Sir Alec Issigonis’ great lost masterpiece, or last will and testament?
During 1967, Sir Alec Issigonis approached his BMH* superiors, asking to be temporarily relieved of day to day duties so that he could devote himself to a new vehicle project, one intended to directly replace the Mini. Remarkably, his request was granted, particularly since this was no sanctioned model programme, merely a speculative one.
There are opposing rationales as to why Chairman, Sir George Harriman and Chief Executive, Joe Edwards agreed to this. The first (and very much the one favoured by most chroniclers) is that they recognised Issigonis’ track record of technical innovation, and the likelihood of the resultant car being a gamechanger. However, the second, and probably more likely one, was that it got Sir Alec out of the way while Edwards took some difficult decisions around product – decisions which were unlikely to have sat comfortably with the genius in their midst.
That might appear a little far-fetched to bear scrutiny, but by this point, it is clear that Sir Alec, while undoubtedly supremely gifted, had become something of a liability in his role as Technical Director and Head of Product Development. By this time, his Austin 1800 was stalling in the marketplace, and ADO14, the new medium-sized model intended to slot between it and the 1100, was mired in a series of stylistic and drivetrain-related crises as it inched painfully towards production.
Edwards had that year appointed Roy Haynes, late of Ford’s Dunton styling studios, setting him up in a separate facility at the Pressed Steel Fisher works with a brief to plan both a new family of cars, and a series of pragmatic facelifts of existing models, well out of the way of Sir Alec, whose intransigence contributed notably to the state of affairs Edwards now found himself presented with.
Meanwhile, faced with an ailing model programme for which he was directly responsible, a more conscientious individual might have considered it germane to throw both himself and his best people into the task of salvaging ADO14, but instead Issigonis appears to have washed his hands of it, moving onto a project which interested him more.
Much has been written about the 9X project, a good deal of which can be found on the authoritative AROnline, so it makes little sense to retell it here. Suffice to say it was an ambitious project for a family of compact cars – the smaller of the pair shorter overall than the Mini, while in larger so-called 10X form, similar dimensionally to the existing 1100 model, but (in both cases) with even greater space efficiency, courtesy of an advanced new powertrain.
No product planner was Sir Alec – in essence, the type of cars BMH’s conceptual supremo seemed to favour only appealed to his own ascetic tastes, which if you think about it, really wasn’t a terrific basis for a carmaker the size and scale of BMH. An even smaller Mini therefore probably spoke to the packaging zealot in him, but realistically, there was no significant market requirement, largely because not only was the Mini deemed more than small enough, but the customer was broadly ambivalent on the subject of space efficiency, tending to prefer larger vehicles. BMH’s rivals appeared to understand this, but Sir Alec seemed deaf to market logic.
Chroniclers have subsequently made much of Issigonis’ pragmatism in the design of 9X, citing his efforts to ensure that it would be cheaper and easier to build than the Mini, but by insisting upon such a radically compact, all-new drivetrain, any putative savings would have been negated, suggesting that over the course of his lengthy career, Sir Alec had really learned little.
By 1967, the Mini was still selling strongly – indeed it would be some years before it reached its sales peak. But amongst the impediments to its success was the fact that Issigonis would not agree to significant running improvements to his brainchild. What the Mini required was for cost to be extracted from it, for improvements to be made to its specification and build, and ideally, for a hatchback to be contrived. Ironically, some of these more pragmatic changes would take place, but only once Sir Alec had been sidelined.
But the real urgency lay with the ailing ADO14 programme, which finally hobbled onto the market as the Maxi in 1969. Whether it was apparent at the time that the entire future prosperity of the business hinged upon the success of this model line is a matter of conjecture. It may not have been, but getting the Maxi so badly wrong not only cost the carmaker dearly, it ultimately cost Sir Alec his reputation, and as some have latterly suggested, his job.
A fully engineered 9X prototype was presented to senior management in 1968. Despite its technical merit, and undoubted packaging genius, one can sympathise to an extent with Donald Stokes, the BLMC board and newly appointed Technical Director, Harry Webster in rejecting it. The costs would have been crippling, coupled with considerable uncertainty as to whether the advanced new power unit could be reliably toleranced for mass-production. After all, BMC/H’s track record on engine design or production engineering wasn’t exactly stellar.
