Hrach at a local autocross circuit.
Photo by Bruce Vild
Remembering ‘Mr. Mini’
by Faith Lamprey & Bruce Vild
On October 31st, Cesar Chekijian posted the following message on the NEMO Facebook page, which NEMO’s Iain Barker copied to our Google group:
“It is ten years ago today when my brother, Hrach Chekijian, passed away. The BBC in a documentary called him ‘Mini Enthusiast Extraordinaire.’ Between 1970 and 2010, he owned over 50 Minis, drove coast-to-coast with a Moke, was involved in re-introducing the MINI with BMW, and in his last decade, sold several hundred new ones at Peabody MINI in Massachusetts.
“Over 700 people came to his wake, funeral and memorial, with a long procession of Minis from all over New England, New York and as far away as Ohio and Virginia. No doubt he has replicated it all in Mini Heaven by now!
“Anyone remember Hrach Chekijian?”
Remember Hrach? Who can forget him? For some of us he was our first contact with the world of Minis, and for others already involved with Minis the man to see for parts, advice, and Mini-oriented fun.
There’s a rumor that when the film that became the Mark Wahlberg/Charlize Theron version of The Italian Job was first being considered, the cars pulling the heist would be VW’s New Beetles. Hrach, the story goes, would simply not have that, and he lobbied and pulled whatever strings he had to make sure those cars would be MINIs — and Paramount Pictures had no choice but to go along.
Hrach clowning around amidst his Mini memorabilia. Yes, that’s a bed.
Photo by Faith Lamprey
Whether that’s just a tall tale we suppose we’ll never know, but it certainly goes along with Hrach’s larger-than-life persona and reputation worldwide as “Mr. Mini.” It is true that he counted rally legend Paddy Hopkirk among his friends, and that at a Mini Meet in Charlestown, S.C., he had to work his way through a crowd, all delighted to see him and to shake hands, to get to where the Meet’s welcome reception was taking place. He made it, but it took a while.
It was Hrach who gave NEMO, at the time just a fledgling group, the courage to host our first Mini Meet. This was in the Boston area in 1998, and it included a police-escorted parade of Minis down Commonwealth Avenue that took everyone in the city by surprise. Ask anyone who was privileged enough to participate what a wild ride that was and how amazing it was that Hrach pulled it off.
Privileged? We all were privileged to have had Hrach as our “Big Guy,” the President of our club, from its very beginning. At MINI of Peabody, he was the man who sold us our first MINI — and was nationally recognized as one of the top, if not the top, MINI salesmen around. The parties at his home in Watertown, Mass., were legend, the Mini-styled jewelry he crafted was exquisite, and if he took you for a ride in one of his cars it was… well, exhilarating.
Hrach, Mr. Mini. Remember him? Of course we do.
[Contrib. Ed. note: You can find the documentary and other videos by searching youtube.com for “Hrach Chekijian — BBC Profile.” —DS]
Installed, a truly high-mount brake light. All three brake lights here are in the ‘dim’ mode.
Photo by George Sykes
Installing a High-mount Brake Light in a Classic Mini
by George Sykes
Classic Mini brake lamps are only 22” off the ground, which is pretty low. Replacing the standard bulbs with bright LEDs improves safety, though a driver in a large SUV or pickup may still not see you brake. A high-mount third brake light is the way to go.
However, most third-brake-light solutions in Minis mount the light on the rear parcel shelf. This is still only 36” up, which is lower than a modern sedan’s brake lights (40” on my Ford Focus), and several feet lower than a full-size SUV or pickup.
After some Internet searching, I found the Morimoto “5Stop Brake Light,” a universal third brake light. They’re designed with five 5W LEDs with a rated lumen (lm) output at 12V of 400lm in dim mode (running light) and 800lm in bright mode (brake light), with a 4-amp draw. The LEDs are enclosed in a machined aluminum waterproof casing. I bought mine from The Retrofit Source for $40. I decided to mount the light near the top of the rear window, at 45” for maximum visibility.
I removed the rear window and edge of the headliner to aid in fishing wires along the roof. The Mini roof has a cavity between the inner “skin” and the outer roof, which is where I planned to attach a custom bracket for the light. I made a cardboard template for the mounting bracket to get the size, dimensions, and angle correct before cutting any metal.
The Morimoto light comes with a bracket, but because of the angle of the roof and window I couldn’t make it work. The light has two threaded 5mm x .8 holes in the back, perfect for mounting to flat sheet metal. For the bracket I used 1/16” 304 stainless sheet that I bent on a sheet metal brake. However, a vise and rubber mallet can be effective in shaping a piece this small, especially if you use mild steel.
