News : The final Mini leaves Longbridge

Keith Adams

This Clubman has been rescued from the Longbridge tunnels, making it the last 'new' Mini to leave the factory.
This Clubman has been rescued from the Longbridge tunnels, making it the last ‘new’ Mini to leave the factory.

Back in the 2005, when Urban Exploration was new and exciting, the sprawling Longbridge site came under considerable scrutiny. After MG Rover fell into administration, talented and brave young trespassers with nice DSLRs and a gift for framing a great photograph broke in and supplied us with some great pictures of hitherto unseen parts of the factory (see below links).

One enduring image from the tunnels below the factory was of a lone Mini Clubman, which had been seemingly left to rot. Standing in dank water and away from sunlight for at least 30 years, the car was something of a lone and rather sad survivor – a time capsule reminder that beneath the factory is an intricate network of passages that saw so much action. They served to protect the factory workers from German bombers during WW2 and ended up becoming something of a storage-cum-hiding area in more recent years.

However, when it became clear that the tunnels were due to be filled in during the next round of site excavation and redevelopment, Steve, a Mini enthusiast, decided that he would save the car. He got in touch with St. Modwen (the site’s owner) and arranged to have the car removed legally, with a view to rescuing it. As for why the car ended up there with practically zero miles on the clock and a huge v-shaped dent in the roof, Steve said, ‘the Mini was finished and was being driven around the site as a pool car. It had covered 11 miles, then I believe a storage container fell on it. So they hid down the tunnel.’

Steve has decided to restore the car to its former glory – which will be, in his own words, a huge project. However, it has caused something of a fracas in the Mini community, with deep feelings for and against its removal in the first place and now its restoration.

You can read all about that on the ongoing Mini forum thread. What do you think? Should it be restored or should this ‘virgin’ Mini Clubman have been left to rot?

This is how the Mini Clubman looked in situ...
This is how the Mini Clubman looked in situ…
(Photograph: Michael Scott,, used with permission)
Keith Adams


    • I bought the Mini at auction because I wanted it to stay as was and be seen by as many people as possible. With that in mind I am pleased to say that Gaydon motor museum were happy to put it on display which is where it will stay on loan for as long as they wish. Great car!

  1. I remember seeing that on one of my little tours round the plant between shifts in the old days, so many great memories. So sad to see it’s all gone – never did get to explore all the tunnels!!!

  2. @peterpiper: It would be a fitting tribute to British Leyland, at least!

    But I’m all for it being restored. And what Andrew said.

  3. This can’t be restored without becoming a “Trigger’s Broom”, everything will need to be replaced. It’s scrap / a museum piece, depending on how you look at it.

  4. Well, as long as it does not turn up in 5 years time at Bonhams with little more originality than its VIN plate who cares? It’s not being crushed or buried.

  5. I can understand both viewpoints here, but I would prefer to see it rebuilt into a new Heritage Clubman shell and used rather than be stuck in a museum – mainly because the car itself has no historical significance.

    I haven’t read any of the Mini Forum threads or comments, but from past experience I would imagine they will be rather tedious…..

  6. It can’t be kept in a hole under ground for ever! It may as well be restored, although it looks like a mahoosive task.

  7. I don’t see the problem restoring it, the problem with some of the Mini enthusiasts’ view of leaving it down the tunnel, is that it will probably never see the light of day again and if they somehow believe that in millions of years Aliens will discover it in sheer wonderment, well… Nuff said

  8. can be restored easily….just taken all the usable sparea (i think only the vin plate) and transfer it to a sane car of the same era

  9. In 2 minds.

    Good on the fella for restoring it, but I do agree that it will become a bit of a triggers broom. Doesn’t even look like the grille can be saved.

    Either way, I would be interested to see the end result, but I also do think it could be on a plinth in a transport museum as-is.

  10. Besides, it has got such history behind it that this makes it all the more special, restored or unrestored and certainly more interesting than 95% of the Classic Minis available – I’m sure this will be reflected in any eventual sale price, I just hope it doesn’t end up the proverbial broom – like many Minis do, re-bodies, re-fitted and re-engined – so basically – new…

  11. @Simon – Sadly, too many Minis end up that way, I know it’s a task and a half, but I would prefer that a little effort went into the restoration rather than just stucking new bits on, ok, so the roof will need replacing but old metal can be bent back into shape if done by a Craftsman. I don’t understand at all why people are still prepared to pay top whack for the history of a car when all that remains is the VIN plate – I really don’t.

