All cars rely on their roofs for structural rigidity, so removing this vital panel requires the addition of strengthening elsewhere. "The company we use is well known for cabriolet and stretched limousine conversions," Adrian explained. "They were very impressed with the strength of the basic Mini floorpan. It was a good basis, and they added extra steel in the A-pillars, across the base of the dashboard, in the sills, up the now truncated B-posts and across the parcel shelf area, which, of course does not exist in the normal Mini hatchback."
The result is very impressive when you drive it on a bumpy road, although it no doubt benefits from the fact that the Mini is a short car. As Bespoke is fairly local to me, I was able to drive the car on some of the more challenging country roads I know. One particular road has a combination of bumps, humps, adverse cambers and tight corners that is guaranteed to upset any car whose suspension is not up to scratch.
The standard Mini does very well on this road, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the Mini Cabriolet was not far behind. On some of the worst bumps, I could detect a small amount of scuttle shake, but when all is said and done, it is no worse than a new VW Golf Cabriolet, one of the better hatchback-derived factory cars. For a small outfit like Bespoke, this is a grand achievement, especially as it is its first-ever conversion.
It was bright but cold in early March when I drove the car. Airflow management inside any cabriolet is difficult unless you have a windbreak behind the seats. Unfortunately, that is not practical with a four-seater, but if you wear a tight-fitting hat, it is okay. With the roof up, the car is very snug inside and wind noise is minimal, even traveling at 80 mph.
The extra weight of the reinforcement slowed the acceleration of this Mini One slightly, but as most people will use a Cooper or Cooper S as the base car, it is less of an issue.
Given that the new Mini is a hatchback, I was curious how Bespoke tackled the problem of a new bootlid opening arrangement. "When we removed the rear glass, we decided that the best way to tackle the problem was to hinge the bootlid from the bottom like on the classic Mini," explained Adrian. "In fact, to preserve the Mini character and also for practical reasons, we use the hinges from the classic Mini, with cutouts where the bumper meets the bodywork, and move the electrically operated hinge to the top of the bootlid."
This arrangement works perfectly, and the precision with which the electric release and the hinges work give it similar feel and shut characteristics as the standard factory set-up. Boot load capacity remains the same as the hatchback up to parcel shelf height, and the car retains its rear seat room as well as the split/folding seatback arrangement. If you go for the power-operated hood option, you lose a small amount of space in the lower left-hand corner of the boot floor to the hydraulic pump. This has a neat, carpet-trimmed cover on it and takes up the same room as one and a half British-sized house bricks laid end to end.
Inside, nice touches are the buttons for the electric rear windows laid out neatly beside the handbrake and the digital clock moved from the roof headliner to the otherwise useless gap in the center console.
In terms of production cars, Bespoke is ready to roll now, and the only additional on-going developments are a second inner lining for the hood and a chromed rollover bar welded to the B-pillars, both of which will be offered as options. The car looks great as it is, however, and I think a rollover hoop would spoil its lines.
Spring is in the air, and people are thinking about open cars, so Bespoke has got its timing spot on. It is also happy to supply cars to European and Far East customers directly. For the U.S. market, where the Mini was launched this past March, it is keen to appoint an agent and license out production.