After cutting the cardboard template and adjusting the shape and angle, I transferred the shape to the sheet metal. I used a 4 1/2” grinder with a cutoff wheel to cut the stainless, and finished the edges and final shape on a belt sander. For a bit of style, I drilled “racer” holes in the bracket. I thought about bead blasting the stainless and painting it satin black, but ultimately decided to polish it.
Once I was satisfied with the fit and location, I carefully cut holes in the edge of the headliner to expose the area where I planned to install two 5mm x .8 Rivnuts (rivet nuts.) The roof cavity lends itself to using Rivnuts. It is deep enough to drill into without getting near the outer roof skin. Rivnuts are blind installed and provide a machine thread hole in sheet metal. Installation requires a Rivnut tool with the correct mandrel. There are numerous videos and graphics on-line if you are curious. McMaster-Carr sells the tool and nuts.
Inside view of bracket and wiring.
Photo by George Sykes
A pet peeve of mine is people always saying, “Ah, English cars have Lucas electrics, the Prince of Darkness, blah blah blah.” My experience is the electrics aren’t the problem, it’s the mechanic(s) who previously worked on the car! The first question to ask when you have an electrical problem in an old car is, “Did you check the ground?” But I digress.
The wiring is pretty simple in a Mini and there are multiple sources for wiring diagrams. The Haynes manual has them, and the Mini Forum has excellent redrawn wiring diagrams. I’ve used both. The most difficult thing is knowing the correct year of the car. The color of the wires is laid out in the BS-AU7 standard (Google it or see the Mini Forum.) The brake lights use a green wire with a purple stripe and grounds are always black. For the sake of the next owner of my car, I used the correct color wire to connect the high-mount light.
You can spend most of a night reading about the “best” way to connect wires. Crimp, solder, a combination of both, or the evil Scotch Lock (don’t use them!). My preferred method for splices is solder and adhesive-lined heat shrink.
The Morimoto light has three wires coming from it, black (ground), red (dim), and yellow (bright). I decided to extend the Morimoto wires by 4 feet so they would reach the Mini’s right-side brake light. I used nine-strand green/purple wire (rated for 5.75 amps) purchased from British Wiring in Pennsylvania. I spliced green/purple wire to the red and yellow wires to provide the ability to change the brightness. Obviously, black was used for the ground.
I pulled the wires through a PVC sleeve (also from British Wiring) to protect them in the roof cavity and rear pillar. At the Mini’s rear brake light, I spliced a female connector to the green/purple wire to allow switching between the two brightness levels. I soldered an eye to the black wire, insulated it with heat shrink, and attached it to a clean ground on the light casing. I connected male connectors to the other wires (green/purple) and labeled them with regard to their brightness.
In hindsight, I could have saved some time and just done the low setting, which is really bright. The high setting is super bright and not necessary for this application.
Nearly finished bracket with LEDs.
Photo by George Sykes
When you’re working by yourself it is difficult to check your brake lights. My method was to jam a block of wood between the driver’s seat and brake pedal. Once I was satisfied that everything worked correctly, it was time to reinstall the rear window.
I don’t profess to be an expert on Mini window installation, but I’ve put in a few and have a preferred method. First off, the rubber seals sold by most of the Mini suppliers are stiff and don’t last. I happened upon a supplier of Japanese Mini parts called Classic Minis Japan. The gentleman who owns it is David Ainley. He sells an excellent window seal and locking strip, plus a bunch of other cool bits that are made in Japan. (You can find him on Facebook or classicminisjapan.com.) The seal is very pliable and easy to work with, and the locking strip is much brighter.
The only tools I use are a soft rubber mallet, a plastic bicycle tire lever made by Pedro’s Bike Tools (this brand only, the tip is flat and smooth), a Lisle 48600 offset locking strip tool (much better than the type most Mini suppliers sell), and a tube of “water soluble personal lubricant” such as K-Y. Some say to use soapy water — but dishwashing soaps can contain salt, which you don’t want trapped anywhere near the steel window opening. Others say to use a string. This Japanese window gasket doesn’t require the string method and running the risk of cutting the seal.
If you’re using a seal from the U.K., soak it in warm water to make it pliable. If you’re using the Japanese seal, warming is unnecessary unless it’s really cold in your garage. Place the seal into the opening and gently tap it home with the rubber mallet.
Use a little of the lube in the window slot. Place the window in the opening and use the Pedro’s tire lever to work the edge of the seal gently over the window. Patience is important. Work a little at a time, with the goal of getting the window in without breaking the glass.
