Com­ple­men­tary ther­apy

Mod­i­fy­ing an MX-5 isn’t a tra­di­tional treat­ment for leukaemia, but when Aftab Ali’s teenage son, Hassan, was di­ag­nosed with the dis­ease, the dis­traught fa­ther knew it would be a wel­come dis­trac­tion for them both. Words and photography: Dan Sher­wood

Total MX-5 - - CONTENTS -

Leukaemia is a nasty dis­ease, so to help his teenage son Hassan through the treat­ment, Aftab Ali bought a mk2 project as a thrilling dis­trac­tion

There’s an old say­ing that laugh­ter is the best medicine. And maybe if you’re suf­fer­ing from a sam­buca-in­duced han­gover, or even a rag­ing case of man-flu, hav­ing a good old chuckle could very well aid your re­cov­ery to some de­gree.

But when it comes to se­ri­ous ill­nesses, you might need a rem­edy a lit­tle stronger than laugh­ter on its own.which is what 44-year-old Aftab Ali dis­cov­ered when his son Hassan was di­ag­nosed with can­cer.

‘Hassan was just 17 when he was di­ag­nosed with leukaemia,’ re­calls Aftab. ‘It’s such dev­as­tat­ing news to hear that your child has can­cer. It’s some­thing that no par­ent should have to deal with.your life gets turned up­side down and flipped back to front, then torn to pieces. And that’s not even con­sid­er­ing the pa­tient them­selves and the of­ten hor­rific treat­ments they have to en­dure, which is dif­fi­cult enough to watch, let alone ex­pe­ri­ence. To try deal­ing with that re­quires a level of sup­port that be­comes a part of your life, from fam­ily, friends, peo­ple in your busi­ness, ev­ery­one helping out, and we are so grate­ful that we had ev­ery­one rally around us.’

Ob­vi­ously, with such a se­ri­ous con­di­tion, Hassan’s treat­ment be­gan im­me­di­ately, re­quir­ing sev­eral reg­u­lar trips each week to Christie Hospi­tal in Manch­ester, the largest can­cer cen­tre in Europe – a jour­ney that at first fa­ther and son would make in Aftab’s Range Rover Sport.

‘Al­though the Range Rover was com­fort­able, it was very big and the tight park­ing at the hospi­tal was tak­ing its toll on the car’s ex­te­rior,’ Aftab says.‘each visit the car’s pan­els would seems to pick up yet an­other ding from a car door or a scraped al­loy wheel from the high kerbs.’

So a plan was hatched for the SUV’S re­place­ment. As Aftab and Hassan are both car mad, it was de­cided that they would look into pur­chas­ing a project car that they could work on to­gether – one which would serve as a nim­ble mode of trans­port to and from hospi­tal, but also one which they could have fun driv­ing and mod­i­fy­ing as a wel­come dis­trac­tion from Hassan’s treat­ment.

‘After knock­ing around a few ideas, Hassan and I de­cided that an MX-5 would be the per­fect car,’ Aftab re­veals.‘not only are they great drop-top driv­ers’ cars that would al­low us to make the most of the sum­mer, but there is also a wealth of tun­ing parts avail­able, mean­ing we could re­ally get stuck in and cre­ate some­thing spe­cial.’

Their first foray into MX-5 own­er­ship came in March

2017 when the pair pur­chased a black mk2 2005 Icon edi­tion: un­for­tu­nately, it turned out to not be the mint example they had hoped for.‘ev­ery­thing looked great on the sur­face when we viewed the car,’ ex­plains Aftab.‘it wasn’t un­til we had al­ready bought it and were get­ting deeper into the project that we found the dreaded red rot.’

The cor­ro­sion was hid­den be­hind an old body-kit, and was re­vealed when Aftab and Hassan de­cided to strip the car back to its orig­i­nal lines and found it was much more ex­ten­sive than they feared.‘it needed new sills and a host of other ar­eas also needed treat­ment,’ re­calls Hassan. ‘In the end my dad and I spent around four months, and quite a lot of money, restor­ing the car back to its for­mer glory. We added a host of up­grades along the way, too, such as a Car­bon Mi­ata rear bumper lip, a Maz­daspeed front lip,

Gen 1 side skirts and a Rac­ing Beat in­duc­tion kit and an awe­some-sound­ing ex­haust sys­tem.’

