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Sir Alec Issigonis - Centenary of Birth


18th November, 2006


Sir Alec Issigonis

He never quite made it to university and he called mathematics “the enemy of every creative human being”. But nothing thrilled him as much as pure technology. And when he was convinced of an idea, he would never cut corners and make compromises.

Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis was born on 18th November, 1906 and his most famous idea was destined to leave its stamp on the development of the automobile for decades to come: the Austin/Morris Mini.

A “never-ending succession of breakdowns” in his first car.

He inherited his profound interest in technology and machines from his father: Shortly before the turn of the century, the Englishman of Greek origin ran a company for marine engines in the sea port of Smyrna, well-known today under the name of Izmir. Inspired by these technological achievements and everything else he saw at the com­pany, Alexander - called Alec for short - soon developed great inte­rest particularly in railways and steam engines.

Amid the hectic years of the foundation of Turkey in its modern form, the family was forced to flee to Malta in 1922 and Alec’s father died on the island. His mother then took him to England, where just two years later he was able to buy his first car: A Singer with a Weymann body in which he chauffeured his mother through Europe in 1925 in - as Issigonis reported later - a “never-ending succession of break­downs”. Obviously an experience he would never forget, an expe­rience which prompted him after returning back home to embark on a three-year course in mechanical engineering at Battersea Poly­technic in London.

Alec’s talent for craftsmanship and his enthusiasm in drawing and designing were just sufficient to set off his aversion to mathematical theory, enabling him to barely squeeze through his final exam, with­out the slightest chance of being able to continue his stu­dies at the Polytechnic in Battersea.

Small, light, fast: the Lightweight Special.

With no prospects for further studies, Alec started out his profes­sional career as a technical draughtsman and salesman for a design office specialising in automotive technology in London. He promptly invested his first salary in an Austin Seven, beefed up the car for racing and entered his first race in March 1929. In the years to come he spent his leisure time developing his own monoposto with precisely the design features destined to make him a famous man one day: The Lightweight Special was absolutely tiny, extremely light, but progressive in its technical features and most successful.

In 1934 Issigonis joined the design team of Humber Ltd in Coventry, where he worked on the introduction of independent wheel suspen­sion. Just two years later, Morris Motors hired him on account of his particular skills and know-how in chassis development. During the War he had no choice but to work on various military vehicles, which, being a very practical man, he used for tests, trying out new technical features and concepts in the process.

In 1941 Morris launched the Mosquito Project, a compact four-seater for the post-war period. And despite disastrous conditions, the team led by Issigonis, in the meantime well-known as a workaholic, not only had the first driving prototype ready within just three years, but also launched the car in 1948 in the guise of the Morris Minor, the Company’s most successful model in the post-war era.

Three model series from one source: first Mini, then Midi, and finally Maxi.

Four years later Morris and Austin Motor Company merged to form the British Motor Corporation, where Issigonis no longer saw any future perspectives for his creativity. So he joined Alvis in order to develop a luxury performance saloon. But with that project failing for financial reasons, BMC took Issigonis back on board in 1955 as the Deputy Technical Director of the Austin Plant in Longbridge with the job to develop three new model series for the small, midrange and luxury performance segments intended to secure the future of what was then Europe’s largest carmaker.

Through his challenging and authoritarian style, Issigonis succeeded in withstanding the pressure resting on the development of the new small car as of 1956 as a result of the Suez crisis. So very quickly he drove his team to top performance, without making the slightest com­promise on the car and his mission as such. And despite this pressure, his staff not only respected him, but in many cases developed a lifelong friendship with Alec Issigonis as their role model.

The result of this concerted effort was the Mini, making its debut in 1959 and followed three years later by the four-door mid-range Morris 1100 and in 1964 by the large and spacious Austin 1800.

A great career culminating in knighthood: Issigonis’ lifetime achievement.

Very soon, the great success of the Mini also made the car’s “father” famous the world over. But Issigonis emphasised time and again that “I did not invent the Mini, I designed it”.