Once the seal covers the entire window edge, manipulate the window and seal to make sure it’s fully seated and centered. Determine which opening in the Lisle tool is closest to the shape of the locking strip. Lube the groove for the locking strip, start at the top in the middle, and gently push the locking strip into the groove with the tool. About halfway around you’ll get the hang of the tool and things will go smoothly.
Trim the locking strip a little long as they always seem to shrink. Remove the tool, and push the last bit in. I generally wait a few days to install the half-round stainless seam cover over the locking strip. Cleaning fingerprints from the window will probably take as long as the installation!
[Contrib. Ed. note: George owns a 1992 Mini 1275 carbureted saloon, the last version before single point fuel injection. —DS]
[Exec. Ed. note: Mention of any product in this article reflects the opinion of the writer and should not be construed as an endorsement of that product by this publication. (Standard disclaimer language.) —BV]
Pretty Minis all in a row. Left to right: Schwartz/Lehrman, Brownell, Barker, Darisse.
Photo by Betty Lehrman
by Betty Lehrman
NATICK, Mass., Oct. 11 — The sky was a robin’s egg blue, the wind gentle and cool as we drove up to the Cole Recreation Center in Natick on Sunday morning. The parking lot was full. At first it was hard to tell which cars were there for the soccer practice and which for the drive, but as we looked closer we counted at least 40 classic cars and trucks of all vintages.
And of course, Minis. There were four classics and two modern MINIs in attendance, all owned by NEMO members. (Thanks to Paul Salnier for putting out the word on the Google group.)
We pulled our ’68 Mini Traveller in across from Bob Brownell’s green ’63 Austin Mini. Iain and Nuala Barker drove their green ’67 Mini Cooper S. Joe and Brenda Darrise brought a sweet red ’77 Mini 1000 with a British flag roof.
Wendy Birchmere drove her latest toy, a converted 2008 Red Bull MINI with built-in cooler compartments (the better to take your lunch leftovers in). Red Bull had converted 500 MINIs into rolling ads, removing the back seat, rear roof and trunk, and adding a giant can of Red Bull Energy Drink. Wendy’s car no longer has the giant can and looks a bit like a stubby pickup truck.
Completing the picture was Susan Read, who drove a Tardis blue MINI decorated with Doctor Who decals and little plastic ducks.
The drive was organized by a loose collection of folks in the suburbs west of Boston, and publicized through e-mails and website postings. Clearly, folks wanted to get out and drive on this beautiful fall day.
We especially admired the creamy white ’63 Studebaker Hawk, a red ’53 Ford F-100 pickup truck, and a souped-up red VW Karmann Ghia complete with red door handles and a red steering wheel. There were several hot rods and classic American cars from the ’30s through the ’60s, as well as muscle cars and pickup trucks.
Wendy Birchmere’s latest acquisition, a mildly customized, ex-Red Bull MINI promo vehicle (no giant can in the back).
Photo by David Schwartz
After the requisite drivers’ meeting led by Marlene Custodio, we drove east to Natick Center and then north on Rt. 27 through Natick, Wayland and Sudbury. From there we turned west onto Rt. 117, passing farms, fields, and quaint little town centers, trying not to disturb the apples at Bolton Orchard. (Their sign says, “Shh, the apples are sleeping.”) We rode into Lancaster, turned right onto Rt. 70, and headed for Kimball Farm.
Our Mini Traveller navigated the twists and turns well, and only smelled of burning oil on the uphills. As usual, we enjoyed the smiles and waves of pedestrians, bicyclists and shoppers as we drove past. It’s always fun to see young children do a double take as they spy a classic Mini — a car that seems to be made just for them.
There was plenty of parking at Kimball’s and lots of appreciative looks for all of the cars as we parked in the lot. The grill did a brisk seafood business with car owners, as did the ice cream windows. The many outdoor tables made it easy for everyone to stay comfortably apart while enjoying the scene. It was nice to support a local, seasonal business.
On the way home we stopped at Derby Ridge Farm in Stow to pick raspberries and buy local produce. Parked next to an SUV, our Mini looked impossibly small.
Then we drove to the Sudbury Valley Trustees Memorial Forest in Sudbury. We took a long walk through the woods, crossing streams and enjoying the red and gold leaves. As we emerged from the trees, a young girl and her father were on the path in front of us. The girl caught sight of our little car and was delighted.
All in all, it was a lovely day, despite the smell of burning oil!
Otto takes it easy on the Framingham Common.
Photo by David Schwartz
Auto (Otto) Parts Scarecrow
by Ken Lemoine
FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — In conjunction with the Framingham Cultural District, there is an exhibition of scarecrows on the Framingham Common through November 1st. I was asked to create one for the Framingham History Center.
