Hang on, I recognise that!
Which bit, the name or the shape?
The shape. Looks a bit like a…
…Lotus. The Europa to be exact, which was the firm’s first ever mid-engined road car, with some 9,200 built between 1966 and 1975. But this isn’t a Lotus, this is a…
…Radford. See, we can both play the interrupting game.
OK, I’m taking over now, there’s a lot of interlinked stuff to explain. Radford was a coachbuilding firm back in the 60s and made a name for itself modifying Bentleys and building luxury Minis for celebrities. It was eventually bought and wound up and for the purposes of this story is basically just a nice name with some faint historical connections that enables this new brand to strum some old riffs.
The name has been brought back by a small team of people, one or two of whom you might be familiar with. Alongside car designer Mark Stubbs and money man Roger Behle we have TV presenter Ant Anstead, who came up with the idea and is the most hands-on of the quartet, and one Jenson Button. He’ll be doing the trim and upholstery. No, not really.
Basically, Ant was looking for a new project for a TV show, came up with the idea of rethinking the Lotus Europa and then realised that there might well be a market for it and he could build more than one. The plan now is to build 62.
Why that number specifically?
OK, more history. You see Radford’s Type 62-2 reimagines a very particular Lotus Europa, the Type 62. Back in the early Sixties, Ford approached a few companies for their ideas on building a Le Mans racer – the car that would go on to be the mighty GT40. The gig eventually went to Lola which left Lotus’s offering, the Type 62, mouldering in a corner. Only two were ever built, but sixty years later that’s a lovely bit of history to draw on.
Final bit of trivia for you: the Type 62 was designed by a chap called Ron Hickman, who’s much more famous for designing something entirely unrelated to cars: the Black and Decker Workmate. He earned a three per cent royalty on each one sold. Little pub factoid for you there.
So because of this Lotus connection, I assume it uses Lotus underpinnings?
It does. It’s based on the Exige chassis and has a 3.5-litre supercharged V6 in the back. After that though, Radford has had at it. Nothing, apart from the bare engine block, is carried over. An Austrian firm (Jubu Performance) has gone through the V6 from top to bottom. It’s dry-sumped, sits lower in the chassis than it ever has in a Lotus and develops up to 605bhp.
There’s also a longer wheelbase (courtesy of a new rear subframe) to improve stability, plus wider tracks, and new wishbones, uprights, brakes and suspension. It’s a comprehensive overhaul for a car with a different use case to a regular Lotus.
However, despite Radford’s claims, Lotus DNA runs deep, and there’s a certain feel to the car that quickly puts you in a Lotus frame of mind – you get the sense it could be Hethel’s own work. They’ve got bigger Evija-shaped fish to fry at the moment, but I suspect there’s a tacit support/admiration for what Radford is trying to achieve here. It reflects well and gives Lotus’ back story a polish.
It's not really a restomod, is it?
Almost the opposite. Instead of an old car given a modern makeover, this takes new tech and cloaks it under an old-style body.
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Where have we seen that before?
Because that is the vibe Radford is going for. In more ways than one. Yes, it has cameras for mirrors and your phone will clip in and mirror for all navigation and infotainment needs, but the Type 62-2 is not a car for the faint-hearted. Because it has no driver aids. At all.
Come again? No traction, no stability, no… ABS even?
And it’s got how much power? And what does it weigh?
The supercharged V6 has a choice of three power outputs: 430bhp, 500bhp and 605bhp. And the car weighs a little over a tonne. So it has the power-to-weight ratio of a Ferrari 296 GTB or McLaren 765LT. Major league speed.
And major league brave pants required. Why not have the safety systems fitted?
Two reasons: the reason Radford gives and the real reason. Radford claims this is because it wants a raw and rewarding driving experience and doesn’t want anything that could interfere and dilute the experience, and there’s probably some truth in that.
However, the other truth is that developing the control electronics for those systems is very, very expensive. You’re going to be shelling out millions and millions with Bosch or Continental and there’s just no way you can do that when you’re only building 62 cars. Major car companies aren’t allowed to dodge these safety systems, but low volume car firms can.
Does it make a difference to the way you approach the car?
Absolutely. If you have a safety net working in the background you’re much more inclined to take risks. Here you’re always aware you’re completely on your own. It focuses the mind. As does the fact the Type 62-2 isn’t a finished product yet. This is still a development car, it hasn’t got the latest components on it and the chassis tuning needs some work. One of the rear track rod bolts sheared on the car while I was driving it on Radford’s track, which was… interesting. Pitched me into an instant spin at about 80mph.
What did you make of it when it was working?
First of all, it’s a corking looking thing. What a great visual interpretation of the Europa this is, picking up on all the right cues, ditching the unnecessary and adding flair with the detailing. It’s super low, lower even than an Aston Valkyrie, yet easier to get in and out of. Which is the very definition of damned with faint praise.
It’s pretty bare and minimalist inside, the windows have sliding panels, the seats are thinly padded, the vibe is old school Lotus, but the driving position is absolutely bob-on; steering, gearlever and pedals precisely where you want them. Visibility is the issue: the A-pillars, front wings, external camera stalks and their internal screens all combine to make forward vision difficult. And of course you can’t see out the back at all. Cameras do that for you to mediocre effect.
