Mini – classic : Radford conversions

In the 1960s Radford caught the Mini wave in a big way…

It is generally acknowledged that the trend for luxuriously-specified Minis was started by the actor Peter Sellers, when he asked dealership HR Owen to convert his new Mini Cooper into something a little more opulent and exclusive. HR Owen commissioned Hooper (Motor Services) Limited – the spares and servicing arm of the former coachbuilding firm – to undertake the work. The bill for the resulting car, completed early in 1963, came to £2600 (as against £679 for a standard Cooper at the time), and was accounted for by such luxuries as uprated leather seating, electric windows with separate front quarter-lights, a full-length sunroof, a better heater system and front wings modified to accept Bentley headlamps.

The car’s crowning feature, though, was its hand-stenciled wicker-work effect body decoration. As word of Sellers’ car spread, a healthy demand for similarly-specified cars began to build up, but it seems that Hooper was not interested in repeating the exercise at this stage (although they went on to upgrade several other Minis for a number of their existing customers, including The Beatles’ Manager, Brian Epstein).

Mini de Ville

However, Harold Radford saw an opportunity to take his company’s business in a new direction: in April 1963 the company announced a range of three off-the-shelf conversions – devised by Graham J Arnold, better known as the Sales Director of Lotus Cars – under the name “Mini de Ville”, which aimed to capture the spirit of the Sellers car while being considerably more affordable.

The “de Luxe” and “Bel Air” versions were offered as upgrade packages which could applied to any Mini saloon of the customer’s choice, at an ex-works cost of just over £87 for the former or £223 for the latter. The following table shows what customers got for their money:

Mini De Ville package features de Luxe Bel Air
Remodelled front seats mounted on extended runners
Door-mounted armrests
Combined glovebox and central armrests
Ashtrays mounted in both doors
Wind-down window for driver’s door
Grab handle mounted on passenger cant-rail
Radio with roof-mounted aerial
Headlamp cowlings (as per Riley One-Point-Five)
Wing mirrors
Webasto folding sunroof
Basket-work effect on sidepanels, doors and quarters

Sitting at the top of the De Ville line-up was the Cooper-based “Grande Luxe”, which retailed for £1088 including the cost of the base car. This was an altogether more lavish affair, with a lengthy list of modifications which, when compared to the cost of the garish Bel Air package, must have seemed something of a bargain:

Mini De Ville Grande Luxe
Car completely retrimmed to customer’s choice of colour
Remodelled front seats mounted on extended runners
Electric windows with opening quarterlights on both doors
Laminated steering wheel
Walnut-finished fascia panel incorporating illuminated glove box
Full instrumentation package
Enhanced switchgear
Radio with front and rear speakers and roof-mounted aerial
Passenger reading light
Wooden door fillets
Chrome-plated gear lever
Night caution lights mounted on both doors
Lambswool carpets front and rear, including door kicking-panels
Rear window demister
Padded sun visors
Grab handle mounted on passenger cant-rail
Headlamp cowlings (as per Riley One-Point-Five)
New grille with recessed spot lights
Badge bar
Extra parking lights
Reversing light recessed into rear bumper
Chrome exhaust extension
Webasto sunroof
Car completely resprayed to customer’s choice of colour
Twin air horns
“Silent travel” sound insulation

Customers could also opt for engine tuning. Radford initially offered Speedwell upgrades, but later formed associations with Alexander, Downton and Taurus.

However, the conversion work was not without its problems. Reviewers reported, for instance, that the deep-pile carpeting interfered with the travel of the pedals, that the chrome-spoked steering wheel caused distracting reflections and that car’s extra weight blunted its performance. Radford sought to address these and other criticisms with the revised de Ville GT in 1965.

The exceptionally well-stocked (not to say confusing) instrument panel of the Radford Mini produced for Monkee Mike Nesmith. This design later found its way into some of the MkIII de Villes (see below).The exceptionally well-stocked (not to say confusing) instrument panel of the Radford Mini produced for Monkee Mike Nesmith. This design later found its way into some of the MkIII de Villes (see below).
The exceptionally well-stocked (not to say confusing) instrument panel of the Radford Mini produced for Monkee Mike Nesmith. This design later found its way into some of the MkIII de Villes (see below)

Mini de Ville GT

In October 1965 Radford replaced the original three-car line-up with the de Ville GT, featuring a new dashboard design along with a variety of detail improvements… and a new marketing approach. Radford had found that, despite the very comprehensive specification of the previous Grande Luxe model, many customers for this type of car would inevitably require yet further enhancements, so for the GT they adopted a menu-type options list, allowing buyers to pick from a wide range of individually-priced modifications.

