CLEAN air campaigners jumped for joy this week as BMW announced it was to build the first ever electric Mini in Oxford.

The only problem is – it's not the first.

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.

The firm specialised in 'up-cycling' classic car chassis such as Bentleys into one-off custom models.

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.

It ran for up to 15 miles on its battery then, as the juice ran low, the petrol engine would kick in to re-charge it while still in motion.

As if that wasn't futuristic enough, the car could talk: Mr Hodson and his team installed an eight-track stereo in the car body and recorded their own messages to future drivers.

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'."

That law states that the total energy available to 'do work' in an isolated system can only decrease over time.

Of course Microdot had not broken the laws of physics, but the words had already done their job and the investors were convinced.

The Mallalieu team made a valiant effort to pick themselves up, but it never happened.

Mr Hodson moved into consultancy where he remains today but still keeps two 1978 original clay models of the Microdot as souvenirs.

He said: "We had all the technological know-how and enthusiasm: the cars would have worked."