Alec Issigonis

Alec Issigonis

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Sir
Sir
Sir is an honorific used as a title , or as a courtesy title to address a man without using his given or family name in many English speaking cultures...

 Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis
, CBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

, FRS (18 November 1906–2 October 1988) was a Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

-British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 designer of cars, now remembered chiefly for the groundbreaking and influential development of the Mini
Mini
The Mini is a small car that was made by the British Motor Corporation and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout influenced a generation of car-makers...

, launched by the British Motor Corporation
British Motor Corporation
The British Motor Corporation, or commonly known as BMC was a vehicle manufacturer from United Kingdom, formed by the merger of the Austin Motor Company and the Nuffield Organisation in 1952...

 (BMC) in 1959.

Early life


Issigonis was born into the Greek community of Smyrna
Izmir
Izmir is a large metropolis in the western extremity of Anatolia. The metropolitan area in the entire Izmir Province had a population of 3.35 million as of 2010, making the city third most populous in Turkey...

 (now İzmir, Turkey) in the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

. His grandfather Demosthenis Issigonis migrated to Smyrna from Paros
Paros
Paros is an island of Greece in the central Aegean Sea. One of the Cyclades island group, it lies to the west of Naxos, from which it is separated by a channel about wide. It lies approximately south-east of Piraeus. The Municipality of Paros includes numerous uninhabited offshore islets...

 in the 1830s and through the work he did for the British
Great Britain
Great Britain or Britain is an island situated to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island, as well as the largest of the British Isles...

-built Smyrna-Aydın Railway
Turkish State Railways
The State Railways of the Turkish Republic or TCDD is the government owned, national railway carrier in the Republic of Turkey, headquartered in Ankara...

, in the engineering works that he had established, had managed to acquire British nationality. Demosthenis's son (Alec's father) Constantine Issigonis (Κωνσταντίνος Ισηγόνης), was born, with British nationality, in Smyrna
Smyrna
Smyrna was an ancient city located at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Thanks to its advantageous port conditions, its ease of defence and its good inland connections, Smyrna rose to prominence. The ancient city is located at two sites within modern İzmir, Turkey...

 in 1872. Constantine studied in England, and later, passed his love of all things English on to his son. Alec's mother, Hulda Prokopp, could trace her origins back to Württemberg
Württemberg
Württemberg , formerly known as Wirtemberg or Wurtemberg, is an area and a former state in southwestern Germany, including parts of the regions Swabia and Franconia....

 (now part of Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

). It was through his mother's kinships that Issigonis was a first cousin once removed to BMW
BMW
Bayerische Motoren Werke AG is a German automobile, motorcycle and engine manufacturing company founded in 1916. It also owns and produces the Mini marque, and is the parent company of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. BMW produces motorcycles under BMW Motorrad and Husqvarna brands...

 (and more briefly Volkswagen
Volkswagen
Volkswagen is a German automobile manufacturer and is the original and biggest-selling marque of the Volkswagen Group, which now also owns the Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, SEAT, and Škoda marques and the truck manufacturer Scania.Volkswagen means "people's car" in German, where it is...

) director Bernd Pischetsrieder
Bernd Pischetsrieder
Dr. Bernd Peter Pischetsrieder is a German automobile engineer and manager.He was born in Munich, Bavaria, and studied Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Munich from 1968 to 1972. He earned the degree of "Diplom-Ingenieur", and began his career at BMW in 1973 as a Production...

.

Because Alec and his parents were British subjects, they were evacuated to Malta by British Royal Marines
Royal Marines
The Corps of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, commonly just referred to as the Royal Marines , are the marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom and, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, form the Naval Service...

 in September 1922, ahead of the Great Fire of Smyrna
Great Fire of Smyrna
The Great Fire of Smyrna or the Catastrophe of Smyrna was a fire that destroyed much of the port city of Izmir in September 1922. Eye-witness reports state that the fire began on 13 September 1922 and lasted until it was largely extinguished on September 22...