In 1961 Alec Issigonis, in his function as Technical Director, was appointed Board Member of the Austin Motor Company, two years later joining the Board of BMC. In 1967 he became a member of the Royal Society, the most renowned research association in Great Britain and another two years later the Queen knighted the designer of the Mini. And even when retiring in 1971, Sir Alec Issigonis contin­ued to work for the Company as a consultant until 1987 before pass­ing away a year later on 2nd October, 1988, shortly before his 82nd birthday.

A brief History of the Mini.

Alexander Arnold Constantine (Alec) Issigonis is the designer of the Mini. In late 1956 he was requested by Leonard Lord, then the Chairman of the Board of British Motor Corporation (BMC), to develop a “proper small car” and get it on to the road as quickly as possible.

Issigonis was thrilled by the idea, especially since the challenge to build a perfect small car had always been one of his greatest wishes. So now the job was to set out his ideas on the drawing board and implement the concept jointly with his team. His vision was a small four-seater capitalising on all the space available and offering supe­rior driving comfort. A car quite different in technical terms and in its looks from all current models in the market and a car everybody should be able to afford.

All because of the Suez crisis.

The man to “blame” for the project was a man who actually had no­thing at all to do with cars: On 26th July, 1956, Gamal Abd el-Nasser, the State President of Egypt, nationalised the Suez Canal Company one month after the British troops had withdrawn from the Suez Canal Zone. And although the British and French, who previously held a majority share in the Company, immediately deployed their para­troopers to the Canal Zone, the Suez Canal remained closed for a number of months.

The result was a sudden surge in the price of oil and petrol, with the authorities in Britain even considering the need to ration the supply of petrol to ten gallons a month. So it appeared that in the long term only very economical cars would have a potential in the market.

Big plans on a small budget.

The target seemed to be clear: To develop a fuel-efficient small car taking up the great tradition of the pre-war Austin Seven and the legendary Morris Minor. And since BMC’s funds were very limited at the time (a financial squeeze many other carmakers were also feeling back then), Lord made sure that both the cost of development was kept to a minimum and the development period as such was as short as possible. So one of the requirements for the small car being deve­loped was to use an engine from current production.

British Motor Corporation (BMC) was incidentally formed in 1952 by a merger of British car makers out of dire necessity and, among others, comprised the Austin, Morris, Riley and Wolseley brands.

Saving space: front-wheel drive and the engine fitted crosswise. Issigonis decided to go for front-wheel drive with the engine fitted crosswise. And the only engine he was able to choose was the so-called Series A power unit displacing 948 cc like in the Morris Minor and developing maximum output of 37 horsepower. Indeed, even that was more than enough, the first test car reaching a remarkable top speed of 150 kilometres per hour (93 mph), far beyond the speed the little car was able to handle, since neither the chassis nor the brakes were designed for that kind of performance. So engine power was reduced to 34 hp by cutting back displacement to 848 cc - which was still sufficient for a remarkable 120 km/h (75 mph).

A striking - and later characteristic - feature of the Mini was the outward-facing metal seam between the wheel arches and the body of the car. The reason for this design feature was quite simply eco­nomic necessity, with welding seams at the outside being a lot cheaper in production. The second sign of cost-conscious production clearly visible from outside was the door hinges also mounted on the outer panels, again expressing a minimalist philo­sophy also reflected by the car’s interior: A simple piece of rope served to open the door, and instead of an instrument panel the driver and front passenger sat right behind a small tray with just one large instrument in the middle comprising the speedometer together with the odometer and fuel gauge. Right below were two toggle switches for the windscreen wipers and the lights That was it! Even the heating system was only available at extra cost. In fact, not even the de-luxe model with chrome embellishment came with heat­ing as standard, although it did boast the luxury of carpets on the floor, leather appliqués on the seats, and an ashtray.

A genuine lightweight: just 600 kilos on the road.

Weight of the Mini in standard trim was just about 600 kg (1,323 lb), even though the car offered ample space for four and even allowed the driver to take along a bit of luggage. And if the 195-litre (6.8 cubic feet) luggage compartment was not big enough, customers still had the choice to leave the rear hatch open. Because being hinged at the bottom, the bootlid was able to serve as a loading panel for bulky items fastened more or less securely in place. Indeed, this was not some kind of enthusiast’s pet idea, but rather a serious suggestion presented in bright colours in the company’s high-gloss sales and advertising brochures.

