Jack Daniels

Draughtsman to Issigonis on the Mini

Even an observant car obsessive would not have looked twice at the Morris Minor that threaded its way, daily, from Oxford to Birmingham in 1956. But it was a remarkable car: unlike other Minors, this one had its front wheels driven rather than its back ones, its transversely mounted engine also helping to liberate space in the passenger compartment and the boot.

William John Daniels, automotive draughtsman and engineer: born Oxford 8 February 1912; engineer, Morris Garages (later MG Car Company, then Nuffield Organisation, then British Motor Corporation, then British Leyland Motor Corporation, then British Leyland) 1928-77; married (one son, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Bournemouth, Dorset 27 November 2004.

Even an observant car obsessive would not have looked twice at the Morris Minor that threaded its way, daily, from Oxford to Birmingham in 1956. But it was a remarkable car: unlike other Minors, this one had its front wheels driven rather than its back ones, its transversely mounted engine also helping to liberate space in the passenger compartment and the boot.

Under the homely profile of the car, these were the engineering secrets of the incredible 1959 Mini. And at the wheel was Jack Daniels, one of the élite design team that created both cars. Daniels's métier was to act as the engineering translator for the brilliant visionary Sir Alec Issigonis. However, while the flamboyant Issigonis was a cauldron of ideas and concepts, Daniels was the backroom boy he trusted to make them happen.

The racing-car constructor John Cooper recalled a time when he enjoyed a long lunch with Issigonis, during which Issigonis downed a few pink gins, while Cooper demurred because he was driving. An increasingly animated Issigonis sketched all over the tablecloth and then insisted on taking it back to the Experimental Department at the British Motor Corporation's Austin plant. As he put it on Daniels's drawing board with a "Draw this for me", you can well imagine the right-hand man quietly sighing, sharpening his pencil, and getting on with it.

Jack Daniels's skills as a draughtsman were evident as a teenager at the Oxford Central school. He had noticed the bare chassis of Morris cars being driven through the streets of Oxford to the nearby premises of Morris Garages to be turned into stylish "MG" sports cars, and in 1927 the school received an enquiry from the MG works for recommendations of suitable pupils as apprentices. Daniels, who had excelled at woodwork and technical drawing, was suggested and he started work aged 16 as MG's first unindentured apprentice.

Within two years he was assigned to the company's rudimentary drawing office, where he found an encouraging boss in MG's chief draughtsman Hubert Charles ("my real tutor", Daniels later recalled). In 1935 the MG facilities transferred from Abingdon to the Morris factory at Cowley and Daniels went with them. Two years later, he started working with a brilliant and self-assured young man called Alec Issigonis, whose freehand sketches for suspension systems Daniels skilfully turned into working drawings. It was a working partnership that lasted almost 35 years.

Daniels's time during the Second World War was spent designing military vehicles, but from 1942 he was also part of a secret coterie of engineering talent mustered by Issigonis into designing a new Morris car for the post-war period. It was codenamed "Mosquito" after the warplane, but it became the immortal Morris Minor in 1948.

"Issy", as Daniels called him, felt his best ideas were constantly scuppered by penny-pinching management. That's why he departed for Alvis in 1952. "He was fed up with not being able to do what he wanted. But Morris, I can say without any question, had the best engineering team in the country," said Daniels. Issigonis left behind that groundbreaking front-drive Minor prototype, which Daniels completed. He then used it to commute in to work at the main engineering centre of British Motor Corporation (the merged Morris and Austin), at Longbridge, Birmingham, from February 1956 for a few months before moving his family to a new home in King's Norton. He called it the company's "safest car" because of its outstanding roadholding.

Issigonis was lured back in 1955. He agreed to design an economy car to better the spindly "bubble" cars that had sprung up in the wake of the Suez crisis and resultant fuel squeeze, but only if given a completely free hand.

He was reunited with Daniels and others at Longbridge, and together they created the roomy, thrifty and stylish Mini. Issigonis got most credit for it but Jack Daniels was to remark wryly, though a haze of tobacco smoke from his trademark pipe, that his was the "90 per cent perspiration behind the 10 per cent inspiration" of his boss.

Daniels remained a stalwart of the experimental department of what became British Leyland until his retirement in 1977. He helped put the Austin/ Morris 1100, the Austin Maxi, the Austin Allegro and Morris Marina on British roads. He left the industry shortly before computers began to usurp his painstaking, hand-drawn methodology. MG Rover's present product development director Rob Oldaker, who worked with Daniels when he joined British Leyland as a trainee, says: "Jack will be remembered for his pragmatic input to many cars. He guided many towards successful careers in the industry."

In his long retirement, Daniels regularly attended enthusiast gatherings of the cars he had helped create, and two years ago, aged 90, he travelled to Las Vegas to attend a "Car of the Century" award ceremony where the Mini came second - losing out only to the Ford Model T.

Giles Chapman

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