Everyman Classics: Mid-Century Visionary 1 : Alec Issigonis


The original Knight of the road knew how fuel shortages impacted on the common folks. His creations perfectly reflected democracy in driving.

Images Courtesy Morris Press/Triumph Press

Rakish in heart and intellect: Alec Issigonis.

Designer Alec Issigonis was born in the southern Anatolian city of Smyrna in 1906. As such he was of the generation who experienced the privations of two apocalyptic world wars. But there were other 20th century cataclysms that he lived and worked  through as a designer – including the Suez crisis of 1956.  The closure of the Suez canal created a shortage of fuel and as a consequence, a reintroduction of war-time style rationing. Issigonis knew intuitively and through lived experience that things can –- and often do — fall apart. One of the consequences of this experience was the emergence of a visceral knowledge that design should be focussed on not only providing products that would last, would be accessible and could be fixed – but products that tread as light as possible, and were lean on resource and impact on the wider world. The cars he designed in response to this knowledge – the Mini, of course, being the most totemic – reflected this. And this is why, despite the decades that have elapsed since he put pen to paper, there are so many Issigonis designs on the road – and the character of these cars are lodged deep in our hearts.

The Morris Minor

Britains first mass motor: The Morris Minor

The Morris Minor was unveiled at Earls Court Motor Showon 20 September 1948. Issigonis led the design team that created the ‘British Beetle’ More than 1.6 million were manufactured between 1948 and 1972 in three series. The incredible numbers that are still populating the highways and byways of these islands is testament to its simple, durable design. Not the most dynamic mid century motor ever made, but most of us love have loved a Moggy.

Function led and cheap to produce. Post war austerity crystallised.
The Mini: the motor for swingers.

The  Morris Mini-Minor 

Totemic. Iconic. influential. Revolutionary. Perennial. There are so many adjectives used to describe this little car’s importance in the history of car culture. And they are all valid. When the Mini appeared, conjured from the pen of the man himself, for the first time small cars became cool, affordable and desirable. They had perhaps always been necessary. Try to beat this for ergonomics and even today, with a fleet of AI assisted CAD suites, and car designers fail. Fun to drive, cheap to run and fuel efficient – can we please have them back? Please.

Design sketches from the man himself
Mini went large and became the Maxi. Geddit?

Austin Maxi 

Let’s face it: the Maxi wasn’t the prettiest of Issigonis designs – and the British Leyland manufacturing process wasn’t the most rigorous. But looking at images of the car through a contemporary lens – you can see the spacious simplicity of the car. It made absolute sense to extend the Mini’s tardis like interior via the Maxi out to the leafy suburbs where it held court. This was accessible, simple, affordable family motoring for the masses – light on tech and impact.