Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis was born into the Greek community of Smyrna in Ottoman Turkey. Alec’s grandfather Demosthenis migrated to Smyrna from the Greek island of Paros in the 1830s. Demosthenis acquired British nationality through the work he did for the British-built Smyrna-Aydin Railway. Alec’s father Constantine, was born, in Smyrna in 1872 (with British nationality).
Smyrna was destroyed by the Turks in 1922 during the Greco-Turkish war (1919 – 1922) but Alec and his family (as British subjects) were evacuated to Malta by the British. Alec’s father died in 1922, and following his death Alec and his mother moved to the UK in 1923. Alec studied engineering at Battersea Polytechnic in London. He failed his mathematics exams three times and subsequently called pure mathematics “the enemy of every creative genius”.
Issigonis joined Humber as an engineer and designer and did work for them during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1936 he moved to the Morris Motor Company and worked on various projects for them through the war and towards its end he started work on an advanced post-war car codenamed Mosquito – which eventually became the Morris Minor – and which was produced from 1948 until 1971.
BMC recruited Issigonis in 1955was recruited by BMC to design a new model car for them. In August 1959 he helped launch the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Se7en. In later years the car would become known simply as the Mini. The Mini went on to become the best selling British car in history with a production run of 5.3 million cars. This ground-breaking design, with its front wheel drive and phenomenal space efficiency, is still being manufactured to this day (2019) and has been the inspiration for almost all small front-wheel-drive cars produced since the early 1960s.
“The public don’t know what they want;
it’s my job to tell them.”
In 1967 Issigonis (nicknamed “The Greek God” by his contemporaries) was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society and later in 1969 he was awarded a knighthood. Issigonis is famous as the inventor of the Mini car, however during his life it’s said that he was most proud of his participation in the design of the Morris Minor.
Sir Alec officially retired from the motor industry in 1971, although he continued working until shortly before his death from Parkinson’s Disease in 1988.