An iconic name from the 1960s has made a return: Radford MINI.
KEITH ADAMS takes the top of the range version for a quick spin and comes away impressed, but wonders whether £34,000 is a little too much to spend on a MINI…
Back to the future…
JUST about everyone loves the MINI – and it has been an enduring love affair since all manner of celebrities got hold of it during the Sixties, and turned it into one of their own. Stars such as George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland, turned to Coachbuilders such as Radford and Wood & Pickett to produce bespoke versions, and then they made sure they were seen driving them everywhere…
Once the glitterati made Radford Minis cool, everyone wanted one – and a legend was born.
Fast-forward 35 years, and history repeated itself. The next generation MINI has been a phenomenon – a talented Anglo-German engineering team reinvented one of the most iconic cars of the 20th century, and made it one of the hottest retail propositions on the market. Unlike the original car, which needed a little help for its legend to spread, the new MINI has been an instant out-of-the-box hit from day one.
Although it’s ultra-modern, there’s enough retro appeal to keep Mini traditionalists happy – you can specify a Union Flag roof, and buy it in Cooper S form, just like the original. One notable absence from the new model line-up, however, has been a really posh version; with BMW choosing to take the sporting option, rather than offering maximised versions catering for affluent city dwellers.
In late-2005, the Radford name made a welcome return to plug the gap. It may be under new management, but the faces behind the company are all well seasoned in the coachbuilding industry, and all claim to know what their customers want. The message for them is loud and clear – buyers want a next generation Radford MINI.
Currently, there are four Radford MINIs on offer, ranging from MINI-One plus-a-bit ‘Bel Air’, through the Cooper-based ‘De Villes’ to the full-fat money-no-object ‘MINI Miglia’ version. Of the most interest to us is the snorty MINI Miglia, because it packs 265bhp, uprated wheels, tyres and suspension settings, and it promises to be an interesting drive compared with the already talented Cooper S.
There remains one vexed question: is a MINI really worth over £30,000?
To look at, you might struggle justifying the expense – yes, the black paint job looks a million dollars contrasting the additional chrome trim beautifully, and the body kit is subtle, but aggressive. Hunkered down on lowered suspension split-rim 18-inch alloys, it looks tough and ready for a street fighting, without actually drawing unwanted attention from other drivers. Inside, it’s pretty special too – and although there are no hardware changes over the standard car, an extensive re-trim in Alcantara lifts the already stylish cabin considerably.
We’d pass on the colour, though, but as Radford build these to customer specification, that’s hardly a problem really.
Performance and Economy
On the road, it’s pretty special. That is down to the legendary tuners, Minispeed, which has taken this MINI to ‘Stage four’ – meaning it has received a gas-flowed cylinder head and big valves, ECU re-map and a sports exhaust.
As expected, performance is not found wanting, and although Radford has not issued performance figures for its 265bhp version, it feels like the 0-60 mph dash is dispatched in around six seconds. Relying on our ‘bum-dynamo’, we’d also say 100 comes up in about 15 seconds, and judging from experience of previous tuned MINI Coopers, it’ll top out at around 150mph. So, it is going to take something seriously quick to outpace this little car.
Like most supercharged cars, outright sprinting ability is not the major story here – with strong in-gear acceleration from low revs leading to huge reserves of overtaking power. You’ll not find it necessary to hang on to your gears for very long, because holding it out to 5000rpm in any gear will result in a serious rate of acceleration.
Wind up the Radford, and there is an amusing supercharger whine to enjoy. Whining and MINIs… now there is a link between old and new!
A comparative breathlessness at the top end may disappoint those who enjoy a revvy engine, such as the K-Series, but it shouldn’t because it’ll be travelling a lot faster than you think at any given time.
Throttle response is sharp, but easily regulated – so you’ll rarely find the front end of the MINI scrabbling for grip unless you really abuse it.
Handling and Ride
Despite the ultra-low profile rubber, and stiffened, lowered Spax suspension, the handling balance of the original car shines through. Long sweeping bends are shrugged off, with the driver steering by telepathy – however, take it through slower, tighter bends, and the grip is phenomenal, with a limited slip differential doing everything ensure power is laid down cleanly when exiting slow bends aggressively.
The result is a point and squirt experience par excellence.
Yes, torque steer is evident, but not enough to get worried about – considering the power output available, this is quite an achievement. Putting it into austin-rover.co.uk context, an MG Montego or Rover Tomcat Turbo suffers far more, and with considerably less power.
Firm springing should lead to a jarring ride, but damping is subtle enough to control the situation – and although you’ll never feel like you’re wafting, it comes as a pleasant surprise to walk away from a drive in the Radford without the need to book an appointment with the chiropractor. However hard you push, it remains within limits – and on the road, if you do manage to get the tail to poke out playfully, you’re trying far too hard.
In the end, it’s more driver focused than the standard car, but not quite as much as we expected…
At the wheel
Behind the wheel, it is hard not to be impressed by the Radford MINI. Much effort has been put into the interior trimming in order to lift it from the standard above the standard fare – but as we love the standard MINI’s interior, you can see why we like it so much.
Designed by the same team that delivered us the Rover 75’s interior, there’s a real homely feeling for anyone new to the car, but well-used to the Longbridge car. Radford touches about in the interior – there are lashings of chrome, and where you’d find plastic in a standard Cooper S, you get the wonderfully tactile (and sadly underused in the industry) material, Alcantara.
Okay, the colour choice is questionable, but we like it.
Radford has confirmed it can offer alternative colours and materials for those who aren’t turned on by it. We like the sound of the machined aluminium…
Beyond that, the interior features a trio of auxillary gauges in the centre console, which might offer useful extra information, but you’ll be hard pushed to read them – especially if you put your foot down. As with all MINIs, the driving position is first rate, visibility exceptionally good (the A-posts are wonderfully slim for a modern car), and ergonomics more than acceptable.
There’s no doubt that the Radford MINI is a belting drive, and it looks fantastic in a way no other small car manages. However, in no sense of the word will this be a rational purchase – Radford is coy about publishing pricing details because of the bespoke nature of each car it builds, but a conversion like this will set you back over £10,000. Radford says it will convert customers’ existing cars or can supply the new or used donor car – so it is entirely possible to pick up a Radford based on an early MINI One for just under £20,000. More realistically, you’re going to want to go full fat – using a fully-specced MINI Cooper S ‘Works’ as a starting point, and going for the MINI Miglia, it is quite easy to rack the cost up to over £35,000…
When one looks at what else is available at this price point, it is almost impossible to recommend the Radford MINI – we’d be tempted to pick up all the performance and handling modifications elsewhere and forgo the cosmetic improvements. Despite that, we can’t help but love it.
It might not be for us, but we can understand anyone with plenty of money to spare for falling for its charms…
|Scores out of ten|
Thanks to Marc Eden of Radford Coachbuilders (London) Limited for the use of the car…