“Otto” has MG intake eyes, trim mustache, U-bolt legs and bumper over-rider knees, Fiamm horn ears, Autolite spark plug earrings, Model T horn mouth, brake hardware necklace, and power antenna arms.
A Virtual Holiday Get-together!
by David Schwartz
NEMO traditionally holds a holiday party the first weekend in December. Obviously, we won’t be able to have an in-person party this year — and we are long overdue for another on-line gathering, so I will e-mail a Zoom invitation for Sunday, December 6th, at 7:30 p.m.
If you have any ideas for on-line “party” activities, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ideas we have received so far are for a Festive Outfit Contest, Weird Auto Parts Scavenger Hunt, Virtual Yankee Swap, and a Trivia Quiz (with NEMO and Mini questions).
The eldest Geoff takes a turn on the go-kart.
Photos by Liz Neiley & Geoff Neiley III
The Neiley Family Go-kart
by Barbara Neiley & Geoff Neilly III
Go, Grammy and Grampy!
Geoff (a/k/a Grampy) and I bought a go-kart back in the early 1960s before our children were born. Together with a friend from Winchester, Mass., who raced cars with SCCA for many years, we raced go-karts with a club that met at Hanscom Field in Bedford. The club laid out a temporary course on Sundays with cone markers on the pavement in front of an airplane hangar. The kart had a McCulloch MC20 engine and was capable of going 60mph. (Quite a thrill while traveling only 3” above the ground!)
Geoff raced in the “larger adult men’s” class (Geoff calls it the fat man’s class). However, the organizers took pity on me and allowed me to race with the “juniors.” Their karts were less powerful than ours so I had an advantage on the straight sides of the oval course. The ends of the oval had S-turns that required me to slow down in order to avoid spinning out. It worked as quite an equalizer!
The kart had no clutch and no starter, so starting the engine required lifting the rear wheels and running forward to drop the wheels while the kart was moving forward — not an easy task.
In the mid-1960s, our interests turned to our antique house, gardening, horseback riding, and eventually, children. The go-kart was stored away in the garage and didn’t see the light of day for at least 50 years. Finally, this summer, our son Geoff took it home for restoration. The “engineer in charge” writes about the restoration below.
The kart used to be quite a thrill to race. With our son’s modifications it will only go 25-30mph as all four of his children (ages 6, 9, 11 and 14) are allowed to drive it — even 6-year-old Brielle, who is very cautious and drives at approximately “idling” speed.
The MC20 engine has been replaced with a snowblower engine (with muffler) to make it suitable for the kids (and grandparents) to drive in a neighborhood. It doesn’t go 60mph anymore, but it’s still exciting going 30 mph only 3” above the ground.
Our son Geoff lives in Dunstable, Mass. (just south of Nashua, N.H.). He planned and supervised the restoration, and his two older kids, Geoffrey (age 11) and Allison (age 14), did a great deal of the work. Fortunately, he lives on a quiet dead-end street with very patient and sympathetic neighbors who do not object to the kart on the few occasions when it is driven. Our daughter, Liz, lives in Chelmsford and is an enthusiastic “Auntie Liz”!
Now Grammy Barbara is ready for a go!
The new yellow-and-black paint job just happens to match the 2002 MINI Cooper S that Grampy Geoff now drives, and the 1967 Mini Cooper S, for which Dave Black rebuilt the engine and completed the restoration work (left unfinished by a local body shop).
We joked last weekend about having a big MINI (2002), a little Mini (1967), and a Mini-mini (kart, early 1960s)! —BN
When my sister Liz and I were kids, we enjoyed trips to the family friend’s house where Dad had a couple cars stored — and the go-kart. It was fun climbing in the old cars, but the highlight was always sitting in the go-kart.
For some reason, this one was the closest to being something we could actually use. Cries of, “Can we take the go-kart home, please?” were always met with, “No, it goes too fast... it needs work... it is not a toy.” Truth was, we had so many other hobbies and activities, there just wasn’t room for one more.
The years went by and the kart moved to a new barn that our parents built after Liz and I moved away. More time flowed through the hourglass. Visits to Grammy’s house with my kids emulated our childhood visits, climbing in the old cars and ogling the go-kart. When they were old enough to realize they might be able drive such a toy, their cries rekindled our own. “Please, Dad, can we take the go-kart home and fix it up? Pleeeease?”
How could I deny my kids the same dreams of the go-kart as I’d had? And as a side benefit... I’d finally get to drive it!
So, during one visit to Grammy’s house, when my patient wife, Jen, was not present, we put the go-kart in the back of the minivan and the adventure began.
