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alex lawrence commercial photographer

Written by Alex Lawrence

If you venture into London and ever find yourself outside the entrance to South Kensington tube station, stop and look over at the Lambourghini dealership across the Old Bromtpon road. For what you are looking at is the original premises of the long established retailers of Rolls-Royce and Bentley, GH Radford.

Under this name, they created a bespoke coachbuilding business named Harold Radford & Co and produced bodies for new Bentley’s owned by the landowning gentry. Later, in the ’60s, they were famed for their luxurious conversions of the iconc Mini.

In 1961, they became part of HR Owen who still own that Lamborghini dealership today but the end of the Harold Radford (Coachbuilders) came in 1966 although a new business, Harold Radford Coachbuilders (1967) Limited was created to carry on the conversion business.

It never ceases to amaze me how much history is around us every day.

The Radford name gamely continued until 1975. During that time it had seen the creation of some stunning displays of creative automotive craftsmanship that still exist today.

As the son of a shipping magnate, Harold was expected to join the family firm but decided instead to leverage the high-society connections to become a car salesman. Using his elite connections, it wasn’t long before he took residence in the aforementioned showroom in London.

Teeming with glistening nearly new Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars for sale, Harold became fascinated with wasted space within these cars. He began tweaking cars for clients in 1936 and in no time was creating ‘shooting brakes’ (estate cars essentially) for the well to do to go hunting in.

The Countryman conversions began on Bentley base cars but were also offered Jaguar and Humbers too. Spaces to store your fishing rods for salmon season tells you that this was definitely for the upper classes to enjoy. My garden cane, net and stickleback skills would not have made the grade.

If you think of the Rolls Royce and Range Rover offerings of today; fold out picnic tables or shooting drawers and whisky tables with exquisite carpentry within, then you can lay the blame squarely at Harold for them.

It didn’t go unnoticed what he was up to by the manufacturers and soon it was brand new cars being offered from the showroom floor. Away from the dealership things were not at all well. His father died in 1947 and he was torn between the car and family business. He took the decision to sell a controlling stake of the business to a Hampshire transport company who promptly sold the business and it eventually ended up in the hands of HR Owen.

He remained as Managing Director for a short while before becomming more of a consultant. He didn’t want to but as he had sold his controlling interest, he was sidelined until, in 1961, the door was closed behind him as he left.

The Radford Mini was the next car that bore his name and found fame with Peter Sellers and Brit Ekland performing for a famous photoshoot launch. However, much as Harold claimed the idea was his, the history books beg to differ.

The car was actually created in 1963 for Peter Sellers by Hooper & Co for the sum of £2,600 but when Sellers wanted a second car creating for his Inspector Clouseau film in 1964 as a present for the films director, they refused.

So, he turned to Harold Radford ‘Coachbuilders’ Limited who leapt at the chance. They built the car off the original Hooper design under the workshops keen eye of Graham Arnold. He claims to have created the ‘millionaires Mini’ using a Mini Cooper base. The PR stunt with Sellers and Ekland in 1965 under the Radford sign hides these facts.

“This is a ’60s racer but properly revived”

The Radford name has tried to be resurrected twice before 2021. In 1992, classic Mini’s were modified by extending the wheelbase by 10″ with longer doors and again in 2005 with the latest BMW Mini but neither project carried far beyond their inital launches.

However, Jenson Button along with Ant Anstead, Mark Stubbs and Roger Behle have chosen to revive it by basing their design on the 1960s Lotus Type 62. Not only that, they have the underpinnings of a Lotus Exige beneath that curvacious exterior body. ‘The Radford Type 62-2 is engineered for an unadulterated mechanical feel, exceptional engagement and uncompromising poise’ says the press release.

Now headquartered in Orange County, California, the latest Radford Motors has quite the talent behind it. F1 world champion Button alongside master mechanic Ant Anstead will look to add their knowledge and experience to that of Mark Stubbs, automotive deisnger and acclaimed business adviser and lawyer Roger Behle.

Only 62 Radford Type 62 models will ever be built. No two will be exactly alike, and each will be an exceptionally rare sight on the world’s roads.

– Ant Anstead

Jenson Button: “Creating a car that is simultaneously luxurious and comfortable, and great to drive, is a tough challenge, but the first Radford of the modern era delivers. Type 62-2 is a driver’s car at its heart – when you see the design, it looks just like a 70s Le Mans car. And when you sit behind the steering wheel and look through the curved windscreen, you can see the front wheel arches – something you just don’t experience on road cars today. With such a low centre of gravity, the car’s body doesn’t roll. The chassis exhibits all the hallmarks of a beautifully set up race car for the road – gifting the driver supreme confidence to extract maximum enjoyment every journey.”

Owners will be kept fully informed during every step of their car’s development, provided with the first sight of vehicle designs, engineering milestones and project updates. Moving closer to the car’s start of production date, owners will be invited to ‘co-create’ their vehicle to their exacting vision, liaising with Radford’s bespoke designers to ensure an utterly unique, coachbuilt, custom finish. They will also have the option of visiting their car during the build process if they wish.

Radford’s bespoke coachbuilding extends to all aspects of the car. Radford will work with owners to ensure that each and every owner desire on the car is met, this ranges from all of the interior finishes and unique paint colours through each part of the car’s design which includes surface changes to the vehicle bodywork to the power and performance of the car. Every Radford is totally unique and built exclusively for each owner.

Owners can choose to collect their car from Radford’s California base, Radford’s test track, or indeed, have it delivered to them anywhere in the world. Following collection, owners will be offered tailored experiences to continually enhance their ownership of one of the world’s most unique coachbuilt sportscars.

Production of the Radford Type 62-2 begins in late 2021, with first deliveries being made in Q1 2022.

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