Radford: Take four
by Wayne Batty
When Rolls-Royce and Bentley dealer Harold Radford branched out into coachbuilding in 1948 with a wood-framed estate car conversion of the Bentley Mk VI, he probably had no idea that it would lead to his name becoming synonymous with luxuriously trimmed and kitted Minis owned by many of the genuine A-list celebrities of the ’60s including all four members of The Beatles.
Above: 1949 Bentley Mk VI 4¼-litre Countryman with coachwork by Harold Radford. Image courtesy: Courtesy of Bonhams
Radford’s high quality of fabrication, clearly visible on this later evolution of the Bentley Countryman, drew the attention and approval of Rolls Royce, and no doubt aided in the awarding of several high-profile commissions and contracts from Aston Martin (DB5 and DB6 Shooting Brakes) and Ford (interior trimming and exterior panel fitting on the Ford GT40).
Above: 1965 Aston Martin DB5 Shooting Brake by Radford
Image credit: Scott Pattenden, courtesy of RM Sothebys
But it was the Minis, especially the De Ville and its GT derivative that made Radford a household name at the time. After all, who wouldn’t want a Mini specced with electric windows, burr walnut dashboard, wooden steering wheel, leather upholstery and wool carpets, especially if you knew Mick Jagger and John Lennon had just bought one too?
Above: Period advertisement for Radford’s Mini de Ville says it all
Despite the fame and favour, fashion is fickle, and by 1975 the party was over.
Radford – take two – was re-launched in 1989 by Chris Humberstone. Car designer Chris reckoned his revised version of the Radford Mini de Ville would catch on once more. It didn’t.
In 2005, experienced coachbuilder Marc Eden tried again – Radford: take three. This time though, the Radford was a luxed-up edition of BMW’s Frank Stephenson-designed new generation Mini.
Above: 2005 Radford Mini not about burr walnut and leather, but power boost, 18-inch wheels, aggressive bodykit and Alcantara instead
The Harold Radford Coachbuilders revival of 2005 was so brief it probably didn’t register. So when news of Radford’s latest return broke, it was tempting to write the Anstead, Button and Stubbs venture off as just another over-hyped and underfunded non-starter. Now, a little over 18 months later, physical evidence, in the beguiling shape of the Lotus Type 62-2, suggests otherwise.
This time around, there are no internally trimmed and externally bedazzled Minis in sight. No, instead the Type 62-2 is a beautifully designed bespoke sports car that draws clear inspiration from the 1969 Lotus 62 prototype. The 62, which although closely related in appearance to the Type 46 Europa and its Type 47 racing counterpart, featured spaceframe construction as opposed to the Europa’s box-section centre spine chassis. Despite being short-lived, it turned out to be an important racing testbed for Lotus’s new 2-litre, four-cylinder engine. Only two were ever made.
Above: Ant Anstead, Jenson Button and designer Mark Stubbs admiring the original Lotus Type 62
Thankfully, this Radford Lotus Type 62-2 is no retro pastiche, the details – headlight units, tail-lamps, air inlets, rear diffuser – are all bang on trend, and rather appropriately the mechanics and technology are sourced directly from project partner Lotus. The latest Evora donates chassis components along with its 3.5-litre supercharged V6 engine which will be available in various states of tune from 430-600bhp.
That level of power in a car that’s projected to weigh around 1000kg is bound to be exciting to drive, but it’s also exciting to look at, especially in Graham Hill Type 49B Gold Leaf livery. You might also remember it on Emmo’s Lotus 72 F1 car. With an even more evocative John Player Special liveried version in the works, expect strong demand.
Above: JPS livery reserved for the most powerful version of the Type 62-2
Not only is there desirable and original product in the offing but the prospect of an astute business and marketing plan to boot. While the Radford team of Jenson Button, Ant Anstead, Mark Stubbs and Roger Behle are, without doubt, experts in their particular fields, few could have predicted they’d execute this first project with such slick precision.