Making its debut on 26th August, 1959.

The big day came on 26th August, 1959, with the Mini proudly making its debut in all countries in which BMC was represented. Initially, the car entered the market in two variants, as the Morris Mini-Minor and the Austin Seven, although the only signs of distinction were the radiator grille, the car’s body colours and the wheel caps. The two models incidentally came from different production plants, with the Austin being built in Birmingham, the Morris in Oxford, although later BMC built both versions at both plants.

Selling for £496 in its home market, the Mini was the second-cheap­est car available at the time.

Inexpensive but not cheap.

Actually, the Mini was not a cheap car at all, the “Incredible Austin Seven” - with the “v” turned round 90° on the first advertising photo - taking on competitors which, while being more expensive, had al­ready proven their merits in Europe: the Volkswagen Beetle, the Renault Dauphine, or the Fiat 600. And to quote The Autocar, that legendary British car journal, in lauding the newcomer: “Many of the cars created in the wake of fashion are bound to fail. But when clever and wise engineers work together on a new challenge, the result may be extremely successful.”

Although the newcomer from Britain achieved good results in the eyes of the international motoring press against the competition, sales started rather slowly: Despite its low price, the Mini was still too ex­pensive for the young purchaser while at the same time it was too spartan for the more affluent customer. So to quote the German car magazine Motor Revue in their 1960 test of the Austin Seven: “By far the most interesting of all the cars tested (except for its price). Precisely this is why this miracle car (elastic suspension, four-cylinder power unit fitted crosswise, engine and transmission in an oil sump, cheap 10-inch tyres, unusually large interior, small dimensions on the road) is not available here. But in reality the car would have deserved something better, since here customers often buy cars less perfect for more money - but, alas, purchasers in our country lack clear vision.”

Back then the Mini retailed in Germany at DM 5,780, while a Volkswagen Beetle went for DM 4,600 and the brand-new BMW 700 Sport was available in the market at DM 5,650.

Powered by the Queen.

Even the fact that parking space of just about 3.50 metres or 11´6" was quite sufficient to park the Mini measuring only 3.05 metres or 10´ in length was not as convincing as BMC had hoped. But then the in-crowd in London suddenly discovered this small and agile run-about, particularly Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret’s husband, becoming one of the advocates of the new car. And even Margaret’s sister, the Queen herself, enjoyed a presentation of the new Mini by Alec Issigonis, thus giving this new small car the right kind of image once and for all.

Customers in the USA also started to develop growing interest in the new “baby” from Europe and soon gave the car a warm welcome. In the words of a leading US car journal back in 1960: “The Austin has to be the smallest complete car in the world. We must admit that even four occupants do not have any problems finding space inside this small saloon - you even sit better than in many of our large domestic cars. And although the car is great fun to drive, it is still a very real car, well-built and with many options.”

New variants in the very first year of production.

In 1959 a total of 19,749 units of the Austin Seven and Morris Mini-Minor came off the production lines, with production soaring to 116,677 units just one year later.

Reflecting the growing success of the car, the demands made of the Mini increased accordingly. So BMC responded right away in 1960 by introducing two new variants, the Van and the Estate, both of which - the closed Van and the Estate with glass windows all round - had two doors at the rear. But it was not until 1961 that the Mini really presented all its assets, entering the new year with the smallest of all cargo carriers, the Mini Pick-Up. Half a year later two more models entered the market in the more sophisticated segment, the Wolseley Hornet and Riley Elf boasting proud traditional radiator grilles and swallow-tail wheel arches at the rear. And in the second half of the year a very special variant made its appearance, destined more than any other to develop the legend of the Mini: the Cooper.

The athlete: the Mini Cooper.

Long before Alec Issigonis completed his first legendary drawings of the Mini, he had become a good friend of John Cooper, the famous constructor of racing cars. And since Issigonis, in his function as BMC’s Chief Engineer, greatly appreciated the competent opinion of his colleague, Cooper was involved in the development of the Mini right from the start. The more the project started to become reality, the more confident Cooper became that the new model was something he had been waiting for for a long time: The starting point for a sports car able to compete with the Lotus Elite, which was the car to beat in racing events in Britain back then. So as soon as Cooper got his hands on one of the new small cars, he started tuning it right away.

