Place: United Kingdom, Turkey
Subject: biography, technology and manufacturing
Turkish-born British automotive engineer and the first person to exploit scientific component packaging in the design of small volume-produced motorcars. His designs gave much greater space for the occupants together with greatly increased dynamic handling stability and improved small-car ride.
Issigonis was born on 18 November 1906 in Smyrna (now Izmir), and went to the UK with his widowed mother after the 1922 war between Turkey and Greece. He studied engineering at Battersea Polytechnic, and began his career working for a small engineering firm that was developing an automatic gearchange.
This work introduced Issigonis to the Humber division of the Rootes Group in 1934, and in 1936 he joined Morris Motors to work on suspension design. During this pre-war period he built the ingenious Lightweight Special hill-climb-and-sprint single-seater, which demonstrated the potential of all-independent suspension with rubber springs. His first complete production motorcar was the Morris Minor, launched in 1948, which brought new standards of steering and stability to small motorcars - and went on to become the first British motor-car to pass the one million sales mark (in 1961). After a spell 1952-56 working at Avis on an experimental 3.5-litre car with hydrolastic suspension, he returned to what had now become BMC to face, within a short while, his greatest challenge.
Leonard Lord (later to become Lord Lambury), the chair of BMC, asked him to design and produce a small and economical car to counteract the flood of ‘bubble cars’ that had followed the Suez crisis. A period of intensive design and development led to the launch of the Mini in 1959. His other major designs were the 1100 in 1962, the 1800 in 1964, and the Maxi in 1969. He was made a CBE in 1964, became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1967, and received a knighthood in 1969.
The main significance of his work was in taking on car design as a ‘vehicle architect’, overseeing the separate approaches of styling, interior packaging, body engineering, and chassis layout. In this way he conceived the overall package from his knowledge and experience of the major factors affecting the product; specialists in his team then designed and engineered the subsystems of the vehicle. The approach was to make the human factor paramount in selecting design criteria.
This approach was particularly recognizable in the ‘wheel at each corner’ layout on the Morris Minor and its effect on handling. The vehicle's polar moment of inertia (a measure of directional stability), was made small compared with the magnitude of the tyre's cornering forces. This improved the speed of response to change in direction, and the designed-in nose-heaviness allowed quick correction of the car after a side-gust disturbance.
With the layout of the Mini a degree of interior spaciousness was achieved beyond that available in previous cars of similar exterior size. The technique included repositioning the dash panel to follow the projected line of the curved lower edge of the windscreen, using single-skinned doors and rear quarter panels, with large open lockers on the inside. By adopting a transverse engine-over-gearbox/final-drive layout with front-wheel drive, and independent suspension of all wheels, considerable gains were made in front knee-room and space at the rear of the seat base.
The use of compact wheel-location lever-arms acting on rubber suspension springs also gave a substantial packaging advantage, besides giving a well-damped ride, free of static friction. In arranging for fluid correction of the springs, the suspension could be tuned to separate motions of pitch and bounce of the vehicle; tuning virtually eliminated pitch as a prime factor in ride discomfort.
The Mini, for which Issigonis is best known, reigned supreme among small cars until the late 1970s. At the beginning of its life the car attracted a considerable cult following and all through its life it was the basis for a great diversity of modification by specialist firms.
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