An engineering genius and godfather of of the Mini
Sir Alec Issigonis was one of the automotive industry’s great independent thinkers. A British citizen born in Turkey in 1906, Issigonis did not see an automobile until he was 12 years old. After returning to England in 1922, he enrolled in engineering school, failing mathematics at every turn. Issigonis would later state that “pure mathematics (is) the enemy of every truly creative man.” He began his engineering career at Morris Motors Ltd. in 1936 as a steering and suspension engineer.
In 1942, Morris gave Issigonis overall responsibility for an all-new model; the Morris Minor. Issigonis and his team produced a revolutionary car that featured a small exterior with a spacious passenger compartment and outstanding handling characteristics. The Morris Minor was an immediate success, selling over 11 million units, and was the first characterization of Issigonis’s philosophy of maximizing interior space while shrinking all other components. In 1957, Issigonis received the project that would make him famous. In response to the Suez Oil Crisis, British Motor Company asked Issigonis to head the development of a small, fuel-efficient car that would become the Morris Mini. Issigonis actually sketched the Mini’s original design with a pencil on a tablecloth. The challenge of designing the Mini was engineering a car that would seat four passengers and their luggage in a package not to exceed ten feet in length. Issigonis also insisted that no less than 80% of the car’s volume be dedicated to passengers and luggage.
To achieve this feat, Issigonis utilized a front wheel drive layout with a transverse-mounted engine, the first modern application of this concept. Issigonis also devised a compact suspension system made of rubber cones instead of springs to keep the wheel wells from intruding into the passenger compartment. In October, 1957, just eight months after first putting pen to paper, the first prototypes were on the road. The Mini was launched in 1959, and became instantly popular. In 1969, in recognition of his engineering genius, Queen Elizabeth granted him Knighthood. Issigonis died in England in 1988 at the age of 81, having lived long enough to see his beloved Mini sell in excess of five million units.