MMIM Hall of Fame
Sir Alec Issigonis CBE, FRS, RDI.
   When we think about the great motoring nations with great designers and innovative ideas we just don’t think about Greece. There are at least 18 firms that have produced vehicles in Greece but none have ever threatened the world with their exports. But however unconceivable it may be to some; Greece has given the motoring world three of the greats of automobile engineering, and pretty much all at the same time.
   Alexander Sarandon Tremulous (1914-1991) designed innovative products for Cord, Tucker, Duesenberg, General Motors, and Ford; while George Burris (b20-11-1925) was recognized as a top hot rod customizer and produced of theme cars.

   The third Greek in the trio was arguable the biggest and best (although that sort of thing is often a matter of personal preference), but he certainly was the man behind two of Britain’s most iconic cars, and one of them might be a contender for the world’s most recognisable car of all time. He is also the designer behind three of Britain’s top 5 all-time highest selling cars.

   What is perhaps most impressive about Alec Issigonis’ achievements are that he had the most troubled youth and had to work hard to reach the academic levels he needed to even get his foot in the door of the design office. But he ideas, and that was the something special that set him apart. That, and being able to make his ideas work! 

    Born Alexandros Arnoldos Konstantinos Issigonis on the 18th of November, 1906, Alexander Issigonis’ family were part of the Greek community in the port city of Smýrna. Smýrna was then the second city of the Ottoman Empire and had a local population of around one million, of which more than half were Greek. The port city had a great natural harbour at a strategic point on the Aegean coast, easy to defend and having good connections inland. Its history can be traced back to the 11th century BC, the main city being established by Alexander the Great.

   If there was a downside to the cities position it was that it lay on the east side of the Aegean. Since 1930 the city has been called İzmir, part of the nation of Turkey. That change was the result of a war between Greece and Turkey which caused death, and chaos for many; including the Issigonis family. 

   Alexander Issigonis was the only child of Constantine Issigonis and Hulda Henriette Issigonis, nee Prokopp.

   His mother, Hulda Issigonis, was born on the 20th of August, 1883, and was of Württemberg (German) ancestry. She was the daughter of Arnold Prokopp and Maria "Mina" Warning. Her father had become wealthy brewing beer and had a branch office in Smyrna, were he also established a brewery. It would be a coincidence that a cousin of Alexander Issigonis would be Bernd Pischetsrieder, a director of BMW and, for a short time, Volkswagen.

   Alexander’s father, Constantine Issigonis, was born in 1872, a merchant marine engineer and constructor who had studied engineering in Britain, with which he developed a strong connection. Constantine was to pass on his English ideals to his son in the years to come. Meanwhile Constantine returned to Smýrna to set up his own firm, and kept it running through the First World War, maintaining his British citizenship.

   The engineering connections were strong on his father’s side of the family. Not only had Alexander’s father studied engineering but his grandfather, Demosthenes Issigonis, was in engineering too. He had worked for the British building the Smyrna-Aydın Railway; which enabled him to acquire British nationality. This British nationality was subsequently claimed by his son and eventually by Alexander Issigonis himself.

   The Issigonis family could be described as affluent Alexander’s father travelling around much of Europe due to his business connections, though It is interesting that Alexander later recalled he was 12 years old before he saw his first car. At the time Alexander would have been under the strong German influence of his mother and that of the Greece community around him rather than any Turkish or British heritage. Alexander grew up speaking German and Greek and was educated in private schools in Smyrna. Despite having private tutors, Alexander had difficulty with arithmetic, something that he struggled with later in his education too. Strangely Issigonis had little interest in engineering appearing to be more interested in art, something his mother was a great lover of and she was keen that Alexander study the subject. This upbringing (and upheavals soon to occur) give some clues as to the mind behind the cars he later designed, emphasis on function and economy, but having to look correct too.

    When World War I ended in Europe it left many areas of what was then Asia minor in political chaos through the deals done by the allies during the war. Out of these misplaced promises the Greeks believed they could take back their ancient lands stolen by the Ottoman empire, which didn’t go down well with the Turks who were now trying to set up a new independent nation. The trouble came to Smýrna in 1919 when Greek forces landed in the port. Sometime during 1920 young Alexander had his first ride in a motor car, apparently a Cadillac, which must have left quite an impression on a young teenager. After three years the war wasn’t going well for the Greeks. By September 1922 Turks were poised to invade Smýrna and many Greeks, Armeniens, Maltese and other Europeans were desperately trying to leave the city.

   Alexander, aged 15, and the Issigonis family were evacuated, along with other British subjects, by British Royal Marines in September 1922, Smýrna was captured by Turkish forces on the 9th of September and many acts of terror, culminating in the Great Fire of Smýrna, befell the broken city. It has been estimated as many as 100,000 people died in the flames or were killed in acts of genocide which marked the end of the fighting in the Greco-Turkish War.   

   The timely rescue by the Royal Navy, and deliverance to Malta, had a lasting effect on the young Issigonis, many years later his friend and colleague (and famed inventor), Alex Moulton, remembered: "There was a deep, deep gratitude built into him and a respect for [British] Establishment". No doubt this is another reason for Alexander developing very "English" attitudes

   For the Issigonis family the traumas of the mayhem and massacres that befell Smyrna were not over. Arriving in Malta, along with Hundreds of other refugees, of many nations between the 15th and 19th of September, Hulda and Alexander were interned in the quarantine and isolation hospital called ‘The Lazzaretto’ on Fort Manoel Island, Valetta. This was part of very stringent Maltese quarantine which, in the past, had saved the island from outbreaks of plague and other infectious diseases. Sadly, Alexander’s father, Constantine Issigonis, was taken seriously ill on the voyage and needed hospital treatment, which was provided in the Naval Hospital at Attard, Malta.

   Alexander and his mother were virtually penniless, they had lost everything in the rush to leave Smýrna, now aid that was being raised in England never seemed to get to those it was meant to help and the British government was not exactly helpful in resolving issues with the either the Maltese, or Turkish, officials. While Constantine lay ill with an undisclosed disease in hospital Hulda summoned up her courage, gathered what little money could be obtained and took Alexander by train to London; quite a feat for a lone woman and child, unescorted and unfamiliar with the transport systems of different countries given neither she nor Alexander had ever accompanied him on his European excursions. Nevertheless they arrived in London and got settled in a boarding house, filled out the relevant reimbursement claim forms for British subjects relocated from Smýrna and tried to make the best of things.

   Hulda Issigonis got the 15-year-old Alexander settled and awaited news from Malta, Constantine Issigonis died on the 1st of June, 1923, aged 51 years old. Alexander’s mother left the sixteen-year-old Alexander in London amongst friends and family, some of whom had also made their way to Britain by various means, and went back to Malta to attend to her husband’s funeral. Constantine Issigonis was buried in Ta’ Braxia Cemetery, Pietà, Gwardamanġa, Malta. Henceforth his mother would be the central figure in Alexander’s life.

   When Hulda received the settlement from the British government it was not at all the amount she had applied for. Although generous by the standards of the day the Hulda Issigonis knew instantly that serious money watching would be needed to make ends meet until Alexander completed his education and got a job. But, after the months of sadness Hulda thought some joy was in order. She purchased a Singer Saloon for Alexander in 1924. Naming the brand new 10hp, Weymann fabric bodied, motor car ‘Salome’ Alexander, Hulda, and another relative, went for a tour of Europe. Cars of that time were not totally reliable and Alexander realised the issues facing the motorist of the time, not least punctures, of which they suffered two on a single day!  After two months of exploring the continent Alexander had experienced enough of motoring to know motor cars needed to be better. If this was the motivation for Alexanders later career Hulda’s motivation was a little different, his mother informed Alexander “The fun is over, get a job,”. Incidentally the driving trips to Europe became quite a thing for the Issigonis’ family racking up a lot of miles over the years. 

   Getting a job meant getting an education, Alexander’s education had been interrupted by the Greco-Turkish affair and now 19 years old, while more than old enough to go to work, discussions with his mother, and the wider family that were now also gathered in the area, resulted in an agreement that Alexander needed a higher level of education. A degree was the primary goal, better if it could be achieved and, more importantly, afforded.

   It is often reported that Alexander’s mother intended for him to go to art school and strongly encouraged him to do so, but Alexander resisted his mother’s direction having already decided to pursue what was effectively the family business going back several generations; engineering.

   Alexander enrolled in the Battersea Polytechnic, in south London, to study on a course in engineering. The Battersea Polytechnic Institute opened its doors to students in 1894 being primarily set up to give the "poorer inhabitants" of London access to higher education and an opportunity to acquire university level education. The general focus was on science, engineering and technology subjects which from 1920 could award external degrees from the University of London.

   It was around this time that Alexander started to become known as Alec’, quite understandable given the social environment of a college and his leanings toward being Anglicised. Alec later looked back on Battersea Polytechnic in a romantic way, “in those days you could get the most wonderful training, my dear, for £3 a term”. However, Alec’s time wasn’t all fun. While Alec thoroughly enjoyed his technical drawing classes, where he excelled getting his best marks and was able to use his creative thinking, he hated mathematics. Alec repeatedly failed the maths module of his course, ultimately costing him any chance of the dreamt for degree qualification. He was later quoted as saying "All creative people hate mathematics. It's the most uncreative subject you can study, unless you become an Einstein and study it in an abstract, philosophical sense, as to why numbers and things exist", and “pure mathematics (is) the enemy of every truly creative man.”

   It comes as a great surprise to many people that Alec Issigonis’ formal education amounted to a diploma in mechanical engineering. 


   For Alec Issigonis with an unusual background, disrupted education, no work experience and the tough economic times of the day getting a job was not easy for the 22-year-old. But Alec had made several contacts through his time at Battersea Polytechnic and one of these put Alec in contact with the inventor Edward Gillet.

   Now a British citizen in his own right Alec landed his first job in the motor industry, in 1928, first Job with Gillet and stayed with his firm of London based engineering consultants for 6 years between 1928 and 1934. Edward Henry James Cecil Gillett was a pioneer of steam commercial vehicles, had founded several companies including the Gillett Motor Co. and the Ensign company of Hawthorn Road, Willesden, later known as British Ensign Motors.   

   One of the projects Gillett was trying to perfect was an automatic clutch system which would work as the throttle was opened and closed. The idea was needed for the refinement of developing a semi-automatic transmission. At the very least, in the pre-synchromesh era, it would reduce the need for double declutching gear changes and improve fuel economy. Edward Gillett had been working on the idea since T. E. B. James, chief engineer of the American Owen cars had shown him the Owen Magnetic system in July 1923. It was a forerunner of automatic gearbox but not as good as the synchromesh gearbox General motors was developing.  

   Issigonis’ work at the Gillett design office included a project engineer role, networking and sales, as well as being a design engineering draughtsman. He worked extensively on this transmission project and other freewheel and gearing systems. Meeting representatives of Britain’s leading motor manufacturers helped bring Issigonis to the attention of many within the industry. Alec secured the custom of Rover who wanted to use the Gillet system on their 1933 Rover Ten (the P1 series). Rovers man was Maurice Wilks who would later design the Land Rover. 

   Having spent time with several car clubs Issigonis was inevitably drawn into competitions. Alongside his official work he started racing sports cars and considering aspects of sports-car design. Through the early 1930s Issigonis modified a supercharged Austin Seven "Ulster" with some success. In due course he greatly modified the machine most notably with an independent front suspension he designed and built himself.  

   From 1933 Alec started to design and build his own “Special” which he saw as more than an engineering project. This was a way to familiarize himself with hands on construction, a way to understand the practical issues that influence how design and construction can help, or hinder, each other. Issigonis had gained valuable experience of working on transmissions and he also had radical ideas on suspension systems. Alec recognised "it was no use designing and studying one part of a car. Everything was too tightly integrated for that."   

   Issigonis was assisted in this project by his friend George Dowson, a man who would remain a lifelong friend and accompanied Alec on several trips onto the continent. One such trip was to see the 1935 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. At this event the pair saw the best racing cars of the day including the awesome Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix cars as well as Tazio Nuvolari’s Alfa Romeo P3. On the same trip they saw more of Europe’s finest racing cars when they took in the mountain climb competition held over the new Grossglockner Hochalpen Pass. Seeing such machines up close must have left an impression on the young men, and the look of the 750cc lightweight certainly has similarities with the 1935 Mercedes W25.   

