It does appear that automotive enterprise is entering a brand-new developmental phase at present, highlights Iain Robertson, as he reflects on the reappearance of sometime post-WW2 British coachbuilder, Radford, and its revived sense of direction.
Although it can be perceived as a very narrow field of expertise, populated by former racing drivers, monied celebrities and a new breed of power technologists, an overriding emphasis on serving the motoring needs of the rich and famous is much in evidence of late. Of course, some of it is motivated by an electrified future, by which the traditional rule books are being ignored and an airy-fairy, possibly misdirected enthusiasm seems keen to ditch convention in favour of glamorous, high ticket price novelty.
Old names are being revived with as much vitality and purpose as BMW engaging with Mini towards the tail-end of the 20th Century. Buying into another marque’s past can lend a new enterprise some much-needed trading history, even though most of it is tinged with marketing twaddle and little more. In some ways, I can perceive several of these ventures as being pure vanity projects, leaning on a past that provides a brief amount of breathing space. Yet, the rush to market is dizzyingly rapid, with product gestation periods occupying mere months, as opposed to the more typical, R&D focused several years of mass market concentration. It raises several questions about vehicle integrity, safety and durability, none of which have any perceived impact on ‘fashionistas’.
While trading anew on Radford’s tailcoat, it needs to be remembered that Radford was all about customisation. Four Beatles, Lulu and Peter Sellers were publicised fans of the 1960s’ Radford Minis that turned a three-figure volume car into an upmarket four-figure thriller. Today’s high-end new car market is little different, even though it may lack some vital intelligence; I posit for evidence the 2009 Aston Martin Cygnet version of a hideous Toyota iQ tiddler, or the £40k BMW Mini for that matter.
However, the revived Radford venture, which got off the ground in March 2021, is headed by TV celebrity Ant Anstead, designer Mark Stubbs and former F1 racer Jenson Button, the trio having engaged the services of business exponent Roger Behle and former Lotus Cars commercial director, Dan Burge, as CEO. Radford judged the reveal of its new enterprise very carefully, so as not to steal too much of Lotus Cars’ Emira model thunder, by removing the covers off its newcomer that has been given (thanks to a close proximal relationship with Lotus) an official Lotus model number, Type 62-2, at the prestigious Quail Motorsports Gathering, held in California.
While the car is reliant on a modern Lotus Evora, light-alloy, glued platform, complete with amidships 430bhp supercharged Toyota V6 engine (driving through a 6-speed manual gearbox), its styling belongs to a late-1960s’ sports racing car era. In some respects, it is a spiritual successor to the Lotus Europa, possessing zero rearward vision (apart from employing a natty colour camera replaying visuals through a rear-view mirror), a deep driving position between a pair of high-rise front wings and, while Radford talks of ‘bespoke coachbuilt’ expertise, a low weight carbon composite body helps to keep its kerbweight at a modest tonne.
Of its 62-off production run, it is reported that almost half has already been allocated to customers, a factor that seems to form a sales model applying to each and every member of the new breed of super/hypercars that suggests company ownership of a black book of well-known names willing to invest. However, a special run of a dozen ‘Gold Leaf’ examples that boast around 500bhp, the special ‘period’ cigarette livery and a plethora of aerodynamic and technical enhancements, carries an additional price premium. A ‘JPS’ liveried example, yet to appear, will feature 600bhp, with the higher-potency variants driving 7-speed, twin-clutch, automated-manual transmissions.
However, beneath the ‘sexy’ bodywork exists the well-engineered and dynamically gifted Evora and, apart from the sanction, the car is even built at Lotus headquarters, Hethel, Norfolk. It is an exercise as beneficial to Lotus, as it is to Radford, a banner organisation that is not exactly talking up its future as yet and, without electrification on its horizon, it is dependent on a continuing but fast-diminishing fossil-fuelled strategy that serves Lotus’s present needs.
Naturally, you can believe the shallow hype surrounding the revived coachbuilding marque, if you desire. According to its launch statement, all Radford cars will be created around the company’s motto: ‘Design. Build. Drive’. The design is overseen, as already stated, by automotive designer Mark Stubbs. The build is taken care of by Radford’s second co-owner, personality, renowned car builder and automotive craftsman Ant Anstead, while the drive element is managed by company co-owner and former Formula One World Champion, Jenson Button, who will track-test and tune each car meticulously, at the Radford Racing School, in Arizona (renamed in March), to offer a superlative driving experience. Of course, this also suggests that a sizable proportion of Radford’s customers will come from North America, because I cannot envisage a situation, where a British, Chinese, or European buyer will be entirely happy with his car being transported from the UK to California willy-nilly pre-delivery.
Finally, the word ‘bespoke’ is intentionally loaded. No two cars will be alike. As a result, ascertaining a price tag falls into the category of if-you-need-to-ask-you-probably-cannot-afford-one territory. It would be fair to presume that a baseline of around £110k would be fair, although a fully-specified ‘JPS’ might well top £220k, with ease. As an evocation of a fairly unsuccessful Lotus racing car that revives a bodystyle appealing to a niche market, the Radford 62-2 is sure to serve the needs of the company and its directors.
Conclusion: How many multi-millionaires exist in the world, who might buy into what is fast becoming a costly mixed bag of new tech and revived old tech supercars that are out of the reach of normal human-beings? It is a question worth answering.