- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

When Alec Issigonis first created the Mini four decades ago, the objective was a small car with a spacious interior.

In order to achieve that goal, the four-cylinder engine was turned sideways and linked to the front drive wheels.

An unintended byproduct of the inspired design was that the car handled as if it were on rails and soon thereafter, at least in Great Britain, a whole new industry was spawned, that of transforming stock Minis into unlikely racing machines.

A few years ago a customer brought his 1975 Mini to ML Motor Sports in Kent, England, with instructions to shave off any excess pounds they could find on the diminutive car and rebuild the engine with as much muscle as possible.

Work began and, as the story is told, A.C. Dodd, the in-house builder of racing engines, discovered that the original .85-liter engine had been replaced by a larger 1.38-liter engine. So working with what he had, in 2004 he rebuilt it and boosted the horsepower output to 78, more than 21/2 times what the original engine had developed.

The craftsmen at ML Motor Sports replaced most of the body panels with versions identical in appearance but lighter in weight. The back seat was removed to save weight but with an eye toward safety, a roll cage was installed. A 10-inch steering wheel was installed along with Cobra racing seats.

Along about this time the wife of the Mini owner discovered how much money was being spent on the little car and called a halt to the project. That action reportedly led to a divorce where, ironically, she received the car in the settlement.

At this point Alex Nikkhoo, of Leesburg, Va., enters the story. A long-time aficionado of Mini cars and racing, Mr. Nikkhoo knew the personnel at ML Motor Sports and they filled him in on the saga of the Mini. He knew the former wife wanted to sell the car but he also knew the only valuable part of the car was the engine rebuilt for racing.

Mr. Nikkhoo persuaded the owner to sell him the engine, which he then had stored in the garage where the rest of the car sat.

A year of so later the ex-wife discovered there wasn’t much of a market for the car without an engine so she sold it to the owner of the garage where the car — and the engine — were stored.

Upon learning that the body was now owned by ML Motor Sports, Mr. Nikkhoo purchased it and had the engine and body merged as they once had been. He had purchased both the engine and the body sight unseen other than photographs.

The car still features sliding windows, which allow a couple more inches of hip room inside the car. The inside and the outside of the door panel share the same piece of steel.

With the car back in one piece, the work was completed and the transformed Mini was delivered to the port of Southampton, where it was loaded on a ship bound for Baltimore. In June of 2006 Mr. Nikkhoo received the anxiously awaited telephone message that his car was waiting for him at the dock.

He left his Leesburg home about noon with his wife, Bita, and promptly encountered every imaginable traffic problem possible. Consequently he arrived at the port after hours. He pleaded with the one person still manning the operation, who took pity on his plight and processed the paperwork and cleared the Mini for delivery. “There it is,” he said. “Get it out of here.”

Mr. Nikkhoo had brought some jumper cables along but the ignition key that was supposed to have been left with the car was nowhere in sight. Fortunately, the people who shipped the car had foreseen such a problem and had told him that they would put a spare ignition key in the battery box.

He located the spare key and after pouring a couple of gallons of gasoline that he had brought along into the Mini, the engine fired right up. The jumper cables weren’t necessary. The gasoline tank capacity is 7.5 gallons.

With his wife following him, Mr. Nikkhoo wheeled his new Mini out into traffic on its 10-inch wheels and enjoyed an uneventful trip home. Once at home he thoroughly examined the car and inspected the front disc brakes, the dual S.U. carburetors and Aston Martin red paint.

On good weather days when not much traffic is expected, Mr. Nikkhoo will drive his Mini to work as general manager at Sonic Couriers in Tysons Corner. Of his car he states, “It’s 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 10 feet long and I feel safe in it.”

Two weeks after he took delivery of the Mini, he entered his first autocross competition in Frederick and received a third-place trophy. He expects to do much better once he becomes more familiar with his little car.

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