But with im­proved aes­thet­ics and sound­track, came the de­sire for up­rated per­for­mance and soon the speed-

ob­sessed fa­ther-and-son duo were busy re­search­ing a suit­able forced-in­duc­tion so­lu­tion. Tur­bocharg­ing, rather than su­per­charg­ing, seemed to of­fer the best gains, so Aftab and Hassan started look­ing at the var­i­ous turbo kits that were of­fered for the MX-5 and be­gan com­par­ing prices and power out­puts.

‘We even asked the ad­vice of our lo­cal garage, Speed Equip Auto Cen­tre in Rochdale, who, as Ja­panese spe­cial­ists, had pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with this kind of thing, to see what they rec­om­mended,’ says Hassan. ‘How­ever, what they sug­gested was com­pletely dif­fer­ent to what we orig­i­nally had in mind…’

The guys at Speed Equip could see that Aftab and Hassan were after a qual­ity build and were con­cerned that they would be plough­ing yet more money into a shell that, even with the cor­ro­sion is­sues re­paired, was likely still way past its best, and not the ideal base to likely dou­ble the en­gine’s power out­put.‘so with that we started look­ing for an­other car to act as a base for a tur­bocharged mon­ster!’ Aftab laughs. ‘And this time we would be sure to check that it was com­pletely rust-free be­fore hand­ing over our cash…’

There were var­i­ous MX-5S for sale at the time, many of which could’ve been per­fectly ac­cept­able con­tenders, but a cer­tain burnt or­ange mk2.5 caught their at­ten­tion.‘it had just two own­ers from new, with full ser­vice his­tory and was in im­mac­u­late, vis­ually-stan­dard con­di­tion,’ re­counts Hassan.‘at £5500 it was ex­pen­sive for a mk2, but it also came com­plete with a Stage 1 BBR turbo con­ver­sion, a beefier clutch and up­rated sus­pen­sion, all fit­ted by BBR them­selves.’

After some quick man maths, the guys fig­ured that it would al­most cer­tainly work out cheaper to buy the car with the turbo con­ver­sion com­plete, than it would to source a clean car and carry out the con­ver­sion them­selves. So shortly after­wards the deal was done.‘go­ing from a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated example to a tur­bocharged one was a rev­e­la­tion!’ beams Aftab.‘the new car was a mis­sile! In fact, it was a pretty good sleeper, as its stock looks of­ten sur­prised and frus­trated many sports car driv­ers who couldn’t get their head around the per­for­mance of the lit­tle drop-top.’

Thrilled by the level of oomph from their new toy, the pair then set about sort­ing the ba­sics, such as com­plet­ing a thor­ough un­der­seal and Wax­oyl (once bit­ten, twice shy), and car­ry­ing out a fresh ser­vice, flu­ids and fil­ters. Those

es­sen­tials com­pleted, Aftab and Hassan then fo­cused their at­ten­tion on en­hanc­ing the car’s fac­tory lines by fit­ting all the styling com­po­nents that were pre­vi­ously fit­ted to their orig­i­nal black example.

‘As the cre­ative di­rec­tor of my own web de­sign com­pany, I had a clear vi­sion of what I wanted the car to look like and worked closely with Hassan to mod­ify and colour-code key parts to bring to­gether a co­he­sive ex­te­rior pack­age,’ Aftab ex­plains, high­light­ing the unique hard­top which fea­tures a roof spoiler seam­lessly blended in to the rear trail­ing edge.

One of the first mod­i­fi­ca­tions that the pair un­der­took after the ini­tial parts swap was to up­grade the car’s rolling stock to a set of wide 9 x 16in XXR 537 wheels with 5mm spac­ers. In­spired by the retro de­signs of Minilite and Watan­abe wheels – not to men­tion the stock al­loys of the orig­i­nal MX-5 – the XXRS lend an air of old-school cool to the MX-5, while still man­ag­ing to look to­tally fresh and mod­ern. And wrapped in Yoko­hama Advan ADO8R rub­ber, they cer­tainly keep the mighty Mazda planted through the twisties. In the dry, at least…

‘The Advan tyres are a track-fo­cused semi-slick de­sign and are amaz­ing in the dry, but can be a bit sketchy in the wet,’ con­cedes Aftab.‘and con­sid­er­ing we live in the North West, where the weather is best de­scribed as av­er­ag­ing on ‘moist’ at best, it can make for in­ter­est­ing driv­ing when you are try­ing to put all that tur­bocharged power down.’

After the fresh wheels and tyres came some mods to make the car’s in­te­rior a nicer place to be, in­clud­ing a bang­ing dou­ble DIN stereo and speaker up­grade, plus seat­belt ex­ten­ders, a short-shifter and a cool and safety con­scious GC Fabri­ca­tions roll-bar.with the car now look­ing more like Aftab’s orig­i­nal vi­sion for it, the pair de­cided to seen if they could squeeze any more power out of the tur­bocharged en­gine.

