Unfinished Sympathy

Sir Alec Issigonis’ great lost masterpiece, or last will and testament?

The only surviving fully engineered 9X prototype. (c) Daily Telegraph

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 Continue reading “Unfinished Sympathy”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)

DTW completes its investigation into Sir Alec Issigonis’ career and legacy, and arrives at some conclusions.

Alec Issigonis, Technical Director of BMC in his office at Longbridge in 1959. (c) Wired

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.

A more astute leader might Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Four)”

Evolution of the Crustacean

A Greek fable of a horse which was transformed into a crab. 

‘Those doors’ – conspicuous here by their absence. (c) hemmings

The public don’t know what they want – it is our job to tell them…” Sir Alec Issigonis.

Even as Britain entered the 1960s, product planning remained something of an alien concept to its native carmakers, the majority of whom viewed such matters as being the sort of recondite nonsense invented in the United States, and best left there. So too, in the eyes of BMC’s benighted Technical Director was the art of automotive styling, which which he famously once stated “tends to date a car.

It’s a timeworn nostrum that any creative endeavour is only as good as the brief which underpins it, and in the case of ADO17 (or XC9001), brought to market in 1964 as the Austin 1800, the brief appears to have been a somewhat confused one. Was the car to have been a direct replacement for the ‘Farina’ A60 series, or a larger, more overt statement car? That seemed to depend upon who one spoke to.

It appears extraordinary in retrospect that key decisions surrounding a model programme as important as ADO 17 were taken by those so poorly-equipped to Continue reading “Evolution of the Crustacean”

The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)

The story continues: BMC struggles with the failure of the 1800 and Maxi, but Issigonis has moved on.

(c) curbside classic

The Austin Maxi was reluctantly launched by BLMC* in 1969 and was greeted with a similarly lukewarm reception to that given to the 1800. With its five-door layout, it was an eminently practical car, but it lacked any element of desirability and, as launched, was plagued with technical issues. Increasingly desperate, BLMC hurriedly cobbled together a conventional RWD saloon and launched it in 1971 as the Morris Marina. It sold well enough, on the back of conventionally attractive looks and simple, proven (if antiquated) mechanicals, but it was still very much in the shadow of the all-conquering Cortina from arch-rivals, Ford.

Conceptually, there was much to like about the Maxi, but Donald Stokes, now chairman of BLMC, would not sanction any serious remedial work, a disastrous decision for a car that had much potential. For his part, Issigonis appeared indifferent and simply abandoned the Maxi to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part Three)”

New Broome

The 1970 X6 Austin Kimberley and Tasman ushered in a fresh start for British Leyland’s Antipodean outpost. But it would prove a short-lived one.

Even prior to becoming part of the British Leyland conglomerate, the BMC motor company was not renowned for making astute product decisions. Certainly, from the point when the ADO 17 (Landcrab) series was introduced, little or nothing to emerge from Longbridge was entirely fit for its intended purpose. ADO 17 entered the UK market in late 1964 as the Austin 1800 (its identical Morris equivalent arrived a bewildering two years later) and was met with a decidedly lukewarm reception from the domestic market, who were not clamouring to Continue reading “New Broome”

A Question of Scale

Some things simply don’t enlarge well. 

(c) autoclassiques

Success can often be a less clarifying state than failure. Enzo Ferrari famously asserted that he learned more from the fabled Scuderia’s many reversals on the racetrack than its more celebrated victories. Of course, one would never intentionally Continue reading “A Question of Scale”

Dawn of the Iconoclast (Part two)

Concluding DTW’s exploration of the 1959 Mini and its enigmatic creator.

ADO15 prototypes in 1958, with Issigonis’ preferred frontal treatment. (c) imcdb.org

Leaving to one side matters of the ADO15 programme’s viability, or the product planning skills of BMC’s chief executive, there is also the matter of the subsequent account given by Issigonis when he informed Sir Leonard in no uncertain terms that “he was mad” to build the car on the basis of the prototype he had demonstrated. However, given that Alec, (like most people) was somewhat in awe of BMC’s kingpin, it’s difficult to take him entirely at his word. Furthermore, Issigonis’ secrecy, single-mindedness and formidable ego would likely ensure nobody else got their hands on his baby. He is also believed to have doggedly refused to Continue reading “Dawn of the Iconoclast (Part two)”

Dog’s Life

Last minute gift crisis? We’re here to help.