  12. If the comment of one of the contributors to the Mini thread is to be believed then, much like #3 and #5 here, I believe it should be placed as it is on a plinth in the entrance hall at Gaydon, bearing a plaque “Car and Maker – trashed by the staff.”

  13. @ James Riley
    look dont get me wrong, i own a classic mini myself, and put my efforts to restore it and i alone restore the 1275 twincarb engine in it.
    I love to restore old cars but……but look a bit at the pics, the roof is bended…yes it can be put into place and given it the original shape. The roof is one of the most important streinght elements of a car chassis (it holds together the A B and C pillars)and looking closely on the pics it can be noticed that also the bottom of the car is twisted. Even if the metal can be put in the original position it will never have the streinght to resist to the torsion forces that stress the chassis under a normal day drive.
    In my oppinon the chassis can not be restored and there is no engine in (that you have to put in-that will be a “fake”)….so the only realy usable spare of the car is the Vin plate
    on the other hand can be keep like that in the pics if there is a real historical value….

  14. It really isnt that wrecked, go google Knocker E type if you want to see a destroyed car returned to new. In skilled hands I’m sure it can be hammered back into shape.

  15. @andrew
    is not a problem of shape but of stiffnes of the chassis (tha E type have no structure holding roof)
    take a piece of thin metal and bend it 15 times and put into position…it will easily breake on a minimum load-is just an example of what i am talking.

  16. Well done Steve for getting the Clubman out…..I would take your time and carefully consider all the help, ideas and advice offered before finally deciding how best to proceed with its restoration as an interesting piece of both Mini and Longbridge history.

  17. @24. But you’re hardly bending it 15 times are you? Any panels with a slight twist can be straightened given time and gentle heat where necessary.

    Mini’s were never made with high tensile steels, so work hardening is somewhat less of an issue. Any panels that are creased beyond repair can be chopped out.

    Anything can be repaired, whether it is economical to do so is another matter.

  18. Love to know what else has been found in the tunnels. There’s all sorts of legends as to what ended up in them.

  19. hi guys …yes it was me who retrieved the mini as i saw it as a symbol of how the company had wound …up on the scrap heap so i salvaged it and can i just say not for any financial gain it will be restored and the body it quite staright and there will be no fear of a triggers broom we will restore everything we can and keep it as original as possible if it still has a few dents and dinks then so be it….this one is for the 6000 done over by the pheonix four…..thanks lads

  20. I don’t see any running gear in either of the photos..Hmmm. That shell does look beyond it to be honest, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the i.d of this shell is cloned onto a new un

  21. Another theory seems to be the car was damaged during production and got no further than being a pinted and trimmed shell. That would explain why it appears to have no running gear. Hard to see how this could be “restored” and still be the same vehicle. Might as well keep this as it is and build a replica of what it would have been!

  22. it was a running car it has a rear subframe seats and 11 miles on the clock …it has been stripped by every man and his dog that has been down there ..oh yeah and a quick boot aswell

  23. @27 Brian
    i agree with you that everything can be repaired
    i can judge only from the pics and my experiance from restoring my mini
    i am afraid that only some pannels can be transfered from this chassis to one that is sane and not the opposite
    stevem4323 tells that the body is qiute straight….sorry in my opinion a chassis is straight or not
    the 15 time bending is just an example…every pannel that is damaged and rebended in his original shape isnt stiff as the original one and when it comes to the structural parts of the body is not to be considered a good idea of making such repairs beacouse the car will not be able to perform as a origial one (or be potentialy dangerous driving)
    i am sorry beacouse i love the mini but i am not the only pessimist

  24. Steve m welcome! Go for it – the amount of restored original minis with a new bottom 12″ is off the scale, so be the first to weld a new 12″ top on!

  25. I agree with Paul (Comment 42). Many ‘historic’ Minis have been reshelled or had major repairs (even 621 AOK). It’s all fine and good saying the current shell can be resurrected, but is it worth the effort? I am sure a new Heritage Clubman shell makes more economic sense in the long run. Heck, BMH can even pre-paint it with the original colour if you want them to.
    As for the car’s history… the fact there have been a dozen or more theories about what it was and how it got into this state kind of points to the fact it doesn’t really have a history at all. Its story of where it was found and its salvage is as much as we have. I am not knocking the car, but it can’t be said to be a ‘first’ or ‘last’ of anything (apart from the title of this piece), it hasn’t been owned by anyone famous or any other such claim to fame.
    I am sure Steve will tackle the restoration of the car, however he decides to do it, with great enthusiasm, and I wish him the best of luck with it. I would only say that he shouldn’t be frightened of biting the bullet and buying new stuff to get it back on the road. As a previous editor of Mini World magazine once said, classic cars are there to be used and to leave something as a rusty battered heap to maintain its ‘history’, or restoring it to pristine then leaving it in the garage as an ornament, is failing to do the car justice. Give it the life it SHOULD have had.

