TIPS, TRICKS AND NOSTALGIA FROM A LIFETIME IMMERSED IN OLD CARS 1275GT – A MINI MARVAL
2019 WILL MARK 50-years since the Mini Clubman made its debut. This was the one and only effective facelift on what was then a very familiar ten-year old car that was due for replacement – if Issigionis had had his way, the original Mini would have been superseded by then.
But the newly formed BLMC had bigger fish to fry and the Mini was selling strongly – 1972 would be its zenith year, with sales only really starting to drop off in the late ‘Seventies.
Before the 1275GT came the Mini Cooper and Cooper S. At that point, both had been remarkable competition cars – the S especially – and there was a sound argument for keeping one or the other in production. The S did in fact stay on the price lists until mid 1971, although the MkIII Cooper S launched in March 1970 was a pretty half hearted effort.
The Cooper S, as well as being a road car, had one main objective and that was to be a front line competition car for BMC. However, the Escort arrived for 1968 along with a 115bhp Lotus powered Twin Cam and from that moment on, Minis winning anything major was becoming a fast receding reality.
Once the RS1600 arrived in early 1970 with its 16 valve Cosworth BDA engine capable of up to 200bhp on carbs (with more to come), the writing was on the wall. So, the Cooper S was obsolete as a front running rally car, expensive to make and not easy to sell. It was also highly nickable, had a terrible reputation for being driven by loons and as a result it was very expensive and often impossible to insure. Really then, its time was up and the Cooper S was considered a good thing to axe as opposed to a gradual decline.
But it didn’t work out quite that way. Donald Stokes resented paying John Cooper a healthy royalty on cars that bore his name, so he axed the 998 Cooper first, replacing it with the 1275GT. The Cooper outsold the S buy a huge margin, so the royalty savings were right there. As a car, the Cooper was neat enough – it went quite well, handled as Minis do (had crap brakes) but overall the MkII Cooper was a very good package for not a lot of money. Stokes though had his eye on the ‘Seventies and what Ford were doing – the Escort GT for example would be a rising star.
The 1275GT was a clever package and exuberated a lot of showroom appeal. The Clubman front isn’t liked by all but it’s a cheery looking thing that replaced the ghastly Elf and Hornet in one swoop, giving the Mini a fresh new look and improving under bonnet accessibility. The 998 Clubman on Hydrolastic really drove well and far better than a regular dry cone 1000 and the 1275GT was, by and large, a well thought out product.
But it wasn’t just an Austin 1300 engine dropped into a standard Clubman. Oh no. Cooper S brakes and Hydro displacers were used along with a servo, so it immediately handled and stopped better than a 998 Cooper.
The engine was indeed a stock 55-60bhp 1275 single carb unit but was mated to a Cooper S close ratio gearbox and a 3.65: final drive and that resulted in performance figures that were way ahead of a Cooper and not very far away from a 1071 Cooper S from 1963.
Inside, the comfier Clubman seats were given perforated centres and a rev counter added with a sportier leather trimmed version of the Clubman’s three spoke Dumper Truck steering wheel. At £834 all in, it was good value as well – not that it was perfect. The 3.65: final drive might have seemed like a good idea but it spoiled what was basically one of the best Minis yet. The 14.7 second 0-60 time was due to a second to third gear change being needed and the 1275 engine was not as sweet as the 998 at higher revolutions. In short, the GT was very noisy and tiring to drive on long trips. BLMC took heed and in 1971 and revised the car by replacing Hydrolastic with dry cones and fitting the standard 3.44: Cooper S and Mini 1000/Clubman differential.
The 1275GT remained in production for eleven years, outselling the Cooper and S combined. It had various facelifts, such as the 12 inch wheels in 1974 and the stripy seats in 1977 but the recipe was always the same…. the 1275GT was a Mini, but even more so.
What’s more, the single carb engine made the 1275GT insurable for young drivers, although BL probably missed a trick by not making a 75-80bhp GTS version. Not importing the stylish Innocenti 1300 Cooper was another missed opportunity, but BL had loads of those. This was probably the best production Mini ever made and much better overall than the homegrown Cooper S.
It’s amusing that BMW have brought back the 1275GT in spirit with the latest 1499GT MINI. This is a lower powered engine in a sporty looking body although at 17 grand, it’s hardly the bargain the 1275GT was. No, the original was best and as much as I like the original BMC era Coopers, a 1971 1275GT on cones with the 3.44: diff in Aqua, Sunflower yellow or Black Velvet (deep purple) somehow has more appeal – and looking at GT prices, its time has most definitely come. At last!