I like Christmas. Well, as much as I like breathing, it kind of happens and is all over if you blink after one too many sherries. Which I fully plan to enjoy. But the dismal commercial cash in grates heavily with me. Bored out of my brain with our latest shopping dash for something or other, (not nutmeg for once) my eyes searched for something which would allow me to Continue reading “Dog’s Life”

128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song

We return to our two stars of the spring 1969 season with a look at the different approaches to chassis design adopted at Longbridge and Lingotto.  One car defied convention, the other defined the new orthodoxy.

Image: BMC

Raw facts first:  The Fiat 128 uses MacPherson struts at the front, with coil springs and a transverse anti-roll bar, and a fully independent system at the rear, comprising a transverse leaf spring, struts, and a single wishbone per side. The Austin Maxi has Hydrolastic springing and interconnection, with upper and lower links in a parallelogram arrangement at the front, and fully trailing arms at the rear.

That disregards the detail, which is significant in the understanding of the designers’ mindsets. Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 3 : Spring Song”

128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form

We continue our look at the spring 1969 debutants, contemplating heady matters of gestalt

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The rather Lancia Beta-like profile rendering from the early stages of BMC’s ADO14 project shows considerable promise. Too short in the nose, probably at Issigonis’ prompting, but otherwise elegant in spite of the ‘carry-over’ 1800 doors. So what went wrong along the road to BLMC’s five-door fiasco? Continue reading “128 vs Maxi Part 2 : Function over Form”

128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans

A little over 50 years ago, two of Europe’s leading automotive businesses introduced a pair of rather utilitarian cars to the world. One was hugely successful and influential, the other turned out to be a prophet with little honour in its own time.

In bombastic terms, there’s a ‘clash of giants’ story to be told. Issigonis v. Giacosa. BLMC v. Fiat SpA. Maxi v. 128. It’s not quite ‘rumble in the jungle’, but a comparison tells a lot about the way things were done at Lingotto and Longbridge.

In a curious coincidence, the Austin Maxi and Fiat 128 were the last cars developed by their lead designers which reached production, although Issigonis’ input to the Maxi project was sporadic and remote.

In Dante Giacosa’s words, “On 3rd January 1970, the chequered flag signalled my arrival at the finish of my career”. He had reached the age of 65, and resigned in compliance with company rules. Continue reading “128 v. Maxi Part 1 : Last Tango of the Titans”

Theme: Values – Britain

Ah, this is a tricky one. It´s like trying to understand your family.

2001 Mini: aw retro as New Beetle but nobody objects. Image: topcarrating.com. I wonder what that site is about.
2001 Mini, old and new British style. Image: topcarrating.com.

I’m not British but the British have loomed large in the culture of the Irish, and “Ireland” is written on the front of my passport. British cars once dominated the Irish car market and now Germans and Japanese predominate. The interplay of convoluted historical strands influenced the character of British cars. In sketching all this can I do so without being too kind or too critical? Continue reading “Theme: Values – Britain”

Matters of a Spiritual Nature

It’s Sunday and in keeping with our unofficial Mini theme, DTW suggests four good reasons BMW was correct not to proceed with Rover’s 1995 Spiritual concept. 

The 1995 Mini Spiritual twins first shown in 1997. Image via smallblogv8/MVerks
The futuristic 1995 Mini Spiritual twins first shown in 1997. Image via smallblogv8/MVerks

It would have cost a fortune to develop:
The investment in a bespoke floorpan and drivetrain, modifying hydragas, body & interior tooling and of course refitting the factory to build it would have been huge. New concepts also mean teething problems, so warranty costs were likely to have been high. Even as a sales success, Spiritual would struggle to recoup its development costs, meaning Rover would most likely have lost £millions on it.

Continue reading “Matters of a Spiritual Nature”