During the Second World War, Alec Issigonis had worked on various military projects for Morris Motors including a motorised wheelbarrow for jungle warfare and a lightweight reconnaissance vehicle. But despite Morris Motors’ commitment to the war effort, in 1942 Issigonis was given the task of designing a practical, economical, and affordable car to mobilise post-war Britain. In 1948 that car was unveiled as the Morris Minor; a much-loved British icon that would remain in production until 1971.

However, after only a decade of relative peace Britain became embroiled in another bloody conflict when, In July 1956, Egypt’s Colonel Nasser seized the Suez Canal from French and British control. This was a vital transport corridor to the oil fields of the Middle East which supplied Europe with two-thirds of its petroleum needs.

In response, British and French forces launched Operation Musketeer in November 1956 with a combined task force of 89,000 personnel and 230 warships, submarines, and aircraft carriers. Paratroopers dropped along the Suez Canal, supported by tanks, quickly overpowered Nasser’s forces; but not before the Egyptians managed to completely block the canal by sinking more than 40 vessels into the shallow, narrow channel.

Oil tankers, which had previously accounted for half of the canal’s traffic, were now forced to take a long and perilous detour around the Cape of Good Hope to reach British ports. When Britain was forced to impose petrol rationing in December 1956, many motorists began to search for more economical means of travel and demand for motorcycle sidecars and German-built microcars, from the likes of Messerschmidt, BMW and Heinkel, suddenly boomed.

BMC Chairman Leonard Lord detested the tiny-engined microcars. ‘God damn these bloody awful bubble cars. We must drive them off the streets by designing a proper small car.’ he told Issigonis in March 1957. Shortly after Lord’s outburst, the emphasis of BMC’s development programme was switched from updating the Morris Minor to producing something completely new; something smaller, more economical and affordable to finally see off the diminutive foreign interlopers.

The car Issigonis envisioned was just ten feet long and four feet wide, with an ingenious transverse-mounted A-series engine and four-speed gearbox integrated into the oil sump.  It was light, surprisingly spacious, fuel-efficient, easy to maintain and cheap to build. Best of all, its fully independent rubber-cone suspension and tiny 10-inch wheels at each corner gave the Mini sports car handling. A little over two years later, the car was launched as both the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven, but to its legions of fans quickly became better known by just one name: the Mini.

About The Author

Darryl can usually be found up to his elbows in some unloved piece of BL detritus when he isn’t snapping and scribbling for various print magazines or producing the book on road tripping or tally-ho adventurers. As an occasional presenter on CBS's Carfection YouTube channel, his other hobbies include vintage Scalextrics, ‘60s Bang & Olufsen and dabbling in grassroots motorsport.

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