The early seventies music scene was littered with swaggering glam rock acts, many of which packed more attitude than musical talent. Flamboyantly leading the charge were dozens of British bands, including The Bay City Rollers, Slade, The Sweet, as well as the ‘Boppin Elf’ himself, better known to his legions of loyal followers as Marc Bolan.

Born Mark Feld, the Jewish boy from East London shot to fame in Jan 1971 when his rebranded electro-pop four-piece, T.Rex. had their first major UK chart hit. Despite being pipped to the top spot by Dad’s Army actor Clive Dunn’s novelty record Grandad, the No.2 smash Ride a White Swan is now widely regarded as the power pop anthem that heralded the dawn of the glam rock era, propelling its spiritual leader, Marc Bolan, into the limelight.

By 1973, Bolan, T.Rex’s songwriter and frontman, was at the height of his powers. After recording two multimillion-selling albums, Electric Warrior (1971) and The Slider (1972), T. Rex went on to record eleven UK chart hits and had a fanatical teenage fanbase comparable only to The Beatles a decade earlier. With a personal fortune rumoured to be close to £50 million, Bolan lived the high life and had a lively interest in sex, booze and recreational pharmaceuticals. As well as an impressive car collection, he bought houses in London, Herefordshire, and a tax haven in Monaco, as well as wardrobefuls of outlandish outfits and platform shoes that gave his diminutive 5’4” frame such incredible stage presence.

Bolan famously sang that he owned a Rolls Royce ‘cause it was good for his voice. But he also owned, at one time or another, a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona, a Bristol-powered AC Aceca and, of course, that infamous 1275GT. The Mini was certainly the most modest run-around in Bolan’s fleet. Nevertheless, painted in black tulip ‘purple’ with yellow side stripes and ochre interior, FOX 661L was about as glam rock as you could get on the British Leyland options list.

 

By September 1977, Marc Bolan’s beloved Mini was almost five years old, with flecks of rust breaking out on its Rostyle wheels. Nevertheless, by all accounts, it was cherished and well maintained; just days earlier the car had been serviced at a local garage, its wheels balanced and a tyre replaced, ready to be used by Bolan’s girlfriend, Gloria Jones, who had just returned from recording an album in California.

Bolan had intended to take Jones out and celebrate in style, chauffeur driven in his white 1960s Rolls Royce (which was actually a ‘facelifted’ Bentley). But, at the last hour, that car had been loaned out by T.Rex’s record label to the bandmembers of Hawkwind for the night.  So, in the early hours of Friday 16th September 1977, after partying at Morton’s restaurant in London’s Berkeley Square, the couple jumped into the 1275GT for the seven-mile drive back to their house in Upper Richmond Road West, East Sheen.

The night was still and chilly, but the roads were dry and moonlit with only light patches of fog sitting in the dips. It was a familiar route too. Yet, just before five o’clock, after cresting a humpback bridge at Barnes Common, Gloria Jones suddenly lost control of the Mini on a sweeping left-hand bend, taking out a chain link fence and a steel-reinforced post, before careering into a sycamore tree on the opposite side of the road. They were less than a mile from their home.

First on the scene was Jones’s brother Richard and Vicky Aram, a singer friend of the couple, who had been following in a separate car some distance behind. As they came over the bridge Aram recalled seeing the crashed purple Mini, which looked like a “little beetle” in the moonlight, smoking but still on its wheels. Jones was alive but badly injured. However, Bolan was clearly dead, thrown from the vehicle and suffering fatal head injuries from an eyebolt that had protruded from the fencepost. His seat had been ripped off its mountings, rotated 180 degrees and pushed into the rear of the car. The passenger compartment had also been crushed. The engine parts and tranny tube were reportedly found scattered around the footwell. Neither had been wearing seatbelts.

While most assumed that Jones had been drunk at the wheel, witnesses stepped up to refute this. And so attention was turned to the Mini itself, which had only recently returned from being serviced. When police investigators examined the wreckage, they found the pressure of the offside front tyre was only 16PSI, almost half what it should have been, and that two front wheel nuts were barely finger-tight. Whether these factors were the reason that the Mini failed to make the fateful turn, or were after-effects of the crash and its subsequent recovery, still remains a mystery.

Marc Bolan died just two weeks short of his thirtieth birthday. He had never learned to drive his 1275GT, or any other vehicles in his large and eclectic collection, because of a long-held premonition that he would die before his time in a car accident, just like his Hollywood idol James Dean. Even more disturbingly, Bolan’s manager had once joked, that like Dean, he too “might end up dying in a Porsche.” To which Bolan had replied, “Oh, I’m just tiny, I’d like to die in a Mini.”

One final twist to this sorry tale occurred in May 2016 when three battered Rostyle wheels and tyres appeared on an online auction site. Also included was a crumpled letter, dated March 1988, claiming that the wheels, along with a brake servo and master cylinder, had been removed from Marc Bolan’s 1275GT. If that wasn’t distasteful enough, the letter from an engineering firm in Birmingham to a solicitor’s office in London also suggested that the car parts should be made into “tiny metal crosses” that would sell for “a bomb”.

 

Within hours of the 2016 auction going live, the listing was pulled after an angry online backlash from upset Bolan fans. Whether it really was a macabre trophy looted from the wreckage of the pop star’s 1275GT or an elaborate fake, no one really knows. The Mini scene is certainly no stranger to inventive forgers. But in this case, at least, it seems that you still won’t fool the “children of the revolution.”

 

About The Author

Darryl can usually be found up to his elbows in some unloved piece of BL detritus when he isn’t snapping and scribbling for various print magazines or producing the book on road tripping or tally-ho adventurers. As an occasional presenter on CBS's Carfection YouTube channel, his other hobbies include vintage Scalextrics, ‘60s Bang & Olufsen and dabbling in grassroots motorsport.

One Response

  1. Crystal Dabney

    Marc Bolan, the ‘Boppin Elf,’ took us on a glam rock journey with “Ride a White Swan.” By ’73, he’s on top, living the rockstar dream. But it’s not all glitz; Bolan’s life is a rollercoaster of highs and lows, and his story ends with a touch of heartbreak.

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