Spring is in the air, and people are thinking of open cars again. For fans of the new Mini, a factory cabriolet is at least two years away, but if you already have one of these hot hatches, Bespoke Convertibles in Brighton, England, can convert it in just four weeks, in time for the summer.
Although the car I drove is Bespoke's prototype, I was very surprised at just how well the project has been thought through and any potential problems overcome.
The shape of the roof when the car is closed, for instance, is an achievement in itself. Even some major manufacturers do not get it right, let alone small aftermarket companies. In this instance, it is obvious that a lot of work has gone into the shape of the top and how it interfaces with the car.
Top down, the obligatory press-studs secure the canvas cover, and the resulting side profile is a long wedge rather than a canvas mountain like on a Golf Cabriolet. Top up, the roofline approximates that of the closed car, albeit with thicker C-pillars. The main thing is that, either way, it does not look like a pram.
Such conversions are very labor intensive and Bespoke has been careful to tailor its work to as many pockets as possible. The base conversion has a manually operated top, but you can opt for electro-hydraulic operation as fitted to Bespoke's Mini One demo car.
A Mini One with manual top sells for 16,995 in the UK, and a Cooper is 18,500. The power-top option is an extra 1,705 on a Mini One and 1,455 on a Cooper. Bespoke can carry out the work on an existing car or supply a new car with the conversion and even finance it for you.
Bespoke Convertibles managing director Adrian Archer gained his motor trade experience with BMW and Rolls-Royce/Bentley dealerships, and founded the company last year. "At the end of 2000, I was approached to make a cabriolet version of the New Beetle," he explained. "We looked at what Straman had done in California, but for cost reasons decided we were better off doing it in the U.K. In the end, however, we decided that it was not the right car, as New Beetle sales were beginning to wane and a factory cabriolet was supposedly due out in 2002.
"Instead, we decided that the new Mini was the ideal car for a cabriolet conversion, as it was right at the start of its lifecycle and had frameless-door side glass to start with. At the time I was working for Chandlers, the BMW dealer in Brighton, and I left in May 2001 and set up Bespoke Car Finance with Mark Brazier. This was mainly because we had to have a source of income whilst we were working on the project, and it would allow us to finance cars for people.
"In the event, the motor finance and supplying of new cars side of the business has really taken off, and we have ended up with the Bespoke Car Group, encompassing Bespoke Finance and Bespoke Convertibles. We took delivery of our Mini One in October last year, and the prototype conversion work took three months," Adrian continued. "The Mini has good looks to start with; most people think it is cheeky and sexy. Removing the roof makes it even better. It is a car that really lends itself to being open."
Operation of the top is simplicity itself. Undo the two latches above each side glass, lower the electrically operated rear side windows via the buttons on the center console, and then hold your finger down on the electric roof button. The top folds down in about 16 sec., and then you can put the canvas cover on. Getting the roof up is the reverse operation.
The top itself is made from the finest German mohair and normally comes in either black or blue. You can, however, specify any other color as an extra-cost option. The rear window is soft plastic, as there is no room for a glass panel.