Being a lover of older vehicles, I have warmed to the trend of car companies harking back to their heritages. Although the cynical part of me cites the real reason as a means of thrusting new metal out of the showroom doors, I like to think that the people, working within in the new car industry, share my own passion for everything four-wheeled.
Yet, while I see a car company championing its own heritage as noble, making up history that has bought into is something quite different. Let me explain. Earlier this year, I drove a new MINI Clubman on a media launch exercise. Now, I like MINIs. I find them not only different to look at but also engaging to drive and they rank as one of my favourite modern cars. Since BMW bought and retained the brand (along with other interesting British marques, including both Triumph and Riley) from the debacle that was Rover, one cannot deny the success of the modern (and much larger) iteration of the original British icon.
Since 2001, the MINI range has grown from a solitary 3-door hatchback model into an attractive convertible, a quirky Clubman, and a jacked-up Countryman SUV, plus MINI is expanding even more, to include coupé and roadster variants. A key to the success is BMW’s ingenious marketing, especially when the Germans hark back continually to the glories of 1960’s England.
‘Clubman’ is one of those famous names that is linked inextricably with the classic Mini and the shiny new example that I drove wore a proud “50” badge on its nose. A kind BMW representative told me that this was to celebrate the ‘fifty years of the Clubman’. Now, my GCSE mathematics grade was not great but even my dubious mental arithmetic tells me that, as the original Mini Clubman was launched in 1968, it still falls eight years short of BMW’s claim.
The red-faced spokesman then admitted that it was actually to celebrate fifty years of the Countryman (which is correct) and not the Clubman. I then queried why the Clubman wore the badge and the response was that the original Mini Clubman and Countryman shared ‘pretty much the same body’. Neither he nor his colleagues had been briefed correctly, as the original Austin Mini Countryman was an estate car only and the Clubman was either a saloon or an estate, with an elongated front end and totally different frontal styling, yet the Clubman estate was never referred to as a ‘Countryman’ during its 1970’s heyday.
I stated that I was unconvinced by the answers and that BMW might wish to train its representatives on the history of a brand, about which a distinct lack of knowledge had been demonstrated. The person-in-question made his excuses and went to talk to somebody else that was less likely to give him such a hard time.
It was probably just as well that he did. The decision from Munich, which states that all MINI special editions will be named after London boroughs has backfired somewhat, with the decision to name the new MINI Cooper Clubman special edition, with its delightful purple-flecked trimmings, after Hampton Court. Unfortunately, the Germans were obviously oblivious to the fact that ‘Hampton’ is popular Cockney Rhyming Slang for something completely different that references Hampton Wick…