However, to dismiss the larger putative 10X version outright was perhaps a more questionable decision, especially since so much work had already been carried out on its related 9X sibling. Certainly as proposed, it was unworkable, but re-engineered perhaps for existing powertrains, this may have provided a simpler 1100 replacement programme in a more timely manner and at less cost than the eventual compromised and ultimately unsuccessful ADO67 Allegro.
It is believed 9/10X was cancelled in 1970, but Issigonis spent the next decade and a half developing the DX engine family as a consultant, with a 1.5 litre six-cylinder version being fitted to a Metro development car, and four cylinder versions fitted to both the 9X prototype and a number of prototype ADO20 Minis. He continuously lobbied BL/ Austin Rover/ Rover Group management to reconsider the DX powertrain, to no avail. By then, his stock was almost worthless and his former employers neither cared, nor had the resources to implement it.
Perhaps Sir Alec suffered from an inability to reflect upon his miss-steps and learn by them. Because had he done so, he might have avoided repeating his errors, but lacking that crucial insight, he instead simply forged ahead to his next great leap, which in characteristic Issigonis fashion was theoretically sound, but never quite fully realised.
Instead of being his magnum opus, and evidence that he could bend his ideals to accommodate commercial realities, 9X instead can be viewed as manifest evidence of Sir Alec Issigonis’ staunch refusal to contemplate a middle way. And while it’s entirely possible that by stepping back in 1967, he sensed the irreversible nature of the decision he was taking, it seems unlikely he fully realised the consequences of his actions. That it precipitated such a reversal of fortune is poignant indeed, but as we know, hubris is very much a Greek construct.
*British Motor Holding (BMH) was the entity formed from the 1966 ‘coming together’ of BMC and Jaguar Cars Ltd.
34 thoughts on “Unfinished Sympathy”
Good morning Eóin. The 9X is a pleasant little thing, but the first thing that catches my eye is the sliding windows in the doors, which screams austerity. The decision not to proceed with it was undoubtedly correct as it could never have been cheap enough to draw people away from the emerging Supermini cars that appeared to offer so much more car for the money. Who cares if it was a miracle of packaging when a Fiat 127 or Renault 5 had similar interior space and looked like a ‘proper’ car:
The 9X confirms to me that Issigonis learnt nothing from his experience with the Mini and was still determined to dictate to rather than learn from the customer, a fatally misguided mindset.
Good morning gentlemen.
Genius and empathy rarely go together and Issigonis clearly lacked the latter. There are surely indications of autism apparent here; having arrived at an idea and being therefore convinced of its indisputable correctness, to divert from it is inconceivable. Those sliding windows are a small but classic symptom: they are the cheapest and most efficient way of providing an opening in the glass for ventilation and/or signalling; unlike wind down windows they are simple to make water-tight and therefore the obvious choice. Our Alec would see no logic to the idea that they were seen as inferior by the car-buying public. Except those who bought a Renault 4.
A nice reminder that the 127, notwithstanding its’ long term rust issues and electrical integrity, was a wonderful piece of design.
Hi Mervyn. I certainly agree about the 127. The Series 2 facelift, with the headlamps lowered and integrated into the grille, reprofiled DLO with a ‘Hofmeister kink’, and lowered tail lights and rear loading sill was a neat update:
It all went wrong with the Series 3, besmirched by an overly large grille and headlamps, and ungainly plastic addenda that faded to a dreary grey in no time:
That Renault 5 looks exactly like mine – of blessed memory – even down to the missing badge.
Wasn’t the 5 a spare-time project of Michel Boué with no official status until his managers found out about it? Which sounds rather like the diametric opposite of BMC’s 9X, which had official status and a star engineer leading it, but no will or comittment on the part of management to take it to production.
It’s things like this which make huge carmaking firms so interesting, even lovable – supposedly organised corporate entities demonstrating human traits of fallibilty and capriciousness.
Robertas: The badge isn’t missing – if you look more closely, the Renault emblem is mounted on the grille and not on the bonnet as was more customary. This suggests to me that the car in the photo might have been pre-production, with the bonnet-mounted emblem a late in the day addition. (Perhaps others more knowledgeable can elaborate?)
