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.
The 90-year-old recalled: ‘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.’
Mr Sheppard was speaking as a road sign, designed to be a lasting tribute to Sir Alec, was unveiled close to the spot where the Mini was manufactured at Cowley. He went on to reveal how Sir Alec could be an awkward person to work with because he always knew what he wanted.
‘Fortunately, we hit it off and got on like a house on fire,’ he said. ‘He 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.’
Mr Sheppard, who went on to help design the Mini Metro and Montego before retiring in 1982, said: “We did not expect any of the success it had. It was a big surprise to us. ‘But I know that he, 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 Mini can stand side by side and are still loved is a testament to the original design and its practicality.’
While Alec Issigonis Way has been on maps since the Oxford Business Park was developed on the site of the old Cowley plant’s North Works in 1993, there had been no road sign to mark the tribute. Now, thanks to a group of enthusiasts at the Mini Forum, the name is prominently displayed in memory of Sir Alec who also created the iconic Morris Minor more than a decade before the Mini was launched in 1959.
Mini Forum member Tanya Field from Headington said: ‘Alec Issigonis Way has been there since the redevelopment of the old North Works site. ‘Someone at the Forum said they could not find a sign on Google Maps and when I went to look, sure enough there wasn’t one there.’
Ms Field contacted Park developers Goodman and bosses agreed to rectify the oversight and put up a sign. To mark the occasion, the Forum invited Mr Sheppard as guest of honour along with representatives from the Mini factory and Oxford East MP Andrew Smith. Also at the unveiling were an original 1959 Cowley-built Mini, a 1950 Morris Minor and a new Mini Roadster.
Mini spokesman Wayne Morse 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.’
Goodman development director James Raven added: ‘The sign will add to the unique identity of the park.’
[Source: Oxford Mail]