Clan Clover

Born from a group of ex-Lotus engineers, Clan was a small sports car concern that made the Crusader, a lightweight fibreglass car based around mechanicals from the Hillman Imp.

Now, when you're a kit car manufacturer, your livelihood is directly connected to your fibreglass moulds; it's your production line and intellectual property all rolled into one. I'm picking up the Clan story after a set of unofficial Crusader body moulds were used to kickstart Clan Cars Ltd., a short-lived concern we can thank for today's story.

(Amazingly, these moulds were moved again to the Clan Owner's Club so that enthusiasts are still able to make body panels for the cars, even though they're technically the unofficial moulds…)

Based in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, Clan Cars Ltd. kept pumping out subtly revised versions of the Crusader—Imp engine, disk brakes from the MGB, pop-up headlights, Ford Fiesta dashboard, better tires—until their new, improved, and hopelessly ambitious Clover was ready. 

If you consider the Alfa Romeo 4C and the Alfa Romeo-powered Clan Clover as both being examples of mid-engined composite sports cars, in a way, the made-in-Ireland version is a glimpse into an alternate universe where Alfa Romeo styling could be so mad. It's like a Mazda RX-7, Nissan 300 ZX, and Alfa Romeo Spider all rolled into one. If you haven't already guessed, "Clover" is in reference to Alfa Romeo's famous "cloverleaf" logo and sporting success it implies.

Borrowing the 1.5-litre flat 4-cylinder engine as seen in the Alfasud, Spring, Arna, and 33, the Clover employed a mid-range version of the Alfa Romeo's stab at a horizontally-opposed engine. At most, buyers could expect about 105 horsepower. Without a steel chassis, the car was a true fibreglass monocoque as well; weight was kept to a reasonable level, meaning this sharp-nosed sports car had meaningful performance. 

Just how meaningful is up for debate: while Clan Cars Ltd quoted the Clover's clump at 610 kg (1344 lbs.), Motor magazine found their test car at 773 kg (1704 lbs.); it was empty of fuel and full of other fluids. Zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) was up in 8.6 seconds.

From where I'm sitting, the car looks terrible from a distance but on closer examination has a few intriguing lines. It's certainly not awful, except maybe for the hilarious door openings and old school pop-up sunroof.

Just 20 road cars and six destined for racing were made—likely due to the fact that when new it sold in Britain cost hundreds of pounds more than a Toyota MR2 and thousands more than a Peugeot 205 GTI. The steep price was on top of obvious shortcomings with both the engineering and finish of the Clover, for instance: 

  • Much of the servicing had to be done while the car was in the air, a practical pain for DIY enthusiasts
  • The gearchange, intended for a front-drive car, was lacklustre
  • Handling was described as unforgiving and knife-edged, especially in the wet
  • Cramped interior, to the point where the footwell is so tiny it's nearly impossible to heel and toe
  • It lacked a headliner, sun visors, and glove box
  • It also lacked any meaningful luggage space in the front or rear
  • Poorly designed fuel filler, leaving drivers to complain of a persistent smell of gas

Reviewers liked the engine, the ride, and (in most conditions) the handling, but the faults seen in this fully factory-built car were hard to forgive. Sad, considering it was the firm's first production car, intended to help Clan shake off its kit car past.

Ironically, the Clover's biggest fault is that it ended up looking homebuilt. As far as cars go, I tend to agree with Grahame Parson's Motor verdict: it's the ultimate curate's egg.