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Was Spen King as influential as Alec Issigonis?


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#1 mariner

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Posted 20 August 2020 - 09:34

Not an attempt to replicate a  twitter storm here but the juxaposition of Greg mentioning working for Spen King and my visit yesterday to the British Motor Museum at Gaydon made me think about the opening question. Issigonis's life and work figures strongly there and they currently have special exhibition on 50 years of the Range Rover.

 

Clearly Issigonis created something revolutionary in the Mini  then sort of scaled it up, like for  like, into the 1100 and 1800 adding hydroelastic on the way. 

 

But while one of his two key concepts , the transverse engine, has survived his other core concept, a car with a wheel at each corner and maximum interior space has largely vanished in today's much larger , "pimped up" cars .

 

That's partially due to the need to have lots of crushable space to meet the crash rules of course.

 

Spen King gave us some very clever ideas too , often cheap but effective like the Rover 3500 rear suspension plus of course he gave us the Range Rover. 

 

That vehicle is the grand daddy of most modern SUV's which have come to be far more mainstream than space efficient cars in the Issigonis mould.

 

So I left the museum thinking Spen King may wel have been  as influential as Issigonis 50 years later?



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#2 BRG

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Posted 20 August 2020 - 11:24

Alec Issigonis's legacy lives on in cars like the VW Up! and its SEAT and Skoda siblings.  Little cars, wheels at the corner, small transverse engine.  These are the modern Mini, not the actual MINI such as I drive, but which bizarrely has less interior space than the original, despite being 50% bigger.

 

Didn't Spen King inflict the Triumph Stag on us?


Edited by BRG, 20 August 2020 - 11:25.


#3 jcbc3

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Posted 20 August 2020 - 11:32

So King is Edison and Issigonis is Tesla?



#4 Bloggsworth

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Posted 20 August 2020 - 11:57

Alec Issigonis's legacy lives on in cars like the VW Up! and its SEAT and Skoda siblings.  Little cars, wheels at the corner, small transverse engine.  These are the modern Mini, not the actual MINI such as I drive, but which bizarrely has less interior space than the original, despite being 50% bigger.

 

Didn't Spen King inflict the Triumph Stag on us?

The Stag was a good car if you serviced it properly - if you used the wrong antifreeze... A friend had one for 10 years, regularly using it for camping holidays, driving to Greece, Turkey as well as France, Italy and Germany - She was sad to see it go. She reluctantly replaced it with a 5 Series BMW.



#5 BRG

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Posted 20 August 2020 - 11:58

We should also recall that Issigonis was responsible for the Morris Minor which was built for years with over a million sold.  Famous as the archetypal 'Panda' car and as transport for district nurses such as the fictional Gladys Emmanuel.  He also designed the quietly revolutionary Austin Maxi, not a great success in itself, but a prototype for the ubiquitous modern family hatchback.  And also the Moulton bicycle with its small wheels and rubber suspension.  My Aunt had one and I liked to borrow it as a kid because it was so different from conventional bikes. The modern day folding commuter bikes are its lineal successors.  



#6 Greg Locock

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Posted 20 August 2020 - 23:35

Rover  were the most innovative car company I've worked at. They actually thought engineering fundamentals were a real thing. OK the execution was frequently lousy, but the ideas were strong. I hadn't realised King was involved with Triumph, there was always a strong them and us vibe, even when we rolled into JRT. Then the research engineering bits of all BL companies were combined into one site at Gaydon, we were called BL Technology. The manufacturing companies were forced to pay us a certain amount each year, and were supposed to push business our way. It sort of worked. Funnily enough GM had a similar idea, they have an enormous site at Warren, which churns out lots of stuff, widely ignored by the rest of the company.



#7 jcbc3

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Posted 21 August 2020 - 06:40

....  And also the Moulton bicycle with its small wheels and rubber suspension. ..

 

Alex Moulton?



#8 Tim Murray

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Posted 21 August 2020 - 07:39

And also the Moulton bicycle with its small wheels and rubber suspension.


I’ve never heard that Issigonis had any real input into the Moulton bicycle, which was developed by Alex Moulton and his team in Bradford-on-Avon.

#9 Allan Lupton

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Posted 21 August 2020 - 08:11

I’ve never heard that Issigonis had any real input into the Moulton bicycle, which was developed by Alex Moulton and his team in Bradford-on-Avon.

Yes indeed. If anything 'twas t'other way round, as Moulton was the man behind the rubber springing of the Mini and the rubber/water springing that was Hydrolastic.

 

Back on topic I'd say that King led the team at Rover and therefore had the responsibility, but did less "hands-on inventing" than Issigonis.



#10 mariner

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Posted 21 August 2020 - 08:45

I wasn't really questioning Issigonis's creativity, more his lasting influence on vehicles we drive. 

 

Clearly the packaging of the mini ( and the 1100/1800) was brilliant,  he also did a very good job with the conventional Minor ( and his one off racing car.  However none of his designs ever made any big profit and the small outside/large inside concept has been completely reversed today.

 

That isn't just styling , safety standards mean more sheet metal to crumple so the ultra efficient Mini doors with sliding windows and huge storage bins are not longer do - able.

 

By contrast Spen King's Range Rover is still a huge profit generator for JLR and is maybe the world's most copied design.



#11 Charlieman

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Posted 21 August 2020 - 13:12

The Issigonis Special was a remarkable racing car, hand built by a young man and friends whilst holding down a demanding job. Today we'd query the choices of trailing arm front suspension and swing axle arm rear, but they worked for a very light car on narrow tyres.

 

Cars and commercial vehicles with a wheel at each corner still persist in the Japanese Kei taxation class. Some have been sold overseas, and modestly priced Japanese vans (a bit bigger than Kei tax vehicles) are omnipresent. Issigonis designs influenced Renault (lots of FWD small family cars, although it could be argued that the French had their own ideas), VW (original Golf and Polo) and Fiat. It's a mystery to me how Renault sold nearly two million Renault 16s whilst the Austin Maxi, a car with slightly different positive and negative design factors, sold a fraction of that number.

 

As Mariner proposes, the wheel at each corner proposition has been compromised by safety requirements, but the influence is evident in contemporary hatchback designs or compact European saloons.

 

Spen King's Range Rover had plastic seat covers, rubber floor covering and drain holes in the floor so that you could sluice it out with a hose pipe after a sheep had died on the back seat. It was also a car for rich people who were fed up that the family car couldn't pull a horse box out of a muddy gymkhana staging area. It had two doors because you have a simple design with bigger door openings that way (kids and lively adults don't need their own doors). The back end opened up easily for six bales of hay, eight if you let them hang out.

 

But we seem to be using the expression SUV to describe everything with 4WD/AWD and a chunky body. SUV covers commercial truck/pickup designs and derivatives, car saloon derived models (the majority in Europe) and specialist designs. I'd say that the Range Rover has migrated from a commercial derivative to a specialist design over 50 years. I'd like to thank all of the people who will never go off-road in their Range Rovers for their financial contributions to the development of off-road transmission systems.