The BMC Mini is a small car that accomplished big things, and today it’s as synonymous with Britain as tea time, gray skies, and bad beaches. Its transverse engine, front-drive configuration influenced economy cars for generations, while Minis were built by other manufacturers under license worldwide.
The humble little city car also won in competition, from touring car championships to the Monte Carlo Rally. The aftermarket had a field day with Minis as well, with some shops turning them into proper, lavishly equipped luxury cars. One such Mini is up for auction this month.
The Mini’s competition exploits came about thanks to John Cooper, who used his Formula One-winning talents to turn the Mini into a performance car. Meanwhile, coachbuilder Harold Radford in London had something entirely different in mind for the Mini. Radford’s conversions imparted some extra class and personality with much nicer interiors, sunroofs, and other custom touches. Radford was otherwise known for conversions on Rolls-Royce/Bentleys and Aston Martins, so it’s no wonder that his bespoke Minis were fully loaded with features like leather upholstery and Wilton wool carpets, extra gauges, wood-rim steering wheels, walnut trim, extra lighting, and just about anything else the buyer might want.
By the mid-1960s, Minis were fashionable and Britain’s rich and famous flocked to Radford’s more richly-appointed versions. Suddenly, a car designed for the masses had become a car for the jet set. Peter Sellers had two of them with hand-painted wickerwork on the side, and all four Beatles had one. So did American actors Steve McQueen and James Garner.
Radford sold the car as the Mini de Ville, and it could cost as much as a new Rolls-Royce in the 1960s to give your Mini the Radford treatment. But it wasn’t just posh Londoners and Hollywood actors who bought them, as Bonhams’ 2018 Padua auction will feature a Radford Mini ordered new by an American living in Italy. A sporty top-spec Cooper 1275S to begin with, the Mini went to Radford and received a Webasto sunroof, full wood dashboard, wood door trim, and a full array of Smiths gauges in addition to the leather seats and upgraded carpets. Other neat touches include the curved wooden door handles that look more like something you’d turn to get into Bilbo Baggins’ house than exit an automobile. It was restored at some point in the last 15 years and reportedly still presents very well.
As for what it’s worth, it’s never very easy to put a price on coachbuilt cars, but Bonhams’ presale estimate of €25,000–€35,000 ($29,000–$40,000) seems modest. As a 1275 Cooper S, the car is pretty collectible even without the Radford connection, and Hagerty Price Guide values for a stock example currently range from $18,400–$57,300. Again, the estimate seems modest, but the gentleman who ordered this car didn’t get as carried away with the bespoke features as other Radford owners, and he wasn’t a famous musician or movie star, either.
Most other recent comparable sales for Radford Minis are for celebrity-owned examples, which accounts for most of their value. Paul McCartney’s 1965 Radford sold for $236,500 in Auburn this year, while Bonhams sold Ringo Starr’s 1966 Radford (modified as a hatchback to fit an entire drum kit inside) for £102,300 ($132,975) late last year. Coys in England sold Peter Sellers’ famous Radford Mini for £40,750 ($65,200), but that was way back in 2009.
In an auction overflowing with small cars and big personalities, this bespoke Mini is still a real standout even if it didn’t belong to John Lennon or another one of the Fab Four. If it sells for what Bonhams thinks it will, it also looks to be a pretty solid value given its combination of Cooper S underpinnings and special coachbuilt features.