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Lowlites - Splitties - Thou's - Millions

Issigonis & The Mini Dynamo

As most of you will know, the designer of the Morris Minor was Alec Issigonis. It was the Minor that made the motoring world sit up and take notice of him, but it was the Mini that really cemented his reputation as one of the motoring world's most visionary designers.

The following article originally posted by John Macartney on the Morris mailing list in April 2000, and reveals a little of how Issigonis worked and how sure he was of his own ideas.

Battersea Power Station (the shape and location thereof) will be well known to UK listers. To others take my word for it that it is distinctive and once powered much of greater London. This is a story as recounted to me at Gaydon (the home of the British Heritage Trust Museum) by a very elderly, but nonetheless convincing, man whose entire career was spent with Lucas.

In the late 1950's, he was leader of the Lucas project team that had to work closely with Alec Issigonis on the development of the Mini. Very early on in their work interface, the time came to specify the dynamo to be fitted to the car.

Their conversation went something like this.

Issigonis: "What proposals do you have for the size and type of dynamo?."

Lucas: "Bearing in mind the engine size, location and general electrical requirements of the car, we'll be recommending the C93 unit".

Issigonis: "Ludicrous! Far too large! I want a smaller dynamo to facilitate increased underbonnet space."

Lucas: "We don't make a smaller unit unless you are prepared to forego some electrical services."

Issigonis: "Out of the question, so you'd better design a smaller unit - and have it in production in six months."

Lucas: "Yes we could do a new design I suppose, but the car will be on sale by the time we've finished our testing and set ourselves up to produce it. (Then jokingly) I suppose you could have a word with Bosch or Paris Rhone or Magneti Marelli?"

Issigonis gave him ever more withering looks as each of the other names were mentioned and then leaned over his drawing board for one of the large drawing pads he always used and a pencil. With some deft flicks of the pencil, the shape on the pad quickly assumed the very convincing shape of the yet to be announced Mini - only lacking detail in the frontal area.

Issigonis: "There! That's what my car will look like - and you want me to have an electrical power source like this."

A few more deft flicks and in the unoccupied space at the front of the car in the sketch, Battersea Power Station suddenly came into view.

I asked the old man: "Did he get a smaller dynamo?".

"Good heavens, no! We supplied him with the C93 unit. No-one at Lucas thought the car would survive production for more than two years because at the time it was such an oddball concept. What's more, there was no way our Board would sanction product development expenditure on a piddly little dynamo for what they often referred to as a piddly little car. In their view, it was doomed before it even went into production."

Forty one years down the track, I guess the spirits of those former Board members have probably come to realise they goofed at quite an early stage?