At first glance, Greg Clare’s unusual 1974 Mini Clubman presents an anomaly: it is equally an ugly rust bucket as well as a beautiful, honest masterpiece.
The tiny ‘brick’ – with its mismatched dented panels, cracked and flaking paint, and abundant surface rust – is about as far as you can get from a shiny black Lamborghini or gleaming red Ferrari, yet this street machine is perhaps even more unique, incredibly special to its owner, and generates finger pointing and smiles wherever it goes around the Sunshine Coast.
It’s more than just a car for Greg – it also represents his bold response to some personal struggles and health challenges. It gives him joy in the times he’s feeling down.
“I just fell in love with it. I’m not sure exactly why, but I liked the character of it, it’s got a story to tell,” he explains of his instant attraction to the Mini.
The car’s past life is obviously chequered: it seems the owner died and his widow had it dragged out of a paddock and sold to a Mini enthusiast, but then it was simply stored in another paddock where it sat for some six years, until late 2020 when Greg saw an ad for the sad-looking rust bucket on Gumtree.
Having just graduated Year 12, he had made plans to attend Schoolies with his classmates but those plans fell through, leaving him feeling abandoned with some unexpected time to kill, and his wallet full of his ‘Schoolies savings’.
And as often is the case in life, that unexpected hiccup turned into something special.
“I’d always wanted a Volkswagen Beetle ever since I was little, but the price of them has gone up and, basically, it was either a Beetle, an old Land Rover, an old Escort van or a Mini that I wanted to buy, and I just saw this and I fell in love with it straight away. I was like, ‘I want that’,” Greg said.
“I bought it during Covid, off the internet, sight unseen, from a bloke in Orange, New South Wales, for $1800.
“It was pretty much a parts car at that stage. My parents weren’t best pleased, but I told them the number plate that I thought I’d get for it, and as soon as I told them, they were all on board.”
That number plate, of course, reads ‘MR834N’: in the realm of cool cars and modern texting, it translates to ‘MR BEAN’, perhaps the world’s most famous Mini owner.
The car’s unique ‘characteristics’ only add mystery to its colourful past.
The two doors are mismatched. The driver’s door may in fact come from a later model as it hangs askew and doesn’t quite fit right.
The driver’s side front quarter of the car also appears to have been literally cut from another body; nuts inside the engine bay and under the front bumper show where the replacement section has been bolted into place.
The floor was rusted through. And an ill-fitting bonnet also had to be replaced.
As for the overall finish, there’s not a panel on the Mini that is perfect, not one square inch that’s not in some way afflicted by scratches, dents, rust or bog filler.
“This is real. It’s not been made by somebody skilled with an airbrush. It’s time that’s done this, and I just like it,” Greg said.
So, obviously, the young apprentice cabinet maker, who spends his work days fitting out caravans, had a lot of work ahead of him to get the cute little junker up to scratch and back on the road, but he was enthused and persistent.
“I’ve had to learn as I go, from talking to other people, and, you know what they say, soaking it up like a sponge,” he said.
“One of the hardest parts to get was the bumpers … you’ve got what’s called the round-nose Mini, like the one Mr Bean had, and you’ve got the Clubman – it’s got the square front on it. The Clubman people remove the parts from them and they fix the other ones because they’re worth more, so it means parts for these are hard to find.
“I did a swap with another chap in the Mini community. I gave him some spare parts and he gave me this bumper, which had a dent in it, but I wasn’t too bothered, and I’m quite pleased with it actually, because the dent matches up with the dent in the car, so it’s like it’s meant to be.”
As for the motor, he replaced the original old one-litre engine with the more desired but rare 1275cc engine that came standard in the more-sporty Mini Cooper. Fortuitously, he managed to find the next best thing.
“If you’re going to rebuild the engine, you might as well rebuild the Cooper one … I found that they’re quite expensive because everyone wants them and there’s not many of them around,” Greg said.
“But my neighbour Carol, she used to sell these new at a car dealership … she told me about a car called a Morris Nomad that had the Cooper S engine in it.
“So, I managed to find one of them … and got the engine out of that, and that’s now in it.”
The engine was rebuilt by Readspeed Mini Mecca in Brisbane, who also helped out with other improvements beyond Greg’s fledgling expertise.
“They’re great guys and I couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.
The Mini also has a second 20-litre fuel tank – there was already a hole cut in the rear quarter panel to accommodate the second fuel tube and cap. Greg wonders if it had a second tank previously, but who really knows for sure.
As for the flag on the roof, Greg admits a bit of a dodgy home-made paint job, to make sure it matched the rest of the finish.
“It’s the Union Jack. You’ve got to have it on it, I’m sorry,” he said.
“I can’t remember exactly what I did. I think I put acrylic paint on enamel paint, which then made it bubble and all that kind of stuff, and it kind of fits in, it doesn’t look out of place.”
The Mini has been dubbed ‘The Bean Machine’, or alternately ‘Steve’, as in Steve Clubman, a made-up name that sounds like a real person who could actually be a Mini expert.
“It’s got a new bonnet, new floor, new brakes, new suspension, new gearbox, new engine – basically the mechanics of it is new, but the body of it is a bit battered and old but, like I said, it’s got a story to tell,” Greg said.
“I love it when people look at it and say, ‘How’s that still on the road?’ … and you can always tell when people have read the number plate, because they point and they laugh.”
Next up, he’ll repaint the little Cooper wheel flares in a dull crimson, to match colours elsewhere on the car.
Greg grew up in the UK and migrated to Australia when he was just six – he still has an unmistakable British accent. And while Mini is traditionally linked with his homeland, this model was actually fully constructed in Australia, in Zetland, Sydney.
The young car enthusiast revealed that owning and creating such an unusual car has had unexpected positive impacts on his health.
“At the end of 2020, I had knee surgery, and they gave me some drugs with painkillers and I developed schizophrenia, which has been quite hard on me,” he explained.
“It’s been a new challenge, and no matter how crap or down I feel, if I go and hop in and drive the Mini … people will smile and wave and, honestly, I love that …
“It helps me, kind of like the English saying, ‘Keep calm and carry on’, soldier on, stiff upper lip, that sort of thing.”
Greg has plans to tidy the interior, including reupholstering the back seats, adding new carpet and completely redoing the Lucas electrics, which had a reputation in the 1970s of simply giving up without warning.
So, if you see ‘The Bean Machine’ zipping around the streets of the Sunshine Coast, make sure you give Greg a wave.
“It’s not a garage queen, I drive it every day – to work, on weekends,” he said proudly.
“I’ve had someone ask if I can take them to a wedding in it. Another person said, ‘I was born in one of those’ and I didn’t know what to say to that.
“I get ‘thumbs up’ all the time, people waving, all that kind of stuff; it gets a lot of smiles per miles.
“Who would have thought an old car like this would bring so much joy? Nothing beats it.”
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