   The “Lightweight Special” project would be five years of hard graft, the car being all hand finished without the use of power tools. It was to prove a radical car where Issigonis gave vent to his design ideology and demonstrate he could design, and build, a complete car. In construction the Issigonis "Lightweight Special" is (for it still exists) built from what we would now call a composite material, that is to say 3/8ths plywood laminated in aluminium sheeting to make a ‘stressed skin’ structure which was strong, light, reasonably aerodynamic for the time (despite not seeing a wind tunnel), and thus very efficient as a chassis. 

   Equally impressive is the suspension system, not a leaf or coil spring in sight; not just because the suspension was faired into the bodywork but because the advanced all-round independent suspension design used rubber, front and rear. The swing axle rear suspension operates within a supporting frame for the catapult elastic rubber springs, the wheels being located by the axles and trailing links. The front suspension is by wishbones and a novel push-rod idea which acts upon rubber rings, housed within a horizontal cross tube, for both springing and damping. Another outstanding feature is the ease with which the camber of front and rear wheels could be changed. This proved an invaluable aid in learning about the effects of positive and negative camber at the front and rear. This was not just a handy learning system but also proved to be the key to extracting the maximum performance from the car in handling terms. Braking was hydraulic all-round with the drums being part of the actual alloy wheels as on the Bugatti Type 35 GP car.

   The engine was a supercharged Austin side-valve engine, supplied to "works" sporting specification. Similar engines of the Austin specials in 1937 produced lots of low-end torque and could rev’ up to 7,000rpm, some Austin Seven Specials could manage 80mph. Cooling was from a nose mounted radiator with hoses going over and under the front suspension box section unit for send and return of water.   

   Everything on the Issigonis “Lightweight Special” was there for a reason, and if there was a lighter way to do the job Issigonis sought it out until the remarkably light car weighed in at just 587lbs, and the engine contributed 252lbs of that.  

   From 1939 the Alec Issigonis entered numerous competitions, mostly hill climbs or sprints, with a few circuit races thrown in. Usually the car was in the 750cc class, or the 1100cc class where there was no 750class; and usually, he won. As Issigonis became so much busier with his real work post war so the vehicle was raced more by George Dowson, even into the 1960s Dowson could be seen putting the car through its paces.  

   The Issigonis “Lightweight Special” was a radical design, probably the most advanced British hill climb/sprint car of its era. Considering the success of the design proven in competition it is strange the car itself didn’t get the wider fame and recognition it deserved until after Issigonis became famous for his mainstream passenger car designs. But then, Issigonis didn’t take the whole racing idea that seriously and later saying the car was: “A frivolity in my life. It was not so much a design exercise as a means of teaching me to use my hands.” Given the attention the car gets at classic and hill climb meets today, many others might disagree.


   If Alec Issigonis was busy in his spare time, he was equally busy in his real work. The Work at Edward Gillett’s firm had brought him into contact with many vehicle manufacturers one which was Humber Ltd. in Coventry. Chief design engineer at Humber, T. Wishart, brought Issigonis into the Humber company, in 1934, as an engineer and designer.

   Humber was then a part of the “Rootes Group” providing their higher-level models. Alec was set to work on suspension designs and the development of a fully independent suspension. Independent front suspension was then in its infancy and many companies, in Europe and the USA, were trying to master the intricacies of producing an effective, reliable and cost-effective IFS system. Issigonis was involved in the Humber “Evenkeel” independent suspension design for the Humber "Sixteen", "Hawk" & "80". His design work can also be found on the Hillman Minx.  

   Another rising star of the era who worked alongside Issigonis at Humber was Bill Heynes, Heynes would become a personal friend, and later Technical Director at Jaguar. 


   Issigonis’ big career break came when Alec met Morris Motors chief engineer Robert Boyle and was offered a job Cowley, Oxfordshire. Morris Motors built conservative cars to a high-volume, low-price principle but also had MGs and Wolseleys to provide sports and high-end models too. Leaving Humber after just two years there in 1936, now thirty years of age, his engineering career now had a real opportunity to take off. Further building on his knowledge of steering, suspension and chassis development Issigonis became a specialist in these areas and by 1938 was leading a team of steering and suspension engineers designing for all the Morris car range. Then chief engineer A.V. (Vic) Oak could see that Issigonis had a great imagination but could be difficult to keep focused. He paired Alec with Jack Daniels, which proved to be a great move. While Alec’s imagination poured out sketches of his ideas Daniels interpreted them and created the formal drawings for the fabricators to work from.   

   Issigonis inspiration resulted in an independent coil spring front suspension system devised for the 1938 M series Morris 10, the first unitary construction Morris. Unfortunately, Morris went with a more conventional beam axle which was cheaper to produce. For the same reason the rack and pinion steering system Issigonis designed also never made it onto the Morris 10 when it went into production. That said, both were intended to be used on a 1940 MG saloon until the Second World War got in the way. Post-war these items were used on the 1½-litre MG Y Type saloons, in fact the IFS system remained in use on the MGB until the mid-‘70s.   

The second world war.

   Through the war years Issigonis was exempt from service due to being in a reserved occupation. Basically, his knowledge and skills better served the nation being used designing military vehicles for the War Department. Remaining at Cowley, Alec worked on a variety of ideas from the lightweight Morris reconnaissance car to more ambitious things like an amphibious tank and a type of compact mechanical carrier for use in jungle theatres, a sort of motorised wheelbarrow if you will.   

   Of course, Morris knew the war wouldn’t last for ever and, like many motor manufacturers around the world, they kept one eye on the domestic motor car design of the future. In this case a compact production car that would be effective, economical and affordable. Vice-Chairman, and Managing Director of The Nuffield Organisation, Miles Thomas, allocated a code name; Mosquito. He knew time, materials and resources would be scarce after the war and the first firm to get an all new car on the market would have an advantage. Chief engineer, A. V. Oak, assigned Issigonis overall responsibility for the project in 1941 with the aim of launching the car as early as 1948. 

Designing the Morris Minor.           

   It is important to remember Issigonis was the architect of the whole design, something extraordinary even for the time. Vic’ Oak supported Issigonis all-new model idea. Rather than using existing chassis or mechanical components for cost control almost all of the car was new, Issigonis design and specification would not be conventional, but it wouldn’t waste money on the unnecessary either, simple functionality was the word; whether mechanical, internal or external.  

   Alec Issigonis freedom came partly from being taken out of the Cowley drawing office and given his own development shop where he worked with two allocated draughtsmen Reg’ Job and Jack Daniels. Reg’ drew the body designs while Jack covered the mechanicals, but of course, it wasn’t that easy. These two men had to interpret Issigonis’ famous design sketches (made on whatever was the closest piece of paper or card to Alec’s hand) and create measured engineering drawings.   

   Alec had known Jack Daniels for a while and generally got on well with him. Daniels had joined Morris at Cowley from MG after the MG racing programme was wound up in 1935. They had worked together pre-war on the independent front suspension ideas and proved a good working partnership. Jack Daniels understood Issigonis, and how to work with him. While others disliked Alec’s single minded and abrupt manner, at time appearing very arrogant and rude to his contemporaries, Jack could see the inspiration and steer the drawings away from the more impractical ideas. In fact, you could say Daniels was the ideal colleague for Issigonis. Jack was a quiet man, pleasant, but self-assured and firm when needed. As such the pair balanced each other which clearly brought out the best in each of them.  

   For his part Issigonis described Jack Daniels as "the best all-round draughtsman in the country". Daniels recalled, "We got on well together, but he was the gaffer….", "Issigonis basically wanted to design everything” and "he got what he wanted, even if it was wrong."

   Job and Daniels ability to translate Issigonis impressionistic sketches into workable drawings was crucial to the end result. Daniels discrete control over interpretation of the ideas saw proper dimensioned engineering drawings emerged from Issigonis’ sketch-pad and a dramatically different motor car started come into being.

   The story and details of what would become the Morris Minor can be found on our pages relating to the Morris minors in our British collection……………….

   With a war to fight, and the advanced and untried nature of the design, this all new vehicle required much investigation and experimentation, meaning a protracted gestation period. The first full size prototype was presented to William Morris, by then Lord Nuffield, in 1945. Lord Nuffield was a conservative traditionalist believing all Morris cars should have the Morris ‘family’ appearance. He also didn’t like Alec Issigonis and never called him by name, just, “that foreign chap”. Lord Nuffield’s response to the prototype was perhaps predictable, but nonetheless shockingly harsh. The furious Lord called it “the poached egg”.   

   When the Morris Minor was launched at the 1948 London Motor Show (alongside the Land Rover and Jaguar XK120), it was highly unconventional, modern and progressive, even revolutionary. Motoring commentators liked it, reviewers loved the road-holding and handling, even the great William Boddy “proclaimed it to be the first British car to rival the handling of continental small cars” while others said it was "streets ahead of virtually any other production car".  An immediate success the Morris Minor would go on to be the first British car to breach the one-million-unit mark and sell all over the world.   

   By 1964, 1,250,000 examples of Issigonis’ economical little car were sold and the production continue into the 1970s. Looking back over 70 years we can appreciate the Morris Minor was a groundbreaking design just as much as the Land Rover and Jaguar XK120 it was launched beside, and had just as much of an impact it made in its day.   
   While Lord Nuffield had no thanks for Issigonis, his immediate bosses did. In April 1948 Vic’ Oak and Reginald Hanks, Morris’s Managing Director, awarded the 42-year-old Issigonis a 50% pay rise to a magnificent £1500 per year. Issigonis might be most famous for his “Mini” design he was most proud of the Morris Minor.
   Lord Nuffield expressed no appreciation for the car or for the designer, Alec Issigonis. The Minor is a great example of Issigonis’ philosophy of space for people and payload in the smallest practical vehicle. Somehow, a Greek/Bavarian designer, drawing on influences from the US and Europe created a car that is as British as the Union flag or Nelson’s column, and, perhaps, the only British car more recognisable and beloved the world over is the Minors little brother, the Mini.  

   Issigonis, and ‘Morris’ were encouraged by the success of the Morris Minor and Alec was set to work on the larger 1948-54 Morris MO-series Oxford, the Isis and some of the top line range of Wolseley cars. the Morris Oxford looked like a larger Minor and was available as a 4-dr Saloon and Traveller (estate) version with an ash-framed rear end again similar to the Morris Minor Traveller. The 1476cc side-valve engine gave the big saloon somewhat leisurely performance but the torsion bar front suspension and rack and pinion steering pioneered by the Minor added some modernity. Almost 160,000 Oxford’s were sold in its six-year production period and, with the Isis saloon, were the Issigonis Morris projects that went into production.  

   Issigonis and Jack Daniels didn’t give up on pushing the boundaries of design though, Issigonis was already thinking ahead to a new concept. Innovation and experimentation led to a front wheel drive version of the Minor with a transverse engine and end–on gearbox, a concept perfected in the Mini. Work also commenced on rubber-sprung suspension components, again pioneered on the Mini. Daniels later recalled the front-wheel-drive Minor was quite a coup within the Morris firm. George Harriman, boss of the new Austin-Morris merged BMC, used the experimental car in the dreadful winter of 1955-56 while travelling between the various sites. His reason? "I'll take the safest vehicle we've got." 

1952, the Alvis adventure.     

   In 1952, the British Motor Corporation (BMC), was formed by the merger of the two rival firms Austin and Morris. These two manufacturers had been competitors for decades and everything about the firms conflicted; from the owners, to the resident Marques and even the workforces. It was financially a good idea but the antagonism with all the competing elements meant BMC was destined for trouble.  

   Fearful that the design freedom he had enjoyed under Vic’ Oak would be lost within the new bulk of BMC Issigonis resigned. He joined the much smaller firm of Alvis as “Engineer in charge of passenger car design”. Alvis, under BAE Systems had a strong military division manufacturing armoured cars and armoured personnel carriers. They also specialised in exclusive sports saloons, built in small amounts to high prices.