I find 9X intriguing – how could one not? But in the flesh (and I’ve seen it a few times now) it’s quite unremarkable, and desperately needed the hand of someone who actually understood the necessity of style and visual appeal. The Renault 5 may not have used its larger footprint as economically, but it was more than adequately spacious inside and a vastly more appealing consumer product overall. They sold a few, didn’t they?
Another thought-provoking piece about this maddeningly enigmatic and idiosyncratic engineer-cum-designer. I did not know that he had continued to approach BLMC/ BL/ etc. with further refinements of both the car and the powertrain for so long after having been ‘let-go’. That’s rather sad, suggesting that he was someone who just could not let go, move on and use his undoubted intellect and innovative, problem solving engineering talents elsewhere.
Interestingly, the other of the ‘Smart Alecs’ (I can’t remember who first used that phrase about them now; was it ‘Steady’ Barker?) did something similar regarding his inter-connected Hydragas suspension on the Metro, which Rover Group finally heeded and implemented to his intended specification for the R6 ‘Rover’ Metro to impressive effect in the early 90’s. It also later featured, to perhaps less impressive effect, on the MGF, which I now note Gerry McGovern now states as being his biggest career boo-boo in as much as he ‘allowed’ the engineering team to use the system, even though it often upset the ride height and therefore proper aesthetic impact of his ill-executed design for the compact, mid-engined, two-seater roadster. Whilst I am mentioning Gerry, I feel there is something in common about his designs for the MGF and new Defender in that they are both somewhat soft-edged, cartoon-caricatures of their predecessors, especially with respect to their front fascias.
I have a half baked-comparison in my mind too between Issigonis and Gordon Murray, both being seemingly very single minded to the point of arrogance about their engineering solutions and designs. For example, I note that Murray has forgone the services of a recognised designer for his new T50 supercar and decided to design the car itself – stating he is happy with every surface … He has also doggedly kept trying to get other manufacturers of different natures (I can think of Yamaha and TVR without any scouring of my increasingly limited powers of recollection) to adopt his i-Stream manufacturing system, to no avail (and so is at least eating his own dog-food by deploying it for the T50). Like Issigonis, Murray also seems to have much of the motoring press in a trance via his aura of authority and engineering wisdom. I know he has an impressive track record of success, but the contemporary press seems very willing to overlook his misses by instead exhuming past highlights such as the F1 (of course – but almost 30 years ago now) and the ‘ground-effect’ and ‘fan’ Brabham F1 cars (of the late 70’s-early 80’s). There have been a number of videos featured recently on the likes of Car and AutoCropley websites with Murray being fed ‘gimme’ questions by fawning journalists (Matt Prior is old enough to do better) where Murray comes across to me as rather smug and pompous, slyly dissing aspects of his ‘own’ prior masterpiece (the F1) – notably including the design (for which I am not sure Peter Stevens will be entirely grateful)- so as to validate his assertions about the follies of other’s recent hyper-car designs. I found Russell Carr far more likable (gracious and humble about his team’s achievements on the Evija) when it was his turn to play the celebrity designer.
I wonder if time will be less generous to perspectives on Murray’s achievements, just has been the case for Issigonis. Don’t get me wrong, there are aspects of both men (and Moulton) which I admire greatly (one day I will treat myself to one of Moulton’s beautifully engineered, idiosyncratic bicycles), but, like many great people, they seem to start to believe their own myth and hype and become less effective and likable as they do so. Or is that just an aspect of the human condition?
Good morning S.V. I tend to agree about Gordon Murray. He has dined out for a long time on his F1 cars and, of course, the F1 road car. The T25 has come to nothing despite being touted as the next big thing for a decade. Maybe he has a more extensive back-catalogue than I understand?
T50 wasn’t designed by Mr Murray himself, but Ewan Gallimore, a car design professional.
Any engineer who claims to have designed the appearance of a modern motor car is a liar, plain and simple.
Gallimore is not mentioned in any of the videos or reports that I have experienced. I can’t find it, but I swear that I have read a review that states Murray styled the car himself, but that could be poor reporting and misrepresenting Mr Murray in what he actually said.