 and the Turkish re-possession of Smyrna at the end of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922). Following the death of his father in 1922, Alec and his mother moved to the UK
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 in 1923. Alec studied engineering at Battersea Polytechnic
University of Surrey
The University of Surrey is a university located within the county town of Guildford, Surrey in the South East of England. It received its charter on 9 September 1966, and was previously situated near Battersea Park in south-west London. The institution was known as Battersea College of Technology...

 in London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

. He failed his mathematics exams three times and subsequently called pure mathematics
Pure mathematics
Broadly speaking, pure mathematics is mathematics which studies entirely abstract concepts. From the eighteenth century onwards, this was a recognized category of mathematical activity, sometimes characterized as speculative mathematics, and at variance with the trend towards meeting the needs of...

 'the enemy of every creative genius'. After Battersea Polytechnic
University of Surrey
The University of Surrey is a university located within the county town of Guildford, Surrey in the South East of England. It received its charter on 9 September 1966, and was previously situated near Battersea Park in south-west London. The institution was known as Battersea College of Technology...

, Alec decided to enter the University of London External Programme
University of London External Programme
The University of London International Programmes is a division of the University of London that manages external study programmes.Several colleges and institutes of the University of London offer degrees through the programme, including Birkbeck, Goldsmiths, Heythrop College, Institute of...

 to complete his university education.

Career



Issigonis went into the motor industry as an engineer and designer working for Humber
Humber (car)
Humber is a dormant British automobile marque which could date its beginnings to Thomas Humber's bicycle company founded in 1868. Following their involvement in Humber through Hillman in 1928 the Rootes brothers acquired a controlling interest and joined the Humber board in 1932 making Humber part...

 and competed successfully in motor racing during the 1930s and 1940s.
Starting around 1930, he raced a supercharged "Ulster" Austin Seven
Austin Seven
There were four Austin Motor Company cars to use the Seven name:* A single cylinder car produced in 1909* The 1922-1939 Austin 7* The original Mini* The launch title of the Austin A30...

, later fitting it with a front axle of his own design, leading to employment at Austin
Austin Motor Company
The Austin Motor Company was a British manufacturer of automobiles. The company was founded in 1905 and merged in 1952 into the British Motor Corporation Ltd. The marque Austin was used until 1987...

. This greatly modified machine was replaced with a radical special completed in 1939, constructed of plywood laminated in aluminium sheeting. The suspension was also of advanced design, with trailing arm front suspension attached to a steel cross-member, and swing axle rear, all with rubber springs made of catapult elastic. This car was remarkably light, weighing 587 lb, of which the engine contributed 252 lb. By the time the chassis had been completed (hard labour - it was all done by hand, no power tools), Issigonis had moved to Morris
Morris Motor Company
The Morris Motor Company was a British car manufacturing company. After the incorporation of the company into larger corporations, the Morris name remained in use as a marque until 1984 when British Leyland's Austin Rover Group decided to concentrate on the more popular Austin marque...

, but Austin supplied a "works" specification supercharged side-valve engine. Issigonis usually won, even when entered in the 1100cc class if there was no 750cc category. Most events entered were sprints, but he also raced at circuits.

In 1936, he moved to the Morris Motor Company at Cowley working on an independent front suspension system for the Morris 10. The war prevented this design from going into production but it was later used on the MG Y-type. He worked on various projects for Morris through the war and towards its end started work on an advanced post war car codenamed Mosquito that became the Morris Minor
Morris Minor
The Morris Minor was a British economy car that debuted at the Earls Court Motor Show, London, on 20 September 1948. Designed under the leadership of Alec Issigonis, more than 1.3 million were manufactured between 1948 and 1971...

, which was produced from 1948 until 1971. In 1952, just as BMC was formed by the merger of Morris and Austin, he moved to Alvis Cars
Alvis Cars
Alvis Car and Engineering Company Ltd was a British manufacturing company that existed in Coventry, England from 19191967. In addition to automobiles designed for the civilian market, the company also produced racing cars, aircraft engines, armoured cars and other armoured fighting vehicles, the...

 where he designed an advanced saloon with all-aluminium V-8 engine, and experimented with interconnected independent suspension
Independent suspension
Independent suspension is a broad term for any automobile suspension system that allows each wheel on the same axle to move vertically independently of each other. This is contrasted with a beam axle, live axle or deDion axle system in which the wheels are linked – movement on one side affects...

 systems. This prototype was never manufactured because its cost was beyond Alvis' resources.