The first thing Cooper did was to approach Issigonis with the pro­posal to develop a small GT out of the Mini. George Harriman, in the meantime the Chairman of BMC, was convinced by Cooper’s idea and agreed to build a small series of 1,000 Mini Coopers in order to test the market. And since the engine was not to displace more than a litre, Cooper set off the increase in stroke from 68.3 to 81.3 millimetres (2.69 - 3.20") by a slight reduction in bore from 62.9 to 62.4 millimetres (2.48 - 2.46"). Spread out on four cylinders, this amounted to engine capacity of exactly 997 cc.

The compression ratio was increased from 8.3 to 9.0, with larger intake valves and dual carburettors being added as further features. Other modifications were the larger intake opening and reinforce­ment of the crankcase to take up the extra power of the engine. And Cooper also changed the car’s transmission ratios in the interest of higher top speed.

The results of these modifications were an increase in engine output to 55 hp and an increase in top speed to approximately 136 km/h (84 mph). And to make sure that the brakes were able to keep up with this increase in performance, Cooper even fitted seven-inch Lock­heed disc brakes on the front wheels.

The performer: the Mini Cooper S.

With the response to the new model launched in September 1961 being absolutely euphoric, there was obviously only one way to go: even more power and performance. So Issigonis and Cooper in­creased capacity of the 848-cc power unit to 1,071 cc, with maximum output now reaching 70 hp. Obviously, this extra power also meant an increase in top speed to 160 km/h (99 mph), prompting John Cooper to work on the brakes, too: Diameter of the brake discs was increased to 71∕2 inches and brake power in the Cooper S entering the market in 1963 was now boosted by a brake servo.

The contest: Monte Carlo Rally.

The Mini was predestined for rallying right from the start, with no less than six works cars entering the 1960 Monte Carlo Rally just six months after the car had made its debut. Still, it took three years of practice until the small athlete was really competitive: In 1963 Rauno Aaltonen scored the first class win at the wheel of a Mini, before this new performer hit the headlines once and for all in 1964. Facing what appeared to be almighty competition with much more engine power, Paddy Hopkirk driving a red Cooper S won Europe’s most significant and challenging rally. And to round off the supreme triumph of the Mini Cooper, Hopkirk’s team-mates Timo Mäkinen finished fourth and Rauno Aaltonen seventh.

This victory marked the beginning of the Mini’s exemplary career as the first “people’s sports car” in the post-war era: Suddenly enthus­iasts everywhere realised that this small performer from Britain was able to beat many outstanding competitors both in rallies and on the circuit. And clearly, this gave the small Mini a huge image boost virtually the world over.

Bitter disappointment: doubtful disqualification in 1965.

Supported by co-pilot Paul Easter, Mäkinen continued the Mini Cooper’s unique story of success in 1965, bringing home superior victory in the Monte Carlo Rally as the only driver in the entire field able to cover thousands of kilometres in the event without one single penalty point.

No surprise, therefore, that the armada of Minis entered Monte a year later as the big favourite. But that was not to be: After Mäkinen, Aal­tonen and Hopkirk had finished first, second and third in the race, the winning car had to go through an eight-hour technical inspection following the Rally. And ultimately the race commissioners claimed that the four additional headlights on the radiator grille of the Mini Cooper were not exactly in line with French homologation requirements. This meant disqualification in one of the most doubtful and contested de­cisions ever taken in the history of the Monte Carlo Rally.

1965: one million Minis.

In August 1964 BMC introduced yet a further version of the Mini ori­ginally conceived for military use: the Moke, a four-seater open at all sides and remaining in the company’s price list for four years.

At the same time Issigonis introduced Hydrolastic suspension for the more sophisticated saloon models in large scale production, a semi-hydraulic spring system connecting the spring/damper units on each side front and rear in the interest of enhanced driving comfort.

Meanwhile the Mini continued to show great performance in the market, with annual production rising to 244,359 units and setting up a new record. A year later, production of the Mini exceeded the magic figure of one million units and in the same year Alec Issigonis com­pleted an automatic transmission subsequently included in the list of features available for the car, making the Mini one of the very few small cars with such an upmarket option.