Perhaps the most significant new development for the GT was the availability of a hatchback conversion, complete with folding rear seat. Radford was, of course, a past master of this type of conversion, but the company was not the first to apply the idea to a Mini – that honour goes to BMC itself. Longbridge-based Engineer Dick Gallimore had added a full-depth tailgate to a Mini Cooper owned by Transport Minister Ernest Maples the year before. However, Mike Elwell of the Radford Mini de Ville Register points out that a number of Hooper-converted hatchback Minis – and another by Radford – have come to light that are older than both the de Ville GT and the Marples Mini, although it is not clear as to whether these cars had their tailgates added at a later date.

Whichever conversion came first, one thing is certain: with the introduction of the de Ville GT, a hatchback could now be specified by anyone with around £350 to spend on their car. One such customer was none other than Peter Sellers, who purchased a hatchback GT as a birthday present for his then-partner Britt Ekland (or did she buy it for his birthday? Depends which version of events you read…). Either way, the launch of the car (as seen here) was carefully stage-managed for posterity, with Sellers driving it out of a mocked-up birthday cake in Radford’s West London showroom while Ekland looked on in admiration.

Radford continued to develop its product over the next couple of years, introducing further improvements to the seating, and the popular option of tinted glass for the side and rear windows. Engine tuning was also offered to help offset the extra weight of the added equipment.

Mini de Ville MkIII

The MkIII version was introduced in time for 1967 London Motor Show, and was now based on the 1275cc Cooper S which retailed at around £850. By this time, the typical cost of a completed car had risen to around £2500, much the same as Sellers had paid Hoopers for his bespoke Mini some five years previously. In an article dating from November 1967, The Times newspaper listed some of the 63 options now offered by Radford, as follows:

Item Cost
Special paintwork £120
Opening tailgate and folding rear seat-back £360
Sliding sunroof £60
Magnesium alloy wheels £45
Electric windows, opening front quarterlights and retrimmed door panels £185
Reclining front seats with headrests – in PVC £183
Reclining front seats with headrests – in leather £230
Wood-veneer fascia £178
Centre console with window switches and cigar lighter £40
Twin-speaker radio £50
Heated rear window £35
Deep-pile carpeting £55
Map reading light £7

The Times reported that the Taurus-tuned engine coped well with the car’s extra weight, and that the claimed top speed was a very respectable 110mph. Radford had also redesigned the hatchback conversion for the MkIII to provide a wider opening and greater structural rigidity, at the expense of a little depth, meaning that the tailgate no longer extended down quite as far as the rear bumper.

A late De Ville MkIII hatchback conversion, showing the revised tailgate shape which was shoter but slightly wider than that available on the previous GT model.
A late De Ville MkIII hatchback conversion, showing the revised tailgate shape which was shorter but slightly wider than that available on the previous GT model

In 1970, Radford started fitting the vertically-stacked headlights from the glamorous Facel Vega Facel III Coupé, which dramatically altered the frontal appearance of the car. By this time, though, Radford was also facing increased competition from Wood and Pickett, and very few new orders were being taken. The last Mini conversions were carried out in 1971, although the company somehow managed to survive until 1975 when it was finally wound up.

The revival

In 1989, Chris Humberstone revived the Harold Radford name, setting up business in a showroom just off London’s famous Baker Street. However, although Humberstone had the blessing of Harold Radford, this was little more than a sales operation, as the conversion work was all carried out by third-party contractors using after-market accessories. Two models were offered, the Mini de Ville and Mini de Ville S, both of which featured a variety of the kind of refinements for which the car had become famous, along with some more up-to-date options such as electric door mirrors, power steering and CD stereo systems.

Hatchback conversions were no longer really on the agenda, although some measure of extra versatility was offered by a folding rear seat option, giving access to the boot area from within the car. Having said that, the new company claimed that it would attempt to come up with a means of providing anything their customers wanted, including de-seaming, engine/gearbox conversions, air conditioning and even long-wheelbase conversions, though it is not known how many such requests were fulfilled.

Many of Humberstone’s models found their way to Japan, where demand for original Radford Minis far outstripped the meagre availability. This operation continued until 1996, by which time Humberstone was becoming increasingly involved in the Australian motorsport industry, but his business partner continued the business as Radford Cars, meaning that it was still possible to order a Radford Mini – in name, at least – into the new Millennium.

