Oz Mini Clubman

Hands up anyone who owns a Mini Clubman.

Now, if your Mini was built after March 1973, put your hand down. You see, although any Leyland, or “square-nose”, Mini is often referred to as a Clubman, in Australia at least that was not the case. Here, the Clubman was a specific model that was only built for less than two years, after which the Clubman name was dropped and all Minis became Leyland Minis.

But is this important? It is if you want to be accurate, and it is for us in the interest of covering every model Mini correctly.

So, just what was the Mini Clubman, and how did it differ from other models at the time as well as before and after, and how did it differ from those built in the UK?

First, we need to look at the British Mini Clubman, which was released at the London Motor Show in October 1969. The Mini was ten years old and many people, both within the company and from outside, felt the Mini was looking old-fashioned and in need of updating.

When the revamped Mini was released there were three major changes that were visibly evident.

First was the slightly longer and squared-off front end with its Ford-inspired grille – not surprising when you consider it was designed by the same people who penned the Mk2 Cortina and Mk1 Escort. Secondly, the doors now had concealed hinges and wind-up windows, giving a much fresher and cleaner appearance. Thirdly, the interior looked vastly improved with the instruments directly in front of the driver and new up-to-date seat designs and materials.

The reality was that the car was a mass of compromises. The longer front was meant to improve crash safety, but had been extremely difficult to engineer. It had also been intended to allow the fitting of a front-mounted radiator, which would have helped the cooling system and made the car considerably quieter.

Yet, the car retained the previous side-mounted radiator and associated noisy fan, on the basis of cost – BMC/Leyland was going through its first real financial crisis after the Leyland take-over, and there was little money available to re-engineer the mechanicals of the Mini.

A month after the release of the Clubman range – which included the 1275GT that replaced the Cooper, not the Cooper S as is often stated, and the Estate that replaced both the Austin Countryman and Morris Traveller – Leyland released the updated versions of the Mini 850 and 1000.

Like the Clubman models, these had the wind-up windows and concealed door hinges, but retained the “round-nose” front and centrally-mounted speedo.

The Clubman and 1275GT were seen as up-market models, something to give more value (real or imagined) at a higher price – and to actually make a little more money for the company. In effect, the Mini Clubman replaced the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf, while the Clubman GT replaced the Cooper. The Cooper S, for the time being at least, continued in Mk3 guise.

The Clubman style was hotly criticised in the media and by die-hard Mini fans, particularly in the style-conscious European market, but over 110,000 were sold. In fact, the Mini’s greatest sales year was 1971, two years after the introduction of the Clubman range.

The Mini Clubman and 1275GT continued alongside the “round-nose” Mini, with numerous updates, until being replaced in turn by the Metro in 1980.

In Australia, the situation was very different indeed. BMC Australia had always marketed the Mini only under one brand, Morris, and there were no off-shoot models like the Hornet or Elf. The range consisted solely of four models – being Van, Mini 1100 sedan, Mini K and Cooper S.

Evidence shows that the Mini was profitable in Australia, if not greatly so, and was a key player in maintaining BMC’s hold on the small-car market – alongside the even more popular Morris 1100.

When Leyland took over in Australia in 1969, at the same time the Clubman range was being released overseas, the Mini was earmarked for updating in line with UK strategy.

Ever conscious of costs, the engineers here looked at the raft of changes introduced in the ADO20 Minis – the Mk3 and the Clubman.

As discussed in the past, the external door hinges were found to pass local crash test requirements, so the estimated $250,000 cost to re-tool for the concealed hinges of ADO20 was considered unnecessary.

Similarly, the cost of putting the UK-design wind-up windows was not viable, particularly when local Minis already came with wind-up windows – considered by many people to be superior to the UK design because they featured quarter-lights and retained, for the most part, the terrific door pockets.

Changing the front panel work to that of the UK Clubman, and re-tooling the rear panel to take the larger rectangular taillights that had been introduced in the UK on the Mk2 Mini, would provide the greatest visible update at the lowest cost.

In all other respects, the body would be the same as the previous model, which in turn was still essentially a Mk1 body with a few refinements for the ADR2-compliant burst-proof doors.

Inside, the dashboard was updated in line with the UK Clubman, with the instruments in front of the driver.

Mechanically the new cars were exactly the same as the previous models, but there were enough engineering changes with the body that new designs were drawn up in the Engineering Department’s Drawing Office – YDO21, YDO22 and YDO23 respectively.

YDO21 was the base model Mini 1100, (with chassis number prefix YG2S6) described in detail in Issue 19, and featured rubber suspension, the “magic-wand” gear selector, basic interior trim, and central speedo.

YDO23 was the Clubman GT (YG2S8), also detailed in Issue 19, and was essentially mechanically the same as the Cooper S.

The middle model was YDO22, which was the direct replacement for the Mini K – see Issue 18. Although marketed as the Mini K, within BMC’s Engineering Department it was the Mk2 Mini De Luxe. The “square-nose” version would be mechanically the same as the Mini K, had chassis number prefix of YG2S7, and became the Australian version of the Mini Clubman.

If you would like to read the rest of this story, order your copy of Issue 25 of The Mini Experience. <plumshop>42</plumshop> <plumshop>43</plumshop>

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