SIR ALEXANDER ARNOLD KONSTANTINE ISSIGONIS
(Αλέξανδρος Αρνόλδος Κωνσταντίνος Ισσιγόνης)
– Born in Smyrna, Asia Minor on November 18, 1906 – Died on October 2, 1988
– Greek designer of cars, known as the “Greek God” and for creating the Mini, which was launched by the British Motor Corporation in 1959.
– In 1999 the Mini was voted the second most influential car of the 20th century, behind the Ford Model T, and ahead of the Citroen DS and the Volkswagen Beetle.
Alexandros Issigonis (Sir Alec Issigonis) was born in Smyrna (now known as İzmir, Turkey) in Asia Minor. His grandfather Demosthenis Issigonis migrated to Smyrna from Paros, Greece in the 1830’s. Alec’s grandfather, Demosthenis, worked as an engineer for the Smyrna Aydin Railway and later owned a machine factory. Demosthenis managed to acquire British nationality.
Alec’s father, Constantine Issigonis (Κωνσταντίνος Ισηγόνης), was born, with British nationality, in Smyrna in 1872. Constantine studied in England. Alec’s mother, Hulda Prokopp, could trace her origins back to Württemberg which is now part of Germany. Through his mother, Issigonis was a first cousin to then BMW director (now at Volkswagen) Bernd Pischetsrieder.
The machine factory in a letter from 1910, founded by Demosthenis Issigonis, Alec’s grandfather, once a thriving Greek business man in Smyrna (now Izmir).
Moreover, as Alec and his parents were British subjects, they were evacuated to Malta by British Royalty Marines in September 1922, ahead of the Great Fire of Smyrna and the Turkish re-possession of Smyrna at the end of the Greek and Turkish War 1919-1922. After the death of his father in 1922, Alec and his mother moved to the UK in 1923.
Issigonis studied engineering at Battersea Polytechnic in London. He failed his mathematics exams three times and subsequently called mathematics “the enemy of every creative genius”. After Battersea Polytechnic, Alec decided to enter the University of London External Programme to complete his university education.
Issigonis competed in motor racing, usually winning most events he entered, and in 1939 worked with George Dowson on a hand-built racing car, the ‘Lightweight Special’.
The car and engine combined weighed in at just 266 kg. Issigonis successfully raced until the demands of his job forced him to stop in 1948.
Alexander Issigonis was an outspoken, innovative and eccentric individual. He once said that his approach to car design was to never copy the opposition.
Alec Issigonis went on to design the revolutionary Mini.
His creation was introduced as a new concept in British automobile design, with the North/South location of the engine changed to an East/West configuration saving so much space that it was possible to accommodate four adults.
The car’s design, with its front wheel drive and independent suspension, provided good road handling, but Issigonis had scant regard for passenger comfort. He despised such “luxuries” as radios and comfortable seats.
Launched in 1959, the Mini soon became the best-selling car in Europe and was swiftly hailed as an early sixties icon.