In 1963, Peter Sellers spent £2600 – the equivalent of £43,500 in today’s money – on a bespoke Mini Cooper. It was the first time a Mini had been given an opulent and luxurious makeover, with Sellers saying to Hooper Motor Services: “Anything you boys can think of you have my full permission to do.”
The result was a Mini with a mahogany dashboard, reclining leather seats, electric windows, wood-spoked steering wheel, transistor radio with twin speakers, deep purple paintwork, front spotlights and hand-painted wicker-effect panels. It even featured redesigned front wings to house a pair of Bentley headlights. It was, if you like, the Aston Martin Cygnet of the 1960s.
Other posh Minis would follow, with Harold Radford the first to capitalise on the growing interest in high-end versions of BMC’s people’s car. The Mini de Ville was announced by Radford in April 1963 and was available in three levels of specification: De Luxe, Bel Air and Grande Luxe.
In an interview with Giles Chapman, Radford boasted that he came up with the idea for the super-luxury Mini Cooper. “I had the idea that there were an awful lot of Rolls-Royce and Bentley owners who wanted a small runabout car different to the normal Mini, so I decided to produce what was essentially a mini-Rolls, that being a Mini that matched a man’s Rolls-Royce in every detail – paint, trim, electric windows, stereo – everything he wanted. This caught on, and we were soon doing four or five a week. It came to be known as the Radford Mini.”
While Radford was undoubtedly the most famous purveyor of posh Minis, this fails to recognise the influence of Hooper motor Services and Sellers. Indeed, Sellers had approached Hooper to produce a second Mini for use in the 1964 film A Shot In The Dark, but the company refused. Hooper’s loss was Radford’s gain.
Nothing was off-limits; if you had the cash, Radford could make a splash. Buyers with deep pockets could choose from every imaginable extra, with the Cooper-based Grande Luxe boasting the likes of Webasto sunroof, full instrumentation, electric windows with opening quarterlights, Marchal parking lights from a Citroën, cowled headlights from a Riley and a two-tone horn.
Naturally, every Radford Mini was finished and retrimmed to the highest standard, before being painted in a colour chosen by the buyer. The mid-range Bel Air featured a wicker-style finish on the side of the car, as showcased by Sellers and co. in A Shot In The Dark. There was even a hatchback conversion.
Other Radford conversions followed, including the Mini de Ville GT, which arrived in October 1965. Highlights included double coachlines, an optional one-piece rear door, optional VW Beetle rear lights and a completely revised dashboard and centre console. Here’s Sellers doing his bit for the Radford PR machine by driving one out of a giant wedding cake for his new wife Britt Ekland. It’s a pity the sides weren’t covered in wicker, man.
Sellers owned three Radford Minis, including the 1964 Cooper S de Ville that’s up for sale with JD Classics. Billed as “the world’s first hot hatch”, thanks to Radford’s hatchback conversion, the car features a long list of options and looks resplendent in its two-tone finish. It’s an ex-Radford demonstrator and press car, so you’re buying into a bit of Radford history.
JD Classics tells Hagerty that the ex-Sellers Mini’s provenance has been verified following a request to the DVLA to confirm ownership details. Given its history, the car comes with a box-file of press cuttings of original reviews and news stories, and has just undergone a recommissioning after being kept by a private car collector, in Geneva.
The company has listed the car as ‘POA’, but as was always the case with Radford Minis, if you have to ask the price…
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