Who is Alec Issigonis?


Some people get to take tea with the Queen, but if you’re Alec Issigonis, legend has it, taking Her Majesty for a spin around Windsor Park works just as well.

The automotive engineer, designer and motor racer is best remembered as the creator of the classic Mini.

The first Morris Mini Minor rolled off the production line in 1959 (with the number plate 621 AOK) and it’s said Issigonis gave the Queen a ride in one of the first Minis ever produced.

That ride – and the iconic status his design achieved – was a lifetime away from Smyrna, where he was born in 1906. Issigonis reportedly didn’t see his first car until he was 12, and he repeatedly failed mathematics as an engineering student, but he had a flair for mechanical drawing.

It was a pencil sketch on a tablecloth that launched the car that went on to sell more than two million in its first decade and become the best-selling British car in history.

Set a challenge by his employer, the British Motor Company, to design a compact and fuel-efficient vehicle when petrol prices skyrocketed due to the Suez Oil Crisis of 1956, Issigonis revolutionised small car design.

He was asked to engineer a vehicle that could fit four passengers – with luggage – in a space no longer than 10 feet.

The concepts he introduced in meeting the challenge went on to influence a generation of compact car designers and delivered the now classic MINI small exterior, with a spacious interior, front-wheel drive and exceptional handling characteristics.

Knighted for his services a decade after the MINI launched, Sir Alec was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2003.