Perhaps an even more outstanding feature was that this automatic transmission hardly taking up any more space than a manual gearbox came with four forward gears, while back then even luxury cars very rarely had more than three gears.

1967: Model update.

By 1967 the Mini was ready for a thorough update, receiving a more powerful 998-cc engine offering the particular advantage of 52 Nm/38 lb-ft instead of 44 Nm/32 lb-ft maximum torque and an increase in output to 38 hp.

Two years later the Clubman joined the range as a slightly larger version with a modified front end. Measuring 3,165 millimetres (124.61") in length, this new model was some 11 centimetres (4.33") longer than the original, while the Estate version was even longer, measuring exactly 3.40 metres (133.86") in length.

Width, height and wheelbase, on the other hand, remained un­changed and the Clubman came as standard with a 38-horsepower one-litre engine.

The Mini Cooper was removed from the range and replaced by the 59-horsepower 1.3-litre top model in the Clubman line-up now proudly bearing the model designation 1275 GT.

Various other details changing in 1969 involved the front side win­dows dating back to the very beginning of the Mini now being re­placed on all models by wind-up windows, the door hinges at the outside being moved to the inside and a separate, distinctive Mini logo proudly adorning the car on the bonnet.

1972: Sales of the Mini amounting to three million units.

1972, a significant 13 years after introduction of the Mini, became one of the car’s most successful years ever: Demand was so great that production amounted to 306,937 units, among them the three-millionth unit of this small car now acknowledged as a genuine clas­sic. Minor model updates and modifications introduced nearly every year served to consistently keep the Mini attractive, with Denovo wheels, for example, an early version of runflat Dunlop tyres remain­ing on the rims even after loss of pressure, being introduced as an option for the 1275 GT.

In the same year purchasers of the “basic” 850-cc model were able to look forward to warmer times, with heating becoming a standard feature.

Reaching the year 1976, the Mini embarked on a new strategy, with special models highlighting all kinds of distinctions - from sporting to trendy, from noble and distinguished all the way to youthful and fresh - appealing to enthusiasts everywhere.

The model range was then streamlined from 1980-1983, with the Clubman, Estate and Van reaching the end of their production life. What remained was the one-litre Mini now developing engine output of 40 hp. But still, customers remained absolutely faithful to the car, with the five-millionth Mini coming off the production line at Longbridge in 1986.

1990: the come-back of the Cooper.

Even after the official end of the Cooper models, John Cooper continued to develop and sell performance kits for the Mini. In 1990 Rover Group, now responsible for Mini, saw a further potential in the market for cars of this character and decided to bring back the Mini Cooper. With emission standards having become stricter in the meantime, production of the one-litre carburettor engine version ended in 1992, following which all models came with the 1,275-cc engine featuring fuel injection.

Starting in 1993 there was even an official convertible model originally developed and sold in Germany.

Production of the Mini finally ended once and for all in the year 2000, after more than 5.3 million units of this world-famous small athlete had come off the production lines in various versions, among them some 600,000 cars built at Oxford between 1959 and 1968. But even after 41 years, the history of the brand was far from over, with the BMW versions of Mini One and Mini Cooper opening up a new chapter in the history of this great British brand in 2001.

The Range of Mini.

Just five months after the Mini made its debut, the first body variant, the Van, entered the market in January 1960. The body of this small two-seater van had been increased in length from 3,050 millimetres (120.08") on the Saloon to 3,300 millimetres (129.92"), and the Van was 10 millimetres (0.39") higher at its highest point.

Wheelbase was also up 10 centimetres (3.94") to 213 centimetres (83.9"), a modification presenting no technical problems on this front-wheel-drive car and not involving any particular extra expenditure.

While the cargo area inside the Van had no windows, there were two doors at the rear. And since the C-pillars moved to the rear were at an inclined angle, the two doors moved up diagonally and remained open on their stop points after reaching an angle of slightly more than 90°.

The Mini Van proved very popular among tradesmen and was soon used by the British Post Office. This was indeed no surprise, since the Van, thanks to its very compact dimensions but generous capa­city, was simply ideal for transportation requirements even on very narrow city streets.