I may have been a bit grumpy about and unfair to Mr Murray for reasons John Topley has helped me to reflect upon … but my point remains that I can see similarities between the approaches of Issigonis and Murray’s oeuvres, careers and (possibly) character traits.
I can’t agree about Gordon Murray. I’ve watched most of those T.50 videos and I thought he came across as extremely knowledgeable but charming with it. The Harry’s Garage one is a particular treat.
The T50 looks as if a trained automotive designer did the surfacing. I don´t believe Mr Murray actually did any of the modelling himself but directed it. And while I loather the back end it is there for a purpose.
Murray is an altogether more human sort of person than Issigonis seems to have been.
There´s a middle ground between dictating to the user (Issigonis) and pandering (GM USA). Design is compromise. On the one side one has to allow for the customer´s taste and feelings and on the other not only do that which is what GM at its worst pursues.
Mr Murray is a highly talented conceptual engineer and I’m certain he has many fine qualities, but along with the similarities to ‘dear Alec’ already mentioned above, perhaps the most obvious parallel appears to be a similar lack of grace, insofar as he seems incapable or unwilling to acknowledge the efforts of his collaborators.
Take the McLaren F1 supercar for example. Murray was of course the prime mover of the programme, set the parameters and orchestrated the manner in how it would be achieved. He also did most of the donkey work in terms of scratching the various backs that would have been required to be scratched, in terms of funding and PR – including having to entertain the Mr. Steven Cropleys of this world – heaven help him…
What he didn’t really do was design or develop the thing. Amongst those who did, the F1 Programme’s key personnel, in addition to Murray were Barry Lett (Lead Engineer), Harold Dermott (Project Co-Ordinator), Steve Randle (Chassis and Dynamics) and Peter Stevens (Design). All of these engineers of course reported into Murray, and since the F1 was his brainchild, he would have had final say over its specification and the direction the programme was taking.
But to hear it told, Gordon did it all himself. I have never once read a word spoken about anyone else on the development team from the mouth of Murray himself, and certainly almost nobody from the press have made the slightest effort to redress the balance. One exception being Car Magazine Online, who carried out a retrospective on the F1 a few years ago, although they did manage to mis-spell Steve Randle’s name.
But not even the geniuses of this world work alone…
Takes me back to my early days at Longbridge. Although long gone, Alex retained a small workshop with 2 technicians in South Experimental. This is where the development work on 9x continued. I remember as an apprentice in the late 70’s going in and being walked around. Fascinating times for me. I went on to become a technician in the Chassis Development department and later to manage it’s workshop. We always called the Hydragas suspension pump the “Issi-piss” machine.
Fascinating series of articles. I wonder if I’m the only one struck by the similarity between Issigonis’ attitudes as reported here and those of a certain late Mr Jobs? I believe he was quoted as saying his customers did not (yet) know what they wanted, which seems to be what Issigonis believed as well. Their careers ended rather differently, of course.
There is also the famous Henry Ford quote in regard to the Model T, that if he had asked customers what they wanted they would have said “a faster horse”
At best the exterior of 9X/10X should have been used to rebody both the Mini and ADO16 or more specifically ADO20 (albeit Project Ant / Barrel Car) and ADO22, together with the necessary running improvements to extract cost making both cheaper and easier to build, upgrade their specification and amongst other things equip both with a hatchback. As it was even sales of the neglected ADO16 were strong during the early-mid 1970s, suggesting a cheaper and thorough upgrade would have been a better solution in place of the Allegro until something like the M Cars could be brought to production in the mid/late-1970s as originally envisaged.
It would be interesting to see whether the Mini, ADO16, Allegro, Maxi and Princess / Ambassador could have switched to more conventional suspension. Know alternative suspension arrangements for the Mini were explored during its development as well as during its long production run (the latter motivated by a desire for alternatives to Dunlop whom they were locked into and believed were charging a bit too much), heard the Allegro was the starting point for the Maestro/Montego with Hydragas Maestros being tested, while Spen King wanted more conventional suspension for what became the Metro before opting for a compromised Hydragas solution that was only remedied in the R6 Metro/100.
