It’s no secret that the Beatles loved cars. Among their many automobiles, John Lennon owned a 1965 Rolls-Royce, Ringo Starr a 1964 Facel Vega II and Paul McCartney a 1967 Lamborghini 400GT 2+2.
George Harrison, considered the “quiet Beatle,” was actually the biggest gear head of them all. He enjoyed fast cars and was an avid Formula 1 racing fan. And although Lennon’s psychedelically painted Rolls-Royce Phantom V is perhaps the best-known Beatles automobile, Harrison’s similarly decorated 1966 Mini Cooper S isn’t far behind. In fact, the little car played a starring role in the Fab Four’s 1967 movie “Magical Mystery Tour,” and it is so well known that Mini created a Harrison-inspired 2009 Special Edition to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2009. The car was auctioned to benefit the Material World Charitable Foundation, an organization that Harrison founded in 1973.
At the time, Harrison’s widow, Olivia, said of the one-off, “George was a huge Mini fan and he would have enjoyed this new version.” It’s likely, however, that nothing could have beaten the original.
Harrison’s Mini was one of four that London-based Harold Radford Coachbuilders created for each member of the Beatles. Harrison’s car – officially called a Radford Mini De Ville GT – was originally painted metallic black, and styling features included a full-length sunroof, horizontally mounted Volkswagen taillights and hood-mounted rally fog lamps. The Mini’s transformation continued when Harrison commissioned Dutch artists Simon Posthuma and Marijke Koger – known collectively as “The Fool” – to paint it bright red and add mystical signs taken from the book, “Tantra Art: Its Philosophy and Physics,” in 1967.
The car expressed Harrison’s holistic approach to the universe and perhaps a bit of his lighter side, as well.
“People have had a concept of me being really straight ’cause I was the serious one or something,” Harrison once said. “I mean, I’m the biggest lunatic around. I’m completely comical, you know? I like craziness. I had to in order to be in the Beatles.”
Shortly after production wrapped for “Magical Mystery Tour,” Harrison gave the head-turning Mini – with reg plates LGF 5960 – to close friend and fellow musician Eric Clapton. Clapton returned it to Harrison in the 1970s, but not before it was completely repainted. Since no one took detailed photos of the car wearing its original “Tanta Art,” the task of recreating the theme was eventually completed using old photos and images from the film. Although some specifics were lost, the Mini still retained its charm.
After Harrison died in 2001, Olivia Harrison agreed to show the car in the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show as part of a “George Harrison Garden” exhibit. It also appeared at the 2009 Goodwood Festival of Speed, and BMW featured Olivia and the Mini in a 2009 ad. Research failed to turn up any documented sightings of the car in recent years.
Appropriately enough, however, it is still possible to see the car in miniature form. Both Corgi and Spark immortalized Harrison’s Mini Cooper as a die cast collectible.