Why is Jenson Button bringing Radford back?

24th February 2022
Adam Wilkins

Newly reborn Radford made its UK debut at the last year’s Goodwood Revival, where its 62-2 was flanked by two of Radford’s earlier creations: an Aston Martin DB5 shooting brake and two Minis, one first owned by Paul McCartney and the other by Ringo Starr. The new Lotus Exige-derived 62-2 is inspired by the Lotus Type 62 racing car from the 1960s, blending its aggressive lines with modern styling.

The company is based in California, but is headed by a trio of Brits: designer Mark Stubbs, broadcaster Ant Anstead and 2009 Formula 1 World Champion Jenson Button. Ant and Jenson were on hand throughout Revival, and between Button’s racing schedule we spent half an hour chatting about the car.


GRR: How did you meet?

Ant Anstead: What’s weird about this project is we’re three Brits the same age and happen to live in the same part of California at the same time. We came up with the concept of the Lotus car and approached Mark to design it. Mark was working on another project and had the Radford brand on there with a Mini concept, so I asked if Radford was coming back. He revealed he had acquired the Radford brand, so very quickly it wasn’t going to be a Lotus project, it was going to be a Radford project. Within a matter of days, Jenson was available as his racing had begun to taper off with children and marriage.

Jenson Button: I was at home a lot more.


GRR: Why did you choose Lotus?

JB: There are many reasons. One, because it’s a very British brand, but also because I’ve always loved Lotus, I think we all have. As kids growing up, we’ve all loved Lotus for the way they build cars. They don’t build these massive, heavy cars and have to put a big lump in them in terms of motor. They’re lightweight, the chassis themselves are very rigid and a great basis. Their aluminium tubs have been around for decades now with lots of engineering going into them improving them, so we thought it was a great company to partner with. They were very interested as well, which is great.

AA: Lotus was founded in 1948, the same year Radford was founded. Lotus has never done a coach-built car, so this is the first coach-built Lotus in history. They’ve only collaborated three times before: Cortina, Sunbeam, Carlton. The Carlton was 33 years ago, and if you consider Radford’s history a lot of people don’t realise Radford coach-built the first GT40 but the original pitch was by Lotus. The Europa, the Ron Hickman drawing, was actually Lotus’s pitch for the GT40, but Ford eventually gave it to Lola. There’s lots of synergy.


GRR: Why did you look to the Type 62 for inspiration?

AA: He chose the platform, which limits us to an engine behind the driver, so that discounts the Elite or Elan. We went through a kind of design process of elimination because the Esprit’s quite a cool option. But Radford’s heritage with the GT40, the Europa being the first GT40 pitch by Lotus and the Type 62 is effectively a Europa on steroids. They only made two, designed in ’69. It’s got a very Le Mans/Lola feel.

JB: I think it’s the best choice. Esprit’s the obvious choice, but this works for us on a personal level and on an emotional level.

GRR: Where does Lotus finish and Radford start?

AA: It’s been 50:50.

JB: They’re really, really hands-on.

AA: I speak to Lotus more than my mum.

JB: They’ve been really involved, especially when it comes to things like the aero of the car. Making sure that it doesn’t have lift but that it also has downforce on the higher models, the Gold Leaf and the JPS. So we’re able to use their expertise in many different areas which has been really good. The marketing man from Lotus was here all day yesterday until 20:00, so they’re very involved and very excited about the project. I speak to the CEO Matt Windle weekly about the project and he keeps sending me pictures of the first chassis coming off the line. It’s a real family atmosphere between Lotus and Radford.

AA: A lot of OEMs are quite bulky, to get a decision takes months and has to go through the hands of 50 people. Lotus is quite small and nimble. Radford is really small and nimble. When we made engineering changes, for example, we started with the Exige platform, made it 100mm longer – well he made it 100mm longer – and then he made it 44mm wider. If we were working with a bulky firm it would have taken months. With Lotus, we said ‘We want to make the car longer, help us engineer it,’ and in collaboration with the Lotus engineers, we made the car longer. There’s a new spaceframe on the rear, new suspension, new wishbones, new uprights, new hubs, new steering, new wheels, new cooling.

JB: The basis of the car is a Lotus, it’s an Exige chassis and that’s about as far as it goes. The bottom end of the engine is the same, a lot of the internals are different.


GRR: What are the benefits of being a small team?

JB: There aren’t levels of management [at Radford] to pass things through. 

AA: Sign-off happens instantly. In fact, this is how quick it happens: we have a WhatsApp group with six people on and decisions are made in the moment. 

JB: And then the jobs are sent out. We work with some fantastic companies because of Ant being in the TV world, there’s a possibility we’re going to have a TV show about the car so it brings in a lot of interest from partners and what have you, and they’re also excited about what we’re doing. Working with a brand like Lotus and other OEMs that we have lined up in future years. We got things like the wheels made in no time at all.  