Over the years more than half a million customers opted for a Mini Van.

The Estate, Traveller, and Countryman.

Two further versions were then introduced in short succession on the same technical foundation: the Estate and the Pick-Up. The Estate was a small four-seater with the same dimensions as the Van but fea­turing glass windows all round. And like the door windows, the rear side windows came with a sliding opening and closing function.

Depending on the brand, the Estate came as the “Countryman” or “Traveller”, both names clearly alluding to the car’s target group: This model was intended to appeal above all to the rural population, as we clearly see from advertising photos with animals in the car, with young, travel-minded families and tradespeople in the country. Indeed, the Morris Minor Traveller back in 1953 had already catered admirably for this target group, making a great name for the brand in this segment.

To present the Mini in the same style as the legendary Minor “Woodies”, the Mini Traveller even came with a wooden frame behind the B-pillar on the outside, like the Morris Minor Traveller before it. But what had still been a load-bearing construction on the Morris Minor was admittedly nothing but wood trimming on the Mini.

As of 1961 the Estate was also available without wood trim and the Mini Estate in its wooden finish finally ceased production in autumn 1969 upon the appearance of the Mini Clubman, which then remained in the market as the only Estate version. The fact remains that not only the rural population loved this particular version of the Mini with its superior transport qualities, since all versions of the Estate to­gether accounted for more than 400,000 purchasers.

The Mini Pick-Up.

As of January 1961, the customer looking for a more rustic car also had the choice of the Mini Pick-Up. Built almost 60,000 times, this worker featured a wider B-pillar in the interest of en­hanced body stiffness and an open pick-up area at the back. Access to the rear end was facilitated by a loading sill hinged at the bottom, and a cover was available to protect the goods being transported, buttoning on at the sides like on a truck and even featuring a button-open flap complete with a sight window at the rear.

Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet.

In the second half of 1961 BMC introduced two refined versions of the Mini aimed at the upper class. The names of these two derivatives were the Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet, proudly boasting two charac­teristic features typical of upmarket saloons at the time: Instead of the discreet, round “nose”, they each came with a vertical, chrome-plated radiator grille. At the rear both cars offered a larger luggage compartment extending out at the back and adorned by two wheel arches in trendy swallow-tail design. The interior was lavishly finished with carpets, and the driver and front passenger were pam­pered by a genuine wooden dashboard right in front of them.

Up to the end of production in 1969, these two upmarket versions of the Mini found almost 60,000 enthusiastic purchasers.

From a military machine to a fun car: the Mini Moke.

The most open Mini the world has ever seen made its appearance in 1964 - the Mini Moke. Actually, this new fun car was intended to serve a very serious purpose, being conceived as a universal vehicle for military use. Indeed, the robust structure of the car, its compact dimensions and low weight met all requirements to drop the car out of an aircraft by parachute or transport it beneath a helicopter. One might say that the Moke was a bathtub with wide, box-shaped sills at the sides, plus the engine compartment and windscreen.

The seats were nothing but metal buckets with cushions inside, a folding roof attempting to provide at least minor protection from wind and weather.

All of these features were ideal for the requirements of the armed forces - had it not been for the car’s very limited ground clearance. Precisely this is why the Moke never really took off on Her Majesty’s Service, but certainly appealed to leisure-time enthusiasts the world over.

Production of this “most open Mini of all times” in Britain amounted to some 14,500 units by 1968, following which production was transferred to Australia and subsequently to Portugal. The overall production volume is therefore assumed to be in the range of some 50,000 units.

Coming from Germany: the Convertible.

The last version of the Mini - and the only model not originating from Britain, but rather from Germany - made its appearance in 1991: Like a couple of coachwork specialists before, a dedicated dealer in Baden had cut off the roof of the Mini and turned the car into an attractive convertible.

In Britain this open four-seater entered the market at a price of £12,250 - not exactly a bargain, to put it mildly. But unlike former attempts at building a convertible, the result this time was good, prompting Rover to buy both the car and the production facilities. As a result, some 1,000 Mini Convertibles built in series were sold between 1993 and 1996.

Technical Highlights of the Mini.

