Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis, CBE, FRS, RDI (Alec Issigonis) was born on 18 November 1906 in Smyrna in Greece (now Izmir, Turkey) and would become world-renowned for designing the Mini and Morris Minor for BMC.
His motor industry career at Humber, and during his time there, he competed in motor racing – notably designing his own lightweight version of a supercharged Ulster Austin Seven with his own front axle.
This led to a job at Austin, but in 1936, he moved to Morris at Cowley, where he worked on the Morris 10. Towards the end of WW2, he began work on the Mosquito project, which ended up being launched in 1948 as the Morris Minor.
The Alvis adventure
In 1952, the year BMC was formed, he moved to Alvis where he designed an advanced saloon, and experimented with interconnected independent suspension systems. This prototype never saw the light of day – more’s the pity.
At the end of 1955, Issigonis moved to BMC to head up the development of the corporation’s new family of cars. In 1956, the focus was shifted towards a new economy car – and from here, the Mini was born in 1959.
In 1961, he became Technical and oversaw the launch of the 1100, 1800 and Maxi – all hugely advanced machines, with front-wheel drive, in-sump gearboxes, and interconnected suspension.
Retirement in 1971
After these cars, and the formation of British Leyland in 1968, Issigonis was sidelined by a new influx of engineers led by Triumph’s Harry Webster. Issigonis would work on the 9X programme, which included a replacement Mini and a new and innovative gearless transmission system.
He was retired from British Leyland in 1971, memorably being given a Meccano kit for his leaving present. He remained on the BL books as a consultant until 1988, shortly before his death.
Interviews, features and news stories
Sir Alec Issigonis: an insight into the great man, from an interview originally published in Autocar magazine to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Mini.
The most comprehensive story you’ll ever read about the aborted 9X programme – the ill-fated Mini replacement, engineered by the man who created the original.
BMC changed the world with the launch of the Mini in 1959. It was created in response to a crisis and was a genius piece of packaging which will forever be Sir Alec Issigonis’ legacy to the automotive world. However, as we all know, it was no profit-maker for BMC and, during its hyper-successful first decade on the market, its maker cruelly – and criminally – failed to develop the concept into something that the customers truly wanted – a hatchback.
Ian Nicholls In the series ‘British Leyland – The Grand Illusion’, I argued that the sales success of the Mini and the BMC 1100/1300 (ADO16) encouraged motor industry executives, the Government and pundits alike to think that the British motor industry had a sustainable future as a global player. These hopes were ultimately dashed by a combination […]
In Part One of this fascinating series, which originally appeared in Vehicle Engineer, AROnline Contributor Ian Elliott applies his insider knowledge to spelling out the exact sequence of mergers that led to the formation of British Leyland Motor Corporation (BLMC) and reviews the product engineering story… MANY people have published incorrect versions of this admittedly complex history […]
Photography: Martin Bell One of the design team who worked on the original Mini has revealed how the revolutionary small car came about. John Sheppard spent 20 years working with Sir Alec Issigonis, the engineering genius who created the Mini, having originally met him at Alvis and then followed him back to Austin in 1956. […]
Richard Aucock 40 years ago this month, Sir Alec Issigonis, creator of Britain’s best-selling motoring icons, retired The creator of the original Mini, the Morris Minor, the Austin Maxi and Landcrab 1800 had reached the official BL retirement age of 65. And so, left full-time employment. He was to remain on as a design consultant […]
Motor magazine, August 1962 WHY IS THE ADO16? Alec Issigonis, technical director of the British Motor Corporation and Charles Griffin, chief engineer, answer questions from our technical editor. Joseph Lowrey, Motor – As soon as they discovered the Mini-Minor’s remarkable qualities, Motorists began asking whether your unique design could also be scaled up into something […]
The Mini hit its big landmark in 1969, a seismic year in the history of BMC>Rover. IAN NICHOLLS recalls the day the two millionth rolled off the production line – a day when BMC and BL met, and a point in time when everthing started going downhill forever… THURSDAY June 19th 1969 the British motor […]
It changed the way we looked at small cars almost overnight, and sent the designers scurrying back to the drawing boards – the Mini was little short of a major revolution. We take a look at the development and subsequent life story of Britain’s favourite small car… Words: Keith Adams, Ian Nicholls Development and early […]
A team of the world’s leading motoring writers, along with voters on the internet, have short-listed the legendary Mini for the ultimate motoring accolade – the international ‘Car of the Century’ award. The award will be given to the car which, judged by a panel of motoring experts, best represents the story of motoring in […]
THE GUARDIAN Lord Stokes writes about the late Sir Alec Issigonis: Alec Issigonis was a very charming and persuasive person, and a brilliant innovative engineer with a considerable capacity for lateral thinking. But he could be obstinate, as both Leonard Lord and George Harriman found with the Morris 1000 and the Mini. He always struck […]
Rover Group consultant Sir Alec Issigonis writes to chairman Graham Day. Dear Mr Day I have not met you but I feel I must write to explain a few points. A reversion to the original model names of Mini and Mini de luxe instead of Mini City and Mini Mayfair would be preferable. To change […]
By Clifford Webb British Leyland are selling the Mini at a loss despite the latest price increase and the fact that after 14 years it is still their top export model. Mr John Barber, BLMC’s deputy chairman and managing director said yesterday: “The Mini is a wonderful car though I think insufficient attention was paid […]
Lord Stokes writes to Sir Alec Issigonis on this day. “As you know I was away when the little ceremony took place to mark your retirement and I have, of course, already spoken to you and conveyed to you personally my appreciation of all the work you have done for British Leyland and prior to […]
Sir Alec Issigonis, designer of the Mini, among other cars, is to remain design consultant with British Leyland after he goes into semi-retirement at the end of the month. He has reached the company’s official retiring age of 65. Mr George Turnbull, British Leyland’s deputy managing director said yesterday at a ceremony in honour of […]
DAILY EXPRESS By David Benson Harry Webster is a quiet, unassuming, generous man of 54. He also has one of the finest technical brains in the country and he is the man who will decide the shape and form of the British family car over the next decade. As the successor to Alec Issigonis and […]
THE GUARDIAN IAN BREACH interviews LORD STOKES Safety: British or American standards? ‘All I know is, which car I would rather be in driving if there was any tricky situation on the road, and that is in a British or European car. Obviously we are in favour of safety, every right-minded person is in favour […]
DAILY MIRROR By Richard Sear No man looks less designed to start off the cult of the miniature. Stooping just under six feet in height, he looms large at any traffic light. The hands are so massive they are freaks .The feet, nose and ears all appear to have been issued by a component factory […]
By GEOFFREY CHARLES, Motoring Correspondent A high-level reshuffle of BMC directors’ areas of responsibility was announced yesterday as part of a streamlining process before completion of the BMH-Leyland merger. The moves centre on the decision by Alec Issigonis, BMC’s technical director, to devote himself full-time to more creative and forward looking concepts of research and […]
CARS AND DRIVERS by GEOFFREY CHARLES Whatever the outcome of the BMH-Leyland merger in model rationalization, intensified marketing or expansion-and any joint project will not appear for at least 3 to 4 years-there will be no retreat within BMH from the Issigonis advanced engineering concepts. Front-wheel drive family saloons and sports cars, lighter, more powerful […]
MOTOR WHY IS THE ADO16? Alec Issigonis, technical director of the British Motor Corporation and Charles Griffin, chief engineer, answer questions from our technical editor. Joseph Lowrey, MOTOR: As soon as they discovered the Mini-Minor’s remarkable qualities, motorists began asking whether your unique design could also be scaled up into something larger. Is the Morris […]