Friday April 12, 2019
2019 is a year of so many automotive anniversaries, including 50 years of a Mini variant that practically defined the formative years of anyone who grew up in the 1970s. At that time a Clubman was the epitome of brisk efficiency; you can envisage a “Harvest Gold” Mini being driven by a primary school headmistress or the heroine of a Thames TV sitcom.
When the Mini 850 and 1000 received a major facelift in late 1969 as the Mk. III, the other major news was the introduction of three new models that sported a square nose courtesy of the ex-Ford designer Roy Haynes.
The 1275GT was the successor to the Cooper Mk. II (the Cooper S would continue in Mk. III guise until 1971) while the Clubman was the heir to the Elf and the Hornet. It represented a major change of ethos for gone were the leather-trimmed seats, the vestigial tail fins, the walnut veneered fascia and the “traditional” radiator grille.
By contrast, the new prestige Mini sported plastic upholstery, and as a further break from past tradition, even the centrally-mounted speedometer had been replaced by dials located in front of the driver.
Unfortunately, this meant they were virtually unreadable. The controversial frontal treatment did mean greater access to the 998cc engine for home mechanics and BL also boasted that winding windows and fresh air vents innovations for the Mini, which was not quite the case; the Elf and Hornet had been so-equipped for several years.
To further streamline the Mini line-up, the Mk. II Austin Countryman and Morris Traveller were succeeded by a Clubman Estate, which sported ‘simulated wood flash’ in place of the familiar timber framework.
Adrian Fell has owns this handsome 1970 example since September 2015. ‘I’ve kept it original with only a few mods; an electronic ignition refurbished wheels, some carpet mats made with the “Clubman” logo and I’ve changed the number plates back to standard’.
By 1971 the Clubman had lost its Hydrolastic suspension, and four years later the manual gearbox models came with the 1,098cc engine; the smaller unit was retained if you specified AP automatic transmission.
There was a minor facelift in 1976, with the equipment list now including reclining front seats, ‘soft cropped nylon’ upholstery, and, best of all, ‘fitted carpet on door sills’. Alas, the Estate now sported twin coach lines in place of the finest Formica available to humanity.
The 1978 model year brochure displayed the Clubman as the ideal second car to a fashionable Rover SD1-owning family, with the equipment list now including a dipping mirror, reversing lamps, tinted glass and flamboyant new wheel trims.
Here is Raymond Baxter demonstrating the Clubman’s many advantages to BL dealers including a ‘stylish new steering wheel with a leather-bound rim’;
Such detailing was essential to maintain its profile in the face of competition from the Fiat 127, Renault 5, Honda Civic, VW Polo and Peugeot 104 while the advent of the British market Ford Fiesta in early 1977 was a further blow to Leyland.
For the 1980 model year, BL promised the Clubman owner two-speed wipers ‘for safety in town traffic and pleasurable sight-seeing in the countryside’. However, the debut of the Mini Metro in August of that year saw the end of Clubman saloon production although the estate remained on sale until 1982; the latter-day models were renamed the “1000 HL”.
Adrian reports that his Mini ‘drives without fault’ and the white Clubman Estate serves as a splendid reminder of a time when ownership of a car with Formica “wood” trim was as much a talking point as a next-door neighbour with colour television.
WITH THANKS TO: ADRIAN FELL AND THE CHILTERN HILLS VINTAGE RALLY - https://www.chilternhillsrally.org.uk/