The original Mini was once a blank canvas for a legion of coachbuilders and design houses. Here are ten of the best
Wood & Pickett Mini
Formed in 1947 by Bill Wood and Les Pickett, this London firm picked up from where Radford had left off as the leading ‘boutique’ Mini customiser. The 1970s in particular was a boom period for the firm, with city dandies craving something that little bit more economical during those fuel conscious days. If you opted for a regular ‘round’ Mini, you could specify Facel Vega headlights. For the Clubman-based Margrave edition, however, a cut-down Vauxhall VX4/90 grille and quad headlights was standard equipment. A timber dash with Jaguar gauges and switchgear was the norm, as was leather or, shudder, buttoned Dralon trim.
AutoFact: W&P offered trim and styling upgrades for the Metro and the Montego in the 1980s.
There has been no shortage of tasteless Mini conversions over the years, but this remarkable confection takes some beating. There is a degree of speculation regarding who commissioned this car and if any replicas were made subsequently. What is known is that it was constructed in 1985 by Aston Martin subsidiary Tickford at a cost of £50,000. It was built to suit the whims and fancies of its instigator, the most controversial part being the stacked rectangular headlights. Well, that and the blanked off grille with its supplementary driving lights. Or its front spoiler, or…
AutoFact: During this period, Tickford also customised a Triumph Stag and a Carbodies taxi.
OK, calling this camper conversion a coachbuilt Mini might be a bit of a stretch, but it certainly attracted plenty of press in the mid ’60s. Wildgoose (Worthing) Ltd of Sussex produced several iterations of Mini camper. For the princely sum of £998 in 1966 you too could have owned a Wildgoose Brent, which featured a ‘Super V.E.B.’ (vertically extending body) which was operated by a push button sited on the dashboard. As standard you received a table, wardrobe, bed, two burner Elton hot plate and four seats in the ‘dinette area’.
AutoFact: According to period ad copy, the Wildgoose was aimed squarely at the ‘retired couple’.
Broadspeed Mini GT
This Mini-meets-Aston conversion was produced by race preparation colossus Ralph Broad. Introduced in 1966, the fastback body comprised glassfibre and steel, and five versions were offered. There was the 850cc entry level model, followed by the GT which was based on the 998cc Mini Cooper. Next there was GTS, which was effectively the same as a GT save for a bespoke dash, extra gauges and moulded plastic bumpers. If you were really flush, there was the GT Super de Luxe which featured all of the GTS’s goodies plus a tuned 1275cc engine. Finally, there was the GTS competition variant for: 'special order and selected clients only’.
AutoFact: The GT was a casualty of Broadspeed having to move premises due to a compulsory purchase order.
This conversion was the brainchild of racers Neville Trickett and Geoff Thomas. The idea was first mooted in late 1965, the prototype being built for competition using a Mini 850 shell – not only was the roof chopped, but the body was also sectioned in true Lead Sled style. However, the car wasn’t allowed to compete in the British Saloon Car Championship on the grounds that it didn’t retain the Mini’s original silhouette. Instead, from May 1966 it was offered as a ‘designer’ Mini via Rob Walker’s Corsley Garage as the GTS – although Walker soon sold the rights to BMC distributor Ardern & Stewart.
AutoFact: Trickett was also responsible for the first British hot rod kit car, the Opus HRF.
OK, so it’s another Minisprint ‘chop’ but it’s among the coolest-looking Minis ever, hence its inclusion here. Once again, it was the work of Neville Trickett and a degree of confusion has surrounded this car ever since it first broke cover in 1966. Until recently, it was widely assumed that it was a one-off. However, photos exist which show ’sprint Travellers with different registration numbers and slight detail differences. Trickett himself recently confirmed that they were in fact the same car. However, the conversion was briefly offered for public consumption by Corsley Garage.
AutoFacts: The prototype was recently discovered in Australia.
Already long established for his Rolls-Royce and Bentley makeovers, Harold Radford introduced three luxury Mini conversions in 1963. First of all, there was the Grand Luxe which, as the name suggests, was laden with timber, leather and other niceties. Then there was the Bel Air, which had only some of the toys, and the De Luxe which featured only cabin upgrades. Numerous further iterations were available, not least the super-luxurious Mini de Ville GT with a one-piece rear hatchback – if you could afford it.
AutoFact: Celebrity owners included all four members of The Beatles, Mike Nesmith of The Monkees, comedic great Peter Sellers and actor James Garner.
Of all the many weird and wacky Mini conversions ever offered, few can match the Caraboot for left-field thinking. Devised by Euxton Coach Craft Ltd of Lincolnshire, it combined a Mini, a camper and, get this, a boat. By means of a simple crank handle at the rear of the vehicle, the clamshell camper moved rearwards along grooves inset into some rather natty spats attached to the Minivan. At a stroke, your camper was now considerably longer than when you left home about 15ft all in. The roof of the converted van itself could be unscrewed and used as a two-man row boat.
AutoFact: A film made by Pathé called The Caraboot is available on YouTube. It’s a hoot…
Bertone Mini VIP
Italians have long held the Mini in great esteem, and studio chief Nuccio Bertone went so far as to buy a Cooper S and ship it over to Turin where it underwent a makeover. The VIP, as it was later dubbed, boasted extra front indicators, Riley Elf bumpers, Fiat 500 rear lights and metallic blue paint. The controversial part was the conventional upright centre grille and ‘mustachio’ side grilles. Inside, the cabin featured an aluminium instrument binnacle (complete with seven gauges), electric windows and groovy rear headrests which hung from the roof.
AutoFact: Plans called for the car to be offered by the Cooper Car Company at a price of £500 (plus donor car) but BMC objected.
This not altogether attractive conversion was, nonetheless, the world’s first ‘chop’ of its kind. The brainchild of Ken Nightingale, who made his fortune selling the Safelock anti-theft device, this oddly-shaped conversion came on-line in 1960. The all-steel fastback remodel was the work of Birmingham engineering firm Burt Brothers, the first car later receiving a streamlined nose as well. The second featured a revised headlight treatment, while the third boasted a lower roofline and raked-back windscreen. There would be no fourth car. Race car constructor and entrepreneur Cyril Kieft was courted as a backer, but he wasn’t interested.
AutoFact: Of the three cars made, only one survives.
Pictures courtesy of Rota Archive