   Like many manufacturers of the time Alvis was at a junction and having difficulty planning its future. On the face of it, expensive low volume production was the opposite of Issigonis’ usual ethos; was Alvis intending to compete in mainstream mass production area, increase volume to steal away part of Jaguar and MGs market, go further into the luxury sports car market or go in an entirely new direction?  

   Alvis did have its eye on more affordable luxury car built in higher volumes to attempt to compete with Jaguar, Rover, Riley and Sunbeam-Talbot. Production figures were to reach a very ambitious 5,000 cars a year, which was then ten times their actual production at the time. This plan was beyond the current team at Alvis both in terms of the car design and the production facility design, hence their interest in getting the talents of Issigonis on board; he now had great experience in both these areas.  

  At this time Issigonis met John Shepard who had joined Alvis sports cars in 1947. A long working relationship between the pair commenced as they worked to design the new model. The cheery easygoingness of Sheppard, like Jack Daniels before him, balanced with the mercurial imagination of Alec Issigonis, an easy rapport between the Sheppard and the eccentric but inspirational Issigonis soon developed and last more than 20 years.  

   Alvis had also secured the services of another influential designer in Professor Alex Moulton. Moulton knew about rubber and had great experience designing suspension systems based around rubber as a medium. Alex Moulton would become a good friend of Issigonis and the pair would collaborate on suspension ideas for many years to come. For those who are finding the name familiar but can’t quite place it, Alex Moulton designed the small-wheeled, folding bicycles which also had rubber suspension.  

   Issigonis new car was known as the TA/350. It was an advanced unitary construction saloon with a modern sophisticated 3.5 litre aluminium V-8 engine with overhead camshafts that produced some 130hp. Despite a long wheelbase configuration that offered 6 seats, it was strong and relatively light monocoque structure with genuine sporty ambitions. Issigonis created a clever rear mounted transaxle which two-speed box working with an electrically operated mechanical overdrive. This system gave a spread of four gears but removed the clutch-and-lever gear change system when the car was on the road. The transmission unit, which included the clutch and inboard rear brakes, being at the rear reduced the size of the front gearbox and transmission tunnel giving mode room in the car. In conjunction with Alex’ Moulton the latest ideas in interconnected independent suspension systems were also required. Issigonis and Moulton devised a hydraulically linked front and rear suspension system working off of a common spring.  

   A second smaller engined version with a 1750cc, V4 engine, known as the TA/175 was also started. This car might even have been available as a front wheel drive car that had compact Moulton rubber cone suspension and lots of interior, and engine bay, space.  

   In looks these cars were thought to have the continental influence of Lancia or rear drive Citroens rather than the British styling of Rover or Sunbeam-Talbot which led Gerald Palmer, designer of the MG Magnette ZA and Jowett Javelin, to recall: “Issigonis kindly invited me to see the prototype at the Alvis works. My vague recollection is that it was not particularly striking in appearance, rather like the current Morris Oxford Series II and not likely to appeal to traditional Alvis clients.” Of the British cars of the era perhaps the closest in style looks was the 1955 Jaguar Mk 1. These sold at a rate of between 10-15,000 units a year for 13-years so perhaps the cars could have been a realistic step to that Alvis goal mentioned earlier.  

   However, it all came to naught. Issigonis was pleased with his Alvis dream-car design but the company weighed up the production costs for such an unorthodox vehicle and decided it was not practical. Alvis had shown business and technical ambition but the prototype never made it to production. The primary reason cited for cancelling the program was the expenditure required for production tooling although it was the loss of bodywork partners which really hurt Alvis. ‘Briggs’ being bought out by Ford, ‘Mulliner’ were increasingly under Standard-Triumph control, ‘Tickford’ was swallowed by David Brown for Aston Martin and Lagonda cars and ‘Fisher & Ludlow’ were taken into the BMC fold. In short, all this meant the estimated costs of body manufacture doubled! Alvis couldn’t take the risk of raising the extra capital.  

   Alvis returned to their 3ltr chassis augmented by an update program. The still born V-8 project was lost to the sands of time with the one and only prototype being destroyed in 1964. Alec Issigonis was more than a little disappointed by the three years of wasted effort.

1955 and BMC.    

   After his sabbatical at Alvis Issigonis was recruited by Sir Leonard Lord (later Lord Lambury), chairman of the British Motor Corporation, as Associate Technical Director, reporting to Technical Director Sydney Smith, at Longbridge, home of the Austin firm, in a building known, wittily, as “The Kremlin”. His brief was to create a series of cars to secure BMC’s place (and future) in the European car industry. There was to be a small town car, a medium-sized family car and a large luxury car under the XC (experimental car) code names XC/9003, XC/9002 and XC/9001 respectively. 

   Leonard Lord led an ambitious BMC seeking to lose the staid image of the front engine-rear wheel drive car running on beam axles and semi-elliptic springs and become much more modern. At the same time the company had to remain competitive on price and sensible in management by having a fair level of commonality of parts and engines. The idea was sound but quite how to achieve it wasn’t clear. Many European firms were trying to present themselves as ‘modern’ as the continent attempted to recover from the second world war but none had been able to assert themselves as a consistent innovator. To make BMC the successful futuristic company with a solid base in the European Market Lord knew he needed a designer unafraid to look beyond the tried and tested methods of the past. Lord had broached these ideas with several external consultancy firms but none had provided ideas that met Lords criteria.  

   In these terms it is easy to see why Lord brought in Issigonis, a man known to think beyond the boundaries of motorcar design and be able to see effective ways to manufacture the product too. For his part Issigonis always said: “One thing that I learnt the hard way – well not the hard way, the easy way – when you’re designing a new car for production, never, never copy the opposition.”  

   Neither Lord nor Issigonis would be content with the conventional, exploring technical advances across all areas of motor car design was the way forward.

   Originally Lord wanted a new large luxury car available for sale by 1960, followed by the family car and finally the city car, so, Issigonis decided to concentrate on the larger cars through 1956 and was quick to assemble his team of draughtsmen from his earlier collaborations.  

   John Sheppard was persuaded to join from Alvis and Issigonis had Jack Daniels moved over from Cowley to Longbridge. Daniels once again worked on the mechanical side while John Sheppard did the body work. Both men were still working to the many sketched ideas from Issigonis’ Arclight pads. Each scribbled sketch was numbered in sequence and turned into proper technical workings on the drawing boards of Issigonis’ two right hand men.

    Issigonis’ initial ideas were to have a simpler more conventional version of the Alvis project car. Long wheelbase, short front and rear overhangs, fully independent suspension, front engine and rear wheel drive with the possibility of developing V6 and V4 engines. External styling was to be rudimentary but Leonard Lord had some ideas of his own for the area of design. Jack Daniels slipped back into his roles of design guidance and link person interpreting Issigonis’ requirements of the workshops, production engineers and accountants. This relationship would go on for ten great years that would see some very innovative designs put on the road by BMC.

   Issigonis (or Arragonis as he was informally known due to his arrogance, irascibility and inability to suffer fools) restricted his group of contacts to as small a group as he possibly could. He upset people. Whether he meant to or not is regularly debated but there is no doubt his other nick name, ‘the Greek God’, was used both as a term of awe and of derogatory disregard. What transpired was a ‘cell’ structure in which different teams worked on different design concepts with Alec Issigonis overseeing them all. Jack Daniels headed A-Cell, which was working on the Mini, or XC/9003 - ADO15. B-Cell developed the XC/9001 - ADO17 which became the Austin 1800, led by Chris Kingham. The XK/9003 - ADO16 was the responsibility of C-Cell, led by Charles Griffin which would produce the Morris 1100.  

   Leonard Lord looked elsewhere for the exterior styling and by 1958 was in contact with Pininfarina in hopes of having Issigonis’ work in conjunction Farina on the look of the cars. In time BMC cars did benefit from Pininfarina design touches and Issigonis did build lasting friendships with both Battista "Pinin" and his son Sergio Farina. 

1956 Designing the Mini.             

   As is often the case, world affairs threw a spanner in the works and BMCs plan was turned on its head. At the end of 1956 the Suez Crisis caused fuel rationing and suddenly the XC/9003 city car, with an economical little engine, became the priority. Britain was flooded with small, cheap foreign cars, particularly the phenomenally popular Volkswagen Beetle and the Fiat 500, and BMC was in trouble.  

   Without consultation BMC shed 6,000 members of its work force and in March 1957 Sir Leonard Lord, never given to mincing his words and certainly not “asking”, told the engineering genius that was Issigonis the XC9001 prototype of 1957/58 was postponed and that Alec was ‘ordered’ to get a small car into production as quickly as possible to compete with the Beetle et al. Issigonis wasn’t a fan of XC9001, apparently “Issi’… hated this car because it was rear wheel drive”, so Lord’s instruction was something Issigonis had been longing for. He, like Lord, disliked the ‘bubble cars’ and wanted a British alternative. Issigonis later recalled “I thought we had to do something better than the bubble cars”, “I thought we should make a very small car for the housewife that was economical to run with lots of shopping space inside which didn’t need a big boot.”  

   John Sheppard later said; “The chairman, Sir Leonard Lord, was fed up with seeing bubble cars everywhere and told us to make a small car. We had to replace the A30 anyway and an entirely new department was set up to produce the Mini.” “We worked ever so fast”, “I was a bit euphoric about the whole thing, because everything seemed so new. It was a challenge – Issigonis was that sort of fellow. It was almost a 'bet you can’t do it’ attitude."  

   This new department was charged with designing a fuel-efficient, inexpensive, four-seater, vehicle to regain a market share for BMC. Lord’s brief also stated Issigonis could use any BMC engine he wanted for the new car provided it was currently in production. Allegedly, Alec did try cutting an 1100cc engine in half, but the two-cylinder never ran smoothly and was abandoned.  

   Issigonis’ initial sketches of the Mini concept (some of which were supposedly made with a pencil on a table cloth!) show how early the inspirational ideas for the basic layout and styling cues were set down. Austin Design Office Project 15 (ADO 15) would become Issigonis’ magnum opus.  

   Jack Daniels ran the self-contained project group that became known as "the cell", and there were very few people on the team. Daniels says "these cars weren't designed in vast offices, maybe six people and a couple of fitters". The close rapport Issigonis had with his draughtsman, Jack Daniels and John Sheppard, and the pairs friendly consideration of their co-workers, was to pay dividends. Sheppard stated: “Fortunately, we hit it off and got on like a house on fire,”. “He [Issigonis] did not draw like we had to do – he sketched designs on pieces of A4 paper like Rolf Harris. “He was looked upon as the conductor and we were members of the orchestra. He conducted us to put his sketches into proper drawings.” Author L.J.K. Setright later described Issigonis method as “working as a sculptor works, moving masses into different juxtapositions until his trained eye told him they were right”. Issigonis’ drawings were effectively ideas, it was Daniels and Sheppard that provided the means to turn them into a physical reality. In just a few months official drawing office project number ADO15 had generated thousands of drawings. 

   The challenge was designing a car that would seat four people in relative comfort, and carry their luggage, in a car no longer than 10 feet (3.04m) which exceeded the then standards in road holding and handling and was easy to park. Issigonis insisted that at least 80% of the car’s volume be dedicated to the passengers and luggage which clearly doesn’t leave much space for the engine, wheels and suspension. Issigonis seemingly modest ambition of a small car for mum to use for the school run and shopping presented a raft of troublesome engineering problems but his determination and vision would change small car design principles for ever.

   Issigonis radical solutions seem so obvious to us today but in the 1950s there were huge engineering difficulties to overcome in designing the new car. The first answer in space saving was turning the 948cc, BMC A-series engine to a transverse mounting, then putting the gearbox under the engine rather than behind it, or sticking out the side as it would have been. This solution also meant the sump and gearbox shared the same oil and allowed for the use of a front wheel drive system doing away with the gearbox and transmission tunnel that ran through the centre of conventional cars, once again increasing space for the passengers and load carrying. But how do you drive and steer from the same wheels? Just another problem for Issigonis and the team to solve, which they did and in doing so they gave the world its first modern application of this front wheel drive concept.  

