THE CLASSIC BRITISH COACHBUILDER HAS RETURNED, THIS TIME WITH FOUR REMARKABLE GENTS LEADING ITS REVIVAL.
Owning a coachbuilt Radford Mini Cooper in the 1960s was the ultimate status symbol. Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Twiggy, Enzo Ferrari, George Best, Peter Sellers, the Monkees’ Mike Nesmith and Cream’s Ginger Baker were just a few of celebrity set who owned a bespoke car, outfitted with sumptuous leather and ultra-luxe detailing.
Founded in 1948 by Harold Radford, Radford Motors was known for outfitting luxury cars into pieces of art, combining high performance with only the finest interiors. He debuted his first car, the Bentley “Countryman” in 1951 at the London Motor Show. Radford was known for his conversions of luxury vehicles, including Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin and, of course, Mini Coopers. He’d update existing cars with fully loaded features like leather upholstery, wool carpets, wooden steering wheels, extra lighting and other custom features requested by the buyers. The ‘Radford treatment’ elevated existing cars, combining luxury touches with the best performance money could buy.
“As the world transitioned from coaches to horse drawn carriages to cars, all the skills [of the craftsmen] transitioned as well,”Anstead says. “You had all these really cool skilled craftsmen who took their skills and put them into cars. Cars became hugely popular, and of course, there’s always going to be a customer who wants something unique. Coachbuilders would take the design elements of the car and partner it with the engineering element.”
The boutique luxury coachbuilder shuttered in 1966, but now, Radford Motors is being revived, with the help of Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button, in an effort to appeal to today’s A-list clientele. The other men behind the revival of the brand are car designer Mark Stubbs, businessman Roger Behle and car builder Ant Anstead.
Why now? According to Anstead, it all comes down to timing.
“In 2021, everything tends to go full circle,” he says. “Heritage is back now, with most major manufacturers relaunching their old cars. Bentley is making Blowers; Jaguar is making C-Types and XKSSs, and Aston Martin is making DB5s. Heritage is relevant because it’s valuable.”
It was Stubbs, however, who acquired the company trademark several years ago and was waiting for the right time and the right people to reinvigorate the iconic brand. It wasn’t until he met Anstead, Behle and Button that it all came together.
“We were three Brits who happened to be in America at the same time when heritage and shared values are back and Button’s racing career is slowing down,” Anstead says. “There was a lightbulb moment.”
The return of Radford Motors isn’t repeating history by creating simple, custom cars; the four men are partnering with Lotus, a British manufacturer and creator of some of the world’s purest drivers’ cars, to create high-performance sports cars using Lotus technologies. Radford also has multiple deals with many mainstream manufacturers to transform existing models into limited-edition classics.
“The cars will have the Radford badge and the Lotus badge on them, because we are using Lotus technology,” says Stubbs. Behle adds that it’s a true Radford that has been blessed by Lotus.
The first launch will see production numbers in the tens, while the second plans to produce cars in the low 100s. Each Radford car will be totally unique and the limited-edition sports cars will be owned by only a handful of people in the world.
The foursome also plans to launch a TV component in addition to the cars, so fans will get a behind-the-scenes look into how these intricate and detailed cars are made. The show will follow a team of people who build these Radford cars before they go to market, but Anstead also says it’s the story of a modern-day startup.
“It’s a story about people genuinely taking a huge amount of risk,” Anstead says. “This isn’t just a car show about some guys building a car. This is a culture. The car is just one of the storylines.”