The original Mini entered the market in 1959 with a four-cylinder power unit. This engine dated back to the year 1951, when the Series A power unit was featured for the first time in the Austin A30 and the legendary Morris Minor. The crankshaft rotated in three bearings, the four combustion chambers of this original engine displacing a total of 803 cc and developing maximum output of 28 hp.

The overhead valves were driven by pushrods and a camshaft be­neath the engine on the same side as the intake and exhaust ducts.

The longitudinal-flow cylinder head had heart-shaped pockets in the combustion chambers accommodating the valve openings and spark plugs. This ensured excellent distribution of the fuel/air mixture in a very turbulent process for optimum fuel combustion and running smoothness.

High-speed engine concept: 34 hp at 5,500 rpm.

When development of the Mini started and Issigonis was looking for an appropriate power unit, the Series A engine had already been up­dated once. The new engine now displaced 948 cc and maximum output was 37 hp. With this being too much for the chassis and brakes of the small Mini, capacity of the engine now fitted crosswise was reduced by 100 cc and output cut back to 34 hp at 5,500 rpm.

This gave the engine unusually high running speeds, with only thoroughbred sports engines, for example in a Jaguar, revving up to continuous speeds of this kind back then. After several increases in engine size, the use of other carburettors, and ultimately the intro­duction of fuel injection, the last versions of the original Mini dis­placed 1.3 litres and developed maximum output of up to 63 hp.

New developments in front-wheel-drive technology.

Beneath the engine Issigonis entered unchartered technical terrain, for the first time placing the gearbox beneath the engine and directly between the wheels, meaning that the engine and gearbox shared the same oil circuit. This left enough space at the front of the car for the radiator fitted at the side as well as the steering and ancillary units. Even so, the Mini’s front-wheel-drive concept still required BMC’s engineers to look at a number of features, with the transmission of power to the wheels remaining a weak point: The universal joints still used back then tended to warp under severe movements of the steer­ing, significantly impairing the car’s driving behaviour.

To solve this problem, Issigonis’ team decided to use homokinetic joints instead, a technology never used before in an automobile. These joints were made up of a ball bearing surrounded by three cages, two of which were connected with the incoming and outgoing drive shafts.

This design allowed a sufficient steering angle without exerting a major influence on the car’s steering and driving behaviour. To reduce the forces acting on the light and compact body, the engi­neers mounted the entire drivetrain, steering and suspension on a sub-frame. And since the independent rear wheels were also mounted on a sub-frame, the Mini benefited from excellent directional stability.

Simply ideal: rubber springs.

The Mini’s suspension was a highlight in technology from the start. Instead of coil, torsional or leaf springs, Alec Issigonis gave the Mini rubber springs made up of two cones with a layer of rubber in bet­ween. The upper cone was bolted firmly to the sub-frame, the lower cone rested on the wheel mount.

With rubber becoming increasingly hard as a function of pressure, this gave the Mini progressive spring action. Indeed, the qualities of the spring system were so good that small telescopic dampers were quite sufficient. To ensure a fine and smooth response, the dampers were fastened on the outside to the upper track control arms up front and to the rear longitudinal arms at the back.

Built-in self-levelling: Hydrolastic.

In 1964 Issigonis presented yet another outstanding solution in sus­pension technology, carrying over the new Hydrolastic suspension from BMC’s larger saloons to the Mini. The characteristic feature of this unique suspension was the cylinders on each wheel roughly the size and shape of a one-litre can of oil. This cylinder accommodated both the springs and dampers, with an anti-freeze water emulsion serving as the damper fluid.

The particular highlight of the Hydrolastic system, however, was the connection of the hydraulic chambers on each side of the front and rear wheel dampers by pressure pipes. On the road this meant that if the front wheel went over a bump, part of the hydraulic damper unit was pressed into the “partner” chamber on the rear axle, slightly lifting up the body of the car in the process. And naturally, this also worked the other way round.

While this system kept the car at the same consistent level in theory, it involved significant disadvantages in practice: Whenever the pas­sengers sitting on the rear seats of a Mini were relatively heavy and the luggage compartment happened to be fully laden, the rear end dropped down and as a result lifted up the front end of the car. So it was almost inevitable that Hydrolastic was discontinued in the Mini in 1971.