   Yet, there was still more to do. Turning the engine sideways on meant the radiator no longer benefited from the fan running off the front of the engine. move the radiator to the side of the car and it no longer benefitted from the air coming in through the front grill. Answer, put the radiator at the side, make a grill opening that was unobstructed as possible to give free cooling air into the engine bay then reverse the fan to push the cooling air out through the radiator at the side rather than sucking it in through the front. Another first.  

   The engine, and ancillaries’ position was right over the front axle line giving a nose heavy weight distribution which aided front end traction and stability, important for FWD cars. It was also part of lowering the cars centre of gravity. Issigonis chose to use the smallest wheels yet tried on a mass production model having 10 inch wheels and special Dunlop tyres. The wheels were then pushed as far into the corners as possible once again helping the cars feel and stability. For the suspension Issigonis wanted to use the same sort of interconnected suspension system used on the Alvis prototype but it was proving to be too costly to produce and to awkward to package in the small car. Instead Issigonis worked with Alex Moulton on a system that used rubber cones instead of springs for suspension. This saved weight and space, and, it was another step to maximising passenger/payload space. It was also a clear example of how "we fought for every quarter inch", as one member of the team later said.  

   The Mini was to be an affordable car which meant everything was cut to the bone in creating a very spartan vehicle. Cost-saving extended to considering production expense too, hence the Mini had the panel joint seems on the outside. Issigonis hated the idea of wind up/down windows, he demanded Mini had slide open windows. These rank amongst a series of body and interior styling concepts that John Sheppard was largely responsible for designing. In an era when superfluous tail fins and big shining chrome bumpers etc were in vogue, the Mini stood out as a straight forward, if boxy, motor car. Form always followed function. The pared-down seats and ingenious door bins gave space and load carrying capacity, exactly to the brief. Issigonis is infamous for his lack of regard for passenger comfort and for “luxuries” as radios. His reasoning being drivers were more alert if uncomfortable and that they shouldn’t be distracted by other things. On one occasion he is even quoted as saying “I would like people to sit on nails – to be extremely uncomfortable all the time.” Incidentally, talking of luxuries and distractions, it was joked at the time that Sheppard made the door bins exactly the right size to hold the gin and vermouth bottles Issigonis used to make his dry martinis.  

   Two experimental Mini prototypes were running by October, 1957 (only 8 months initial drawing worked commenced) and testing, almost always done at night to avoid anyone seeing the new idea, of the concepts was underway. Apart from the early Austin A35 style upright grille the prototypes look remarkably similar to the production car. 

   However, Issigonis had to “sell” is ideas for the ten-inch wheels and the transverse engine mounting to the management. He put it all to Sir Leonard Lord who took one of the prototypes for a test drive. Upon his return he ordered Issigonis to get the car into production within a year. But the new car was so radical many at BMC were worried about the high cost of tooling. Issignois simply designed the tooling himself, saving the company more money. Another consideration was engine size, at one point it was thought the engine was too powerful and the car too fast, the suggestion was to use a downsized engine of 848cc achieved by shortening the stroke. Resulting in the Mini 850.

   Sadly, the rush to get the car into production came at a cost. John Sheppard and Alec Issigonis argued about the design of the floor panel overlaps. Sheppard knew he was right but Issigonis won the argument. The result was the floor panels leaked and it was suggested that all early Minis should be “supplied with a pair of Wellington boots as standard”, allegedly one journalist even returned the test car with “a goldfish in one of the door pockets”. Issigonis later admitted he had got the panels the wrong way around, Sheppard redesigned the underside to his own original idea.    

   In just over two years the Mini went from sketches to show rooms. A revolutionary design that featured so many innovations it is almost inconceivable that Issigonis, Daniels, Sheppard and co’ could produce such an advanced vehicle in such a short timeframe. At a development cost of £100,000 the Mini was ready for mass production.

1959 the launch of the Mini.

   What would become an icon of the 1960s the Mini was launched in Britain on the 18th August, 1959. A week later it was launched for sale in all countries where BMC had a presence. An initial production run of 20,000 cars was planned, each with a retail price of £496, the 2nd least expensive car on the market at the time. Released as the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven the Mini would soon be available under other labels, like Austin 850 or Austin Mini, and overseas as the Austin Partner in Denmark and the Austin (or Morris) 850 in the USA and France. Minis were built overseas from knocked-down kits in Australia and by Innocenti in Italy who gave us the Innocenti Mini 850. BMC also used the concept to morph the Mini into the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet; basically, luxury Minis with a proper boot.   

   Initial reactions from the industry were contemptuous. BMC and Issigonis had spent a huge amount of money to produce a car with absolutely no frills, nothing but the very basic essentials to go from A to B. You can see their point. But the design was actually so far ahead of its time it was too much to take in. Alec Issigonis' reputation was saved by two things; the RAC awarded the Dewar Trophy to BMC and Alec Issigonis for the Mini design and production advances; and everyone started to buy Minis. 

   Once the road tests started the motoring press raved about the car. Mini’s had lively performance and tenacious front-wheel-drive handling, had exceptional space efficiency were practical and affordable. All gave the little car a unique personality which made it instantly popular with all classes of people. Confronting BMC hither to conservative image head on was exactly what was needed at the time. In 1959, BMC became the world's fifth-largest motor manufacturer selling 430,000 cars, largely thanks to the Mini. Going into the early 1960s a new generation of car buyers who were more fashion conscious and more socially mobile than ever before saw the Mini as theirs, and when the rich and famous bought the Mini is just reinforced the idea of the Mini being ‘the’ car to have to this younger generation. The Mini was an instant cultural sensation with car buyers snapping up Minis as fast as they could be made, production by 1964 reaching a rate of 6,000 units per week. The Mini soon became the best-selling car in Europe, eventually the best-selling British car in history, a legend in its own lifetime, and a very long 41-year life time it was too. The Mini revolutionised motor car design and in selling well over five million units worldwide proved the viability of the concept. A triumph of functional simplicity over stylistic design, a masterpiece of packaging, Issigonis and his team established a new design layout for small/medium sized cars which endures to this day.   

   The straightforward Mini design was later supplemented by many other body designs. Commercial vans for the Police, Fire Service and General Post Office, pickups for small builders and the wood framed “Countryman” estate style car were all successes.

   The Mini-derived Jeep-like utilitarian Mini-Moke for the Military wasn’t; but has since become a cult car and inspired car builders to create Mini derived beach buggies.

   The sporting coupé version of the Mini never got off the drawing boards but Broadspeed made their own coupé version and several other people did see the sporting potential of the Mini. 

   While Issigonis had no interest in turning his car “for the district nurse” into a performance car for racing or rallying, John Cooper saw the potential. The Cooper Car Company, highly successful in 500cc, F2 racing, Rallying and pushing into F1 (where they would ultimately become World Champions for Drivers and as constructors) recognised the Mini’s sure footedness, handling and solid build as a real basis for a competition car. Issigonis remained sceptical, unable to see a viable sales market for a high-performance version. John Cooper then appealed to BMC management and Issigonis was persuaded to collaborated with Mr Cooper in the design of new higher powered sporty Mini, what we would today call a “Super-Mini”.    

   BMC’s cheap and cheerful Mini underwent a major transformation from cult car to world beating competition car.

   The first Mini Coopers went on sale in 1961 and were followed by the 1275cc Mini Cooper S in 1963. More powerful, more rugged and incredibly fast, Mini Coopers won the Monte Carlo Rally three times became the first British car to win the European Rally Championship and spawned a generation of stars including Paddy Hopkirk, "Smokin" John Rhodes, Niki Lauda and James Hunt. Some folk have gone so far as to argue the Mini Cooper was the impetus that fuelled the success of the design. Motor sport writer Doug Nye has apparently stated: "The Mini would not have lasted as long as it has without the Cooper version because it gave the car a hip image and motor racing pedigree", "without that it would have been just another baby car, like the Fiat 500."

   While the fuel-efficient Mini was building its reputation, and adding a new word to the English language, John Sheppard recalls “I just loved what I was doing”, he went on to say “We did not expect any of the success it had. It was a big surprise to us. “But I know that he [Issigonis], like me, would be overwhelmed by the level of respect and appreciation that people continue to have for his designs and the work that we did. The fact that the old and new [BMW] Mini can stand side by side and are still loved is a testament to the original design and its practicality.” John Sheppard, who retired in 1982, went on to do design work on the Mini Metro and Montego.

   As for Issigonis, he said that “the Mini's beauty lay in its unabashed purposefulness”, going on to state in a New York Times published article: 'I've always felt that stylists such as you have in America are ashamed of a car and are preoccupied with making it look like something else, like a submarine or an airship. As an engineer, I revolt against this.''

   The model was to become the world’s most famous car, bristling with innovation and owned by the rich and famous, the poor and anonymous and the fast and the slow alike. King Hussein of Jordan, Prince Charles, musicians Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison, Ringo Star of the Beatles as well as Mick Jagger, the singer of Rolling Stones, actors Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, Steve McQueen and James Garner, all owned a Mini; Enzo Ferrari owned three of them! 

   Fashion Icon Twiggy gave the Mini chic and Sixties fashion supremo Mary Quant remembered her Mini with great fondness saying: “It was my first car and I was very proud of. It was black with black leather seats – a handbag on wheels. Flirty, fun and exciting, it went exactly with the miniskirt.” 

   The car even became a film and TV star in its own right, thanks to Michael Caine and “The Italian Job”, then later  Rowan Atkinson’s famous Mr. Bean Mini.   

   The ultimate flattery is said to be imitation and both Fiat and Renault, considered to be advanced car manufacturers of the time, would go on to build their own transverse engined cars to the Mini concept, albeit a decade or more later.

   To Issigonis the Mini was something special. “At Cowley I had an experimental department. They were making a bubble car. I said ‘Never, never copy the opposition’ - and there and then decided on the Mini. I feel very, very proud that so many people have copied me.”     

   As the mini gained in popularity Issigonis focused his attention to the other XC projects he had still been developing for BMC. Appointed to the BMC Board of Directors Technical Director Issigonis pushed forward the family passenger vehicle under the XC/9002 number, that became ADO16. A slightly larger car to complement the Mini and built to a similar concept of maximisation of passenger space and the best possible road holding. 
   ADO16 was 20% bigger than the Mini but, even as a four-door car, was equally remarkable in terms of road-holding and handling qualities. Issigonis continued to push Charles Griffin, Morris Motors’ Chief Engineer, for advanced features like Alex Moulton’s Hydrolastic interconnected suspension system (the first BMC production car to be so endowed), but he was denied the chance to follow his preferred engine route of a new V4 engine and forced to use the A-series power unit. The V4 would have been to be mounted longitudinally and the powers that be felt going back to that sort of layout would send a negative message about the transverse system and hurt Mini sales. Company philosophy was now transverse engines and front wheel drive. However, Griffin found the A series engines lack of torque appalling and went directly to the Vice-Chairman of BMC, George Harriman, for permission to rectify the deficiencies of the motor. Authorisation acquired Griffin created a 1098cc version of the A series engine by lengthening the stroke to 83.72mm. He also oversaw a new cylinder head design with larger inlet valves which resulted in a power output of 48bhp at 5100rpm. 

   ADO16 also had disc brakes, something Issigonis considered “…fashionable: the things to have. I was not particularly in favour of them”, but that Griffin considered important keep BMC ahead of other manufacturers’. Disc brakes were more expensive but much better than drums.  

   While the mechanical engineering was under Issigonis influence the external styling was the work of Sergio Pininfarina. In collaboration with the Pininfarina studio in Italy the Morris 1100 (and later 1300) had clean, classical lines, up to date, yet in keeping with BMC heritage.

   The Morris 1100 was officially launched on the 15th of August 1962 and later received the option of the 1275cc engine as the Morris 1300. 

   Over the years the range would be expanded and include rebadged versions. A twin-carburettor MG1100 was introduced at the end of September 1962 followed by the Austin 1100 in August 1963, a Vanden Plas Princess 1100 in October 1963 and the upmarket Wolseley 1100 and the Riley Kestrel versions appeared in 1965. 

   There was even a three-door estate version available from 1966 with the same “Austin Countryman” or “Morris Traveller” Monicas of the earlier BMC estate cars, although the wood framing was not repeated. There was even a more powerful GT version in 1970. Although the Morris badged 1100 - 1300 models were replaced by the Morris Marina in 1971, many of the other versions remained on sale well into the 1970s.  