  26. really torn up about this issue. My love of cars, especially the old beauties/bangers we all love, says restore it, do what ever needs to be done and to hell with the cost or consequences. And yet this heart breaking sight could serve as excellent reminder of the brilliant innovation of british engineers and the gap left that could be filed by the the next generation. What ever you choose steve you will have alot of support either nostalgic or optimistic, best of luck to you.

  27. Steve well done…..and speaking as a mechanical engineer who has repaired and restored Mini’s most of my life……panel beating, replacing metal where required, etc on this Mini can be done without any worries about safety, etc, no need of a new BMH shell if you are determined to do it right……go for it!

  28. Another theory or two below from TMF about how it ended up in the tunnels:

    Some info on this Mini.
    “It wasn’t the victim of a container accident (no containers in those days) and it also wasn’t a pool car at the factory as it was too low a mileage. Most cars had at least 8 miles or more after going through the whole build process and pool cars racked up high mileages very quickly.
    A fire happened in the tunnels in ’78 / ’79 which smoke damaged a lot of cars in the tunnels including the then Metro prototypes (ADO88 & LC8)
    I can only assume the car was placed in there afterwards after suffering some light damage at the end of the production line. It was then placed in the tunnels to be hidden, but subsequently damaged further later by persons unknown.
    After the fire it was difficult to get into the tunnels the previous way through the factory without permission so it must have been done in secret or under the authority of someone quite high up.
    Perhaps we will never know the whole story.”

    “Intriguing however that doesn’t explain the dent in the roof, It may have been a pool car for a very short period of time before the damaged happened, this may just be one of life mysteries that no one will ever know the real truth too. We need a conspiracy theory thread about this car!”

    “What were the tunnels used for? I thought they closed them off after WWII as they were no longer needed? Thought they we’re only there for underground production of aero parts and infantry parts for the war, and if the fire was in 78/79, when was the car made? Not a sarcastic comment general question.”

    “I think the dent in the roof was a scaffolding pole or similar by the looks of it – just a theory though”

    “The tunnels were used for storage – mainly prototypes etc that didn’t need to be in the flight sheds. That was up until the fire.”

  29. @ mab01uk

    Doing it right without a new shell will be very difficult and take a VERY long time! Panel fit will be very frustrating as it is likely this shell is nowhere near ‘true’. It’s bad enough trying to fit Heritage panels to what is supposed to be a straight shell, talking from my own experience. Then there’s the subframes to fit straight.

    As long as Steve isn’t looking for it to be minted (which he says he isn’t) then it might work.

  30. I say go for it, restore the clubman back to its former glory, all classic minis have history, and they were a great british made vehicle, i hate seeing minis rott away, and if i knew this one was about, going to be scrapped, buried in the tunnels or left in a museum i would want to restore it! I recently bought a clubman that wasnt far off the same condition! But i put it back on the road, it would be good to see this car back on the road creating a great happiness for its new owner!

  31. This whole story is being tears to my Glass Eye. Truly wonderful stuff, well done that man!

    Now, get on and discover the truth about the damage and who hid it in the tunnel.

  32. I think leaving it down the tunnel to be buried is a waste of a piece of history so it was right to remove it. Although there is an interesting yet uncertain story behind the cars current condition it would be of no use keeping it stored away somewhere as it is. The only option is to restore it. This is a good thing. I would like to see it retain the original shell and any other parts because at the end of the day they are part of it’s story.

    One question though- When it is registered, amusing for the first time, would it be plated as the year it was made, a Q plate or as the year it will be put on the road ie as a new 64 plate?

  33. good on you steve, i rescued a mini from a recycling centre (scrappy to you and me !) five years later its nearly ready. Keep us all up to date on photos! I also worked at longbridge but havent been back since mini 59 in 2009 , too much of longbridge ended up in a skip so well done on saving it, keep as much as you can and replace whats missing , they are all bitsa’s at the end of the day!!!:-)

  34. @ Ashley Davey

    From recollection, I am sure there is a time limit for an unregistered car to get a ‘new’ plate. Some unregistered MGR cars appeared for sale recently and had 08 or 58 plates IIRC (happy to be corrected) because they had reached the limit, as it were.