At the end of 1955, Issigonis was recruited back into BMC - this time into the Austin plant at Longbridge - by its chairman Sir Leonard Lord
Leonard Lord
Leonard Percy Lord, 1st Baron Lambury KBE was a captain of the British motor industry.-Background and education:...

, to design a new model family of three cars. The XC (experimental car) code names assigned for the new cars were XC/9001 - for a large comfortable car, XC/9002 - for a medium-sized family car, and XC/9003 - for a small town car. During 1956 Issigonis concentrated on the larger two cars, producing several prototypes for testing.

However, at the end of 1956, following fuel rationing brought about by the Suez Crisis
Suez Crisis
The Suez Crisis, also referred to as the Tripartite Aggression, Suez War was an offensive war fought by France, the United Kingdom, and Israel against Egypt beginning on 29 October 1956. Less than a day after Israel invaded Egypt, Britain and France issued a joint ultimatum to Egypt and Israel,...

, Issigonis was ordered by Lord to bring the smaller car, XC/9003, to production as quickly as possible. By early 1957, prototypes were running, and by mid-1957 the project was given an official drawing office project number (ADO15) so that the thousands of drawings required for production could be produced. In August 1959 the car was launched as the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven, which soon became known as the Austin Mini. In later years, the car would become known simply as the Mini
Mini
The Mini is a small car that was made by the British Motor Corporation and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout influenced a generation of car-makers...

. Due to time pressures, the interconnected suspension system that Issigonis had planned for the car was replaced by an equally novel, but cruder, rubber cone system designed by Alex Moulton
Alex Moulton
Dr. Alexander Eric Moulton CBE is an English engineer and inventor, specialising in suspension design.Moulton is the great-grandson of the rubber pioneer Stephen Moulton, the founder of the family business George Spencer Moulton & Co...

. The Mini went on to become the best selling British car in history with a production run of 5.3 million cars. This ground-breaking design, with its front wheel drive, transverse engine
Transverse engine
A transverse engine is an engine mounted in a vehicle so that the engine's crankshaft axis is perpendicular to the long axis of the vehicle. Many modern front wheel drive vehicles use this engine mounting configuration...

, sump gearbox, 10-inch wheels, and phenomenal space efficiency, was still being manufactured in 2000 and has been the inspiration for almost all small front-wheel drive cars produced since the early 1960s.

In 1961, with the Mini gaining popularity, Issigonis was promoted to Technical Director of BMC. He continued to be responsible for his original XC projects. XC/9002 became ADO16 and was launched as the Morris 1100 with the Hydrolastic
Hydrolastic
Hydrolastic is a type of space-efficient automotive suspension system used in many cars produced by British Motor Corporation and its successor companies....

 interconnected suspension system in August 1962. XC/9001 became ADO17 and was launched, also with the Hydrolastic suspension system, as the Austin 1800
Austin 1800
BMC ADO17 was the model code used by the British Motor Corporation for a range of cars produced from September 1964 to 1975 and sold initially under its Austin marque as the Austin 1800. The car was also sold as the Morris 1800 and Wolseley 18/85, and later as the Austin 2200, Morris 2200 and...

 in October 1964.The same principle was carried over for his next production car the Austin Maxi
Austin Maxi
The Austin Maxi was a medium sized 5-door hatchback car from British Leyland for the 1970s. It was the first British five speed five-door hatchback.-History:...