140 kilos of pure lightweight technology: the body-in-white.

The bodyshell of the Mini was a wonderful example of lightweight engineering: Although the body-in-white weighed a mere 140 kilos (309 lbs), the metal structure offered a degree of torsional stiffness quite unique at the time. This was ensured in the longitudinal direction by the two sills and a small tunnel in the middle of the car housing the exhaust pipes, as well as the wheel arches. In a cross­wise direction, it was the robust bulkhead between the engine com­partment and the passenger cell, a crossbar beneath the front seats and the luggage compartment bulkhead which likewise helped to ensure superior stiffness.

This high standard of all-round stability even allowed the use of slender roof pillars with large windows. And, after 32 years, it was also this stiffness that provided the option to develop and build a Convertible.

Legends around a Legend.

The first famous driver of a Min was Lord Snowdon. A friend of Alec Issigonis, Snowdon deserves the honour of having made the Mini popular among the in-crowd in London.

Thrilled by the car’s compact dimensions and excellent handling, Lord Snowdon was one of the first customers to dash around in his Mini through the capital of Great Britain. As Princess Margaret’s husband, he used his influence to give Issigonis the chance to pre­sent his new small car to his sister-in-law Queen Elizabeth. And once the Queen herself took her seat next to Issigonis, having him chauf­feur her through the huge park at Windsor Castle, the Mini had made it once and for all.

Niki Lauda entered the world of motorsport in a Mini.

Following its supreme sporting career culminating in overall victory in the 1964 Monte Carlo Rally, the Mini served several drivers as their first car when entering motor sport. And some of them were destined to gain world fame. One of the greatest was Niki Lauda, who once expressed very warm memories of the Mini in an interview: “The Cooper S had a fantastic image with all of my friends and with me personally in motor sport, even two or three years before it won Monte Carlo. I can still see the pictures in front of me, with thousands of headlights and the leather straps over the bonnet. Just imagine a car like that winning Monte Carlo! And when I was finally able to drive the car myself, I was absolutely fascinated. It was so easy, so smooth to drive, so direct and so fast, it was great.”

Shortly after making this statement, Lauda won his first hill-climb race in a Mini. And the rest of his career is wee known.

The ultimate Mini: the Twini with two engines.

It almost goes without saying that the Mini was very popular among tuners everywhere, who sometimes went to unprecedented ex­tremes in working on the car. There were Minis with six-cylinder or turbo­charged engines, with an ultra-hard suspension - everything was possible, everything happened. But the ultimate climax came from Alec Issigonis himself, building the “Twini” based on a Moke proto­type in 1963 - a Mini with two engines: The engine fitted at the front was a 950-cc four-cylinder, the rear engine was a 850-cc “basic” power unit driving the rear wheels via two drive shafts.

Subsequently taking over the ongoing development of this excep­tional car, John Cooper developed a Mini with two 1,275-cc engines developing aggregate output of approximately 180 hp. And this car set the stage for a race version of the Twinni BMC planned to enter in the Targa Florio, the famous circuit race in Sicily. But while this double-engined racing car was extremely fast, the rear engine broke down relatively soon and the perhaps most unique Mini of all times ultimately failed to bring home victory.

The Mini in Motorsport.

Immediately after making its appearance in the market, the Mini proved to be a genuine sports car in the real sense of the word. For countless teams and private drivers quickly recognised the great potential this small car had to offer, with its driving behaviour re­miniscent of a go-kart.

Apart from rallies, the Mini was also a serious contender on race tracks and circuits everywhere.

But the fact remains that this little athlete was an absolute star in rally racing throughout its career. And with engine power increasing over the years, the works cars tuned by John Cooper became increas­ingly competitive in their red livery.

So starting in 1962, first the Mini Cooper and then the Mini Cooper S brought home a long succession of international wins, scoring their first victory in the Tulip Rally. And the car was incidentally driven at the time by Pat Moss, the sister of Sir Stirling Moss.

In Australia, the Morris Cooper S was victorious at Bathurst. In fact, 40 years ago, in 1966, the Morris Mini Cooper S filled the top nine places at Bathurst.

Other Mini news: here

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