Archive Blog - June 2021

While the pandemic has stopped a lot of work in the heritage sector, many museum staff have found additional ways of working. Unfortunately during lockdown the role of BMM's Volunteer Coordinator, Sonja Dosanjh had to be virtually mothballed. However, she agreed to help the Archive department work on an exciting project....

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The sketch books of Alec Issigonis are a fascinating insight into the design of the Mini along with many other vehicles. Rather than just drawings however, the pages are also covered with additional writing and calculations. Getting someone to look through these, decipher and type the notes up had long something that the Archive staff wanted to do but had little time. Being able to continue to work through the pandemic was an excellent way to keep routine.

The Mini was launched in 1959, but the notes I am transcribing start in the “War Years” 1945 and focus on both the Morris Minor code named“Mosquito” and design details for a proposed military 4/4 vehicle. I have just reached 1948 when the Morris Oxford is about to be launched at the Earls Court Motor Show. This model of car was extremely popular and was exported in their thousands across the world.

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All his notes are made in an Arclight Detail Tracing Pad, which has a beautiful art deco logo. They are a mix of handwritten, typed, doodles, drawings, graphs and data. Most of them mean very little to me, using words like 'torsional stresses', 'flanges', 'fatigue life', 'skin stressed brackets', 'tooling charges', 'high and low ratios', 'tongues' etc. But there are details like trying to save 1/- or 2/6d per car in production and it’s a treat when I find a personal or social history nugget, like this from the Midland Motorists Enthusiasts Club

Picture1Among many hundreds of pages of technical detail, there are two simple colour drawings of a woman, a tree and a wall.

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There are also personal notes. By a long list of weights and measures, for example, he writes “Boo”. Later on he also writes “People who buy small cars are the same size as those who buy big ones” - which really sums up the design for the Mini - arguably the most influential car of the 20th century. 

Sonja is currently working on folder 16 of 50 so there is a long way to go. Hopefully lots of drawings and interesting notes, both technical and humorous, will come to light during that time.