One of Issigonis’s gearless 9X Mini prototypes featured a stretched 1300-1500cc 4-cylinder 9X engine, which have seen some appear to cite as Issigonis contemplating creating an ADO17-replacing 11X version of the 9X/10X featuring a stretched 2000-2200cc version of the 9X/10X 6-cylinder engine as a final member of his trio despite the presence of the similarly capacity 2.2 E6 engine. Though even if Issigonis was thinking about an 11X follow up to the ADO17, it did not reach the sketch drawing stage unlike the ADO16-replacing 10X.
Also worth bearing in mind a 6-cylinder version of the 750cc engine was equate to a 1125cc, whereas a 6-cylinder based on the 850-875cc engine would equate to 1275-1312.5cc (suggesting the 850cc version is more accurate figure than the 875cc unit with the 1275cc 6-cylinder being a homage to the 1275cc 4-cylinder A-Series Minis / ADO16 in terms of capacity).
Here are Issigonis’s final succinct results of a comparison test between the 9X, existing Mini, then new Clubman and the Autobianchi A112:
Weight – Lighter
Overall Dimensions – Smaller
Seating Accommodation – Greater
Luggage Space – Marginal
Cruising Speed – Better
High Speed Handling – Same
Suspension Comfort – Better
Suspension Noise – Same
Performance – Not comparable because Autobianchi engine is same as Cooper S specification
General All Round Visibility – Better
Elbow Room – Greater
Gear Shift – Worse
Body Shade & Rattles – Better
Cross Wind Directional Visibility – Same
Two things stand are while the 9X in Issigonis’s view fared very well in the comparison test, the proposal gearbox layout was actually worse compared to both the Minis in-sump and the A112’s end-on layouts (in the case of the latter it is said the gearchange was rubbery). Also unless the 9X prototype featured the smaller 750cc/850-875cc engine, the performance comparison does not make sense if the 998cc engine was said to be putting out about 60 hp per litre and the early 982cc Autobianchi A112 Abarth featured 58 hp.
In terms of relative size and number of cylinders, the closest comparisons to the 1275-1490cc 6-cylinder 9X engine (that in the experimental 9X-engined MG Metro prototype was said to be putting out 100 hp in 1275cc form) would have to be the 80-100+ hp 1288cc DKW V6 two-stroke Müller-Andernach-Motor and the much later 138 hp 1597cc Mitsubishi 6A10 V6.
Agree there was not a market for a small 6-cylinder engine except perhaps as an engineering showcase for a confident carmaker to demonstrate what they are capable of entering into production, BMC/BMH/BL was certainly not neither in a positon to produce the engine even had it been productionable nor was BMC/BMH/BL what can be called a confident carmaker despite the post-merger bluster.
Seems like Alec Issigonis did not view his work prior to the 9X/10X project as his magnum opus due to the compromises made to get them into production in carrying over existing parts such as the engine, whereas Dante Giacosa had that freedom and talent to build cars down to their engine.
I missed this, but there was a programme about the fall of BL on the radio in the UK, recently.
Here’s the link – I hope that those who wish to are able to access it.
Thanks for the link, Charles. An interesting listen, this. Even with Social distance interviewing techniques ,you could fair taste the bile and feel the rancour from all those years ago. The splits than ran so deep will only disappear once the last foot soldier of this complex debacle leaves this mortal coil; a sad epithet to dark and difficult times.
But still providing excellent stories for those interested after all these years.
It seems to me that what Gordon Murray and Alex Issigonis do have in common is a desire to see a vehicle as a gesamtkunstwerk, i.e. as a total work of art where every element is consciously created with the overall end in goal. Such singular vision is hard to reconcile with the harsh reality of mass production and sales. It’s probably better suited to motorsport, where the goal is very clearly defined and pursued with unswerving focus by all concerned. Rather less so for mass market production – which makes Giacosa’s achievement with the 500 and other cars all the more impressive. I seem to recall Steady Barker writing that he had fallen out of favour with Issigonis for a time after having praised Giacosa in some piece or column. Perhaps Issigonis knew in his heart of hearts that his Italian rival was ultimately better able to achieve his goals?
Final thought – Richard Wagner is probably the best known exponent of the term gesamtkunstwerk outside of the design community, and he would hardly have been able to get his operas produced without the (very!) generous support of the misfortunate King Ludwig. Could Issigonis have made the Mini at Ford, say? Or Gordon Murray the F1 at VAG?