    Unless there is a build record for the car recorded against the VIN, it is in danger of getting a Q plate as the date/year of manufacture cannot be exactly determined πŸ™

  35. Does it really matter if it’s a Q plate? In all fairness the original engine and running gear are all gone and it’s never been registered so as a car it can’t be given a dated plate. But why does that matter? It’s not a 70’s Mini, it’s an old damaged shell that happens to be the last shell to ever leave the site and that’s what makes it special. No Q plate can take that away from it. Far more important is how it is restored. This is not a car to be restored in the ‘normal’ way with a new roof or wings unless completely necessary. This car is well worth restoring with as much of the original metal is possible.

  36. @ James

    I offered no opinion as to the plate it might get, I only attempted to answer Ashley’s question.

    As for restoring it with most of the original metal, a high degree of skill and a jig will be absolutely necessary to get it straightened out properly. Steve may well have access to those sort of resources, hopefully he does and can do the rstoration exactly the way he wants to.

    I know there have been a lot of critics on TMF but I am not one of them.

  37. @Paul

    By no means was my comment meant as an attack against your post, just as a general observation. The Mini Forum simply proves the rule that where there are people there are strong opinions on both sides, no matter what the subject may be.

    Restoring that car at all, let alone with original metal is going to be a huge task but if it is going to retain its significance (and value) it really needs the money to be spent now. Condition can be purchased at any time. Originality, once lost, is gone forever.

  38. Oh and well done to the chap for the rescue of the Clubman…whatever he decides to do, at least he had the gumption to get it dragged out

  39. The 4 choices for this car were: 1) melt it down for baked bean cans, 2) bury it when the tunnels are filled in, 3) preserve it as-is in a museum and 4) restore it.

    1) and 2) destroy it so are out of the equation. 3) would be nice – but good luck in finding someone with the space/money/interest to do it so 4) is the only option for helping it to survive.

    As for the roof – well that can be fixed. My old school pal Bob rolled his Cooper back int he mid-1980s. He worked at Pressed steel so “acquired” a new roof and fitted that, putting the car back into one piece. The rest of the car was re-used. Sure, this is going to be a major job but how many “restored” classics have a majority of “new” parts? Is it going to be any worse than rebuilding an MGB, Midget or TR6 with a new shell, overhauled suspension, replacement trim, recon engine etc?

  40. To those saying ‘reshell’ stop bering so stupid, do that and all you are left with is the VIN. and thus not this car, if that happens it’s no better than it having been left there, worse in fact as the original metal will probably have been melted down and sent to china. As for striaghening it out I don;t see a problem, this is made from steel sheet, not alloy, metal fatigue is not a problem, even the original roof can be rescue.
    This is not a car anyway, it’s a historical artifact and that has to be recognised by whoever takes it on (which seems to be the case) so being ‘economically viable’ is irrelevent but retaining the original metal is, and roof asside it does look straight, how much rust is in it is a seperate issue! But I’d say it looks in better shape (roof aside) than my MG midget shell was when I started

  41. Good that is now rescued. But it’s uniqueness is the tunnels image so get a classic car mag feature on it first and possibly an “un-restored tour” of classic car shows in 2013. Any sort restoration and the uniqueness will be lost. It’s like the underwater Bugatti a difficult call.

  42. Restoring this Mini would be a shame. It should be preserved exactly like it is as its time locked and being in this condition makes it more unique. There are plenty of Clubman GTs on the road as well as a whole multitude of VIN tagged shells. I first heard about this Mini about 5 years ago and posted the images on various Mini forums. Judging by the old stories you hear from former Leyland workers I wouldn’t be surprised if this car was deliberately taken for spares lol.

    Leave it as it is!

  43. I’ve always had a problem with re-shelled cars. Putting a new wing, bonnet and doors on something is all very well, even replacing the engine, but putting a VIN plate on a complete new shell or other car is not the same thing at all. If you do that, then in my opinion, it isn’t the same car and that’s all there is to it. If you were to take another good condition Clubman in this case and swap the plates all you have is the other car with this one’s identity. Many people view a new shell as just a large spare part but I can’t ever see it that way. Same as all those ex-works rally cars that have been rolled umpteen times……!!! What if 621 AOK had to be re-shelled? Nobody could surely hand on heart say it was still the first Mini off the line? Preserve it as is.

