intricate manoeuvres they chase and destroy an enemy, who disappears in a cloud of bright green smoke. Unfortunately, the enemy – despite his huge black Luftwaffe crosses – is clearly identifiable as a Ford Anglia.
And just in case there is any doubt the film-makers have included a close-up of the victorious Mini leader adding another Ford insignia to several already decorating his cockpit door. Another rather significant feature is the introductory talk provided by the American ex-Ford executive who is now sales director of the Austin Morris division, Filmer Paradise. Ford’s view of all this?
‘British Leyland really is becoming rather pathological about us and in a way it is quite flattering that they go to such lengths to identify our cars as their major competition.’ Would Ford retaliate? ‘We would never react in this rather childish way. We are – to say the least – a little more adult.’ Wearing a rather pained expression a British Leyland spokesman said: ‘This was just one piece of a very humorous film which featured the Mini in many settings, including prehistoric times. We don’t need to knock Ford, our sales figures do that for us.’
Where is that film now?
In the family way
Mini was now a stand alone marque, badge engineering was out, the Austin and Morris versions having disappeared into the dustbin of history, and the Clubman estate arrived to replace the Traveller and Countryman. By October 1969 the Beatles had broken up, the ‘Swinging Sixties’ were about to become the ‘sordid Seventies’ – and the Mini was set to meet the challenges of a new decade. The Clubman range included the 1275GT, perhaps the most controversial Mini of all. Long dismissed as a third rate Cooper 1275S, the 1275GT should really be looked on as a replacement for the 55bhp 998cc Mini Cooper.
With a single carburettor 1275cc engine taken from the best-selling 1300 saloon production line and providing 59bhp, the 1275GT had more torque than – and therefore far superior acceleration to – the 998cc Cooper, combined with superior equipment and the better 7.5inch brakes from the Cooper 1275S. And the 1275GT had another advantage over the 998 Cooper: the twin 1¼-inch SU carburettors of the latter car tended to go out of tune if it was driven hard, which must have driven up warranty costs as disgruntled owners demanded rectification. The single 1½-inch SU carburettor of the 1275GT didn’t go out of tune so easily.
Some critics have claimed that the early 1275GT used the lower 3.65 to 1 final drive to boost acceleration in comparison with the 1275S. The truth is probably simpler: that the 1275GT had the same gearbox as the BLMC Austin/Morris 1300GT saloon. In 1971 it was raised to 3.44 to 1. The Cooper 1275S in fact remained in production until July 1971, though in reality as a competition car and fashion icon it was a spent force. The Ford Escort was now the hot car of the moment.
It is perhaps unfair to condemn Lord Stokes and co. for killing the Mini Cooper 1275S, as this was the same management team that introduced the 16-valve Triumph Dolomite Sprint in 1973, which became a highly successful competition car. BL Special Tuning in fact offered a tuning kit to give the 1275GT the performance of the 1275S. The kit numbered C-AJJ 4082 consisted of a polished cylinder head, an additional 1.5 inch SU carburettor, inlet manifold, air filters and distributor, and cost all of £125 when Motor magazine tested it back in the early 1970s.
This boosted top speed from 87mph to 94mph and the 0-60 mph time from 14.2 seconds to an impressive 10 seconds, which was in fact better than the 10.9 seconds Motor had achieved with the Cooper 1275S. Whereas the Mini Cooper was understated in its appearance, the 1275GT was very much a product of its era, featuring 10in Rostyle wheels and go-faster stripes along its sides. In 1974 the 1275GT received 12in steel wheels which enabled larger 8.4in disc brakes to be fitted. This also raised the overall gearing of the car. Dunlop Denovo run-flat tyres were offered as an option, becoming standard from 1977, though many owners opted for normal wheels and tyres at the first opportunity as handling with the Denovos was inferior. The standard Mini Clubman saloon was mechanically the same as the Mini 1000, using the 38bhp 998cc engine, later uprated to 39bhp.
In August 1971 the Mini Clubman was launched in Australia where unlike the UK, it supplanted the round nosed version. From now on the Clubman was the Australian Mini. The Australian Mini had been the first variant to use wind up windows back in 1965, although unlike the UK cars, it retained external hinges. The Australian Clubman continued to use these doors. Buyers down under now had a choice between the Morris Mini Clubman 1100, which used a locally made 1098cc engine, and Clubman GT which had a 1275cc engine. Both these models retained hydrolastic suspension until April 1973. In April 1972 the Morris marque was phased out and from now on these cars were Leyland Mini Clubman’s. More changes occurred in 1973 when the models were renamed just Mini and Mini S.