Very good point, Michael. Ford were ruthless at cost control and redesigned vehicles until they came in on budget. BMC seemed to have an ‘it depends on how you look at it’ attitude to cost control. They also used all the business tools – especially marketing-related ones – that you’d expect of a large American company.
You mention Dante Giacosa – he and Issigonis had similarities – both liked simple, cheaper cars; both liked ‘low-key’ motor sport. In his autobiography, Giacosa said:
“The appearance of Alec Issigonis’s Morris Mini in 1959 had been a discouraging blow for us all. I knew that the Morris company had been testing the vehicle for some time but I never imagined it was so small and so amazingly successful in design. I was shaken and felt regretful that I had not persisted with my studies for a front-driven transverse-engined auto after the design for the little “100” in 1947.”
This site, where I took the quote from, has quite a nice, brief profile:
Giacosa’s statement made me smile: he apparently forgot about his 1932 experience, when he had been charged with the project “little car”, a little 500 cc RWD commonly known as “Topolino”:
However this happened only after his predecessor in the project “little car”, the engineer Oreste Lardone, had been fired by Fiat.
In 1931 Lardone had built a FWD prototype with an air-cooled 500 cc flat twin: it is said that during a test with the big boss on board , “senatore” Agnelli, the car catched fire due to a fuel leakage, so that a strongly shaken Agnelli vehemently prohibited further development, and Lardone was fired.
For sure in Fiat they had all the drawings of the Lardone project, and they predate Giacosa’s 1947 studies of about twenty years.
I may also imagine that those 1947 studies are, in fact, again Lardone’s work, since at the end of WWII Giacosa proposed Lardone to join FIAT again, as he did…the temporal coincidence is quite suspicious.
In the period outside Fiat he had been working here and there for some little Piedmontese motorcycle factories, and he was possibly tired of this kind of working life, so I suppose he jumped at the chance of joining Fiat again.
It´s great to see the word gesamtkunstwerk being given a day out. I feel like arguing that perhaps it´s not the concept we´re looking for here. Issigonis seems to have wanted to produce a thing conforming to his vision and not to accept other people´s input. An Opel Corsa or BMW 3 are very much team efforts but they are unified design entities just like the Mini. Issigonis main skill was having a strong vision and his main weaknesses were that he had only one strong vision and had little people skill. He got things done because some managers in BMC had a “military” approach to management and not a science-based and social-science based approach to management.
While the Mini is charming it´s not that good looking and is still the best-looking of Issigonis later cars. I think Issigonis had a crude engineer´s view of design which is that it only had to work and that the subjective elements were without value. That attitude has its source (to some extent) in John Ruskin´s “seven lamps” text where he derides ornament and decoration (though clearly can´t see that the underlying value of aesthetics remains and can´t be avoided).
Maybe it’s because his manner in the two videos I have seen (Car and AutoCropley) reminds me of a previous boss of mine who finally drove to leave an otherwise good company and lovely team, and hence my hackles going up over-sensitively. Thanks for bringing me back to reality.
This was meant to be a response to John Topley’s reply to my earlier comments about Gordon Murray, just for the sake of clarity.
I hate the way WordPress mangles these comment threads. I’m only going by the recent round of press interview videos Gordon Murray has given recently, which are obviously carefully staged to present him, his company and its new car in the best possible light.
I’ve never met the man. Eóin argues well about Murray’s apparently lack of humility. He did say in one of the videos I watched that he’s working with the best team he’s ever worked with, so there’s that.
Of course the irony here is that Gordon Murray famously loathes and detests the Mini – to the point that he was filmed taking a sledgehammer to one – his preferred mini-car being Giacosa’s Nouva 500.
Hello Eóin – could that have been someone else?
Interesting article, agree somewhat with Murray on Issigonis being interested in an all-alloy or a essence a more modern Austin Seven-influenced unit as with the 9X engine to better challenge Dante Giacosa’s (alloy-head only) Fiat 100 Series engine in the 600/850/etc instead of the larger A-Series (despite the smaller bore and stroke combinations of the latter suggesting smaller displacements below 803cc were possible).
