Skip to main content International
The Web      Powered by

A design classic

UK inventor on escaping to art school in the original small car

By James Dyson for CNN

James Dyson
Dyson: "The Mini was cheap to run, economical to build and perfect for nipping about town."
What has been the most significant invention or discovery of the past 50 years?  VOTE NOW
CNN asked leading figures to describe the inventions and discoveries that have changed their lives. 
Alex Zanardi: "Sooner or later I'd like to build my own knee joints."
Paul Oakenfold: "For me it all started with two turntables and a mixer."
Richard Branson: "I love the freedom that my phone gives me."
Click here for more Designs for Life and Explorers stories

(CNN) -- One of the best, and most fun, inventions of my lifetime is that combination of classic design and inspired engineering, the Mini.

It was the brainchild of Sir Alec Issigonis who came up with his ingenious idea while sipping on a gin in a hotel in Cannes -- a very civilized approach to engineering.

When he eventually brought together a design team he used one simple sketch, which he'd made in Cannes, and made one of the world's most innovative cars.

That early sketch, a perspective view, included all the mechanics. To conserve space Issigonis put the engine transversely driving the front wheels, this was a radical design but allowed a very short bonnet and gave more interior space, enough for four adults.

Other advances included rubber cone independent suspension, designed by Alex Moulton (who incidentally, went on to design the Moulton bicycle -- another of my favorite designs), rack and pinion steering and a monocoque body that eliminated the need for a costly separate chassis.

Not only do they have an endearing look but they're cheap to run, they are economical to build and perfect for nipping about town.

The Mini was one of the first cars to popularize the use of the universal joint in the drive train, previously used in submarine control gear.

The design has many cunning features. During the painting of the shell, a rod was inserted straight through the car allowing the shell to be spun round as it was painted.

The speedometer was originally put in the middle of the dashboard, cleverly covering the hole where the pole went.

When I first escaped the wilds of the Norfolk Broads and came to art school in London in the 1960s it was a Mini that took me there, thus starting me on my journey into adult life.

-- James Dyson is the award-winning inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner and the two-drum washing machine.

Story Tools
Click Here to try 4 Free Trial Issues of Time! cover
Top Stories
Burgers, lattes and CD burners
Top Stories
EU 'crisis' after summit failure

On CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNN AvantGo CNNtext Ad info Preferences
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.