The Beatles "Radford" Minis

On the 26th October, 1965, Queen Elizabeth II presented each of the four Beatles with an MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). It was the first time that the medal, usually awarded to veterans of war, was bestowed upon "pop stars". The Fab Four had travelled to Buckingham Palace from Ringo Starr's home, at 34 Montagu Square, in John Lennon's Rolls-Royce Phantom V... and famously smoked a joint in the Queen's lavatory to celebrate the occasion.


The Beatles arriving at Buckingham Palace to receive their MBEs

John Lennon had commissioned the bespoke Rolls-Royce in 1964, with the chassis being delivered to London coachbuilders Mulliner Park Ward in January the following year. During the six-month build, Lennon took the opportunity to take his driving test, at age 24 the last Beatle to do so, not that a Phantom V would be ordered with the thought of driving oneself. The vehicle was almost 20 feet long and tipped the scales at three metric tonnes. Everything was black - the exterior paintwork, the interior upholstery, the tinted windows, even the wheels and bumpers... and you wondered where the current trend had started. The only significant piece of brightwork was the radiator grille - which Rolls-Royce refused to supply in anything other than their sparkling chrome finish.


Press conference with The Beatles and their manager Brian Epstein after receiving their gongs

Delighted with the achievements of his band, it is believed that Brian Epstein decided to buy each member a new car as a sign of his appreciation. In complete contrast to the excess of Lennon's limousine, Epstein chose the most popular car of the day - the Mini - nonetheless custom-built by the legendary Harold Radford (Coachbuilders) Ltd. who specialised in converting standard models into ultra-luxe vehicles.


Ringo Starr and his Radford Mini Cooper 'S'
Probably the most unique of the Beatles Radford Minis (at the time of conversion) was Ringo Starr's Maroon Cooper 'S', boasting a host of extras including; bonnet vents, extended wheel-arches, Manx alloy wheels, de-seamed body-shell, Waso fuel filler caps, bespoke window frames and quarter lights, Webasto sunroof, triple ancillary gauges, tachometer, cigar lighter, MotoLita steering wheel, walnut dashboard and door cappings, folding rear seat, electric windows, reclining seats, driving lamps (individually switchable), Benolite grille, Morris 1100 indicators, door warning lights, VW ‘Beetle’ rear lights, Cibié headlights in Innocenti rims and Smith’s gauges.
Ringo's Mini illustrates its special modification (Bonhams)
In addition to the long list of specified options, the most important feature of the car modified for Starr was the rear hatchback, designed to allow accommodation of his drum kit. In February 1984, some years after Starr's ownership, the car appeared on the BBC Television programme 'Blue Peter', being described as the "Rolls-Royce of Minis", and in March of that same year went on display at the 'Beatle City' exhibition in Liverpool. In August 1987, the Mini went on display in Dallas, Texas when the 'Beatle City' exhibition transferred to the USA. In December 2017, it was auctioned at Bonhams' Bond Street Sale and sold to former Spice Girl, Geri Halliwell, for £102,000.
Paul McCartney in his Radford Mini
Needing only sufficient space to transport his guitar, Paul McCartney dispensed with the hatchback option on his Radford Cooper 'S'. However, in addition to the usual refinements, he elected to have the car finished in Aston Martin "California Sage" metallic paintwork and rear lights from the Aston factory. He was clearly fond of the car, being photographed driving it on many occasions, both alone and with Linda McCartney - who had a lift home in it with Lulu on the night that they met. The car sold in September 2018 for £183,500 at the Worldwide Auctioneers' Auburn Sale in Illinois.
Paul's pristine Radford Mini Cooper 'S'
John Lennon's Mini was completed by Radford towards the end of 1966. Perhaps the idea that these conversions were the "Rolls-Royce of Minis" had entered his head, as the finished creation with black paintwork, black interior, black wheels and black bumpers, somewhat mirrored the styling of his Phantom V.
Lennon's Mini may have embarked on something of a Magical Mystery Tour, as there appears to be some uncertainty around its disappearance. The car was rarely seen during his ownership, and due to the very dark tinted windows, John was never seen in it! By 1967, his taste had changed, no doubt influenced in part by the Dutch design collective, "The Fool", who had taken temporary residence at 34 Montagu Square the previous year. Their artistic endeavours included the design of psychedelic clothing and album covers for swinging-sixties musicians, with their colourful artwork eventually covering the drums and guitars of rock band Cream and also John Lennon's piano - followed by his Rolls-Royce Phantom.
John and Julian Lennon with the Rolls-Royce Phantom V in new livery
George Harrison's Radford Mini was also originally finished with black exterior paintwork, but as another devotee of The Fool, he decided in 1967 to brighten its appearance. The Mini was given a full psychedelic makeover and, such were the times, he also decided to refresh the exterior of his bungalow... much to the annoyance of his neighbours.
Double Dutch: George Harrison's car and home decorated by The Fool
In 1968, George Harrison gave his psychedelic Mini to Cream frontman Eric Clapton. Undoubtedly grateful for the gift, he nevertheless decided to have the car repainted in order to tone down the colour scheme. The vehicle was handed back to Harrison in the 1970s, and eventually underwent a restoration to return it to its former, flower-power glory. It remains under the ownership of George's widow, Olivia, and will always be remembered as the most fabulous of the Fab Four's Radford Minis.

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