First up­grade was a heat-wrapped 3-inch Mill­tek Sport stain­less steel de-cat ex­haust sys­tem. The large bore pipework added a deeper tone to the MX-5’S growl, but also meant that the en­gine could evac­u­ate its waste gases much more ef­fi­ciently. An HKS dump valve made its way un­der the bon­net around this time and it helps to keep the tur­bocharger from stalling, im­prov­ing throt­tle re­sponse and af­ford­ing each change of ra­tio the trade­mark

whoosh-tish sound beloved of tur­bocharged nut­ters the world over.

‘With the im­proved gas flow we de­cided to get the car remapped to max­imise the po­ten­tial power gains,’ Hassan says.‘but rather than sim­ply tap into the BBR pig­gy­back ECU, we felt it would be ben­e­fi­cial to make the swap to a stand­alone Mo­tor­sport Elec­tron­ics ME221 ECU in­stead.’

The ME221 is a com­pre­hen­sive yet af­ford­able af­ter­mar­ket ECU de­signed for four-cylin­der en­gines and, when com­bined with a set of larger ‘yel­low’ in­jec­tors from the MX-5’S big­ger brother, the RX-8, re­sulted in a 30bhp power boost when rolling road mapped by ECU spe­cial­ist, Efi-tun­ing.‘the car made 251bhp at 11.4psi on the dyno,’ grins Aftab.‘which not only made driv­ing it a hoot, but with its go-kart-like han­dling it also dra­mat­i­cally re­duced the time taken for our all-too-reg­u­lar hospi­tal trips.’

Which brings us neatly back to the rea­son that this car ex­ists in the first place. Aftab and Hassan’s tan­go­coloured MX-5 may have started out as a way to di­vert Hassan’s fo­cus away from the gru­elling med­i­cal treat­ments he had to en­dure, but it ended up as much more than a sim­ple dis­trac­tion – it has also brought this fa­ther and son team to­gether on a much more pos­i­tive level that isn’t just based around test re­sults and im­pos­si­ble to pro­nounce phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

‘We’ve grown re­ally close through do­ing this project,’ re­veals Aftab.‘in fact, hav­ing the car as our fo­cus and our passion has al­lowed all the fam­ily, our friends and ev­ery­one who’s been in­volved with the build, to be a part of our jour­ney. Even the other kids in treat­ment with Hassan at the time, were fas­ci­nated by the lit­tle or­ange rocket that you could hear be­fore you could see it.’

Un­for­tu­nately, not all of them sur­vived to en­joy read­ing the con­clu­sion of Hassan and Aftab’s story, which luck­ily does have a happy end­ing. Around the same time the fi­nal piece of the car’s kit was be­ing in­stalled, the Ali fam­ily got the call they had for so long been hop­ing for – Hassan was clear of the leukaemia.

‘It’s been one hell of a ride,’ sighs Aftab.‘it’s not just been about mod­i­fy­ing a nice car – al­though it will be great to con­tinue en­joy­ing it into the fu­ture, too – it’s what this car means to us. It’s al­most like a tro­phy, a prize, some­thing akin to an Olympic medal, be­cause what Hassan went through – and the other kids on Pala­tine Ward – was no less a feat than an Olympian ded­i­cat­ing their life to win­ning gold.’

And with the con­stant worry, un­pleas­ant treat­ment and hospi­tal trips soon to be a dis­tant mem­ory, we reckon for Aftab and Hassan, the fu­ture’s look­ing bright… And def­i­nitely or­ange.

Top: Mill­tek Sport ex­haust sys­tem beefs up the rear end’s looks

Right: cabin not wildly mod­ded but does fea­ture im­pres­sive sound sys­tem up­grade

Above: unique hard­top fea­tures a seam­lessly in­te­grated trail­ing edge spoiler that we reckon looks su­perb

Be­low: not only is this turbo in­stal­la­tion pleas­ing to the eye, it also pro­duces 251bhp, which gives the lit­tle road­ster a turn of speed that sur­prises driv­ers of ‘bet­ter’ sports cars…

Far left: the Ali team bought their car with a BBR turbo kit al­ready in­stalled

Left: car­bon­fi­bre shield to keep the turbo’s heat away from the in­take sys­tem’s in­let

Above: the Alis spent some time colour-cod­ing the car, and their ef­forts paid off

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