Why This Iconic Auto Designer Bisected His Baby

Illustration for article titled Why This Iconic Auto Designer Bisected His Baby

Right before the launch of one of Britian's most famous cars, the car's designer had one of the first production models cut in half. He did this because the car just didn't feel right. This didn't happen in some prototype stage– the production line was up and running, and the car that was bisected (longwise) was one of the first production models off the line. Today, this sort of scenario seems impossible, but not in 1948, and not for Alec Issigonis.

I'm guessing most of our readers are familiar with Issigonis, but if not, you absolutely should be. You could make a very compelling argument that Issigonis, via his wildly influential Mini, set the template for every small FWD, transverse-engined car that came after. Which is pretty much most cars today. Before that, Issigonis designed the Morris Minor, the first British car to sell a million units and one of the first really successful small cars. That's the car that's the subject of this story.

Modern cars are so carefully designed, with computer modeling and layers and layers of focus groups, it's easy to forget that cars were once designed almost by feel. Designed by gifted people, with almost preternatural abilities to undertand cars, like our pal Alec Issigonis. The Minor (under the codename Mosquito) was designed to be a "real" car at a small size and affordable price. It was to be something economical that you would drive by choice, not something you were sentenced to be stuck in.


Cars of this era were often very much the children of their lead designers; while many, many people contributed to the development, it was one creator's (often ideosyncratic) vision that really shaped the car. Think of Ferdinand Porsche, André Lefèbvre, Hans Ledwinka, or Dick Teague. This level of authorship gave designers certain powers. Like the power to stop everything at the last minute and cut a car in half because something just didn't feel right.

As Ray Newell says in his book, The Morris Minor,

"All the prototypes were 57 inches wide, the same width as the Morris Eight. Issigonis felt this was too narrow and so he ordered that one of the prototypes be sawn in half lengthways. The two halves were then moved apart and set up at different intervals. At 4 inches (10 cm) apart, Issigonis was satisfied."

Illustration for article titled Why This Iconic Auto Designer Bisected His Baby

(I've mocked up what the pre-widened Minor would have looked like here. I wasn't able to find an image of a production, un-widened Minor online, so this seems to be a Jalopnik exclusive!)


Of course, this change so late in the game made lots of headaches for the production team, who had to recalibrate pretty much everything. This change also turned a central hood crease into a wide, flat swage down the hood. Even more telling, the first batch of front bumpers had already been built, so bumpers had to be cut in half and rejoined via a small metal plate, a pretty obvious clue as to what happened if you knew to look.

The end result, though, was a much better car. The proportions finally looked right, and the handling was markedly improved thanks to the wider track of the wheels. And it all happened because the designer finally realized something just didn't feel right. Computer-aided design and rigorous tests and focus groups can certainly make good, efficient cars, but there's something about one person's vision that can never be replaced.

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Widended 14" !!!

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