From Sprite to Midget – profiling BMC’s diminutive sportsters.
Who would have imagined that the joyful, cartoonish little sports car introduced to the motoring media at Monaco on 20 May 1958, two days after the Grand Prix, was born out of the anguish and self-doubt of the most powerful man in the British automobile industry?
Leonard Percy Lord (1896-1967) was a brilliant production engineer whose breadth of ability led him to rapid promotion at Morris Motors, and then, after crossing sides, a fast-track path to Chairmanship of Austin in the early post-WW2 years. He had a consistent ability to Continue reading “Elemental Spirit Part 1: A Power Partnership”
The 1953 RMH Pathfinder was Riley’s last in-house designed car. Andrew Miles profiles its short and troubled history.
Let the customer do the development work was perhaps never written down, uttered even, but in all too many cases, is what actually occurred. From these unhappy beginnings did the Riley Pathfinder oh-so briefly shine from that hallmark of British engineering, BMC. For just shy of fourteen hundred pounds (and those indecipherable to me, shillings and pence), you got quite the voiture de grande tourisme as designer, auto architect (and outside of DTW devotees) perennial underdog, Gerald Palmer believed his creation to be.
The fact that only 5,152 Riley Pathfinders were built and that worldwide, roughly 250 survive (in wildly different conditions) makes it a rare jewel indeed when (infrequently) seen. Throw in those beguiling hub caps and my knees weaken. Hand on heart, this is my epitome of a Blue Diamond that given an alternative start could, and should have, gone on to be a world beater. The Pathfinder makes me want to Continue reading “From A Bench Front Seat (Part One)”
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.
Concluding DTW’s exploration of the 1959 Mini and its enigmatic creator.
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)”
1955 was a decisive year for the British Motor Corporation, as it set its product direction for the next decade. A certain gentleman of Graeco-German parentage was said to have played an important part in the process.
The person I refer to is not, as some might think, the confirmed bachelor from Smyrna, but the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.
It is unlikely that HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was aware of Alec Issigonis’ imminent return to BMC when he visited Longbridge on 8 December 1955, but the supposed interaction of Lord and the duke, and the repercussions thereof have become part of the daemonology of BMC.