As soon as the Mini broke cover in 1959, dozens of enterprising tuning and coachbuilding companies swang into action to satisfy the whims and desires of the most discerning customers. Those that wanted to improve the car’s performance popped their Mini into the workshops of Downtown, Broadspeed or Speedwell for motorsport-proven upgrades. But if you were a wealthy new owners, who loved their little Mini’s spunky spirit, but missed their ‘big cars’ creature comforts, there were plenty of other businesses that could address those luxury options needs.

In the 1960s the go-to coachbuilder for up-market customisation was Harold Radford. His business in South Kensington had earned its reputation in the 1950s, building bespoke ‘shooting brake’ bodywork for the landed gentry’s Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Aston Martins. But when the Mini became the must-have accessory of the Swinging Sixties, Radford turned his attention to the revolutionary new runabout.

At the top of Radford’s 1963 model range was the Mini de Ville Grande Luxe which included a custom walnut dashboard, a Webasto sunroof, lambswool carpets, Connolly leather upholstery, additional soundproofing and a cockpit littered with Smiths auxiliary gauges. Electric windows were also fitted, using Rolls Royce motors, with switches on the new centre armrests. Externally, Riley 1.5 headlamp rings, Aston Martin taillights, and a Benelite grill with integrated Lucas fog lights distinguished a Radford Mini from your average Cooper S. Still, the options didn’t end there: in 1964 Donald Campbell even specified a record player for his wife’s Radford Mini, painted metallic blue to match Bluebird Mach 1.1, his land speed record car.

Football legend George Best owned a Radford Mini, as did the actor Peter Sellers who bought a high-performance de Ville GT for his then-girlfriend, Britt Ekland. But the heyday for Radford came in the winter of 1966 when Beatles manager Brian Epstein bought a quartet of Radford Minis as a thank you present to the Fab Four for making him rich, including a hatchback de Ville GT for Ringo to transport his drum kit in.

If customers didn’t go crazy with the options list or outlandish bespoke requests, the typical Radford de Ville came in at around £2,500, roughly three times the sticker price of a standard 1275cc Cooper S. But despite the celebrity endorsements by the early 1970s Radford’s interest in customising Minis petered out in the face of increasing competition from its rivals at Wood & Pickett.

Wood & Pickett weren’t exactly the new kids on the block: Bill Wood and Les Pickett had left their jobs at London’s premier coachbuilders Hooper & Co in 1947 and worked on a variety of luxury vehicles from their Abbey Road workshops in Park Royal, London. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Wood & Pickett Ltd became better known when they too decided to cash in on the booming market for bespoke luxury Minis.  Inspired by Radford’s Mini de Ville, W&P developed its own upmarket Mini called the Margrave, usually distinguishable from the run-of-the-mill Coopers by its distinctive walnut fascia and chrome nudge bars, fitted front and rear. Customers were then invited to customise their cars from a long list of options that included eight-track tape players, faux Landau vinyl roofs, Rolls Royce door pulls, buttoned Draylon upholstery and a 2” thick Wilton carpet.

Famous Mini Margrave owners included Mick Jagger (whose grey silver MkII appears briefly in the 1970 Gimme Shelter documentary) and the actor Omar Sharif who, at enormous expense, had his 1970 MkIII Cooper S Margrave fully de-seamed and fitted with a 1380cc engine and large lozenge-shaped Mercedes-Benz headlamps. By the time the 1275GT arrived in 1971 Wood & Pickett were firmly established as the country’s foremost luxury Mini specialist. As well as the nudge bars, one of the more popular W&P signature touches was the quad-lamp conversion to the clubman front using a modified Vauxhall VX 4/90 grille.

Elton John already owned an early glacier white 1275GT (FJJ 484J) when, sometime in 1974 he commissioned NOB 209M, a metallic light blue Margrave Mini, to join the Rocketman’s burgeoning fleet of Ferrari, Jaguar and Rolls Royce. But compared to his on-stage persona, this Wood & Picket creation was pretty tame, featuring a de-seamed bodyshell, quad grille conversion, wider arches and Minilite wheels.

The Mini 1275GT remained the focus of Wood & Pickett’s output throughout the 1970s, but by the 1980s the company had shifted its attention towards modified Range Rovers and the lucrative Middle Eastern market. By 1983, this included the gadget-laden Harrods Edition Range Rover, complete with Betamax VCR, computer keypad security lock and a folding 48cc motorcycle stashed in the boot. When it came to customer satisfaction, the word ‘no’ wasn’t in Wood and Pickett’s lexicon, and it’s fair to say that some of their creations in the mid-1970s tiptoed the line between taste and vulgarity. An accusation that Elton John, during his Glam Rock phase, was certainly no stranger to.


So, is everything ’70s cool again? Or are there limits? Comment below folks.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.