Prompted by the death of Enzo Ferrari, last month’s Matters of Moment discussed the benefit cars derive from being produced by individuals instead of vast corporations. With the death of Sir Alec Issigonis, the motor industry has lost another great individualist, a born engineer who rose above the hampering restraints of his employers.
Born in Smyrna in 1906, but a British citizen, Issigonis came to England as a boy. He took up motor racing with an Ulster A7, before creating the very successful 750cc lightweight Special with his friend George Dowson, and entered the industry specialising in suspension systems. After drawing an advanced vee-eight for Alvis, which unfortunately was still born, he worked on springing for Morris Motors Ltd, and the 1949 Morris Minor was his design (on trying one I proclaimed it to be the first British car to rival the handling of continental small cars) as was the famous Mini Minor of 1959.
The Mini Minor was so ingenious and “different” as to rank with cars such as the Trojan, Citroen DS and Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow. It represented a triumph of ingenuity allied to practicability, and that this solution to space-conservation in small cars has been copied worldwide is the greatest accolade Sir Alec could have. His knighthood in 1969 could be said to be well deserved but incidental.
Remember, however, that the Nuffield empire prevented Issigonis from using a flat-four engine in the Morris Minor, and but for theSuez fuel-crisis there might never have been a Mini Minor. Thus does a production colossus control the aims of individual engineers . . .
Sir Alec relaxed with model railways, and who but he could have perfected steam locos in OO-gauge? He had a fine sense of humour too; when criticised for the bus-like angle of the Mini Minor steering column, he retorted that this would keep the driver awake, and he advocated safe cars before safety belts.
A retiring pesonality, Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis CBE, FRS was none too well in recent years and it is with great regret that we now have to report his death. I knew and liked this refreshingly honest person who put the fun back into utility motoring. The motor industry and all who enjoy their Minors and Minis and who have raced Mini Coopers are amongst the many people who will never forget him. WB