Creative Role For Issigonis In B.M.C. Board Switch
By GEOFFREY CHARLES, Motoring Correspondent
A high-level reshuffle of B.M.C. directors’ areas of responsibility was announced yesterday as part of a streamlining process before completion of the B.M.H.- Leyland merger.
The moves centre on the decision by Alec Issigonis, B.M.C.’s technical director, to devote himself full-time to more creative and forward looking concepts of research and development.
More of an engineer than a professional administrator, Mr. Issigonis has asked to be relieved of executive responsibilities for the operational and administrative aspects of the corporation’s engineering functions. He will continue as technical director, answering to Mr. J. R. Edwards, managing director, and will advise the board on long-term vehicle research projects.
Mr. Issigonis’s previous executive responsibilities are to be divided among three other B.M.C. directors. In the new appointment director of engineering, Mr. Charles Griffin becomes the executive responsible to the managing director for all aspects of the corporations product engineering work concerned with vehicle mechanical units such as engines, transmission and suspensions.
As deputy director of engineering, Stanley Dews will be responsible to Mr. Griffin, supporting him in directing the various aspects of product engineering, with special responsibility for administration of the department and its day-to-day operations.
Responsibility for body styling, structure, trim and finish will remain with Harry Barber, assistant managing director of Pressed Steel Fisher, Who is directly responsible for these specialised functions to Mr. Edwards.
Mr. Griffin, who is 49, previously held the post of director and chief engineer, B.M.C., under Mr. Issigonis. He has been with member companies of B.M.C. for 27 years, having served as experimental engineer, Wolseley Motors, and chief experimental engineer at the Nuffield Organization. He became chief engineer (passenger cars), B.M.C., in 1961, and chief engineer for all B.M.C. vehicles in May, 1966.
Mr. Dews was previously director of commercial vehicle design, and will embody this function within his new post as deputy to Mr. Griffin. He joined B.M.C. last November from Ford Motor, where he was director of commercial vehicle design. Before joining Ford, he was a design draughtsman at the Austin Motor Co., at Longbridge.
Mr. Issigonis, 62, creator of B.M.C.’s front-wheel-drive Minis, 1100s, 1800s and Morris Minor, joined Morris Motor in 1936 as a suspension engineer and was appointed chief engineer in 1948, becoming technical director of B.M.C. in 1961.
The moves are not a consequence of the B.M.H.-Leyland merger, but were undertaken at the direct request of Mr. Issigonis, who wanted to concentrate on the far-reaching engineering projects he has in the B.M.C. pipelines.
With its steady expansion, even before the latest merger, the organization was making increasing administrative demands on his time. He is essentially a creator-“I’m really the last of the Bugattis”, he told me recently-and resents being tethered to detailed administration.
Mr. Barber, on the other hand, is a highly skilled administrator in the planning of a product and bringing it forward through the design stages to full production. His responsibilities in B.M.C. will now follow the pattern of a similar relationship he could have with any member company of the group, including the Leyland side and any outside customers.
His team at Pressed Steel Fisher, will meet regularly and work closely with the B.M.C. design team, and it could co-operate equally well with those of Rover, Triumph, or any other group.
Playing a central role in the new line-up will be Mr. Joe Edwards, who reports direct to B.M.C.’s chairman, Sir George Harriman (also chairman of the new British Leyland Motor Corporation). The results of the moves should be particularly fruitful in new model policies, enabling B.M.C. to operate a more streamlined machine for getting projects to the production stage and launching future model ranges.
The merger of BMC and Leyland would inevitably result in significant changes throughout the two organisations. That Alex Issigonis was more of a creative engineer than a pure product-designer is obvious when you look at the cars he designed. Yet it is also clear with hindsight (and was surely visible to some at the time) that he had overseen a range of cars that were commercial failures.
The Mini, 1100, 1800, Maxi were obviously innovative, yet they singularly failed to appeal to the mass-market at home and across Europe that Ford had targeted so effectively. Even the more successful BMC models failed to sell in large enough numbers to be sufficiently profitable at the price they were sold. The fact that the 1800 so missed its target market, necessitating the launch of the poorly designed Maxi, just heaped problems onto an already failing company.
These were some of the failures of the entire BMC, not just Alec Issigonis. But the merged company couldn’t continue as before. This move may have been mainly a face-saving gesture to move Alec Issigonis away from product design without sacking the man who was so closely associated with BMC cars, but it also looked like a shrewd move by Leyland. Alec Issigonis was surely better-suited to an innovation role, although it must have been frustrating for him to see few of his subsequent innovations reach the market.