Sir Alec Issigonis – the father of Mini.



Innovative. Unique. Iconic. The Mini caused a sensation with its design and rather small size in the late 1950s thanks to its inventor, the Englishman Alec Issigonis. To get to this point wasn’t easy. However, his story proves: never give up your dreams even if life puts obstacles in your way.
Prototype Mini project drawing by Sir Alec Issigonis in 1959.

Alec Issigonis (Sir Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis) was born in Smyrna in the Ottoman Empire (now Izmir, Turkey). His father, a successful and wealthy shipbuilding engineer, was of Greek origin but held a British passport. His mother was from Bavaria. In 1922 the family left Turkey for England, as all British people were banished from the country. His father, however, did not survive the crossing.

Issigonis had the dream of becoming an automobile engineer at an early age. From 1925-1928 he studied engineering at Battersea Polytechnic in London. He excelled in mechanical drawing, but failed his mathematics exams three times. He managed to obtain his Diploma, but was not admitted to advanced studies.

In 1928 his first job was in the design office of Gillett, an engineering firm in London. In 1934 Issigonis was invited to join the drawing office at Humber Ltd in Coventry. During this time he started to build a special sprint racer with a friend.  

Sir Alec Issigonis behind the wheel of a Mini Morris-Minor..

At the age of 30 he worked for the Morris Engineering Department and celebrated his first success with the construction of the Morris Minor. When Morris and Austin merged to form the British Motor Corporation in 1952, Issigonis decided to leave the company. He then moved on to Alvis, where he worked on the development of a luxury saloon, but the project had to be discontinued for cost reasons. Issigonis then went back to the British Motor Corporation, where the influence of many political factors led him to his major breakthrough.

Sir Alec Issigonis standing in front of a Mini Morris-Minor with its bonnet up.

The oil crisis sparked the idea.

During the Second World War, Britain was in control of the Suez Canal, which served as an important source of oil, but this changed during the so called Suez crisis in 1956. The loss of British sovereignty led not only to a political defeat but also to an oil crisis.

For Alec Issigonis it was THE chance to prove himself. The task: a car with lots of space inside with minimum dimensions outside, seats for four passengers, impeccable driving characteristics, superior fuel economy, and a very affordable price. That's exactly what he did. And the result was the creation of more than just an economical car.

Sir Alec Issigonis standing next to the one millionth Mini.
The Mini quickly became cult and had enthusiastic fans worldwide. Decades later, despite enormous further developments, the vehicle has lost none of its initial charm. And Alec Issigonis? Well, he went down in history as the father of the Mini and was even raised to nobility for his services.
Sir Alec Issigonis standing in front of the Austin plant at Longbridge flanked by two Minis.