   BMC’s ADO16 design family was Britain's best-selling car for most of its production life and one of the companies most successful products, even outselling the Mini at times and some commentators consider this car to be Issigonis’ finest hour.  


   BMC was doing rather well out of the Issigonis design school. Over 1,000,000 front wheel drive vehicles had been sold by 1964, of which more than 1/3rd went overseas, and consumer demand was outstripping production despite the firm building 11,000 front-wheel-drive cars each week and constantly trying to increase that figure.  

   In balance, not everything Issigonis touched turned to gold. The Mini Moke went on sale in 1964. It had been conceived as a light cross-country utility vehicle for the Military but its low ground clearance and small wheels made its off-road performance uncompetitive against the now archetypal off-road vehicle, the Landrover. BMC did put it into production as a civilian off-road car and it became a popular base for conversions to beach buggies and other adventurous type of vehicle. The Moke would, in time, become a cult car; helped by its appearances on the television series “The Prisoner”.  

   Mokes were built in the UK from 1964 until 1968, Australia then Portugal took on production until 1993. In all over 50,500 Mokes were produced.

Austin 1800     

   From 1957 to September 1964 Issigonis worked on the production version of the XC/9001 - ADO17 design model, later known as the Austin 1800. Had it not been for the Suez crisis the ADO17 might have reached the sales showrooms around 1960 but the fuel economy drive had forced the Mini into production.  

   Once the Mini was selling and the Morris 1100 design was well advanced, Leonard Lord had Issigonis and his design teams revisit the earlier larger car idea. As you’ll recall it was another thoroughly new design that was called for but as the A40 Farina (a stop gap model for that sector of the market launched in 1958), was aging and, in Issigonis words, was ‘driven at the wrong end’, the brief was amended to include a replacement for that model.  A spacious, Four-door family saloon, consistent with the front engine, front-wheel-drive philosophy of BMC and continuing Issigonis concept of maximum internal space, was the basic idea envisioned. This change of direction was enough to change the experimental car designation, XC9001 to XC9005 in the June 1960, mostly due the increase in engine size from 1.5ltr to 1.8ltrs. The official design office designation then became ADO17, although Alex Moulton’s own records say that ADO17 was in use for the car as early as 1958.  

   This would be another of the Issigonis designs that brought BMC to the forefront of British Motor manufacturing in the 1960s, not necessarily for the right reasons. 

   The Mini and 1100 had proved popular in the small car market and BMC now wanted to boost its image in the mid-range niche where the Farina was lagging behind. Development of the Austin 1800 was quite long and changed direction several times, due to company and economic issues as much as anything else. Initial concept ideas from the mid-1950s looked like a larger stretched Mini but that look didn’t stick after the gap years in development while the Mini was being pushed through. The Austin A40 Farina suggested a long wheelbase would be good and the size of the 1.5ltr B-Series engine dictated size too. Dimensions needed more consideration when the 1.8ltr B-Series engine, used in the MGs, was put into the mix.  

   The final production car was unconventional in its advanced technology and under the skin was one of the most advanced cars in its class. The major difference was Issigonis long desired subframe-less car idea made reality. The Mini and 1100 both had subframes which added strength to the body and helped reduce road noise passing directly into the cabin. But they also add weight and involve additional costs in manufacturing and fitting. For the Mini they also proved important when the early prototypes suffered from chassis failures where the suspension was mounted directly to the body. To avoid any similar problems Issigonis had the ADO17s car’s hull over-engineered which resulted in a car that had great structural integrity and could easily hold the engine and front suspension mounted directly into the unitary body.  

   The structural rigidity was greatly enhanced by the large diameter tube that was welded to the front firewall. This tubular cross-member actually held the components of the new Hydrolastic suspension, designed in collaboration with Alex Moulton, now a serious consultant for BMC that would see his ideas carried on well into the 1980s. While the front suspension units were contained transversely in the crossmember the rear units were mounted longitudinally on each side ahead of the rear wheels. This Hydrolastic suspension system of rubber units, and fluid filled high-pressure cylinders interconnected by small bore tubing, gave an incredibly smooth ride and was considerably cheaper to manufacture than Citroen’s similar Hydro-pneumatic suspension system. The ride of the 1800 would be considerable better than sporty models from BMCs competitor models.  

   Engine development had seen the B-Series engine enlarged by MG through 1622cc to 1798cc for use in the MGB and as the chassis was becoming heavier than originally thought it seemed sensible to use the larger engine. In the development work done on the B-Series engine an unusual arrangement of the cylinders transpired. To cope with the increase bore the cylinders developed in pairs rather than as a set of four. Power from the 1798cc with a single SU carburettor was almost 84bhp at 5300rpm, with healthy performance figures too. Super for the MGB the standard 1800 unit was thought to be somewhat unrefined for a saloon car.  

   To improve the refinement, the B-series 1800 unit was completely reworked and gained a five-bearing crankshaft. This larger engine then created packaging issues in the engine bay resulting in further enlargement of the car. However, the use of the transverse tubular cross member had created some useable space lower down to the rear of the engine. This allowed the transmission to be set further back from the engine than on the Mini or the 1100. Refinements of the gearbox internal lubrication system helped overcome some of the weaknesses of the transmission-in-sump grouping.  

   Another clever system on the ADO17 was the inertia-controlled brake proportioning. A valve system transferred braking force between front and rear axles equalising the braking action more positively than relying on the simple action of fluid under pedal pressure. 

   It is interesting to note that Issigonis had much closer contact with the Longbridge based design cells than with the ADO16 team based at Cowley. He could only check in on them weekly which gave Charles Griffin, and his C-cell team, more latitude in the design and development progress. In contrast Alec Issigonis was much more “hands-on” when it came to guiding the ADO17 development. Some writers consider the ADO16 Morris 1100 was a better car for not having been interfered with by Issigonis as much as the ADO17 - BMC 1800. That said, the ADO17 had the good hallmarks of an Issigonis design on the inside. A spacious, if minimalist, cabin was well appointed and featured leather, wood, and chrome trim. An interesting set of front seats that met in the middle could be used as a bench seat if needed (something frowned upon today but common in the US back then). It also had some interesting touches like the chrome "umbrella handle" handbrake under the dash’, a ribbon speedometer and a green light on the end of the indicator stalk. All this made the interior of the Austin 1800 a very nice environment to travel in, easily as good as much larger or more prestigious cars on the market at the time; and not just those from the BMC range either. 

   On the outside the ADO17 appeared to suffer from an identity crisis though. As we have seen it was enlarged and adjusted to cope with a number of changes. It might also be said to suffer from not having a clear design lead on style either. Both Alec Issigonis and Pininfarina had a hand in the car but neither established a real base line for the other to follow, and not because they didn’t get on but because BMC kept changing things. Issigonis’ stretched Mini concept disappeared completely and Pininfarina was effectively restricted to frontal design only.  

   One can accept that BMC might have thought the look of the 1100 was what was selling the car but if that was the case then they were deluding themselves. Trying to follow it with the stretched wheelbase of the 1800 now up to 106 inches and the engine size increase spreading the ADO17 car out widthways, it took on a somewhat awkward, ungainly look; unusual or unconventional is being kind, but in fairness it had a lot of glass which should have meant good visibility for the driver.  

   Instead of following Issigonis’ ideas or choosing Italian flair, BMC followed their own inhouse design ideas and the result was a car with an unhappy aspect. Revision after revision did nothing to help a styling and stance which critics simply didn’t find attractive.  

   However, the exterior did have some clever touches. For instance, the rear lights got an anti-dazzle resistance circuit that kicked in once the sidelights were turned on. This reduced any glare from the brake or rear indicator lights so they didn’t dazzle following traffic. 

Launch of the Austin 1800      

   Prior to the sales launch a taster was given when, during July and August 1964, BMC showed the Austin 1800 to the press at the Strathgarve Lodge Hotel, at Garve in Scotland. 16 pre-production cars were made available for evaluation while the company touted this car as an addition to the range rather than replacing any existing model.  

   BMC had convinced themselves they could sell these cars without difficulty, dealers rep’s even told the firm as many as 4000 a week could be driven off the forecourts. George Harriman, who had replaced Leonard Lord, had total belief in Issigonis; and Issigonis was fan of the 1800. Both believed the 1800 was the car the market wanted.  

   Motoring Correspondent for “The Times”, Geoffrey Charles, wrote a review which was echoed by other commentators and generally summed up the common belief that Issigonis could do no wrong. Mr Charles wrote: ‘I would sum up the Austin 1800 as a ruggedly built car, adequately powered, comfortable, offering exceptional passenger space, and thoroughly well-designed for modern traffic and touring. It should earn the highest placings in export markets.’  

   The sales launch of the 1800 was the 13th of October 1964 and this time it was the Austin side of the firm that was to have first crack at the market. Initial production was set at 2500 cars a week, which was expected to rise to as many as 4000 a week. The 1800 slotted in between the Farina and Austin Westminster and due to its astounding space efficiency was as airy as larger, more expensive, cars. However, the Austin 1800 was heavier, much wider, faster and more expensive than the A40 Farina (which BMC decided to keep in production), which actually pushed it out of the mid-sized car market in the eyes of the buyers. Had Issigonis or BMC taken the time to review the market more thoroughly they might have noticed that as early as 1960 a mere 5% of cars sold were 1700cc-1800cc motors. Demand for the new Austin 1800 was poor, the anticipated sales were never to be met.  

   The reasons for this were many but not unpredictable. The awkward styling didn’t appeal but sometimes a strange looking car sells because of its looks. More of an issue was the poor ergonomics. The interior was spacious and well appointed but while the somewhat spartan interior of the Mini and even the 1100 was accepted in the more expensive 1800 people expected better in other areas. Most importantly the uncomfortable steering wheel angle and difficulty reaching the switches mounted in the centre console from the driving seat. The compromised driving position Issigonis allowed in the 1800 put people off, masses of interior space weren’t enough to compensate in a more upmarket car. Especially when compared with the Ford Cortina which cost significantly less.  

   The odd angle of the steering wheel did nothing to help the driver who also had to deal with very heavy low-geared steering. It soon became clear a lower ratio rack was needed. Power assisted steering would have been best but no domestic competitors were using PAS so it wasn’t designed into the 1800 either. Even abroad only the Citroën DS, comparable as it was also front-wheel drive, had power-assisted steering either. Much later BMC did try to lighten the load with the Mk2 by changing to 14in rims in May 1968, too little and much too late to turn the model into a success story.  

      Reliability issues also played their part in stalling the sales of the 1800 and the British press, who have always building someone/something up to bash it down again, recorded the problems of the 1800 widely. In 1969 “The Times” reported BMC dealers were ‘frantic’ dealing with the complaints. The different problems were corrected one by one but predictably sales were effectively and consumer confidence in the 1800 and BMC was damaged. Demand was so low it took four years for BMC to break the 70,000-example barrier, the number set for the first batch!  

   While the 1800 was no doubt a crushing disappointment for BMC despite being a phenomenal car for the price. It did bring with it a small bonus though. In 1965 the Austin 1800 was voted Europe's Car of the Year for 1965 for its many innovative engineering aspects. Rover’s P6 had won the award in 1964 so Britain was starting to feel quite confident in its automotive industry. It was flattering to deceive.  

   BMCs idea of selling through only half its outlets again seems somewhat counterproductive economically speaking. Although the 1800 was sold under the Morris and luxury Wolseley models went on sale through 1966/7 it was clear the 1800 was not the car people wanted. Even pushing out the 6-cylinder Austin 2200, Morris 2200 and Wolseley Six didn’t save the design. But BMC did at least stop throwing money at the problem. The idea of an estate version, the idea of badge-engineered Riley and a luxuriously appointed Vanden Plas 1800 were abandoned as concepts, particularly as the latter two would have ended up competing in the same market as the upmarket Rover and Triumph models now all under the same British Leyland Motor Company from 1968.  

   While the sales never lived up to original expectations, looking back from 2019 the genius of Issigonis, Charles Griffin and C-Cell’s design is clear. It certainly set the tone for later BL designs, particularly in the suspension areas.  

