Wednesday 30 November 2022

Mallalieu's Microdot - what could have been

It was only this week that I was made aware of an interesting article in the Oxford Mail dated 2017. An extract from it:

"Forty years ago in a garage in Wootton near Abingdon, a team of visionaries designed and built a hybrid electric car on a Mini chassis. They created the car of the future – then a Tory government adviser damned it to the annals of history. Noel Hodson, who lives in Headington with his wife Pauline, was managing director of Mallalieu Cars when in 1977, Aston Martin designer William Towns came to them with a new dream: building a car that would run off a battery. Mr Hodson said: "He was 30 years ahead of his time, but we had the men who could build these things by hand and there were very few workshops in the country that could." The team worked his designs up over the next two years. The result was the Microdot: a three-seater, petrol-electric hybrid measuring just 6ft 6ins long. In 1980, Mr Hodson said Mallalieu hosted a meeting with the Post Office Pensions Fund and other potential investors. But because Post Office pensions were at stake, the government also sent its own scientific advisor. Mr Hodson recalled: "He came along to this important meeting with all our investors and essentially he said 'this car couldn't work because it contravenes the second law of thermodynamics'." 

Click here for the whole article. 

Of course I wasn't there at the time when Towns and Hodson teamed up, but I believe the Microdot was already there when Towns approached Mallalieu Cars in the first place. As a matter of fact the car was unveiled at the 1976 Earls Court Motor Show in London as a styling exercise or ‘a bubble car for the 80s’. It was meant to use either Mini- or electric power. But it seems that Towns couldn't find a party to get it into production. Then in 1979 the collaboration with Mallalieu Cars was announced. They decided to relaunch the Microdot, now with Mini power and renamed Mallalieu Microdot. From a 1979 clipping: "Mallalieu Cars are to build a short run of prototypes for evaluation purposes. Intended to be running by mid-summer, the first of these new Microdots will feature a redesigned front to make room for a Mini power unit. Power units under consideration for further cars are a two-stroke marine unit and the small light-alloy Reliant four-cylinder. Electric power is no more than a faint possibility." Prices between £4- and £7,000 are mentioned.

Interestingly, the original prototype still exists and I photographed it in a beautiful condition several years ago, still unregistered and still in pristine motor show condition. But what happened to the Mallalieu Microdot prototypes? Thanks to Andrew MacLean as well as Tony Bucknall I did find out a little bit more. While Tony sent me a copy of an ad in which two of them were offered for sale from many years ago, Andrew had a few pictures of the cars taken at Mallalieu's premises in the early 1980s. One of them wears a plate 'DDD 29G'. What happened to these vehicles?

UPDATE 1 December 2022: "Hi Jeroen, thanks for the photo mentions on your Maximum Mini blog pages. Firstly, I think we aught to put a date with the advert cutting from Autotrader 21st-27th September 2000. Further to, a wee bit more technical info on the two unique battery-electric William Towns 'Golf Buggies' that I owned for a short while. They do bear a similar resemblance to the Microdot and use both front and rear Mini subframes with three rather large 12 Volt storage batteries stowed under the 3-abreast bench-seat. No doors, no heater, no lights, no windscreen wiper and but a simple lightweight plastic windscreen, no rear screen! Electric drive was supplied by a 10hp 72Volt DC Motor bolted directly on top of a Triumph Herald differential, which was positioned on a framework welded into the Mini front subframe! A cogged-cambelt type belt provided drive to the differential and thus to conventional Mini Automatic short driveshafts, hubs and brakes. It's top speed with just 36 Volts was somewhat pedestrian, but ideal for the golf course! The DDD registration number was borrowed from a Daimler 250 that I owned at the same time and placed on the Towns Golf Buggy for the photos. They were obviously never intended for road use! Hope this helps? Kindest regards, Andrew MacLean." It certainly does. Thank you very much!

This is the original 1976 Microdot concept car, designed and made by William Towns
Picture Jeroen Booij

I found it surviving in highly original state in a garage in Sussex several years ago now
Picture Jeroen Booij

This is a period picture of the very same car. It never reached production 
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

But it nearly did! This is a prototype made by Mallalieu Cars of Oxfordshire
Picture courtesy Andrew Maclean

A number of power units were mentioned, among them the Mini's. Test rig seen here
Picture courtesy Andrew Maclean

But it all led to nothing. This ad offered 3 bodies and 2 chassis' for sale - 'Ideal petrol beater project'!
Picture through Tony Bucknall

Noel Hodson worked for Mallalieu Cars in the late 1970s when he was approached by Towns
Picture The Oxford Mail

What could have been: Microdots parked on the street next to a new apartment block
Picture courtesy Ahzar Architects

Friday 25 November 2022

Happy Thanksgiving 2022

A happy Thanksgiving to my American and Canadian readers! Yes, I'm a day late but at least the picture below was taken yesterday when I took the Ogle out for a little ride locally for the first time. What a treat. It drives well now with the clutch, brakes, cooling, distribution and ignition all sorted and the lights functioning as well thanks to a new wiring loom. It still needs more work but I'll enjoy tinkering with it in the winter months. All the best from Maximum Mini and enjoy the holidays.

