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Video | Here’s Why the Mini Clubvan Is One of the Rarest Cars Ever

I recently had the chance to review a Mini Clubvan. To be clear, I’m not referring to a Mini Clubman, with an "M." I mean I reviewed the van version, the Mini Clubvan, which is essentially a Mini Clubman with cargo space — a vehicle most people don’t know anything about. There’s a reason most people aren’t aware of the Mini Clubvan, though, and that’s because it’s one of the rarest cars ever made.

I just want to point out, early on here, that I’m not exaggerating this point. Apparently, Mini sold just 50 examples of the Clubvan here in North America, which is — obviously — an absolutely excessively low number of vehicles for any specific model, less than virtually any supercar in existence. It’s truly impressive, and today I’m going to explain exactly what happened.

The basic reality is this: back in the 1960s, the U.S. government instituted a tax on imported trucks and vans in response to European tariffs on U.S.-made chickens. The so-called "Chicken Tax" has stayed in place ever since, and it causes virtually every automaker who sells a truck or van in North America to also build it here, since the Chicken Tax is an excessive 25%.

This caused a problem for the Clubvan. I’m not sure if Mini hoped it wouldn’t be classified as a van and fall under the Chicken Tax, or if they simply didn’t know about the tax, but when Mini started selling the Clubvan here they quickly realized it would end up being a lot more expensive than they hoped thanks to this tax — and so, very quickly after the Clubvan went on sale, it was withdrawn. VERY quickly. After just 50 units.

I drove one of these 50 units, and I was truly looking forward to this moment, because I couldn’t wait to drive one of the rarest modern cars in existence. First, I had to check it out, and the Clubvan has some interesting characteristics — like, for instance, the fact that the side windows are actually still in place, just covered with vinyl on the outside and plastic on the inside so anything you carry around won’t break the glass. But the Clubvan does have the seats removed in the back, meaning you do have a legitimate cargo area back here where you can put stuff.

Noting this, I attempted to purchase the Clubvan. I’m not kidding. The dealership where I filmed the review of it, Crevier Mini in Orange County, California, has been using this as an IT support vehicle since it was sold new back in 2012, and it’s covered just 19,000 miles. I was interested in a transporter vehicle of some capacity as I’ve just purchased a house and I’m finding a great need for, well, transporting stuff, so I tried to buy this thing.

Unfortunately, I later decided it wasn’t really worth it — and that decision was made after I drove the Clubvan. Yes, it’s cool: it has a cool story, it’s ultra-rare, and it’s virtually unknown, even in the Mini community. But on the road, it’s not particularly exciting. All Clubvan models were base-level Minis, meaning they don’t have big power — and they all had an automatic transmission. A John Cooper Works Clubvan S with three pedals might make for the ultimate delivery vehicle, but a base-level Clubvan wants for more power and doesn’t deliver much driving excitement.

Still, I had a great time reviewing the Clubvan, and I really love its story — truly one of the rarest modern vehicles. Unfortunately, that story is the most exciting thing about it, as it’s relatively dull and docile otherwise — but I still had a lot of fun spending the day with a car I’ve always wanted to meet. Find a Mini for sale

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Just adding to Mr/Ms Austin Seven, the Minivan was quite popular with small village police, I saw them being used in all of the local villages where I lived in Rubery, Birmingham which coincidentally was a couple of miles up the Bristol Rd from the Austin assembly plant. One of my uncle’s also had a Minivan as his regular run around vehicle. I would concur that the pickups weren’t so common, I could probably count the number I saw on one hand. Of course the other body style that you saw a few of was the original Countryman which was like all Minis, 2dr but had the shooting break body with barn doors on the back and was clad in wood trim.

  2. Doug thanks for revealing this little gem. Can I give a bit of context? In Europe there was traditionally a market for small car-derived vans and in some countries tax breaks compared with the fully windowed versions. Almost the opposite of your chicken tax story. Indeed in Ireland it was common in rural areas to buy a car-based van them install basic flat perspex windows and cheap uncomfortable seats..then hope the cops didn’t notice. 

    In 60s Britain the Minivan – the inspiration for BMW’s Clubvan – was a serious small commercial vehicle that sold half a million. It was nearly as iconic as the Mini itself which was owned by lords and louts across the land. There was also a rare pick up version and a two wheel drive off road vehicle with negligible ground clearance which nevertheless sold all over the world called the Mini Moke.  
    The BMW Clubman and Clubvan looked cool but were way heavier than the two door with all those pointless extra doors and the cargo area was smaller than that in an average Golf sized hatchback. I drove a Cooper S version recently which was portly and slow despite its 175bhp. And despite it’s premium German felt baggy and broken after 6 years. Mini claimed the Clubvan was a success in the UK but I’ve hardly ever seen one. 
  3. Not knowing how much they were asking for it, you probably made the right move. Maybe sign up for a college course and get a Mini Oxford 2-Door for $20k instead…

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More about Doug Demuro

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