Posted by: Accola9 OCT 2008
Alec Issigonis, who died 20 years ago in October 1988, designed no fewer than three of the five best-selling cars in British motoring history. Of Mediterranean origin, although English in manner, Issigonis was an uncompromising individualist.
He developed a lateral approach to car design and engineering and his cars are distinctively the creation of a strong personality. Issigonis is credited with saying “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” and he derided market research as “bunk”.
It was at Morris Motors in Oxford that Issigonis undertook his first complete design. The car went into production in 1948 as the Morris Minor. William Morris, by then Lord Nuffield, was furious when he first saw it and nicknamed it “the poached egg”.
But it gradually won over the British motorist for its use of space and its steering and road-holding capacities. It continued in production for 24 years, during which over 1.6 million were produced.
Issigonis is most famous for his creation of the Mini. Petrol-rationing arising out of the 1956 Suez crisis, and increasing imports of inexpensive bubble cars, prompted British manufacturers to think about small, cheap, fuel-efficient vehicles. Issigonis led a team to design such a car for the British Motor Corporation.
In1959 the Mini was launched as a small four-seater town car and was quickly recognised to be a revolutionary vehicle. A transverse-mounted engine with front-wheel drive gave phenomenal use of space in a strikingly functional 10ft-long box-shaped body.
The Mini became a cult car and was hailed as an icon of the optimistic early 1960s. By 1986 production figures had reached 5 million. It was probably the last great product of one man’s vision that the car industry is likely to see.
The Mini’s design features and safe handling were noted by the racing car builder John Cooper, who transformed the car “designed for the district nurse” into the competition-winning Mini Cooper.
Issigonis continued his obsession with the maximisation of passenger space combined with the best possible road holding to design his third top seller, the Morris/Austin 1100, a medium-sized family car with clean classical lines, released in 1962.