The 'Belgian Barnfind' Ogle SX1000 drives and is back home now
Picture Jeroen Booij

Friday 18 November 2022

Agricultural contraption: the Goblin

And now for something completely different! This is the Goblin - a Mini based tractor. I'd never heard of it until a year ago when one turned up for sale. I soon learned the unlikely creature was marketed and sold in the late 1990s by Carlisle-based Goblin Vehicles. They used reconditioned 1100- or 1300cc A-series engines placed longitudinally and mid-mounted in a galvanized rigid space frame and mated to Land Rover axles, locked centre and lockable front and rear differentials. It was all designed to carry a 500kg or eight people platform load. And that's all I know - more information would be much appreciated.

Goblin Vehicles do appear to have sold a few, because Richard Hawcroft dropped me a line recently with another being offered for sale. "A new one for you", he thought, continuing: "This sold for £1250 (I think) at the Euro Auction near here this week. My brother said it was huge, it has Land Rover series axels, so that gives an idea of scale. You can just see the Mini radiator in one of the photos." I answered: "Believe me or not, but I’d heard about the Goblin before and it even seems there were more than just the one as I have some pics of what surely has to be another example?" Richard had the last words: Jeroen, I like to keep you on your toes"

Well, let me tell you he does. Cheers mate!

Made in Carlisle, Cumbria: the Mini based Goblin 4x4
Picture Euro Auctions

It uses a galvanized steel space frame with Mini engine and LR axles
Picture Euro Auctions

Construction-wise it is not unlike the Turner Ranger and RTV
Picture Euro Auctions

How many were made? This one was auctioned recently
Picture Euro Auctions

Another example of the Goblin was seen for sale in February last year
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Now that's a no-frills cabin, leaving no doubt this was a work horse
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

1100 or 1300 engine was mounted longitudinally below / behind seats
Picture Jeroen Booij archive

Wednesday 16 November 2022

Ogles in Japan (1)

Some time ago I was asked to write the story of the Ogle SX1000 for the much-respected Japanese motoring magazine 'Car Graphic', and that's what I did. It was published in the August issue. Most time went into the box-out on the last page, researching the cars that are in Japan. Six of them were relatively easy to find out more about and with the help of my friends Saiki Wada and Bunzo Yasuda we managed to contact all the car's owners, too. 

But the biggest surprise came from a much-rumoured 7th car over in Japan. It turned out to be more than just a rumour and we did find out more about it, too. The car has been hiding since it was exported to Japan in 1983 and is still pretty much shrouded in mystery, but I'll let you soon know what I found as I'd like to review them here slightly more thorough than the box-out in Car Graphic allowed for. Stay tuned.

Car Graphic magazine featured the Ogle SX1000 recently
Picture Car Graphic / Jeroen Booij

The cars featured are ones I photographed in recent years...
Picture Car Graphic / Jeroen Booij

...Like this stunner of a white car that is in Switzerland
Picture Car Graphic / Jeroen Booij

As well as this one! But it's the box-out on the last page that exites perhaps most
Picture Car Graphic / Jeroen Booij

Friday 11 November 2022

NEC Classic Car Show 2022: the Mini derivatives

This weekend the NEC will be hosting the Classic Motor Show and, like last year, the Minikits Club is present with a great number of Mini derivatives. On their display a freshly restored TiCi, barn find Biota Mk1, Heerey GTM, Mini Marcos Mk4, Hustler Sport, Ogle SX1000 and Minus Maxi. What a fun stand!

Another club attending is the Unipower GT Owners Club & Register with three cars looking very good too. Apart from Gerry Hulford's yellow racer there's also the ex-Janspeed competition car that now appears to be road-registered. Third is a freshly restored car in orange/white of which I hope to learn more soon.

UPDATE 13 November: Fantastic news: Minikits wins the award for most interesting selection of cars in the Classic and Sports Car Club Awards at the NEC Classic Motor Show. Well done boys!

Minikits display at the NEC 2022
Picture Paul Wylde

Biota Mk1 at the Minikits display
Picture Paul Wylde

Mini Marcos Mk4 at the Minikits display
Picture Paul Wylde

Hustler Sport at the Minikits display
Picture Paul Wylde

Ogle SX1000 at the Minikits display
Picture Paul Wylde

Minus Maxi at the Minikits display
Picture Paul Wylde

Heerey GTM 1-3 at the Minikits display
Picture Paul Wylde

TiCi at the Minikits display
Picture Paul Wylde

And three Unipower GTs at the marque's Owners Club & Register's stand
Picture Lez Dix

UPDATE: The boys from Minikits receive their trophy for 'most interesting selection of cars'. Congratulations!

