y grandmother and I were cut from the same cloth. We both were, let’s say, “averse” to hard labour. So while the rest of the family members were elbow-deep in soap suds, washing up the Sunday lunch pots and pans in her tiny house in Ermelo, Mpumalanga, my grandmother would whisper: “Come my darling, let’s do the vanishing trick.”
While the others huffed and heaved to scrape what remained of the Sunday roast off their plates, the two of us would zoot off in her little spitfire, postbox-red Mini and spin the wheels down the main road in Ermelo.
The blood that would one day course through my petrolhead veins must have certainly found its source as I sat wide-eyed beside my granny pushing her Mini to the max.
It was from my grandmother that I first heard the name Sir Alec Issigonis, the Greek engineer and creator of the first-generation iconic Mini, who was born in British-owned Smyrna (today part of Turkey) in 1906.
My granny loved to tell me how Alec had failed his mathematics exams three times when he was studying engineering in London and subsequently called pure mathematics “the enemy of every creative genius”.
I later read up how he began his career working for Humber, Austin and Morris Motors and, in 1955, was recruited by the British Motor Corporation to design a family of new models.
When fuel rationing was introduced during the Suez Crisis, all attention went to coming up with a small, fuel-efficient vehicle. In August 1959, the Morris Mini Minor and the Austin Seven were launched and, in 1961, the vehicle was renamed the Austin Mini. Eight years later, the Mini became a stand-alone marque in its own right.
Issigonis’ design was revolutionary, with its incredibly compact dimensions, transverse engine and front-wheel drive layout.
It subsequently became the bestselling British car in history, with a production run