The first challenge was the engine. I knew the two-cycle MC20 was a beast, and it needed a jump start. I didn’t want the kart bombing down the road at 60mph in the neighborhood, and I was surely not push-starting it for everyone, especially with no one big enough to push start it for me!
So I started looking for a more reasonable engine. A few searches on Facebook Marketplace and I found an old 8hp Tecumseh M80 four-cycle snowblower engine for sale for $25. It was only 20 minutes away. What a cheap adventure this would be!
The clean-up and disassembly began right away. Allison (14) and Geoffrey IV (11) were ready for the challenge. With wrenches in hand, we removed the MC20, the fuel tank, chain and sprocket. Everything was going according to plan.
We needed a clutch and a carburetor for the snowblower engine. The exhaust was junk, too, and I thought it would be cool to replace it with a pipe-style muffler. The M80 has a large shaft, so the clutch required a larger chain and larger sprocket. After some research and handy on-line calculators, I determined the drive sprocket size so we would not exceed 22mph. Perfect.
A go-kart all the kids (regardless of age) can enjoy!
Soon, though, Murphy’s Law caught up with us. The M80 is quite a bit larger than the MC20 and we would need a new motor mount. To replace the motor mount, we needed to remove the rear axle. All the bearings and collets were seized on the aluminum shaft. Back on-line to get a new shaft and bearings.
With the old shaft Sawzalled out, we were free to restore the frame. The kids had narrowed the colors down to black-and-green or black-and-yellow. The deciding factor was that yellow would be a tribute to Grampy’s Minis. Allison and Geoffrey went into the restoration with abandon — steel wool, sandpaper, painter’s tape, dropcloths and spray paint. Once the motor cowlings were removed and wheels disassembled, painting and polishing took center stage.
Delivery trucks cycled through the driveway. The parts continued to arrive and the project marched on (and the budget continued to melt down).
One factor continually amazed me throughout the restoration. Most of the old parts and features had not changed in 60 years! The same three-point bearing housings still fit the frame the sprocket hole pattern matched the old sprocket mount the shaft location on the motor mount lined up with the frame dimensions the shaft ends fit the wheels. It was a testament to the efficient design established two or three generations earlier.
The biggest challenge we had was the throttle cable. The new motor’s carburetor was in a different location than on the MC20, so we went to work with a replacement lawn mower throttle cable from Home Depot, my new angle-grinder, some steel bar and a 3D printer! (For the record, we already had the 3D printer. I did not buy it for this project.)
Finally, as we were installing the chain, the kart up on saw horses, my intermittently-observant son said, “It looks like the chain is going to hit the ground.”
Ugh. He was right. My calculations neglected to compare the drive sprocket radius with the wheel radius. Placing the almost complete kart on the ground for the first time, we had a fulcrum teetering on the sprocket. Back to the Internet, then a wait for the delivery truck. Much to my chagrin, the new sprocket gave a new top speed of 32mph.
We were ready for the moment of truth: Would the engine start? Full choke, one pump, two on the primer bulb. A hearty pull of the pull-start and... she turned over. It looked promising. A couple more pulls and she roared to life, flames escaping from the new exhaust. Brilliant! We were ecstatic!
The pride and joy shining from my kids’ faces as they took their first turns in the go-kart were memories to last us all a lifetime. A project, an adventure, the work, the waiting — the cost! — all resulted in this achievement. Not only did they have a go-kart, but they truly felt pride in restoring a relic that once carried Grammy and Grampy, one that Dad and Auntie Liz had only dreamed about. They made it real for all three generations.
The expression on their faces was priceless as Grampy and then Grammy were gingerly lowered into the driver’s seat by their adult children. The wind and the joy in their grandparents’ faces as they sped past the family down Swallow Lane was magical.
What a joy. What an adventure. What an experience. What a life. —GN
Did Danica Patrick start out like this? (Granddaughter Brielle.)
by David Schwartz
I was inspired to run this article after watching driving videos posted on Barbara Neiley’s Facebook page. Daughter Liz shot the video and commented, “My brother Geoff fixed up the old racing go-kart that Grammy Barbara used to race before we were born. So, what’s the best thing about it? Watching Grammy race it up and down the street 50 years later. Being 83 doesn’t stop her!
“Not to be outdone by Grammy, here comes Grampy! Being 85 doesn’t stop him, either. He has the smile of a little kid!”
Watching the videos put a huge smile on my face as well. Four generations of Neiley men are named Geoffrey, with NEMO’s Geoff (Grampy) being “Junior.” Grammy and Grampy are long-time NEMO members.