, However by then he had become more aware of the cost considerations of vehicle manufacture and in service warranty costs which were crippling BMC. It certainly appeared by the Maxi development era that Issigonis wanted to "do his own thing" as cost cutting and development costs spiraled. He would instead research work on his Mini
Mini
The Mini is a small car that was made by the British Motor Corporation and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout influenced a generation of car-makers...

 replacement the 9X with its compact transverse engine
Transverse engine
A transverse engine is an engine mounted in a vehicle so that the engine's crankshaft axis is perpendicular to the long axis of the vehicle. Many modern front wheel drive vehicles use this engine mounting configuration...

.
With the creation of British Leyland in 1969, new chairman Lord Stokes quickly sidelined Issigonis and made him into what was termed "Special Developments Director", replacing him with Harry Webster as the new Technical Director (Small/Medium cars). Stokes was heard on his appointment to say: "We'll sharp sort this bloke Issigonis out!".
Issigonis (nicknamed "The Greek god" by his contemporaries) was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 in 1967 and was awarded a knighthood in 1969. Whilst he is most famous for his creation of the Mini, he was most proud of his participation in the design of the Morris Minor. He considered it to be a vehicle that combined many of the luxuries and conveniences of a good motor car with a price suitable for the working classes - in contrast to the Mini which was a spartan mode of conveyance with everything cut to the bone.

Sir Alec officially retired from the motor industry in 1971, although he continued working until shortly before his death.

Death and commemorations


He died in 1988 at his house in Edgbaston
Edgbaston
Edgbaston is an area in the city of Birmingham in England. It is also a formal district, managed by its own district committee. The constituency includes the smaller Edgbaston ward and the wards of Bartley Green, Harborne and Quinton....

, Birmingham
Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

, and was cremated at the Lodge Hill Crematorium in nearby Selly Oak
Selly Oak
Selly Oak is a residential suburban district in south-west Birmingham, England. The suburb is bordered by Bournbrook and Selly Park to the north-east, Edgbaston and Harborne to the north, Weoley Castle and Weoley Hill to the west, and Bournville to the south...

.

On 15 October 2006 a rally was held at the Heritage Motor Centre
Heritage Motor Centre
The Heritage Motor Centre is a British motor museum and research centre, located adjacent to the Jaguar Land Rover Gaydon Centre near Gaydon in Warwickshire, England. The centre is open to the public, and houses a collection of important vehicles, celebrating Britain's motoring heritage...

 in Gaydon, England, to celebrate the centenary of Sir Alec's birth.

There is a road named "Alec Issigonis Way" in Oxford Business Park
Oxford Business Park
The Oxford Business Park is a business park of at Cowley on the eastern edge of Oxford, England. The park is immediately adjacent to the Oxford Ring Road....

 on the former site of the Morris Motors factory in Cowley, Oxford
Cowley, Oxford
Cowley in Oxford, England, is a residential and industrial area that forms a small conurbation within greater Oxford. Cowley's neighbours are central Oxford to the northwest, Rose Hill and Blackbird Leys to the south, New Headington to the north and the villages of Horspath and Garsington across...

.

Some of his cars

See also :Category:Issigonis vehicles
  • 1948 Morris Minor
    Morris Minor
    The Morris Minor was a British economy car that debuted at the Earls Court Motor Show, London, on 20 September 1948. Designed under the leadership of Alec Issigonis, more than 1.3 million were manufactured between 1948 and 1971...

  • 1959 Morris
    Morris
    -People:* Morris , a common family name * Morris , Belgian cartoonist, creator of Lucky Luke* Morris, one of the 14 Tribes of Galway, Ireland-Places:In Canada*Morris, Manitoba...

     Mini
    Mini
    The Mini is a small car that was made by the British Motor Corporation and its successors from 1959 until 2000. The original is considered a British icon of the 1960s, and its space-saving front-wheel-drive layout influenced a generation of car-makers...

  • 1962 BMC ADO16
    BMC ADO16
    ADO16 is the codename for the development of what became the Morris 1100, a small family car built by the British Motor Corporation and, later, British Leyland...

  • 1964 BMC ADO17
  • 1969 Austin Maxi
    Austin Maxi
    The Austin Maxi was a medium sized 5-door hatchback car from British Leyland for the 1970s. It was the first British five speed five-door hatchback.-History:...


External links