Sir Alec ‘Nose Best

Widely derided as a travesty of Issigonis’ original, but was the 1969 Clubman intended to be something more?

‘Honey, the Rover won’t start again – be a love and run me down to the station…’  Author’s collection

The Mini was wasn’t really styled as such – its body style simply a clothing for the technical package set out by its creators, with only the barest concession to style. Surprisingly, it worked, the car’s appearance proving relatively timeless, endearing and well proportioned. The problem was, it didn’t really lend itself to facelifting. By 1967, the Mini had yet to become legendary, to say nothing of iconic. It was just another product which had been on the marketplace for some time and would soon require more than the rather perfunctory nip and tuck it had just received.

Appointed head of the BMC car division in 1966, PSF chief, Joe Edwards quickly put into action a plan to revitalise both product and process. In 1967, he appointed former Ford designer and product planner, Roy Haynes. His brief, to revamp the existing range and plot a new family of cars to take the combined carmaker into the coming decade.

At his PSF styling studio, Heynes’ team mocked up proposals (dubbed ADO20) to produce an enlarged, more upmarket Mini, not only to replace the somewhat hidebound and chintzy Elf/ Hornet twins, whose modest sales hardly justified the investment in unique body pressings, but to future-proof the model for the 1970s.

(c) AROnline

In this, the Mini’s somewhat unusual method of body construction (with its external welded body seams) proved useful, allowing for new nose and tail sections to be simply grafted on to the existing centre section, albeit with decidedly mixed results along the way. However, in the summer of 1968, while Sir Alec was beavering away at his own first-principles Mini in his secretive Cowley skunkworks, Heynes’ stylists produced a neat looking hatchback version of the existing bodyshell, with a rounded, modestly extended tail section, in conjunction with a longer nose.

It seems in retrospect something of a missed opportunity not to have employed the Mini Traveller’s (4″) longer platform to obtain a more advantageous driving position and a little additional interior space, but the budget probably didn’t stretch far for such a marginally profitable model – one we must remember which wasn’t destined for a lengthy production life.

The completion of this seemingly well-considered and fully trimmed styling prototype however broadly coincided with the chaotic politics of the BMH/ Leyland merger, meaning that once the dust had settled, regardless of whether or not a comprehensive reworking of the Mini was still deemed necessary, there simply wasn’t the budget to execute it – with what was available being diverted with most urgency towards what became the Marina.

ADO20 nevertheless become an active programme, split between a series of modifications to the existing car, and the new, more upmarket model. In the former case, the Mark 3 Mini lost its sliding windows, and the doors received internal hinges. This in fact was not a new development, the Elf/ Hornet models having debuted both of these refinements in 1966 and ’68 respectively. Australian market Minis also had winding windows (with quarterlights) since 1965 – a further indictment against BMC’s budgetary control on such a cost-sensitive model line.

Technically, the Mark 3 reverted to the original rubber cone damping, replacing the heavier, costlier and more complex hydrolastic system. A more driver-friendly change however would be the rod-operated, remote gear linkage, replacing the giant wand with which non-Cooper Mini owners were forced to employ until then. Again however, this was merely a rationalisation of pre-existing hardware, hitherto denied.

Confronted with an even more limited budget for revisions than anticipated, Heynes (it seems)* was confined to alterations forward of the A-pillars. This involved lengthened front wings and bonnet, lending a more modernist, but less characterful profile. Front overhang was increased, which did at least have the positive knock-on effect of improving crushability and engine access (two factors the Mini’s éminence grise had been largely unconcerned with), but lacking the counterweight of the rear end revisions believed to have been intended for the car, resulted in a somewhat unhappy, unbalanced appearance.

In detail, the Clubman’s large round headlamps set into a broad horizontal grille proved something of a Roy Heynes trademark, lending a nagging suspicion that here was something of a one note author.

Author’s collection

Inside, the instrument binnacle was now mounted atop the steering column directly in front of the driver and a three-spoke steering wheel added. Combined with plusher seating and a more generous standard of equipment, the Clubman was marketed as the Mini’s mature, more upmarket brother. Furthering this sense of hierarchical superiority was the model’s retention of hydrolastic suspension (until 1971), and the larger 998cc engine. (Upgraded to the 1098cc unit in 1975).

