If one wants to know what undoubtedly inspired the ill-fated Aston Martin Cygnet, one has to just mention the words “Radford Mini”. In the sixties and early 70s, these Rolls-Royce-level luxury Mini conversions were the hot thing in swinging London. And if you thought the Cygnet was overpriced, this 1970 Radford DeVille could top out at more than an actual Rolls Royce. And why were they so hot, but not the Cygnet? There’s no accounting for fads.
And here’s the man that started the whole thing: Peter Sellers. In 1963, the very hot actor and car lover had the idea that he wanted a Mini for driving through the crowded streets of London, but with the luxury appointments he had quickly become accustomed to.
So he hired the famous coach works of Hooper to make it for him. Here he is at Hoopers to pick it up. They also presented him the bill, for £2600. As a frame of reference, a standard Mini Cooper S cost £695 at the time.
The Hooper Mini (a replica, actually) soon found its way into the movies, in “A Shot In The Dark”.
At least the soft Connolly hides must have felt good on Sellers and Elke Sommer’s bare backsides.
Hooper had no interest in getting into the luxury-Mini business, but Harold Radford & CO., which had specialized in converting Rolls Royce and Bentleys into the “Countryman”, a combination of town car, shooting brake and tourer, was quite interested, as the Countryman business had run its course.
And so they quickly offered the Mini De Ville in 1963, with many of the same features as Seller’s Hooper Mini, although not the wicker-effect on the sides. Here Sellers is shown driving one of the first ones out of its box, a birthday present for his very attractive new wife, Britt Ekland.
She seems quite smitten with it. As does her audience outside, with her. Look, but don’t touch.
The interior was completely redone, with the very finest materials and every available amenity.
Radford (and Wood & Picket, which soon got into the act too) Minis quickly became the hot item, and many of the hot stars of the time soon had one too. Here’s Paul McCartney and his wife Linda in theirs.
John Lennon had one, to complement his 1965 RR Phantom V, shown here next to George Harrison’s Radford, both sporting their new 1967-vintage paint jobs. And yes, Ringo had one too.
The first one in this line-up (OGO 668E) is Mick Jagger’s Wood & Pickett.
Someone getting measured for their bespoke W&P in 1968.
The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith got into the act too. You were nobody if you didn’t have a Radford or W&P in your long driveway.
The earlier versions kept the Mini’s classic face largely intact.
The 1967 Radford MkIII offered a hatchback, a feature the Mini could really have used.
And by 1970, Radford started fitting these expensive headlight units from the Facel III coupe.
Wood & Picket countered by adapting these Mercedes headlight units.
The boom petered out in about 1969 or so, and Radford called it quits in 1971. But W&P, whose Mini was called “Margrave”, carried on, including this Clubman conversion with Vauxhall-sourced pieces on its nose.
The 1973 energy crises gave W&P a bit of a temporary boost, but the image of these increasingly overwrought mini-Rollers was not the same anymore as it had been in their heyday in the swinging 60s. The whole point in the first place was to have a luxurious small city car that was largely anonymous on the outside.
Nevertheless, W&P continued to offer a wide range of customizing components and accessories for Minis, including the popular Margrave dashboard. It increasingly became more of a DIY affair rather than expensive bespoke coachwork. The stars had moved on to other hot new toys of the moment.