The re-born Mini de Ville attracts attention during a photo-shoot in London's Trafalgar Square.
The re-born Mini de Ville attracts attention during a photo-shoot in London’s Trafalgar Square

Another de Ville…

…and nothing to do with Radford. In 1982, Lancashire-based Austin Rover dealer W & H Williams came up with this special edition Metro de Ville, which offered a three-quarteer vinyl roof, body-colour grille and headlamp cowls, a radio, whitewall tyres, chrome wheel trims and “customised coachwork” (including a broad side stripe hand-lettered de Ville nameplate) for £240 on top of the cost of the base car. Williams’ Sales Manager explained at the time: “We decided to aim at the elegance of the top cars of the Thirties and we think we have achieved it.” Erm, no comment. Interestingly, though, the company managed to persuade the local vehicle licencing office to include the de Ville name on the cars’ V5 registration documents. I wonder if any have survived…

Thanks to Mike Elwell for his many valuable clarifications, and to Graham Carl Arnold for some of the source material used for this page.

Keith Adams
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  1. for a while i was a trainey auto electrian at harold radfords, i started when they were in kings street hammersmith, and moved to old oak common lane wilsden.
    if i can answer any questions i will. andrew sparsis

  2. hi i am restoring a 1965 radford hatchback 1275 cooper,s i bought the car last year with no history. All i knowis that come from Jersey the car was originaly grey and white.the car was painted midnight blue and has an electric sunroof,i have been told this car was at the 1966 motor show. The orignal owner,s name is John Oscar Everard Hood he lived in St Helier the number plate was J817. Any information would be great cheers Brian.

  3. As someone who was taken to school in my mums Radford in the 1960’s (her Radford was a “C” reg), I find Mike Nesmith’s dashboard sadly over done & would recommend you find a photo of the “standard” De Ville dashboard which shows the refined beauty of the original Radford design.

  4. Hi,I worked at Radford’s in King Street as an apprentice body fitter,I remember the day Peter Seller’s and Britt Eklund came in clearly,also I believed that he was given the car for opening the new showroom, but maybe that is my young mans recollection, I also remember the Beatles particularly the car for Ringo,also remember the Mike Nesmith dashboard which I think had some way of opening his garage door.I remember working at the motor show (around 65) when there was a mini,Alfa Romeo and an Aston Martin.

    • A question for Derek please.
      I’m rebuilding my 1963 Radford mini. I’ve totally stripped it and found that it was sprayed a pale blue metallic colour inside as well as out. From the log book (copy from DVLA) I can only see Seychelles blue / _______ (can’t read) metallic blue. The bodywork definitely shows the 2 colours (the darker -Seychelles-one was on the top half, paler below).
      I’ve been told Radford didn’t spray inside the car, but it has the paler colour on most of the inside panels.
      Were some early cars sprayed inside?

      • Hi Paul,
        I have 4 Radfords and none of them were painted inside. They didn’t even take the door handles, light etc off to paint the cars. But one of the cars owners got the inside of the boot and engine bay painted. So it’s possible one of the owners got it painted inside or requested Radfords to paint it inside. I have Radfords Original paint cards/colour codes if you need the colour codes to paint your car. My email

  5. I would like to contact Derek Haynes, I bought a Radford last year that was called “The Epstein Mini. Iam very interested in obtaining more information and details of the work carried out by Radford.
    I bought the car from Bonhams last year in June and have all the documentation but not much history.
    I know the car belonged to Peter Harrison but would like to know more.
    I will be restoring the car next year but at moment i just like looking at it and would like to know more about the work done in 1965 by Radford.
    It is a GT conversion.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    David Jones

  6. I did read somewhere that Ringo Starr’s Mini was designed to hold his drum kit, so I’m guessing it had a rear hatch & either no or folding rear seats.

  7. I have 3 radfords a 1965 1275 a 1967 Hatchback and a 1963 radford riley elf. Any of you guys remember the Riley Elf? We have a great Radford group on Facebook all you guys should join.

  8. I had a Radford 1275S back in 73 bought second hand reg WNY9. Later in life I bought a Tickford Metro No 17. Any news of these vehicles could make an old man very happy !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hi Alasdair,
      Do you remember any more about your old Radford. Colour, Interior, year etc. it still might be in the Radford group under a different reg.

  9. My father had a friend who imported a Radford Mini Cooper in the 60,s.
    His name was Maxwell-Stewart and lived in Kelburn, Wellington.
    Im just interested to know if it is still in existence.
    sorry rego unknown.

  10. 3 of the Beatles had Radford Minis (the other a Hooper one). Paul’s one was last sold in 2018, Ringo’s was bought by Spice Girl Geri Haliwell in 2017, some nice photos of both here, including the hatchback on Ringo’s!

    The article suggests George’s widow has his, while John’s whereabouts is unknown.

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