One of the very few positives to emerge from BMW’s six-year tenure as owner of Rover Group was the successful reinvention of MINI(1). Barely six months after BMW finally disposed of its troubled English Patient, the R50 three-door hatchback was launched. It was a clever reworking of the style and proportions of the original into a larger and (somewhat) more practical package. It was by no means perfect and there were quibbles about the quality of its interior fittings and more substantive criticisms regarding the performance and refinement of its engine(2).
Despite its shortcomings, the new MINI was perfectly in tune with the contemporary Cool Britannia zeitgeist, with its cheeky looks and endless personalisation options. This was perfectly articulated by the dealership environment. Rather than the clean, efficient but rather sterile surroundings of a typical BMW showroom, MINI dealerships were all black walls and colourful neon strip lighting, more akin to the nightclubs supposedly frequented by its typical target customers(3).
Well, here we are again – another winter of long shadows and dashed hopes. Amid what appears to be the worst festive movie sequel ever, we reach a brief pause in the narrative. A time to make sense of the past twelve months, to marshal our gains and to reflect upon our losses – at least until the storyline sweeps us off our feet and into the immense unknowable once more.
Widely derided as a travesty of Issigonis’ original, but was the 1969 Clubman intended to be something more?
The Mini was wasn’t really styled as such – its body style simply a clothing for the technical package set out by its creators, with only the barest concession to style. Surprisingly, it worked, the car’s appearance proving relatively timeless, endearing and well proportioned. The problem was, it didn’t really lend itself to facelifting. By 1967, the Mini had yet to become legendary, to say nothing of iconic. It was just another product which had been on the marketplace for some time and would soon require more than the rather perfunctory nip and tuck it had just received.
DTW completes its investigation into Sir Alec Issigonis’ career and legacy, and arrives at some conclusions.
It is important to state from the outset that we make no insinuation that Sir Alec Issigonis was solely responsible for all the problems that beset BMC and, later, BL. The company’s failure was very much a collective one and there is plenty of blame to share around.
In the first instance, Leonard Lord, then Chairman of BMC employed Issigonis to replace Gerald Palmer, a talented and capable engineer with whom Lord fell out and summarily dismissed. Lord and BMC’s CEO, George Harriman, then promoted Issigonis to the post of Technical Director, a senior management position for which he demonstrably had none of the essential organisational, interpersonal or management skills.
This was extraordinarily ill-judged and the problems it created were exacerbated by Harriman’s excessively deferential attitude to BMC’s technical wunderkind after Lord retired and Harriman became Chairman and CEO of BMC.
“You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it.” Edith Head
The Mini received its third and most significant technical and bodyshell-related change in the Autumn of 1969. The Mark III Mini – and it was now simply that (with no marque-related branding whatsoever), lost the hydrolastic suspension fitted to it as a running revision in 1964, not to mention its more upmarket variants, in an effort to reduce costs (the Clubman was a separate model), but gained internal door hinges and winding windows, much to the disgust of the car’s now sidelined spiritus rector.
It would also be its last. All subsequent changes to the Mini (1980 A+ revisions notwithstanding), would be of the purely cosmetic variety. Such as in 1977, BL’s annus horriblis, and the year in which the Mini gained a matt black grille, larger rear lamp units, which included reversing lights, and cheerful striped fabric upholstery – on the Mini 1000 model at least. Stripes too were applied below the side windows. 850 versions however remained somewhat more austere, although the subsequent 1979 Mini City 850 would Continue reading “Strike a Pose”
Did a brilliant but uncompromising engineer sow the seeds of BMC’s downfall?
Sir Alec Issigonis was undoubtedly a brilliant and visionary engineer. He was also, allegedly, imperious and autocratic, and highly intolerant of what he perceived to be interference or compromise. Latterly, it has been suggested that BMC’s failure to manage Issigonis effectively and channel his engineering talents to produce motor vehicles that were both desirable and profitable was a significant factor in the company’s ultimate commercial failure. This is the hypothesis we will examine in this series of articles.
Issigonis was born in 1906 in the Greek port city of Smyrna, (now called Izmir and part of Turkey). Greek by birth, he also enjoyed British citizenship because of his father’s naturalization while studying in London in the closing years of the 19th Century. Following his father’s death, Issigonis and his mother moved to London in 1923, where he studied engineering. He initially worked as an engineer at Humber, in his spare time competing in motorsport. His first racing car was a supercharged Austin 7 Ulster with a heavily modified front suspension of his own design.