   If competition did boost the mini as Doug Nye states then it didn’t do very much for the Austin 1800. BMC consultant by Daniel Richmond of Downton Engineering did design a cylinder head and twin-carburettor system that could push the 1800 up 99mph and there were suggestions that a Cooper badged version might lift flagging sales. But, Cooper, Downton and other competition consultants were dropped by the new BLMC who were more interested in long-distance rallying to prove their cars.  

   Although the middle management touring car wasn’t really meant for competition the 1800 did find its way onto rally circuits around the world. BMCs competition dept had a long tradition of choosing the horses for courses but the BMC 1800 failed to achieve the hoped-for success in competition. Late in 1967 Tony Fall & Mike Wood piloted an Austin 1800 (under the registration LRX 824E) in the 1967 Castrol “Danube Rally”. Car #7 took a surprise win on the very first competitive outing. It was the first time any car had ever won on its maiden outing in an international rally.  

   In truth the BMC 1800 was a heavy car and not especially fast, but very strong body-shell and sophisticated suspension meant the car was exceptionally well mannered over rough ground. It proved to have a unique ability to reliably travel quickly on poor roads over long distances, thus building competitive average speeds.

   In truth that first win flattered the car and they had little real success in the future. Brian Culcheth & Johnstone Syer dragged a BMC 1800 (reg’ KOC 391E) to 2nd in class and 24th O/A in the 1968 Rallye Automobile de Monte-Carlo and later that year Hopkirk Paddy & Nash Tony pushed their MK2 BMC 1800 to 2nd place in the Daily Express London-Sydney Marathon. After the race Lord Stokes pulled the plug on the competition department and some of the staff were made redundant. There after any 1800 entries were private which makes the 9th place in the London to Mexico World Cup Rally of 1970 by Robert 'Red' Redgrave, Phil Cooper & Bob Freeborough all the more remarkable. 

   Power for the competition model was increased from 81bhp @ 5,200rpm to 93bhp @ 5,300rpm thanks to a polished head and ports, new valves with double springs, a competition crank, a 2inch SU carb’ and new exhausts. Gearing and final drive were mix and match as required and a clutch made for positive gear changes. The real reason for success was the suspension which had almost no changes, just a slightly higher hydrolastic fluid pressure. Minilite magnesium wheels helped a little with weight reduction and at least gave a hint of a real competition car.  

   One Australian journalist watching the red and white BMC cars in a rally from a helicopter overhead saw the 1800s had an unnatural ability to go fast while travelling sideways, particularly in, and out of, corners. He likened them to Post Office Land Crabs, scuttling sideways across the ground. Taken alongside the ungainly squat stance, the observation quickly caught on with the press, fans and critics alike. The 1800 was a “landcrab”, and has remained so ever since.  

   In blunt terms the 1800 was a sales failure. The companies own figures for 1968 show how badly the car performed in the market place compared to its other models. The 1100/1300 design was the car of the moment selling 150,000 units that year, the Mini sold 90,000. Even the aging Minor was out-selling the 1800 with 22,500 over 20,000 respectively. Production of the 1800 continued until 1975 selling around the world but never in any shattering numbers. Who remembers the Danish Morris Monaco?


   Following the launch of the Austin 1800 Sir George Harriman promoted Issigonis to Technical Director for all of BMC in 1965. Given the flaws in Issigonis’ character this was a questionable move. It certainly wasn’t playing to Issigonis’ strengths as it moved him further away from design and deposited him in board and department meetings which he not only found tedious but in the case of financial meetings required him being discreetly guided through the documentation.  


   Issigonis design ingenuity was becoming more widely known and organisations were keen to be acquainted with his name and he had no trouble becoming a member of the Royal Society in 1967. The Royal Society was, and is, the most influential, independent, research organisation in Britain.  


   With the formation British Leyland approaching changes were afoot for Alec Issigonis. The Merging companies now had designers from many British car manufacturers and this influx of engineers brought competition for jobs. New chairman Lord Stokes is reported as saying "We'll sharp sort this bloke Issigonis out!".  

   Triumph’s Harry Webster became BLMC’s Engineering Director and Sir Alec Issigonis was moved aside being given a new title of "Special Developments Director". The whole affair was handled badly by BLMC with Issigonis not being fully informed so that when he returned from an overseas trip, he discovered Webster had taken over his office in his absence. Issigonis was now head of a rather vaguely defined “Advanced-research unit” in an unknown location which resulted in a “literally tearful Issigonis wandering around Longbridge trying to find a new office”.  

   In truth the new department probably suited Issigonis better in that it moved him away from the corporate management side of things. In 1967, Alec Issigonis had actually asked George Harriman to allow to give up his then position as a Technical director and give him the freedom to return to development of small cars and the creation of a replacement for the Mini. Despite the BMC 1100 and 1800 being in production and development of the next generation of front-wheel-drive cars well advanced Harriman was worried he would be losing Issigonis’ design flair from future model lines.  

   Reluctantly Harriman did accede to Issigonis’ request and allowed him to indulge his conceptual designing; but with no guarantees that any of the cars would go into production as the impending merger with Leyland made it unclear if a small car would be countenanced by the new firm. All the same, Issigonis gathered a small team of hand-picked engineers, including once again John Sheppard, and reinstated his preferred working method. Sir Alec believed that results would be much more quickly achieved by a small cell of reliable people who understood his ways and whom he could trust.   


   In the meantime, 1969 saw other landmarks being set. BMC stopped using the Austin and Morris prefixes and made the Mini a marque in its own right. This was a well-deserved step as in June 1969 the two millionth Mini rolled off the production line.  

   The revolution to front wheel drive is revealed when we look at BMCs sales figures. BMC sold 2750 of the front engined rear-wheel-drive A40s against 315,250 front engined front-wheel-drive cars. In less than 10-years over 3.7million f-e-f-w-d cars were built and they accounted for 25.7% of the British new car market. The Alec Issigonis pioneered transverse engine/front-wheel-drive formula was soon being aped by several Continental car makers.  

   This outstanding impact on motor car design, and the industry, was recognised formally in 1969 when HM Queen Elizabeth II conferred a Knighthood upon the designer, making him Sir Alec Issigonis.  

   ADO14, having been developing since 1965, was finally launched in the Spring of 1969. It was the last of Issigonis' car designs to go into production and the first new design released under the British Leyland Motor corporation. It was to have been named "Austin 1500" but BL chairman, Lord Stokes, decided to honour the Mini, now ten years old, by renaming the larger car as the ‘Maxi’.  
   The Maxi was an exciting new design that made Ford’s best-selling Cortina look outdated in style and concept. The medium-sized five-door hatchback had versatility and panache. 
   The 1500cc OHC E-series engine, later increased to 1748cc, was solid and more than powerful enough to pull the car. 
   It featured the now de-facto front wheel drive approach and was the first British five-door hatchback to include a five-speed gearbox. Of course, it rode on the now famous Hydrolastic suspension system.  

   Sadly, the Maxi got off to a poor start. There were problems with the early cable-linked gear change and over-all poor-quality control stunted sales. The Maxi never did achieve sales success but was produced from 1969 and 1981. The Maxi, like the later Allegro, was a far better car than many people admit, once the production issues were sorted out. But service warranty costs were crippling BMC and while the company was trying hard to reduce the cost considerations of manufacturing each model, Issigonis continued to plough his own furrow. From this standpoint one can understand why Lord Stokes treated Sir Alec as he did.  

   Issigonis retired in 1971, but not before he had driven the 2 millionth 1100/1300 (ADO16) off the production line in August of that year. Next door the 5 millionth f-w-d BMC car, a Mini Clubman, was also completed. 


   Sir Alec officially retired from British Leyland in November 1971. BL held an elaborate ceremony at Longbridge which included a car from each project which he had led the design team on. Of these models only Morris Minor had ceased production. The firm presented Sir Alec with the largest available Meccano set available as a leaving present, it even had a steam engine for working models. From this Issigonis constructed a grandfather clock, which was apparently reliable and quite accurate in its time keeping.  

   A lifelong bachelor Sir Alec Issigonis still lived with his mother, He was devoted to her and understandably distraught when she passed away in 1972. Their large bungalow in Edgbaston, Birmingham, had been divided into two wings and Issigonis indulged his hobbies within his half of the property. He relaxed with a OO-gauge model railway layout he built which even ran out into the garden through apertures in the walls. Holidays were spent swimming, sunbathing and drinking dry Martinis in Monte Carlo.  His Hotel of choice for many years was the Hotel L’Hermitage, this luxurious and ornate hotel had a flamboyance in stark contrast to the cars he designed.  

   However, Sir Alec Issigonis couldn’t just walk away from his consuming passion of designing small cars and he remained on the BL books as a consultant until shortly before his death. His exclusive consultancy agreement with BLMC was agreed with the Chairman, Donald Stokes, to whom Sir Alec would be reporting. Basically, he continued in his role leading the experimental research and development team.  

   Issigonis' flair and ingenuity so evident in the Mini simply did not translate to the subsequent larger models. Corporate technical directorship didn’t play to Sir Alec’s strengths either given free reign this uncontrolled force for minimalism and innovation played his own part, alongside weak and irresolute chairmen, in the downturn in BMC’s fortunes. However, there is no arguing that all Issigonis designed cars were hugely advanced vehicles.  

   But this isn’t the end of Sir Alec’s design work with British Leyland as he continued, in a consultancy capacity, working on a series of experimental ideas.  

The last Issigonis cars  
   BMC 9X    

   Issigonis was a whizz at designing small cars as his mindset was wholly arranged to this end; which probably explains why his larger cars were not as successful as the Mini was. However, the Mini was designed in rather a rush as a response to the oil crisis so had certain deficiencies Issigonis intended to correct the design with a new, even more efficient, small car.  

   Sir Alec’s design team at the Longbridge works developed numerous variations on the Mini under the code-named, 9X. Pet projects included in the programme were a highly efficient ‘DX’ engine design, an innovative gearless transmission system, using a torque converter, and even a steam powered engine for the Mini. 

  The 9X, under the design number ADO20, was completely new. Built to Issigonis most stringent set of goals nothing in the prototype cars was an off the shelf item from the parts warehouse. It was bold, it was radical it was incredible.  

   Compared to the Mini, the seminal small car, the team shortened the 9X by four inches, reduced the number of panels the body was made from (to save in production time and costs) and created more leg and head room! The car was 94lb lighter than the mini (having some aluminium body panels), and had better sized sliding side windows, later replaced by winding ones, so the driver could actually get his head out the side to help reverse more accurately. In fact, visibility generally was improved with a taller area with thinner pillars containing more glass. 

   Everything was classic Issigonis, even the strip speedometer in the slim fascia screamed minimalist. If there was a problem area it was that the 9X suffered similarly to the Mini from a somewhat compromised driving position. External door hinges and seems became concealed and front-end proportions were modified to provide efficient installation of a more compact '9X' engine and the Battery which had moved forward from the boot to under the bonnet. In another internal space provision step the spare wheel exited the car to a cradle under the boot rather than being housed inside it.  

   External styling was done by Fred Boubier and Syd Goble and looked typically 1970s with its squared-off corners. It was also a hatchback, desired by customer focus groups but Issigonis thought unnecessary in a small car. Interestingly, Sir Alec bowed to public opinion, something he was not usually known to do.  

   A really promising part of the design was the new DX engine range offering 750cc to 1000cc engines. Again, they were all new, lighter more fuel efficient yet could give 60bhp-per-litre. Taking just nine months to get from the drawing board to the test bed the engine design had an overhead camshaft and a cam-belt instead of a chain. In keeping with the lightweight philosophy, the engine had an aluminium alloy cylinder head and sump so only the cylinder block was cast iron effectively making the new 9X engine/gearbox package weigh around 200lbs; considerably less than the Mini’s 340lb package. Another clever idea was to design the engine as a modular system so that increasing the capacity of the engine and even the number of cylinders. A 6-cylinder DX engine was later put into a MG Metro prototype in the mid-1980s but by that time Issigonis was very much on the periphery of BL thinking and it never came to anything. The important factor in producing the DX engine was to ensure everything was a close to the necessary tolerances as could be achieved. This proved to be the downfall of the DX unit as such close tolerances were too costly to achieve in mass production. This was a shame as the engine was very good and the new two-shaft gearbox design housed beneath and behind the engine (in 1800 style), was apparently much quieter than the unit in the Mini. A 1500cc 9X achieved a top speed of 83mph while on test.   

