What happened to Marc Bolan’s Mini Clubman?
We know the T-Rex star died after his Mini crashed into a barrier in Barnes, London. But just what happened in the early hours of September 16, 1977?
Many of Marc Bolan’s lyrics refer to cars. One of his earliest songs –Mustang Ford – was apparently a tale of consumerist fantasies from his younger self. Then he penned Jeepster, in reference to the domesticated military Jeep.
‘Just like a car/You’re pleasing to behold/I’ll call you Jaguar/If I may be so bold. Girl I’m just a Jeepster/For your love…’
Bolan’s lyrics were often daring and unambiguous, while his dress sense and public persona summed up a decade where men sought the perfect acid-afro perm, silver cheekbone glitter and genital-busting skin-tight trousers.
Yet, behind closed doors and away from the limelight, the T-Rex star was far more timid. When it came to life’s basics, he was cautious. For starters, he was terrified of driving. He had no license. Not to say he didn't have a wild side outwith his music; he had an affair with backing singer Gloria Jones.
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Gloria would be the mother of Rolan Bolan, Marc’s son, and was the author of hit single Tainted Love long before Soft Cell shot the song’s popularity into the stratosphere. She was also to play a large part in Bolan’s final earthly journey.
Marc Bolan and his Mini Clubman 1275 GT
Bolan owned a number of cars, including his preferred white 1960 Rolls-Royce, yet when traveling in London he’d always be driven in his purple Mini 1275 GT.
The 1275 GT was not quite the fashion statement Alec Issigonis’ automotive masterstoke once was. Bolan liked to go against the grain, which could explain why he went for the gutsy 1275 GT over the commonplace Mini Cooper. Besides, The Beatles had Coopers, and the decade of free love was over. The snout-like front end may have won the Clubman various levels of criticism, but it was still a quick little number.
On the night of the fatal accident, Bolan and Jones were traveling back to their Richmond home from a party at Rod Stewart’s Mayfair pad. Neither of them was wearing seatbelts. The registration number of the Mini was FOX 661L.
Several days earlier, a Mini wheel had been removed for a puncture repair, and there is speculation that either the tyre was under inflated or the wheel itself had not been securely fitted. Gloria reputedly sought help with the Mini at an unnamed garage, yet the mechanics apparently didn’t take to her and very little rectification work was done.
Whatever the reason, the Mini Clubman left the road after cresting a small bridge, and smashed into a steel crash barrier. The force of the impact was so severe that the Mini only came to a rest when it hit a nearby sycamore tree.
Bolan suffered fatal head injuries from what is thought to be an eye bolt sticking out of the barrier. Gloria broke her arm and jaw, but ultimately survived her injuries. She was lucky to escape and, from studying the pictures of Marc’s totalled Mini, only did so because Bolan’s side of the car had hit the barrier first.
As it happened, emergency services appeared at the crash site, although they had been merely passing through. The firemen had been hurtling towards a blaze in Kingston-upon-Thames.
Although they had no idea about the identity of the victims, one of the firemen – Chris Watts – later claimed: ‘It was pretty obvious that there was no rescuing to be done.’
Chris later explained that he clocked a woman standing by the vehicle. However, while many researchers have since suggested that this was Gloria, in fact Jones was so badly injured that it simply couldn’t have been her. She was, in fact, discovered at the crash site draped over the mangled bonnet. She didn’t even learn of Bolan’s death until after his funeral.
Reports vary on Bolan’s state after the accident. Although there is no doubt that he was killed instantly, some say he was thrown clear of the car through the windscreen, while others claim he was lifted from the wreckage by Gloria’s brother, who wasn’t far behind in a different car. No matter what happened, CPR was performed on Bolan’s body, but he was officially declared dead after arriving at the local hospital.
During the day after the crash, authorities carted away the Mini for inspection. It was during this time that Bolan’s house at 142 Upper Richmond Road West was looted for souvenirs and master tapes; most of which are still missing. For years this barbaric and insensitive act was believed to have been carried out by demented fans, yet claims were recently made that persons within the UK music industry undertook the ransacking.
What happened to the Mini?
Very little of the Mini was salvageable, and the shell was ultimately taken away and crushed. What could be removed from the Mini seemed to disappear off the public radar, yet the supposed wheels and tyres resurfaced for auction in 2016 before being withdrawn from sale. The accompanying documentation seemed to explain that certain parts of the car were salvaged and kept by morbid collectors.
Fans apparently descended upon the Clubman to strip it for souvenirs, and we can believe it if you read the ‘business’ idea in the letter below:
After leaving hospital, Gloria was due in court on charges of ‘being unfit to drive’ and ‘driving a car in a dangerous condition’, but she instead left for America and never returned to face the charges. The Coroner’s Court recorded a verdict of accidental death.
Did Bolan really predict his car accident?
Ever since that fateful night, speculation and coincidences have been picked out of Bolan’s life and music. In his 1972 classic Solid Gold Easy Action, Bolan writes of ‘picking foxes from a tree’. Modern conjecture points to the licence plate of the 1275 GT – FOX 661L – and the car’s final resting place against the sycamore tree.
Even more inspiring for conspiracy theorists is this: Bolan’s art collection featured a picture he coveted more than any other. It’s name? Sixteenth of September, which just happens to be the very date on which he died. What’s more coincidental is the picture in question is of a tree. A sycamore tree.
Spooky, but then Bolan was also quoted as saying: ‘I’ll never live beyond 30.’ He died two weeks before his 30th birthday. He also crafted the song Celebrate Summer, in which the lyrics read:
‘Summer is heaven in ’77’.
That also happens to be the year in which he suffered his fatal accident. But we aren’t finished yet.
His first demo track when performing under his original Toby Tyler stage name was titled ‘The Road I’m On (Gloria)’, with lyrics including: ‘The road I’m on won’t carry me home’.
Occultists and romantics believe that Bolan predicted his own death, but whatever the theory, the result was the gut wrenching. We lost a great musical icon, while the Mini Clubman’s image was undoubtedly darkened.
Bolan’s accident and death saw an end to T-Rex as a group. Steve Peregrin Took choked on a cocktail cherry after his throat was numbed from use of morphine and magic mushrooms in 1980. Steve Currie died in a car crash in 1981. Mickey Finn succumbed to illness in 2003, while Peter ‘Dino’ Dines died of a heart attack in 2004.
Despite fan protests, the Bolan Tree – as it quickly became known – was felled in the interests of safety back in 2015 and a capping barrel was placed over the stump. The work was undertaken by Bartlett, the royal warrant-holding tree surgeon under contract to the watchful T-Rex action group, the protective guardian of the site.
The railway bridge and tree stump in Barnes remain a place of pilgrimage for T-Rex and Marc Bolan fans, with gatherings held there on special occasions. While his presence is no longer with us, his genius and music live on. And, as proven, there are parts of his Mini still out there...
Pictures courtesy of Ewbank Auctions, DTP on Pinterest and Neal Preston
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