  44. There were rumours that 621 AOK HAD been reshelled. There is an early photo of the car with Issigonis at Longbridge and the car had a webasto-style sunroof, whereas it is now a solid skin……

  45. It would appear this is correct regarding 621 AOK. A little digging on the web brought this up with some good pics of it in its original guise, I presume after being acquired from the original owner:

    If that is the case, then what are we to make of this car now? Is it still the first Mini off the line or just a facsimilie???

  46. @1300mash.

    I believe the car was sold to an employee before it was reacquired by the firm due to its historical significance. Who knows what mods & repairs were done in between time. I found a link to a forum that I can’t get to show here, but as well as the sunroof it has had mirrors on the wings so these have obviously been filled/repaired since.The number plates have also been changed, as the fonts are different on various photos. If you google ‘621 aok’ you will find a link that is headed along the lines of ‘621 AOK not original’. Lots of interesting photos there.

    While we’re on, there is also dubiety about the claims of the last Mini built, currently at Gaydon (Red Cooper Sport 500). A witness at the ‘Lulu’ event testified in MiniWorld a while back that there was a Tahiti Blue one still being finished on the line while all the celebrations were going on. The car might have the last VIN, but it doesn’t seem to be the ‘last off the line’ as is claimed. I have read elsewhere that this car was hand-built the week before production ended so it could be inspected and fettled to be absolutely perfect as it was going to be so much in the spotlight.

    I think as far as 621 AOK is concerned, without any definitive timeline of its life it si going to be difficult to determine how much of the car is original, if any….

  47. I believe 621 AOK was restored (possibly by BMC apprentices) when it was bought back by the company and returned back to standard factory spec, having a new roof panel fitted to get rid of the non-factory sunroof. The Heritage museum have also done some sympathetic restoration since like fitting an early magic wand ‘straight’ gearlever, etc, as such early details were not regarded as very important back in the mid 1960’s.

    There are also various accounts of whether the first production prototype was an Austin Seven or Morris Mini-Minor, detailed in the ‘Mini History’ here on AROnline.

  48. I agree with Brian Gunn. As a former panel beater myself and having repaired many minis over the years – one with very similar damage having collided with a horse! – it may take a lot of jacking and beating and may even involve removing panels in order to straighten them, but all possible to repair. After all, it’s only mild steel and malleable at that. When I started in the trade, it was rare to affix a new panel when it was possible to beat them straight, even if it involved removal and shrinking stretched areas. The use of body filler was frowned upon, and we would take great pleasure in producing a “metal finish”. If filler was required, we preferred to use lead. These days labour is more expensive than new panels which makes repair to a high standard non viable and much of the skill is no longer necessary Some of you may have heard of an “English Wheel” that was a commonplace item in body shops in the past. We would use it for repairing large panels and for making panels that could not be repaired. I have not seen one for years, nor met anyone else who can use one.

  49. Would make an interesting exhibit at Coventry’s Transport Museum but I think they have too many vehicles to show at any one time anyway.

  50. With no disrespect intended, I don’t understand why we all believe Steve’s story about how it got damaged and ended up in the tunnel. I respect Steve more than I can express for rescuing this relic before it got encased in dirt and concrete. Forgotten forever. But just how can Steve know the story of how it got there??? Did he work there or does he know employees that did? In which case excuse my statements.

    If a storage unit fell on it or it fell off the line, it would have had more damage than a dent in the roof. Also, people who work there would have seen and it would have likely been resolved of officially with the car being disposed of.

    Also it has no engine!! How can it have been “hidden” and had its engine removed without a foreman or manager noticing, without getting hoists down there and resultantly other people knowing about it!

    I cant believe it sat for that long after some workers “hid” it, and no one said or did anything about it for the following 30 years.

    My guess is that it was never built and somehow got damaged. Why it got down there and not just destroyed though only an ex-employee can answer.

    No disrespect intended at all – I always wanted to save the mIni but like 99% of people, never did. Big up to Steve for saving it. But the story has loopholes. I would love to know the true story of how it got there πŸ™

    Am I the only one who thinks this?

  51. No. The history is patchy at best and there seems to have been a degree ofembellishment to make this more valuable than it really is.

  52. I worked on the clubman line for ten years in cab1 fitting front and rear lights . Nine and half an hour .The ladies were great to work with a good ten years

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