   The suspension was also very different to the Mini. Issigonis dropped the Moulton Hydrolastic system in favour of much simpler rear beam axle and MacPherson struts at the front. This sort of approach was much cheaper to produce and more easily ‘tuned’ to give a softer, more compliant, ride. This stands as a rare example of where Issigonis would use a conventional design if he thought there was a genuine benefit.  

   Final development of the 9X was well into the British Leyland period and there were many things mitigating against 9X production possibilities. Largely these reasons come down to a lack of money and simple economic reasoning. Despite the undoubted qualities of the 9X it never got beyond the prototype stage. Why would BL put the considerable money into all new tooling and production line technology for a new ‘mini’ when the original Mini, and the 1100, were still selling very well. Profitability and efficiency were very high on the BL board’s agenda due to the many financial problems the group had, largely down to the Austin-Morris models. British Leyland, under Donald Stokes, needed to crack the medium car market where the 1800 was a poor seller, not dive back into a market they were already well-established in. The brilliant 9X car and DX engine simply required too much investment to get them into production.  

   Issigonis, now retired, was kept on as a consultant and continued to work on the 9X ideas through the 1970s and 1980s repeatedly bringing the car back to the management’s attention and both George Turnbull and John Barber who drove the 9X loved it. But the financial risks could never be justified. Even when a BL Director tried a standard Mini fitted with a DX engine the result was the same. The Director loved the car and enthused about how well the car ran, but still the chances of the engine reaching production were zero. John Sheppard would later say that: “Of all the cars I worked on, the 9X cancellation was the biggest blow,”. BLMC engine designer through 1970-76, Ray Battersby, added: “I was at Longbridge when the 9X was being shot down by Harry Webster. Issigonis’ arrogance cannot have helped his cause at all, though all those who worked for him that I knew held him in very high regard.” The 9X proved to be the last car fully designed under Alec Issigonis.  

The Gearless Mini. 

   Issigonis’ 'gearless' transmission concept was developed alongside the '9X' and DX engines. Apparently, there were four gearless Minis, “SOL 258H” being the oldest surviving gearless car. That particular car being registered to Sir Alex Issigonis in 1975 and was his preferred method of transport for 17 years.  The earliest 9X Mini, a red one registered “NOB 529F” which had no reverse gear, had an adapted 1375cc 'A-series' engine has been lost, but three others, SOL 258H (Tundra green),      LOK 576P (light green) and GNP 677S (blue) all fitted with the DX engine still exist. These cars can now be seen at the British Motor Heritage Museum at Gaydon, The Atwell-Wilson Motor Museum in Calne, Wiltshire and Haynes International Motor Museum, near Yeovil, Somerset. But even this was due to Issigonis stepping in to stop BL from chopping up the 9X project cars.

   Issigonis' objectives with the projects were numerous. He aimed to reduce manufacturing costs for BL, and maintenance costs for the owner. At the same time, he wanted to boost performance and give the driver, and passengers, the best experience possible. Sir Alec even said: "it is inconceivable that people would put up with so much work gear shifting when this could be completely eliminated while also achieving better overall fuel economy".  

   On the whole These targets were met but at a price. Performance above 20mph was good but under 20mph the car struggled to get enough momentum to deal with any but the gentlest of gradients. In an effort to deal with this shortcoming the DX engine had been increased in capacity and properly tuned to improve performance over a wider rev-band.  

   The 9X gearless “City Car” was very much like an ordinary Mini to drive but has no manual gear selection lever, no clutch and no gears, there wasn’t even a variable ratio transmission. Instead the gearless system employed a torque converter which provided forward and reverse motion. Clearly it was not an 'automatic' gearbox but the difference escaped many people. Should anyone make the mistake of calling his gearless vehicles ‘automatics’, Issigonis became very cross indeed.  

The 10X                

   Sir Alec sketched out the BMC 10X around 1969-70 though it is considered it didn’t hold the highest position in his mind. Some critics have reviewed the design and concluded it was an interesting idea and “possibly a better car than the Allegro.”  

   It was certainly larger running on a longer wheelbase of approximately 96 inches with additional overhang. A three-door hatch back it had the usual space efficiency of an Issigonis design having excellent interior space with more rear legroom evident. It also seems to have a more reclined and comfortable driving position than the Mini or 1100 series had. 

   Like the 9X it was to be fitted with the compact four-cylinder DX engine, but, with 1000cc being the largest capacity intended from the DX it is thought Issigonis might have used a 6-cylinder engine of between 1.2 and 1.5ltrs. In similar vein to the 9X, the suspension was by McPherson struts at the front and a beam axle at the rear.   

   However, the 10X suffered with the same problems of the 9X in that investment and development costs were considered prohibitively high. The high degree of tolerances again required and worries about the new gearbox layout, in a separate casing behind and below the engine only added to the costs. While the 10X might have been a good car BLMC didn’t have money in the coffers. When considered against the BLMC 1100/1300 range, which was at the time Britain’s best-selling car, the firm simply couldn’t commit to the costs involved.  

   At the same time the ADO22 facelift for the 1100/1300 project was underway, and more cost effective than the 10X. In the end the Austin Allegro was adopted which represented a compromise between the radicalism of the 10X and the conservatism of the ADO22.  

   As technical director Harry Webster and boss Donald Stokes, and other within British Leyland, wanted the Maxi to be the last BMC car BL produced and for a definite new identity from BL to be set in place. Basically, it was unlikely and development car, or design from the former BMC house, was likely to make it into production. Additionally, BL felt that the hatchback rear should remain the provenance of the Maxi and another ongoing design project that would become the Rover SD1 so any design that might be seen to compete with that feature was reinvented; to the great detriment of the Austin Princess.  

   Given the quality control issues and labour relation problems BL had during this time it is unlikely the 9X or 10X would have fared any better in the market place than the Allegro did.  


   A more outlandish project, born out of economic and ecological warnings, was a steam engine small enough to fit into a Mini. Meant to be a cheaper and more reliable form of transportation but refining the old technology to fit into a car meant a new approach across the board. Many people informed Sir Alec it would not be possible to produce such an engine/car design efficient enough to work. Issigonis himself said: “I don't see much hope for it”, but that “they would probably learn a thing or two in the process”…“and they might even discover something valuable”.  

   Despite the pessimism the project was pushed forward. Drawings were available for the press to see in the summer of 1969 and some discussion was provoked. One set of drawings showed a compact unit the size of a rugby football with all its valves and timing mechanism held inside and expected to push out 50bhp.  

   A mock up car had a 5-gallon boiler and a condenser incorporated into the floor pan. Steam could have been used to acted upon parallel cylinders in a similar mode to the traditional ICE unknit, or via cylinders and a swash plate to create rotational motion and even the possibility of a steam turbine to power with variable drive. In order to help quantify the output to engine size with regard to the amount of space required to power output required to move the vehicle Issigonis cited 80bhp per litre as a target.  

   Although he knew it wasn’t going to be a serious production option Sir Alec was disappointed he could make more of the idea. Others who recognised Issigonis abilities were also surprised that he did not succeed. But he did report that: “We have discovered a lot of surprising things about steam valves and ports.”  

   For a while the prototype mock up car was stored in one of the works tunnels before being lost to the world.  


   In 1986 acclaimed television celebrity, Noel Edmonds, drove the five millionth Mini off the Longbridge production line. When production of the mini finally stopped on the 4th of October 2000, after 30 years, 5,505,874 units, across the various ranges, had been made. The Mini remains Britain’s most produce car to date.   

Later years.    

   Living alone in his spacious, comfortable, bungalow in Edgbaston Sir Alec started to succumb to age. In the mid-1970s he began to suffer from Meniere’s disease, a debilitating illness which affects one’s balance control and can bring with it severe dizziness and nausea. As this condition progressed Issigonis retreated more from prominence and forced him to work from home, briefing his nominated engineers each weekday morning; in his drawing room.  

   However, Sir Alec continued to press his ideas to BL directors. In a letter written directly to BL’s new Chairman, Graham Day, in 1986, Sir Alec extolled the virtues of the gearless 9X while also complaining about the growing amount of electronics in cars and the designers using CAD systems instead of not slide rules. Issigonis was by now so detached from the company he was oblivious to BLs financial situation and his aging 9x project was competing Austin Metro.  

   Sir Alec’s consultancy contract was finally terminated by Graham Day in 1987. Obviously an emotional blow for him, the more detrimental effect was the end of goodwill payments that had been covering the costs of Sir Alec’s nursing care. This forced Sir Alec, now none too well at all, to leave his home and move into a smaller flat. A friend of Sir Alec’s, Charles Bulmer, remembered sadly:

"towards the end of his life he was ever so lonely,"

"He was not really mobile and quite isolated, having fallen from a position of such power and strength when everyone wanted to see and talk to him.” 

“I think he felt it very badly." 


   Having suffered with Meniere’s and Parkinson’s diseases for many years Sir Alec in Issigonis passed away at his home in Edgbaston, Metropolitan Borough of Birmingham, West Midlands, England, on Sunday the 2nd of October 1988. He was 81 years and 10 months old.    


   Cremated at the Lodge Hill Cemetery and Crematorium, near Selly Oak, Metropolitan Borough of Birmingham, West Midlands, England his ashes were then interned in Plot 11 of the Garden of Rest. At his funeral Sir Peter Ustinov made a speech in which he likened to Mini to Issigonis the man’s "own twinkling personality. His eyes, of a surprisingly intense deep blue, were recalled in the wide-eyed innocence of the Mini's headlights, childish but hugely sophisticated. The Mini was not only a triumph of engineering but an enduring personality, as was Sir Alec with his exquisitely caustic tongue and infectious merriment."

Issigonis - the man.                   

   Sir Alec Issigonis was one of those people who are now referred to as a flawed genius; a complex man that was the personification of his Scorpio zodiac sign. Purposeful, unyielding, strong willed and independent, often seen by others as stubborn, arrogant, uncompromising, domineering, lacking in respect for their opinions or suggestions and incapable of giving praise to colleagues. 

   John Sheppard was always clear that Sir Alec “could be an awkward person to work with because he always knew what he wanted”. Others were less kind in their descriptions of his outspoken character using words as harsh as downright rude, bigoted and narrow minded. 

   Issigonis was eccentric, transient, a strong-minded lateral thinker who hated all things big, despised convention and who considered market research and sales statistics “bunk”. Sir Alec’s inability to accept these areas, and others such as looks, practicality and ergonomics, because of his total belief in his engineering solutions, resulted in less successful cars than might have been the case. In fairness several BMC chairmen must also bear some responsibility for these larger cars (like the Maxi) not storming in the market places because they failed to keep him in check themselves. One thing is clear, in such a complex engineering arena where design teams are so large that even the most talented individual cannot stand alone, Issigonis’ designed cars had a distinctive engineering packaging that has seldom been seen at any other time.  

   The positive aspects of Sir Alec’s personality are often overlooked. Beneath his surly surface, Alec Issigonis was a sensitive, introspective and quite vulnerable person. He was charming with a good sense of humour that loved to shock his listeners. At times he was very considerate and always displayed old-world courtesy. Disarmingly shy with a ready smile and twinkling blue eyes full of creativity and humour, his impish features depicted an inner charisma that made him such excellent company. If there were those who intensely disliked Issigonis there were an equal number who adored him. The great motoring journalist Bill Boddy knew Issigonis, liked him and considered Issigonis a “refreshingly honest person who put the fun back into utility motoring”. 

   His cosmopolitan origins added to the contrasts of his contradictory character. In appearance, manner and speech Sir Alec projected an air of English upper-middle class, yet his desire was always to create cars for the average man in the street. This opposition of man and ideology continues in that Alec Issigonis was fairly tall, just under 6ft, yet he was the man who led the world into the era of the miniature car.  

