The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part One)

Did a brilliant but uncompromising engineer sow the seeds of BMC’s downfall?

Sir Alec Issigonis with the result of the XC9000 programme. (c) BMIHT

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.

Issigonis’ success in racing brought him to the attention of the Austin Motor Company, and he was invited to Continue reading “The Man Who Broke BMC? (Part One)”

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)”

Kenosha Kid

The immortal ‘Frogeye’ Sprite appeared to be a typical example of British design ingenuity, but its roots may have lain further West: Kenosha, Wisconsin to be exact.

Box of frogs. Image credit: (c) stubs-auto.fr

The compact two-seat sportscar wasn’t necessarily a British invention, but for a period of the twentieth century, the UK was arguably, its prime exponent. Hardly surprising, given Britain’s traditionally serpentine network of narrow undulating roads and a taxation regime which dictated lower capacity, longer-stroke engines of limited outright power.

But the British are an inventive people and soon found ways to Continue reading “Kenosha Kid”

Westminster Sketches 2: Len Lord’s Revolt Into Style

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.

The widely reported version is that the royal visitor was taken on a tour of the production lines in the morning, in the company of Sir Leonard Lord, George Harriman and Joe Edwards. Some accounts say Lord soon left the company to Continue reading “Westminster Sketches 2: Len Lord’s Revolt Into Style”