Alec Issigonis – Top Bloke!

Top Bloke for February – Alec Issigonis
Where would we be without the Min? And I don’t mean BMW’s modern incarnation of the Austin Maxi. My guess is that we would all be driving round in Morris Oxford lookalikes (albeit manufactured somewhere further East than King’s Lynn). We have Alec Issigonis to thank for rescuing us from an endless nightmare of Far Eastern grey porridge. Without his single minded determination to design cars the way he wanted them designed, we would probably not have a situation where transverse front wheel drive is considered to be the norm.

Alec Issigonis at his desk

The Mini, or Austin Se7en and Morris Mini-Minor as it was originally named, was like nothing ever seen. Born out of a desire to exploit an area of the market that had opened up in the wake the Suez crisis, the Mini was a properly engineered car that swept the rash of bubble cars from the list of sensible purchases that one might be expected to make if fuel saving were the primary aim.

The Mini was tiny, yet seated four adults and their luggage. (!) It bristled with ingenuity and one man’s sense of purpose. In order to steal valuable space from the drivetrain, the engine was mounted across the car instead of in the traditional North-South position. Not only that, but the gearbox was mounted beneath the engine and ran in the same oil. In 1959, these were the deeds of madmen, yet it didn’t stop there. The wheels stole space from the cabin, so they were reduced to 10 inches in diameter! (bonkers). The suspension was made out of rubber! (hallucinogenic). In the interests of interior storage: the dash consisted of a full width shelf and a speedo, the doors were two huge stowage bins and the space under the seats was designed to take luggage! You could even order special wicker baskets to fit there (blinkin’ crazy or what?) As if this weren’t enough for Issigonis to considered a suitable candidate for a full frontal lobotomy, he designed the boot lid to fold down to form a platform to carry his lawnmower and failed to provide a radio mounting point, because he didn’t like music on the move! They do say that the line between madness and genius is a blurred one.

Issigonis with Mini no. 1

But, of course, the Min wasn’t Issigonis’ only contribution to motoring folklore. Prior to that, his Mosquito project became another British icon – the Morris Minor. He also followed up the Mini with the Morris 1100/1300, which was Britain’s best selling car throughout its long life. The next Issigonis masterpiece failed to hit the right spot however. The Austin 1800 Land Crab lacked the elegance of the 1100 and what, on the Mini were charming idiosyncrasies, on the 1800 were glaringly bad design – particularly in the ergonomics department and the notorious ‘bus driver’ steering position.

Issigonis' sketches for the Mosquito, which would become the Minor

After his retirement he continued to work in a consultancy capacity for British industry whilst experimenting with wheel mounted electric motors and steam power for his modern vision of the Mini. These may sound like barking ideas, but that’s what they said in 1959 and look how wrong they were then!

So raise your glass of Tennents Super to Alec Issigonis, Top Bloke and all round sound as a pound ironmongery type geezer.

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