Old men who can’t start a sentence without a guttural cough will, if you let them, tell you all about the Mini Clubman 1275GT of old. The one from the ’60s. They’ll tell you it was ace and it was brilliant and it was HURGH HURGH HLEGHM HUFF HNNGHPFT amazing and Denovo run-flat tyres and so on. Ugh. What is it with old people pushing a past generation on us? And why is it that when they do so, they get it wrong.
The Mini Clubman 1275GT never existed. It is a work of fiction. There was the 1275GT, yes, but it was never branded as a Clubman. The Clubman, on the other hand, was created by Roy Haynes to replace the upmarket models like the Wolseley Hornet the Riley Elf. He even used the sidelight and indicator from the Maxi. Because that was… good? The 1275GT, which shared the face of the Clubman, was actually meant to take over from the Cooper, but we were having none of that.
The Clubman and the 1275GT, which existed from ’69 to ’80 were, generally speaking, flops. Quite how they stayed in production for so long is baffling. It was probably because under the square, Kryten-like face, it was still a Mini. And the Mini was still hugely popular, so offering this square-jawed version probably didn’t cost that much.
BUT ANYWAY. We’re not here to talk about the Clubman of old. We just wanted to offer some insight into the origins of the name, which BMW gladly picked from the bones of history and dusted off to be used again. This time, though, the changes that separated the Clubman from the hatch would focus largely on DAT ASS, and also one side.
First of all, before we get into the Clubman of 2008, we need to offer you a caveat. The blue car pictured here is in fact a Cooper S version. If you’re on this site, and you are because you’re reading this with your eyeballs, you can’t afford that. Sorry. You can, however, afford a Cooper or a leggy Cooper D. Nobody seemed to ever buy a One. Sorry about that, but MINI didn’t seem to take any press shots of poverty-spec Clubmans, so here we are.
Anyway. The Clubman. The name, as we’ve covered above, held obvious heritage appeal for the bosses at MINI, so it made sense to use it. However, changing the already popular face of the MINI did not make sense. Up until this point, the MINI was only available as a three-door hatch or as a ragtop – nice, but neither offered Swiss Army Knife levels of practicality. And that’s what MINI customers wanted, but because it wasn’t on offer, they were walking into rival dealerships. MINI decided that to stop this from happening, it would make an estate version. History tells us it should really be called a Traveller, but it’s not, it’s a Clubman.
MINI teased us with concept sketches, and we squealed with delight. It looked funky…
…and look how adorable it was. It had a silly little kitchen and a coffee table and green bits and funky doors and stuff. It was ace. The motoring press lauded the concept sketches, they we a clear demonstration of the vision MINI had to take the brand forward. It showed the little MINI in a new light, with new potential and more importantly for the MINI bean counters, it opened up the MINI brand to many, many new customers.
But then we had to pull back and calm down. Concept cars are the giddy, no holds barred scribbles of excitable designers. Concept cars never, ever look like the final road going versions. MINI be like, ‘hold my sketching pencil’…
Okay, so it doesn’t have a kitchen stuck to the side of it, which we’re still upset about, but on the whole that’s pretty damn faithful to the drawing. Nice work, MINI. You mad bastards. And why mad? It’s just a MINI estate, right? Well, yeah, but it’s more than that. This MINI is the lovechild of a MINI hatch and an RX-8. Look at that weird little suicide rear door, which is only one side (this is a left-hand drive car, but yes, it’s reversed for right-hook markets). This opens up the ingress and egress space, meaning the children can get out with ease, despite the car’s diminutive stature.
And look at those vertical split-opening rear doors! MINI designers could have just put a big, square hatch on it, but it didn’t. It pushed the boat out and made these ‘barn’ doors. It serves to make the MINI more practical, but without taking away any of the charm or quirkiness of the original. The year 2000 original, that is. Though the split doors are of course a nod to the doors of the Mini Travellers of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
On the road, the MINI drives like, well, a MINI, and this is no bad thing. The extra junk in the trunk has had no detrimental effect on the brilliant handling, so even though you’re going to B&Q, not Monaco, you’ll still have a giggle. As with any old car, you’ll need to satisfy yourself that the suspension and brakes are up to par. The MINI Clubman should steer quickly and directly with no play or lack of feel, and the brakes should be on point. Higher mileage Cooper D models are more than likely going to be a bit tired, so paw through the service history to see if any work has been done to maintain the ride. It is, after all, one of the key reasons for buying a MINI of any kind.
Engine-wise, your £2,000 is going to get you a 1.6 Cooper petrol with 120bhp or, as we mentioned above, a Cooper D with 112bhp. The diesel is obviously better on fuel, but as we’ve said, cheap examples are going to be extremely leggy. It’s not 1980 anymore. People use small cars to cover big mileages. A 1.6 will be slightly less leggy, still good on fuel (around 50mpg on a combined cycle) and it has a bit more charm, too. It would be our choice.
And yes, as the images here show, there is a turbocharged Cooper S version with 175bhp, but you’re going to have to drop at least £2,750 get one of those. Still tremendous value, but not within our remit.
Should you buy one? Erm, that’s up to you. We’re not your dad. You make your own decisions. However, if you’d like to make an informed one, we’d say yes to the Clubman. It offers that extra bit of practicality that the traditional hatch never had, we kind of dig the baby estate looks, and the split folding rear doors are cool. We like it. We’d buy one, put it that way. However, to go against ourselves a little, we would try and save up a few more quid and buy the Cooper S version. Just because forced induction is always better.
Whatever you buy though, you’ll be happy. The MINI in any guise is a cheeky, fun, happy little car. Like a Jack Russell with wheels. And who doesn’t like a Jack Russell?