Launched alongside the revised Mark 3 in Autumn 1969, reaction to the Clubman was mixed, with few commentators viewing the styling changes as an improvement. But the buying public on the other hand seemed less troubled, quickly carving out a niche for itself, in particular the cheaper to insure 1275 GT model, which initially sat alongside the more powerful Cooper S, but as of 1971, replaced it entirely.

‘You’re gonna need a bigger car, Brody…’ Author’s collection

As the 1970s progressed, British Leyland, lacking a supermini to rival the likes of the Renault 5 or Ford Fiesta, attempted to pitch the Clubman Estate as a potential rival (at least to their beleaguered sales teams), a ploy which really fooled nobody. Production ceased in 1980, when BL introduced their own supermini, leaving the Mini in its original form to soldier on in managed decline – although the Clubman Estate continued until 1982. In total, over half a million Clubmans were built.

Largely derided as the inferior product of narrow minds, the Clubman as produced was probably neither what was intended or required, but the thinking behind it was intrinsically sound. Because in its narrow expediency one could read a certain pragmatism, one lacking elsewhere in the volume car division as Donald Stokes and his cohorts embarked on a vastly expensive road to nowhere.

With the passage of time (and we are talking 50 years now), the Mini Clubman has gained the respect and following which perhaps eluded it in life, leaving us to ponder alternative outcomes. Because despite their many shortcomings, by the close of the 1960s, Sir Alec Issigonis’ ADO-series of FWD car designs still had plenty of development life in them. That BLMC management chose to largely ignore this reality is entirely their failing.

*The true identity of the styling team responsible for the nose of the Clubman remains a source of mystery, with Oliver Winterbottom, late of Jaguar’s styling studio stating on record that it was in fact carried out by Jaguar stylists under Doug Thorpe at Radford.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

12 thoughts on “Sir Alec ‘Nose Best”

  1. Good morning, Eóin. It’s a shame there aren’t more photos of the hatchback ADO20 other than the one you feature. It would be interesting to see if it balanced up the Clubman front end, which always looked a little heavy for the rest of the car.

    The longer wheelbase of the estate may well have worked better and have been more practical but, to do it properly, it would have needed a major rework of everthing behind of the B-pillars, to rid it of the “van with windows” appearance. The extreme angularity of everything aft of the B-pillars always looked to me as it had been knocked up in a workshop and the not sit at all comfortably with the Mini’s original or Clubman front ends.

    I hadn’t noticed it before, but the creases pressed into the Clubman’s bonnet are similar to those on the Marina, and are another Roy Haynes signature. Both models could well have done without them, as they looked rather superfluous and fussy:

  2. The Clubnose possibly worked best on the van, but only the Antipodeans got that combination:

    The brick-like front end made the Mini’s already dreadful drag coefficient a damn sight worse. I haven’t the figures to hand but recall 0.48-0.49 for the original and 0.50-0.51 for the Clubman, It explains why the 1275GT couldn’t get near 90mph in road test conditions. (87.5mph according to Motor in 1969).

    Aerodynamics was another of Greek Al’s blind spots, but then it was widely thought until the late ’70s that drag didn’t matter below 70mph. At least the Mini had a small frontal area to compensate.

    Someone who is rather closer to such matters than myself claimed that the Clubnose’s purpose was to accommodate the E series powertrain. It’s possible that was just wind and whimsy, but unofficial conversions show that it works, and it would have made sense for Australia, where there was no facility for full-scale A series production.

    1. The Clubman would have likely been better received had it featured the hatchback and been de-seamed at minimum. Even better if it received the Minivan’s 84-inch wheelbase to allow for a 4/5-door body as well as Hydragas.
      As for the Clubman front itself, cannot say am a fan of it though believe it could have been improved somewhat with twin or rectangular headlamps and integrated front bumpers as seen on modified classic Clubmans (some being much better than others).

      Would have preferred a more Project Ant like front that also appears to possess a similar level of improved engine accessibility or even a version of the 9X Gearless Mini Prototypes front with significantly improved exterior that is another Mini-based model with similarly improved engine accessibility whilst still carrying over Mini styling cues.