   Alec Issigonis was a hugely practical man with very large hands, hands that were never still adding expressive gestures to conversation yet possessing remarkable dexterity, even the emotion of the artist-craftsman. However, he never thought of himself as such, in self-deprecatingly mannered statement Issigonis said he was "a mere ironmonger".  

   Another aspect of the great man’s personality was his dislike of patronising new restaurants or pubs “They don’t know how you want your drink mixed or what you like or don’t like eating; I find that insufferable.” In short, "He lived for his engineering, his mother, his hobbies and, of course, his dry Martinis and Yellow Perils, his name for the Gold Flake cigarettes he smoked" recalls Christopher Dowson the son of Lightweight Special collaborator George Dowson.  

   We previously mentioned Sir Alec Issigonis was proud of Britain, the Royal family and the British establishment. However, he himself suffered much intolerance and prejudice from British co-workers, raising another contradiction. Despite being half-Bavarian Sir Alec was outspokenly anti-German, indifferent toward Americans and a fervent Francophile.  

   The man behind Ford's Cortina, Sir Terence Beckett, knew Alec Issigonis and mentioned that it was apparent he had an element of paranoia that cropped up at times, "he used to drink Malvern Water because at one stage he thought he was being poisoned”. Beckett went on to say “He [Issigonis] never had any money and would not discuss money so everyone who worked with him was never well paid. He was always asking his 'boys in the shop' to get his blue Pentels (Drawing Pens) for him and they would buy them 12 at a time."  

   Alec Issigonis was never married. He lived with his mother, to whom he was devoted, until her death at the age of 86 years in 1972. It is generally thought that he was gay due to a general lack of any female relationships and his habit of using "my dear" quite liberally in his speech. If he was. then he probably never dared follow his feelings, to do so would not only have put his professional status at risk but could have invited prosecution under the unenlightened laws of the time.  

   Didn’t we say he was a complex character?

Was he proud that so many manufacturers had copied his ideas?       

   Having achieved so much and overcome many difficulties Sir Alec Issigonis could be forgiven for a sense of self-importance and pride, but that wasn’t really his reason for overriding self-confidence. When asked what his proudest moment was Sir Alec gave an interesting answer, it wasn’t his most famous car or being knighted by the Queen. Sir Alec said his proudest moment was “when I became a Fellow of the Royal Society and signed the book containing signatures of people such as Charles II and James Watt — that was marvellous.”  

   When it comes to the design he was most proud of, that too isn’t the one you might have expected. The Mini changed the automotive world and remains an icon to this day, but it was a rushed product, one devoid of any comfort considerations being solely created around economy of fuel, space and production costs. However, Sir Alec always said he was most proud of the Morris Minor. The Minor was his first major design and was just the car it was supposed to be; an affordable car for the masses that combined an acceptable amount of comfort in a good motor car.  

   Another interesting contrast in Sir Alec’s life also revolves around pride and his design thoughts. He once said “One thing that I learnt the hard way – well not the hard way, the easy way – when you’re designing a new car for production, never, never copy the opposition”. Issigonis did take note of the vehicles he came across and always tried to improve the breed, but he didn’t actively seek out the designs of others. He avoided the competitions displays at motor shows so as to remain clear in his own mind how he wanted his cars to be; Alec Issigonis said simply he didn’t want to “become confused”. Toward the end of his life Sir Alec was disappointed that “So many manufacturers are copying each other now,” but he did admit to a sense of pride or flattery when he said of the Mini, “I feel very, very proud that so many people have copied me.”   

Insightful comments.             

   Being a famous person, the thoughts and opinions of Sir Alec are, of course, recorded widely but they do give a fascinating insight into the mind of this motoring legend.  

   When asked about his designs Sir Alec would retort “How boring, my dear”, as for the Mini he said “I didn’t invent Mini, I designed it”. When pressed on the subject of the cars of the era [1970s] he said “I am filled with nausea at the dearth of any kind of technical development in the family saloons here, with certain honourable exceptions, of course”, “They are so dull, uninspired, and unimaginative, It’s all very depressing.” Pursuing the subject further Sir Alec was reported as saying about the Austin 1800 “You can be as critical as you like, but that car is way out ahead of them all”. As for styling Issigonis felt thus, “Styling? I don’t approve of the word. It tends to date a car, and I hate designing cars that date…”. As for the cars that came out of America Issigonis was more critical, saying, “I've always felt that stylists such as you have in America are ashamed of a car and are preoccupied with making it look like something else, like a submarine or an airship...As an engineer, I revolt against this.”   

  Sir Alec’s feelings about himself also raised some interesting thoughts. He said “I’m the last of the Bugattis … A man who designed whole cars. Now committees do the work.” He would add to that “Now meetings are held to decide where to have meetings. When I was working on the Morris Minor, a meeting with more than two people was overcrowded,” and one of his most famous quotes on the subject of design groups is “a camel is a horse designed by committee.” Did Alec Issigonis consider himself to be an expert then? Apparently not, a lateral thinking problem solver, Issigonis believed "An expert is someone who tells you why you can't do something". The Mini proves that Sir Alec was not one to accept what couldn’t be done.  

   Regarding the future of the motor car Sir Alec had very clear views in the 1970s, some of which proved to be correct. “You were asking what the car of the future might be like, my dear,” he said, “I think that all small family cars in Europe — though not necessarily sports cars — will be front-wheel-drive within 10 years. The small car will be acceptable because of its convenience in heavy traffic.” Some predictions were less accurate “It’ll be a car without any gears — with forward, reverse and neutral. Mark my words, within 10 years the barbaric gear lever will have disappeared.”  

   Issigonis had some interesting thoughts on safety, “In the next decade, if not before, rear-engined cars will be illegal. Apart from cars that have engines at the back, I’d never blame any car for causing an accident. I’d blame the man at the wheel — or the other wheel. People cause accidents, cars rarely do. But I think that rear-engined cars can be dangerous even in the hands of an expert. Mid-engined cars? I call them playboys’ cars…”. 

   His personal driving habits were also controversial, "I never wear a seatbelt. It's much easier to drive without having an accident.” Sir Alec despised luxuries, "I never have a radio in the car, I need to concentrate on the job of driving. I never smoke when I drive either.” He held to this belief and advocated another thought “The Chinese in their wisdom, I’m told, have a law: it’s illegal to speak to a driver.” Regarding comfort, something Issigonis was repeatedly criticised for in his spartan designs, he said “an uncomfortable driver is an alert driver”, “I would like people to sit on nails – to be extremely uncomfortable all the time.” Quite how he would feel about today's cars with the many driver aids packaged into them, and worse the driverless cars like the Tesla, we can only guess.


   As you would expect of a man who made himself famous many awards and honours have been bestowed upon Sir Alec Issigonis, during his lifetime and in memoriam.  

   HM Elizabeth IIR the Queen presented Alec Issigonis as Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 1964. Later, on the 22nd of July, 1969, the Queen dubbed Issigonis “Sir Alec” when he was made KBE (Knight Commander of the British Empire) during a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Also on a Royal note, Issigonis was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry (RDI) in 1964.  

   Sir Alec never actually gained a degree through his studies, just his engineering diploma from Battersea Polytechnic. However, he was honoured by the University of Surrey and the University of East Anglia. Sir Alec was invested in the Royal Society of Arts and, as previously mentioned, the most historic Royal Society, from which he was awarded a Leverhulme Medal in 1966. The Leverhulme award being presented on a three-yearly basis for “an outstandingly significant contribution in the field of pure or applied chemistry or engineering, including chemical engineering".  

   A more unusual Memorial related to Sir Alec is actually to his father. The Mini owners club on the Island of Malta discovered the grave of Constantine Issigonis and in honour of Constantine and Alec held a rally of around 50 Mini cars on the event of the 92nd anniversary of the death of Constantine Issigonis. The grave is now cared for by the club.  

   In a similar vein, the Heritage Motor Centre in Gaydon, England, held a rally on the 15th of October 2006 in commemoration of the passing of a centenary since Sir Alec's birth.  

   The City of Oxford honoured Sir Alec by naming a road after him. The "Alec Issigonis Way" can be found on what was the site of the Morris Motors factory in Cowley, Oxford, now the Oxford Business Park. A special sign for the road was unveiled in 1993 after members of the Mini Forum mounted a campaign to persuade the Park developers “Goodman” to do so. Long-time colleague and friend of Issigonis, Mr [John] Sheppard was invited as guest of honour, also at the ceremony were representatives from the Mini factory and Oxford East MP Andrew Smith. A 1950 Morris Minor, an original 1959 Cowley-built Mini and a modern Mini Roadster also attended to honour Sir Alec. Wayne Morse a spokesman for the Mini club said “This is a tribute to the legacy of Alec Issigonis and the iconic car he designed. Everyone at the plant is proud to be part of both the heritage and future of Mini.”  

   International recognition during his lifetime was worldwide. This has since been confirmed by Sir Alec’s Inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2003. Furthermore, as you might expect Sir Alec has been extensively biographized and documented in print and in films.


Alec Issigonis: The Man who Made the Mini', by Jonathan Wood  

Alec Issigonis by Andrew Nahum -1988  

Issigonis: The Official Biography Paperback by Gillian Bardsley -2006  

Plus innumerable books on the cars he designed and developed.  


1992 Perpetual Motion (TV Series documentary)  

Himself - Designer of Morris Minor  

The Morris Minor (1992) ... Himself - Designer of Morris Minor  

1997 The Car's the Star (TV Series documentary)  

Himself - Designer of Mini

Mini (1997) ... Himself - Designer of Mini

1999 Issigonis-Mini Man (Documentary) Himself (as Issigonis)  

2013 Das Auto: The Germans, Their Cars and Us (TV Movie documentary)  

Himself - Designer of Mini - Speaking in 1979  


   Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis; individualist, complex character, independent thinker, celebrated automobile designer, innovative creator or producer of iconic motor cars. However you describe him his ingenuity and determination made him one of the best remembered car designers of all time, and, as a design team leader, “the People’s Designer” was the inspiration behind 5 of Britain’s most innovative designs of modern times.  

   The genius of Sir Alec Issigonis, nicknamed "the Greek God" by his contemporaries, has been profoundly beneficial to the British motor industry, and spread world-wide to inspire generations of automotive designers. His best remembered products are the best-selling Mini and the perennially popular Morris Minor. But Issigonis turned out more than best sellers, his fingerprints are all over the Austin-Morris 1100, Austin Maxi for and the not so successful 1800 Land Crab which still broke new innovations in chassis stiffness and unconventional suspension.  

   First and foremost an engineer Alec Issigonis rose above the constraints of conventional thinking, public opinion (famously dismissive of market research he said “The public don’t know what they want; it’s my job to tell them”), design trends and his employer’s whims to become Britain’s most successful motor engineer and international acclaim for striving to produce economical, reliable, mass-production cars at a price the man in the street could afford. Luxury and trinkets were of no use, everything had to do a useful job, if not it was deemed superfluous. Even wind up windows on the Mini were thrown out in favour of much simpler sliding windows.  

   Issigonis’ legacy is indelibly recorded through his cars, cars that had more impact on Britain’s post-war motor industry than anyone else’s at the time and perhaps made Alec Issigonis one of very few British automotive designers who could claim celebrity status. Perhaps only Sir Henry Royce and perhaps Colin Chapman can be seen as peers to Issigonis in terms of bringing ingenuity and originality to British automobiles.  

   Issigonis’ long career spanned the rise and fall of the independent British motor industry, Morris merged with Austin to become the British Motor Corporation which later morphed into British Leyland MC before splitting apart again as other nations car companies started to eat into the British market and steal away it’s designers and facilities. But while the name of the British motor industries products was dragged through the mud Sir Alec Issigonis’ name and reputation remain unsullied.  

   More than the history books will remember him. All those who own and enjoy their Minors or Minis, and appreciate the simplicity of the mantra “Space for passengers and payload, not mechanicals” keep his name alive at classic car events and in many cases as daily runners still doing what they were designed for 50, 60, and more, years ago.  

   There can be little doubt that had Alec’s father lived to see Alec’s achievements he would have approved of the life Alec Issigonis devoted himself too. But perhaps it was the turmoil and pains of his youth, and the early death of his father, that made Alec Issigonis the determined, exceptional and practical designer that he became.