Small all-alloy engines of the early-1960s that come to mind aside from the Imp engine would be the all-alloy 598-848cc Reliant OHV (that replaced the Seven-derived Reliant SV) as well as the 356-782cc Mazda (DA/RA/SA) OHV used in the mk1 Carol, Familia and Bongo.
Fascinatingly the Seven-derived BMW 3/20’s 788cc OHV engine was said to have used the same transfer machinery and tooling as the Austin Seven engine along with featuring water-pump and plain-bearing crankshaft, while the likes of American Austin / Bantam as well as Datsun were able to grow their Seven-derived/inspired SV engines up to 860cc (with motorsport focused Seven-derived engines allegedly growing to around 900-950cc).
Not forgetting as well Colin Chapman more or less creating a 4-port head for the Seven-based engine in the Lotus Mark III, in addition to a later 8-port head which are stories in of themselves. Would Issigonis have been better off amalgamating and modernizing the Seven-related developments above to create a more viable 9X 4-cylinder engine?
Interesting question. I don’t know enough about the Seven engine to know how much work it would have needed. More importantly, I don’t know what its torque characteristics were and I think that would be a very important point, as Issigonis wanted to use a ‘gearless’ transmission. It’s a pity he hadn’t got access to EV technology!
Having refreshed my memory of the 9X’s engine, it does look impressive. However, as the article in AROline states, it was impossible at that time to mass-produce it to the required tolerances. Also, from Issigonis’s biography, I recall that he was denied a patent, as the 9X’s modular construction had much in common with units of an older design.
It is possible the updates and other Seven-derived designs outside of Austin stems from the same transfer machinery and tooling being new unlike the latter that was produced much earlier. For whether reason the company under Herbert Austin and Leonard Lord decided to not approve a direct successor to the Seven that builds upon the successor of the former beyond the pre-war Big Seven and Eight models (that used two different SV units) as well as some 500cc Topolino-like proposal IIRC and an awkward post-war SWB A40-derived proposal with a 1-litre version of the A40 engine prior to the 803cc A30.
Since Lord wanted Austin to move to OHV engines, it is strange he would persist with SVs at the lower-end of the range with the Big Seven and Eight (up to the early days of the A30 project) though understand experimental OHVs were looked at from Barney Sharratt’s Post-War Baby Austins. Lord’s disinterest in a proper OHV Seven replacement pretty much caused him to slip up in anticipating a huge demand for low-cost vehicles in the post-war, especially particularly caught off guard when the post-war Morris Minor appeared even in compromised SV form.
Depending on the figures seem to recall the Fiat 100 Series weighting about 100kg and the A-Series about 120 kg (other figures range from 112kg to as much as 147 kg depending on if ancillaries are included plus other factors), the 9X engine was said to be about 90.7kg while the Imp is 79kg and the Reliant OHV is about 58-62.5kg (possibly as low as 37kg sans gearbox) with the Seven-derived Reliant SV engine weighing in at 71.6kg.
A few attempts were made to produce all-alloy A-Series without success from the 1950s-1960s as well as an alloy-cylinder head during its conception though ultimately nothing came of either.
Some images of the later All-Alloy A-Series block plus PDF (Credit – Mk1-Performance-Conversions)
Click to access ally-A-series-block-report.pdf
Unfortunately cannot find any concrete figures on how much the weight of the all-alloy A-Series engine was reduced compared to the existing engine, at best reducing the weight of the A-Series via a thin-wall cast-iron block with an all-alloy head (the former akin to a successfully executed revised C-Series unit’s weight reduction programme) might have been a better approach.
Charles, it would appear that either the great man subsequently changed his mind, or he simply wished to play the iconoclast. I presume these genius types have their capricious ways. I used to have the C4 programme in question on VCR (yes, it’s that long ago) and I may even still have it in a box somewhere back in Blighty. But should you imagine I was on hallucinogens at the time (I will admit to nothing under oath without a lawyer present, officer), and have merely imagined it, I proffer this by way of back-up.
Thank you, Bob & Eóin.
Bob – I’ll have to do more research into the A-Series / Mini engines.
Eóin – I bet I actually watched the programme when it was originally on (December 1998).
It appears the lada niva may have emulated this design