      Another alternative based on the following partial photo below would have been for Michelotti to get involved with the styling of the Clubman and even the Allegro by essentially carrying over the exterior of his ADO74 proposal with different front end (at the front).

      https://scontent-lht6-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/110277728_2181568371968220_2042737968608097308_n.jpg?_nc_cat=105&_nc_sid=730e14&_nc_ohc=w0JRVHbdOdEAX83DFDF&_nc_ht=scontent-lht6-1.xx&oh=00d513147a04897c20c1421c411479d0&oe=5F70CBFB

      BLMC ignoring the fact Issigonis’s FWD cars designs still had plenty of development life in them can be considered bordering on criminal based on the fact the aging neglected ADO16’s sales were still strong in the early/mid-1970s, together with cancelling ADO22 as well as Project Ant by instead choosing to develop the Allegro and the compromised unappreciated ADO20. Had they opted for the former it would have provided additional money to go towards their replacements for the mid/late-1970s instead of the early/mid-1980s.

      Based on the many unrealised improvements the Mini received that either never reached production or were never considered for the Mini itself, it would have been fascinating to see what both the Mini and ADO16 could have achieved had their development life been fully utilized along the same lines as the R6 Metro/100 as well as the R6X and Minki I/Minki II prototypes.

    2. An E-Series engine in a Mini is an interesting idea to consider, that said have not yet been able to determine the weight of the engine compared to the 113-120 kg / 250-265lbs A-Series or even the later related 124.7kg / 275lbs S-Series (assuming the figures are accurate). Had the E-Series been of a similar weight to the S-Series of only some 11.7-4.7kg heavier compared to the A-Series with the shorter-block of the latter (that allowed for a lower bonnet line in the Montego), then it opens up some interesting possibilities for both the Clubman and the Metro (as well as Project Ant) had they been equipped with end-on gearboxes to make fitment a viable.

      While it is possible the Clubman was developed with the fitment of the E-Series in mind, there was also the following wide bodied Clubman below. According to the Rob Golding Mini book eight inches went into the width of the wide bodied Clubman but the economics of increasing width were prohibitive and the car got no further than the factory vehicle pool which suggests it was more than a mock up.

      Not mentioned is the possibility the wide bodied Clubman prototype was BL’s ill-executed attempt at following the example of Fiat’s commonized A112/127/128 FWD trio by basically having the Clubman share a SWB version of the Austin Allegro’s platform with both effectively sharing the same width as a simple means of further increasingly component sharing in order to reduce costs.

      Eventually the Metro would roughly follow Issigonis’s vision for a supermini by featuring a similar width to ADO16 with a length of about 11ft.

    3. A better link to first image of Clubman-like Michelotti ADO74 with different front

  3. That wide Clubman has a strong look of the Tasman about it, but is actually about ADO16 width.

    I enjoyed the “version for a man and wife and their elbows”. Not sure if these are Rob Golding’s own words, but very much from a gentler time.

    As anthropometry forms part of my work, I can humbly report that elbows, being easily articulated, are not a major problem when accommodating humans widthwise, but another part of the anatomy often confused with the elbow – particularly at ’60s – ’80s BLMC/BMH/BLMC – is usually the determining factor.

    1. Based on the figures available. The 1973 year of the wide-body Clubman prototype and the additional 8-inches in width to the existing Mini’s 55-inch width leads to the prototype featuring a resulting width of 63-inches or the same as the Allegro’s 63-inch width, whereas ADO16 had a width of 60.38-inches which increasingly is actually a bit shorter compared to the Metro’s 61-inch width.

  4. There was also the Australian ‘Whale’ a one off proof of concept built by BMC-A to show their British parent how the upcoming Freeway would benefit from widening of the A60 body by around 5″, as well as the B series based Blue Streak six.

    That 5″ takes it to within half an inch of the – never sold in Australia – A110 Westminster’s width.

    …or exactly the same as a Holden EH. That sort of thing would never do, so their Birmingham masters kyboshed it. The Blue Streak managed a miserable 80bhp from its 2443cc. The Holden’s base 149 cu. in. engine gave 100bhp from the same capacity.

  5. The Mini changed completely to the Clubman front in Australia, I understand mainly for better crash protection in light of changing Australian Design Rules.

    Still with external hinges as per the van picture above, and small rear lights to save costs of changing the tooling.

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