What’s it like on road?
You need to bear in mind the development status of this car, but even so I think production versions are going to remain rowdy. It would be in keeping with the rest of the car. This is not a long haul GT, it’s a car for short sprints and adrenaline hits. On the road you’re going to be hard-pushed to get to the engine’s 5,000rpm+ sweet spot, but bearing in mind this is an engine that once called a Toyota home, it acts the part of a pukka supercar motor convincingly.
Superchargers react fast, but they also take power from the engine to turn them. But if the car is light, that delay is minimised. Here it punches forward as soon as you touch the throttle: the response EV-like, but accompanied by a throaty rasp that quickly builds into a full-blooded howl. It’s addictive.
And mated to a genuinely wonderful manual gearbox. You can have a twin clutch if you want, but I’d urge you to have the manual. The shift is crisp, mechanical and although the clutch is slightly weighty, the whole transmission seems to cope with the prodigious power and torque without a single issue. It’s slick, not a wrestle.
How’s the ride and refinement?
Undeveloped as yet. The suspension pogoed around a bit, there was steering kickback (but also gorgeous feel) and quite a bit of general cockpit kerfuffle. It’s not nearly at Valkyrie levels of deafening, but it makes chatting to a passenger awkward, even though you’re rubbing shoulders with them.
How about track fun?
We have high hopes, but as yet the 62-2 is unresolved. There’s a lot of mechanical grip, but also that steering fight – it’s a physical car to try to drive quickly. And a nerve-wracking one given the concerns about brakes locking up and so on. On the whole the front end is great. There’s a little body roll (as yet not quite well enough supported) to let you know the car is working and it’s backed up by a wonderful sense of connection.
The rear end needs more circumspection. The car is well balanced, and the back will pivot reasonably gracefully, but then you need to be very careful. The throttle is very sensitive and that will kick the unloaded rear end wide very quickly. As yet, the Radford doesn’t have the steering lock needed to make skids and slides even remotely catchable. That will come with new uprights, but even then this is a car for precision driving, not drifting. Remember who the chief development driver is.
Some Button bloke?
That’s the chap. Renowned for his smoothness, so this is never going to be a car you take by the scruff and chuck about. Let it come to you and deliver the goods through your fingertips. Overdrive it and it gets snatchy, and makes an already tough, stiff car even more tiring. As far as Jenson is concerned the aim is for it to be “precise yet forgiving a road car for the track, so gradual in what it does when it breaks away”.
You can have it with carbon wheels and Brembo’s CCM-R carbon stoppers, which in a car this light are over-specced. They also squeaked when they got hot, too. Something else for the development list, JB.
At the moment the powertrain is the star of the show. That V6 sounds every bit as good in here as the similar configurations now fitted in the Ferrari 296. It’s hard edged, less tuneful, more vocal, overlaid with supercharger whine. It supplies proper full house supercar acceleration, the freefall, I’m-not-sure-I-like-this kind. The last 3,000rpm of the dial is epic. 0-62mph takes a claimed 2.9 seconds. Top speed is a limited 186mph.
What’s it for then?
Wrong question. All daft-money supercars and hypercars are essentially pointless. They just need to be differently pointless from each other so people with piles of money have something unique, something unlike any of their other supercars and hypercars. And the Radford is that.
Not just because of its no-safety-aids status, but its weight. No-one builds a genuinely light, compact, track focused car (unless you’re into Ultimas) and this shows the benefits of Lotus-thinking in a very clear way. If you’ve never driven a Sixties Le Mans car (and let’s face it, not many have) you could believe this was a fitting tribute. In truth they were far flimsier than this.
What will it cost?
Final pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but Radford has indicated that it will start at around £350,000 for the 430bhp Classic. Expect to pay around £500,000 for the 605bhp version. You can spec your car to your heart’s content, but even within its 62-car production run Radford is offering special editions. Both Gold Leaf (500bhp) and JPS (605bhp) versions wearing those classic liveries are available, each limited to just 12 cars.
Any other neat details?
A partnership with Bremont watches means that one of the options is a pair of gorgeous retro stopwatches mounted on the dash. The twin ducktail spoilers (they do deliver downforce apparently) are also only standard on the higher spec cars. If you like them, you can have them on the entry car too. Just be warned they aren’t bolt on extras, but part of the rear carbon clamshell.
And there’s precious metals – the lettering on the back is gold. Renowned for its bling rather than its weight saving benefits, and likely to ensure that no owner will ever street park their Radford.
Sum it up for me.
You can look at it two ways. Remember what I said earlier about the Type 62-2 still having detectable Lotus DNA? And that despite the lack of carryover parts. Well that does mean that if you were prepared to buy a used Exige and throw, say, £40,000 of engine and chassis development at it you could probably end up in a similar place for outright speed and thrills.
But it wouldn’t look like this, have the same back story, or have Jenson’s name associated with it. Those are all powerful draws and should help ensure this small company starts off on a secure financial footing. Because Radford has plans beyond the 62-2.
At the moment it’s not a finished product, but there’s something in the unfiltered, raw excitement of it that’s compelling. And how rare these days to have a small, compact, lightweight two seater that proudly puts driver engagement front and centre?
Photography: Jamie Lipman