by Brian Allison
Hello again boys and girls.
I hope you've all been good for your teachers, and Mum and Dad too of course, since we last met. It's very exciting now isn't it, with Christmas almost here.
I hear you've been helping Mummy with the shopping Amanda, did you enjoy that? Pardon. Oh, Mummies are like that dear, they don't seem to like passing a shop without having a look inside, do they? What's that? The turkey was almost as big as you. That would be a big one then. Is that so Mike? You reckon the Christmas cake you baked is almost as good as your lemon drizzle one? Maybe if Zebidee calmed down for a moment you might let him have a taste, it seems to be the only way of getting him to sit still is when cake's mentioned.
Anyway, Amanda helping with the shopping has given me an idea for a story. Would you like to hear it? Very well then, make yourselves comfortable and I'll begin. John! When I said make yourself comfortable , I didn't mean you should use Janet as a cushion, so stop that, now.
Long, long ago. In 1906 to be exact. In a port which was then called Smyrna but is now called Izmir,and is in a country called Turkey, a little boy was born. Yes Gar, I know Jesus was born in a place called Bethlehem, but it's not Jesus I'm telling you about. This little boy was called Alexander Arnold Issigonis but would become more widely known as Alec Issigonis.
Alec's grandfather came from Greece. No Edwin, Greece, the country, not the grease daddy Gar needs to use plenty of in the steering trunnions of his new car. Alec's grandfather, Demosthenis, had moved his family in the 1830's from Greece to Smyrna to work on the railway that the British were building between there and a town called Aydin further inland. Demosthenis was a very good engineer, so much so in fact that he was granted British nationality. So when his son Higson Constantine was born in 1872 he was officially British, and because of this, and the successful engineering works Demosthenis by then had, he was allowed to come to school in England. Constantine married a German lady whose name was Hulda Prokopp and in 1906 they had a baby who they named Alexander Arnold Issigonis, or Alec to his family.
Constantine was very proud of his British citizenship and Alec grew up in a traditional British type of household. Yes, Bev, that probably did mean that his mummy Hulda was the boss, but it also maybe accounts for him acquiring that most British of traits, not suffering fools mildly. When Alec was 13 yrs. old Greece and Turkey, who had never been the best of friends, started fighting. This war went on until 1922, and during the final year of the war the Turks made it impossible for the family to stay in Smyrna due to their Greek ancestry, so Alec and his parents were evacuated to Malta just before the outbreak of a great fire in Smyrna that lasted 9 days. Constantine died that same year, and the now 16 year old Alec and his mother came to live in England in 1923.
Naturally, coming from a family of engineers Alec wanted to be one too and started a course at Battersea Polytechnic. Things didn't go entirely smoothly as Alec failed his maths exam three times. He did eventually move on to complete his training with the University of London, choosing this rather than a traditional University because it allowed students to learn at their own pace. I suppose you could say that it was the forerunner of what we now call, the Open University.
In 1928 he got a job in a drawing office in London. No not now Phil, we'll have a look at your drawings later. This drawing office was for engineering projects, one of which Alec worked on being for a new automatic clutch. The car makers Humber showed a lot of interest but eventually decided not to put the new clutch into production. Although they hadn't used the clutch they obviously remembered Alec, so much so that in 1933 they offered him a job there. He only stayed with Humber for three years before moving to Morris Motors at their Cowley works in 1936. During the three years before the start of World War Two he was involved with designing a new front suspension system which after the war was fitted to the MG YA sports car, and later the new MGA and in uprated form on the MGB.
During his time in the drawing office in London around 1930 Alec had started racing in a supercharged Austin Seven Ulster similar to the one in the photo here.
In 1933 Alec and his friend George Dowson started work on a brand new car which was to become known as the Issigonis Lightweight special. This was an entirely different design to anything known up till then. Instead of a separate chassis the new car was to be of what is known as a monocoque construction. This means one piece, as opposed to having a separate frame and body.
Alec designed it with the intention of saving as much weight as possible, which he did by using the engine, seat and differential as bracing for the body. The bodywork itself was made from plywood with a outer aluminium skin, this was left unpainted to save the extra weight paint would have added. Probably the most interesting part of all was the suspension, again Alec's ingenuity came to the fore here.