In 1975, all manual gearbox UK Clubmans received the larger and more powerful 45bhp 1098cc engine, but the automatic transmission versions continued with the 998cc power unit. Perhaps when the Austin Allegro failed to sell in the numbers expected BL had a surplus of 1098cc engines to use up
Ironically in Australia, the Clubman switched from home made 1098cc engines to 998cc units imported from the UK…
Also down under, from 1976 the Australian Mini Clubman began to appear in more upmarket variants, beginning with the limited edition Mini SS, which had alloy wheels, a stereo and superior trim, all for a 10 per cent premium. This was followed in 1977 by the Mini Sunshine with a sunroof and tinted windows. In March 1977 the first of the LS models appeared, a 998 cc car with upmarket trim and magnesium wheels. This was followed by the 1275 LS in August 1978 which also had 12 inch wheels, the only Aussie model to use them. Unfortunately the 1275 LS became a rare model as all Australian Mini production ceased in October 1978 when the factory at Enfield, New South Wales closed.
Styled to lose?
From a styling point of view perhaps the most successful Clubman was the estate, as the new nose suited that model’s longer wheelbase better than the saloon’s stumpy body. The Clubman estate fought a rearguard action against the new generation of superminis coming onto the market. It originally came with fake wood trims along the side and rear doors, which now look very dated. Like the saloon variant, the estate received the 1098cc engine in 1975.
As related earlier, the Clubman was the brainchild of ex-Ford men Roy Haynes and Paul Hughes and is an interesting contrast or hybrid of the original Issigonis design and Ford ergonomics. The controversy surrounding the Mini Clubman depends on one’s opinion of the original 1959 design. The central instrument binnacle of the 1959 Mini was a design feature inherited from the Morris Minor, and while some owners thought it was quaint, others thought and indeed wrote to the motoring press that the dials should be in front of the driver. The Clubman was the answer to their prayers, introducing Ford type interior ergonomics to BMC/BLMC’s baby.
And indeed by the 1980s, the Paul Hughes designed instrument binnacle was standard fitting to all production Minis. The much criticised larger Clubman nose has been condemned for being bulbous, aerodynamically inferior and by and large an unnecessary diversion. The larger engine bay in reality allowed for easier servicing. BLMC’s ex-Ford designers realised there was more to car design than trying to create the best possible car in its class. The car had to be easy to service by the companies dealers. To perform maintenance work on the original Mini often means removing the front grille. And although the Mini was hailed as an automotive icon, no subsequent small front wheel drive car had an engine bay as cramped as the original Mini and the proof of the pudding is BL’s own 1980 Metro.
The simple fact that BMC in its dying days was willing to allow ex-Ford designers tinker with the design of its technical director Alec Issigonis shows how the company was starting to get its act together. The big question is did Issigonis know about the Clubman project? Certainly he never seemed very enthusiastic about the idea of modifying one of his cars to production, but as technical director one must assume he did know about the Clubman and gave his approval, however reluctant.
In 1976 the entire UK Clubman range received a facelift, with all variants sporting the same black grille while the estate dispensed with its fake wood in favour of stick-on stripes.
British Leyland’s chronic financial circumstances during the mid-1970s meant that there was little major development of the Clubman, the most important changes being the introduction of 12in wheels on the 1275GT in 1974 and the other variants receiving the 45bhp 1098cc engine in 1975. This was a pity as the Mini’s reign as the king of small cars was under threat from the likes of the Fiat 127, Renault 5 and later the Ford Fiesta, and the Clubman could have been improved by some fairly simple measures such as fitting a front-mounted radiator, electric fan and disc brakes across the range, and giving the estate the 1275cc A-series engine. All these items were readily available in the Austin Allegro range.
The Mini Clubman’s finest hour came in 1978 and 1979 when a 1275GT driven by Richard Longman won the British Touring car championship. Richard Longman had learnt his trade at the legendary tuning company Downton Engineering in the 1960s. In 1971 he set up Longman & Company in partnership with other Downton refugees Steve Harris and George Toth. In 1978 with financial backing from car dealers Patrick Motors, Longman & Co entered and prepared 1275GTs to be driven by Richard Longman and Alan Curnow. Richard Longman took ten class wins in twelve races to secure the BTCC title. The following year saw the 1275GTs having a clean sweep, with Longman taking ten wins and Alan Curnow the other two. Longman won the championship and the pair took the team prize. Unfortunately this positive event for the ailing BL empire was overshadowed by the continuing strife in the company that interested the news media more.
Mini Clubman saloon production ended in August 1980 to make way for the Metro although the estate lingered on – renamed 1000HL – estate until 1982. The car was controversial in its day, detested by no less a person than Alec Issigonis himself, but it did its job as the Mini returned to its roots as a people’s car.
There is a postscript to the Mini Clubman story. In the 1990s Mini enthusiasts found that the extra length of the Clubman engine bay had its uses: by removing the inner wings, a larger engine and end-on 5-speed gearbox could be transplanted into the humble Mini. The most popular transplants have been Vauxhall 16v 2-litre engines with iron blocks with alloy heads, or the all-alloy Honda VTEC and Rover K-series. With outputs of 200bhp attainable the Mini Clubman now has function over style.