Bonus picture: an Outspan Orange Mini, also seen at the NEC 
Picture Andy McPhail

And one more: that cool Clubman camper van, now fully restored and looking great
Picture Andy McPhail

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Mystery Mini Derivative (84): Kiwi Twini

Twinis (twin engined Minis for those of you who forgot) were made in a wide variety. John Cooper's version became famous after it almost killed the man himself, but there were many more. You may be surprised about the number of Twinis built on Mini based cars too, or ones that almost saw the light of day. From Deep Sanderson to Butterfield Musketeer and from Scamp to Ranger. Read more about some of them here.

Tim Neal tipped me off about a Twini that's offered for sale in New Zealand. According to the seller it was built in Dunedin by a man who made more Moke style cars, all road legal ones but just with the single engine. This one, however, was different and was never road registered. It is now offered for sale, still as a project and as a 1970 Mini.

Apart from the mechanicals not much of the Mini's base appears to have been used with home-made steel floors, or so it seems, and a body which looks to be made of aluminium. It comes with a 'condition unknown' 850cc engine at the rear and a 1000- or 1100cc that has to be mounted in the front subframe.  There are twin fuel tanks and 12" wheels. A rewarding project no doubt. See the ad here.

Mini based Jeep style car - but with a difference...

...As the car's rear is another engine bay

Front oozes Jeep but then this was going to be a 4x4 

There's an 850 engine in the space frame at the back

While this one (1000 or 1100) is meant to go in the front 

Simple dash with twin instruments. Twin tanks mounted directly under seats

Floors appear to have been made specifically for this car

Monday 7 November 2022

Stimson Safari Six, as seen on Swiss tv

Seen in a 1985 magazine: a tiny picture of a Stimson Safari Six. I don't think it's one I have seen before, looking to be registered 'GDW 531E'. Interestingly the snippet about the National Mini Day in June that year mentions the following: "Some of the more interesting vehicles at the really included the Mini Mk1 which starred in the BBC television series 'One by One' and a rare six-wheeled Stimson Safari Six, one of only 12 built. This bizarre machine has glassfibre bodywork on a space frame chassis and travelled to the rally straight from Zurich where it has received substantial television coverage."

Who knows more..?

UPDATE 18:00: Mystery solved! It's a young Colin Baines leaning against the car, which was his at the time (he's owned more than one!). Colin: "Ha! Yes this was me age 25 at the Mini Cooper Club meeting at Beaulieu, I'd just driven over from the International Mini meeting in Switzerland where it won 'Der Ungewöhnlichste Mini' trophy - (The Most Unusual Mini) on TV." Footage from it can be seen here. Thanks Paul and Colin!

Stimson Safari Six, which supposedly appeared on Swiss television
Picture Jeroen Booij archive / Classic Cars magazine

Friday 4 November 2022

What exactly is Paul's convertible?

A message from Michigan, where Paul Lester owns a Mini convertible by an unknown coachbuilder. Paul wrote: "I was told the car was modified in the early 1960's (it is a 1960 Austin Mini 7) to see if the factory could offer a cabrio, but the project was never agreed upon. I have no evidence to back this up other then two people with similar stories. I did talk to someone who worked on it in the 1980s in the UK (Worthing, quite close to the Cooper garage) and he had some history but sadly he passed away before he could share. All I know is 'oral history' with no firm facts to back it up."

With much of the car's sides kept intact it did remind me of a convertible conversion by Bell's Cars of Kensington but unlike Paul's car these had the conventional rear side screens. So... a factory conversion / prototype after all..? I'd love to find out and I'm sure the same goes for Paul.

A 1960 Austin Mini that's been converted into a convertible. But by whom?
Picture Paul Lester

There have been other convertibles keeping the Mini's sides intact, but not like this
Picture Paul Lester

Thursday 3 November 2022

The Stimson Mini Bug of 'The Wombles'

Keeping up with the 'Mini based cars on British television' theme (last week's Unipower in The Troubleshooters here), I was sent this little movie clip below of 'The Wombles', which supposedly made it to the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, famously won by ABBA of Sweden. If you go to 1:50 in the clip you will see three beach buggies, two of them VW powered but number three being a Stimson Mini Bug!

Barry Tilbury wondered if it could be his car, which happens to be another example that made it to a British television series in the 1970s (see here and here). Although the Wombles clip comes in a pretty low quality, the registration of the Bug seen in that seemed to be different from Paul's. 'LPM 317K' perhaps? 

Well, almost. It turns out to be 'EPM 317K' and the car is known by arch Stimson enthusiast Paul Wylde who added "It lives in a field in Wales and the guy will not sell it - I tried." Pity. It is a great little car with some fun history that deserves some tender loving care after all.

The Wombles in their buggies, one of them being a 1972 Stimson Mini Bug
Picture Youtube

The car was registered 'EPM 317K' and is known to survive
Picture Youtube


The Wombles made it as an act to the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, famously won by ABBA

Video: Youtube

And that's the car today, sitting in a field in Wales with the owner not wanting to sell it

Picture courtesy Paul Wylde