Instead of the normal springing arrangement, the lightweight used catapult rubber for both front and rear suspension. No, I think it would have been a little bit stronger than the type you have Mike. Working entirely by hand it took Alec and George until 1938 to totally finish building the lightweight special. True to Alec's design the completed car weighed only 267 kilos about a fifth of which was the weight of the engine.
How much is 267 kilos you want to know John? Well, you know the Rover P4 that Daddy has? That weighs almost 1500 kilo. so that means that the Lightweight Special weighed less than a fifth as much. Needless to say the Lightweight went on to be very successful indeed when it started racing.
During the war years 1939 - 45 Alec worked on lots of different projects including a lightweight reconnaissance vehicle and a motorised wheelbarrow which was intended for use in the jungle. I think your Daddies would probably like one of those when they're doing the gardening.
In 1943 Alec became Chief project engineer at Morris and was already involved in designing what was then code named the Mosquito. This was to be a small affordable family car but with the practicality and features up till then only found in the more expensive makes of car. The work on the Mosquito was being carried out in secret by a very small team, not only because all work was supposed to be for the war effort but because William Morris, who I told you about before, was a man who although he'd been a pioneer himself, was not known for welcoming radical ideas.
Explaining his reasoning behind his design in later years, Alec said he wanted to build a car that, "the average man would take pleasure in owning rather than feeling of it as something he'd been sentenced to," and that, "People who drive small cars are the same size as those who drive large cars and they should not be expected to put up with claustrophobic interiors."
His initial plans for this new car would surely have caused William Morris to erupt if he'd known about them. For starters he wanted to do away with the spring suspension and instead use torsion bars all round. Yes Tony, the same arrangement as on the front of Apollo. The use of torsion bars would also mean the wheels could be nearer each corner of the car, saving interior space once again. He also wanted to use rack and pinion steering, not only because it gave a more direct feel to the steering but because it took up less room.
The wheels he decided should be smaller than those used on previous cars, the reasoning being that the smaller wheels would mean that less interior space would be lost due to wheelarches, with the added advantage of better roadholding. The body was to be a welded unitary construction with all mountings etc. built in. Because of the independent front suspension it meant that without the front beam axle the engine could sit further forward, again saving interior space and also making the car better balanced and so improving the handling. The engine he wanted to use was going to be a flat four water cooled unit.
All this planning was done without the knowledge of William Morris, but with the end of the war in 1945 it meant that the project could no longer be kept secret if it was to go into production. William Morris had intended to restart car production with an updated version of the pre war Morris 8 and when he saw a prototype of the Mosquito said it looked like a "Poached egg." He also objected to the idea of the expense involved in making the new engine.
After a great deal of argument between two equally stubborn characters the board eventually agreed to produce the new car but only with several cost saving modifications. The flat four engine, which meant setting up a completely new engine assembly facility was too dear to produce for a start, so a slightly modified version of the Morris 8 sidevalve engine had to be used. The independent rear suspension was also proclaimed to be too dear and was substituted for a traditional leaf spring mounted rigid rear axle.
It had been planned to launch the new car in 1949 but the board insisted that it be ready for the first post war British Motor Show of 1948. This put extra pressure on Alec to finish his design for the bodywork. The original prototype was - like almost all cars then - rather narrow, and it wasn't until 1947 when tooling for the new model was well advanced that Alec was finally happy with the new body shape.
He achieved this by adding 4 inches to it's width. Sounds simple but it caused a lot of problems. The floorpan had to have two 2 inch strips added either side of the prop shaft tunnel, the bonnet also acquired a 4 inch raised centre strip and the bumpers had to be cut in half and a plate bolted onto the centre. If you see a really early Morris Minor you will immediately see this plate. You'll see what I mean in the photo.
The new car , now called the Morris Minor was launched as either a two door saloon or two door tourer costing £358 and fitted with a 918cc sidevalve engine. At the same show Morris also introduced the new Morris Oxford and Morris Six which were basically upscaled versions of the Minor. So you could say that Alec Issigonis was responsible for the whole post war Morris range.
I'll tell you what happened to Alec next after Christmas, as I think it must be your bed time now. Remember Santa knows if you've been good and it's not too late for him to send your presents back if you misbehave.
Merry Christmas everyone and here's wishing all your problems in 2017 are Minor ones.
Night, night, God bless.
Filter by Author
Filter by Month