Alexander Arnold Constantine Issigonis was not influenced by cars early in his life. He was 12 before he saw one. Maybe that's why, at 50, he was able to reinvent the automobile. His Mini was like nothing else.
Issigonis could think out of the box. He hated the rigidity of mathematics, which he failed three times at Battersea Polytechnic in London. He called pure mathematics 'the enemy of every truly creative man.'
When Issigonis was 16, his mother took him to England to study, and afterward he started working in Britain's auto industry. In 1943, as a project engineer for Morris, he designed a two-seater that had a unitary body, 14-inch wheels to increase passenger space, and a flat-four engine that drove the front wheels. He had to give up his idea for the drivetrain, but the car evolved into the Morris Minor, in production from 1948 to 1971.
When Austin merged with Morris in 1952, internal squabbles between workers of the two former competitors disenchanted Issigonis. He moved to Alvis and designed a V-8 sports sedan. When Alvis decided not to make the car in 1955, he went back to Morris-Austin, now called British Motor Co.
As the chief engineer, he immediately set up a task force to study his ideas for a small car. The time was right. The Suez Crisis in September 1956 led to gasoline rationing, and his bosses asked him to design a car smaller than the Morris Minor that could seat four and use an existing engine.
Issigonis roared into action. He shrunk the wheels to 10 inches so they didn't intrude in the cabin, and stuck them in the far corners. A compact rubber-cone suspension and a wide track allowed safe, responsive handling that later won races.
He mounted the engine transversely to drive the front wheels, then placed the transmission underneath. Eighty percent of the car was given over to passengers. It went into production in 1959, and the last original Mini didn't leave the chains until October 2000.