AA: I think it’s probably one of the quickest car launches in history. We only really started this design-wise 18 months ago. 

GRR: What are your guiding principles?

AA: We said at the beginning that there are two mantras for this project: what would Colin Chapman do, and what would Harold Radford do if he was leading the project? That’s the reason we’ve arrived at this. This is sub-1,000kg dry, that’s a proper Lotus-inspired car adding lightness. We’ve taken into consideration the ounce of every component and it still has a refinement that Radford put in. For example, the seat material is manufactured by James Bond’s trimmer, a Savile Row tailor called Anthony Sinclair who tailored Roger Moore in the one [Bond] movie that had a Lotus in it. That’s the length we’ve gone. It’s a real mesh of artists and craftsman.

There are other options available. Some of our customers have gone for a V8. Every Radford part of the car is carbon-fibre. The entire body is carbon, even the wheels are carbon. There are over 50 3D-printed parts in this car so it’s a super-modern way of coachbuilding.

JB: Annoyingly you can’t see right now, but there are front and rear clams, like a GT40 back in the day. When they’re open you’re left with a tiny little cockpit. It’s beautiful with everything open.


GRR: Where is it on the scale of GT car to track car?

JB: My job starts when you open the door and get in. The look of the cabin, the feel of the cabin. Obviously, I’m not designing the look of the cabin, that’s down to Mark as he’s the designer.

AA: Can you imagine if you did though?

JB: Oh, it would be hilarious.

AA: I just picture you with crayons.

JB: We’ve tried it, it doesn’t work. But we talk about how the cabin should feel, how the seating position should be relative to the pedals, the steering wheel, the gearstick if it has one and everything else within the car. It should feel like a cockpit, it should feel like a fighter jet or a Le Mans car where you’ve got everything around you with everything in close proximity, which it does. 

In terms of comfort, the car has to work everywhere. Not everyone is going to drive this on a track, probably 20 per cent of people that buy one will drive it on a track, but it has to work on a track. That’s obviously where I come in with all the testing I’ve done with Formula 1 cars over the years, I know what something should feel like on a track. It also needs to work in the canyons in California for example or on the bumpiest motorway that we could find, which is actually in LA. You should never feel like it’s a stress driving the car, you should always be smiling whatever the situation. That’s the aim that we have with the way that the cabin feels. The interior’s almost more exciting than the exterior. 

GRR: When will the first customers receive their cars?

AA: Deliveries start Q1 of 2022.

JB: I would say the end of Q1. I want to drive it more, that’s why I’m delaying it.

AA: We’ve been really lucky because the car has really struck a chord with the public, orders have gone through the roof. We’re only doing 12 John Player Special and 62 in total and there’s not many left. We have a schedule for production that’s good, it’s quick.


GRR: What’s the price?

AA: We’ve revealed three stages. There’s an entry level that doesn’t have the ducktails, doesn’t have carbon wheels, it’s 415PS (305kW) is $410,000. The Gold Leaf car, that does have the ducktails, it has some bells and whistles, creeps up by about another $40,000. Then the JPS goes up to a shade over 600PS (441kW)...

JB: ...and is unlimited on how much you want to spend. The whole thing about this [points at engine cover] is that it’s replaceable very easily. If somebody wanted an air intake on top we can design an air intake for the engine to keep it even cooler and also for looks. There’s so much you can do, especially with 3D printing and technologies now to make it unique for every single individual, and that’s the idea about Radford. The idea of having three different specs is to show what coachbuilding is, and it’s not just a paint scheme. It’s a lot of different things within the car.

GRR: Who has been buying the car?

AA: Some of the customers are quite eccentric. At this kind of level of the market, I think we’re quite affordable. We attract an eccentric type of successful person who knows exactly what they want. Some of the experience we’ve had is how I imagine it was for Howard Radford back in the day.

When Ringo Starr commissioned that red Mini [points], to have the boot open to fit his drumkit, you can just imagine that conversation. It would have happened in Radford’s office. ‘Hi, I’m Ringo’s manager. What we want do is...’ and the coachbuilder agreeing to do it, not knowing how but intending to work it out.

JB: We’ve definitely gone more extreme than what they did back in the day.

While the spotlight was on the 62-2, Anstead also confirmed the development of the next car is complete.” Jenson has already driven it, we just haven’t told you yet. It’s nothing to do with Lotus at all. The history of Radford is that Radford managed to partner with many OEMs, unlike some brands that are tied to a brand. Radford’s strength is that we’re not tied to a brand and that’s been proven. When you see our next car, which is a big OEM, way bigger than Lotus, you’re going to fall off your chair. It’s not a sportscar and it’s not a Mini.” And that’s all he’d say for now. Watch this space.

Photography by Tom Shaxson and James Lynch.

  • Lotus

  • Radford

  • 62-2

  • Revival

  • Revival 2021

  • Jenson Button

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