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Alexander  Arnold Constantine Issigonis

 

Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis was born  on 18 November 1906 in Smyrna (now Izmir) in Turkey. He was the only child of  a marine engine designer of Greek descent but British nationality, and a German  mother. Sir Alec was therefore also British, a fact of which he was always very  proud. From a very early age he demonstrated a consuming interest in all things  mechanical, especially engines, but he was not to see his first motorcar until  he was 16 years of age. In 1922 when the Turks re-took Smyrna from the Greeks  Issigonis and his parents were evacuated by the Royal Navy to Malta, where his  father died. His mother, now almost penniless, having lost everything in the  evacuation, brought her son to the UK. Sir Alec never went to school (he always  had private tutors) and although he was 'down' for an English public school,  this was now out of the question for financial reasons and he enrolled in a  three-year engineering course at Battersea Polytechnic. His first job in 1928  was as senior and only draughtsman with a small London firm developing an automatic  clutch. The Humber Company showed an interest in this development and in 1934  he joined the Humber staff in Coventry. Two years later he joined Morris Motors  at Cowley, Oxford where he was eventually to become Chief Engineer. After the  war he turned his mind to a small four-door saloon which would have sophisticated  handling but which would be cheap to buy and run, the result was the Morris  Minor which first appeared at the 1948 Motor show. The Minor was so successful  it became the first British car whose sales passed the one million mark and  it continued in production for 23 years. In 1956 he was working with BMC on  a new development of front wheel drive cars when the Suez crisis erupted causing  petrol rationing. Demand for small economical cars suddenly soared only to be  met by imports, like the tiny two-cylinder 'bubble car'. Early in 1957, Sir  Leonard Lord ordered Sir Alec to do something about it. The result was the launch  in 1959 of the Mini. The car with which the name Issigonis will always be associated.  Now 40 years and five and a half million Minis later, the car is still one of  the most popular ever built and the most successful British car ever. Issigonis  was appointed Technical Director of BMC in 1961 and Director of Research and  Development of British Leyland Austin Morris Limited in 1969. When he retired  in 1971 he was retained by the Company as 'Advanced Design Consultant' to work  on future products. Sir Alec received much recognition of his genius and his  contribution to automobile engineering. In 1964 he was made CBE and in 1966  was awarded the Leverhulme Gold Medal of the Royal Society, of which he was  made a Fellow in 1967. He received his knighthood in 1969 and was also the recipient  of honorary degrees from a number of universities.