Original Mini Suspension Designer Alex Moulton Dies at 92

CutAway

The original Mini was revolutionary on a number of fronts. But one that is often forgotten is the unique rubber springs used on the car. The combination of conical rubber springs and small wheels was one of the many innovative developments which allowed design Alec Issigonis to achieve the Mini’s small overall size. And the man who created it, Dr. Alex Moulton, went on to work designing both bicycle and automotive suspensions to great acclaim.

Moulton later went onto create the Hydrolastic system for MINI that connected the front and rear wheel pair on each side of the car giving the Mini a shockingly soft and level ride despite it’s wheelbase.

RIP Alex Moulton.

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.nolan.31 James Nolan

    RIP Dr Moulton, truly a great man. Without your influence in making the classic mini such a great car to drive, we wouldnt be sat here today! I must point out though Gabe that Moulton designed the hydrolastic system while working alongside Issigonis at ‘Alvis’, a British sports car maker, in the mid 50’s. His inlfuence on the Mini started in 1957 after Issigonis had moved to BMC for the Mini project (ADO 15) and asked for Sir Alex to be brought in due to his knowledge of his revolutionary system and how it could be applied to such a small car. Moulton got the contract to develop the system for BMC but, when it came close to the launch of the Mini in 1959, BMC decided they weren’t prepared to put out extra cost to retool for the system as it was too expensive for the price they were offering the mini at (though as legend states, they were to make a £30 loss on each of them anyway). Therefore they opted for dry cone-rubber suspension at launch instead to keep the price down. The system did eventually make it onto the mini in 1965 and was last used (in the UK at least) on the MK3 Cooper S up until 1971, though it survived a little longer on the Austin Maxi, but British Leyland of course got rid of it because they just couldn’t afford to make anything decent. The rubber cone suspension system was an entirely new concept when the Mini was designed then, a couple of Alvis prototypes had used it but it was deemed useless on such a large platform. The Mini was the first to revolutionise it for mass production and thus the first to use it for that purpose, and it surived in dry-form on the mini until 2000. A testmament to Sir Alex Moulton’s orginal design is that, over the 41 years the Mini was in production, neither BMC, BL, Rover or BMW for that matter decided to change the formula. You can read “Mini- The True and Secret History of the Making of a Motor Car” by Simon Garfield if you want to read more into the development of the car and delve into stories of the Mini’s development told by Sir Alex himself. A true gentleman and one of our last connections with the original development of our most beloved small car.

    • http://bridger.us/ Gabriel Bridger

      Thanks for the correction James!

    • http://www.facebook.com/james.nolan.31 James Nolan

      Sorry i’ll just edit that a little, it wasn’t used on the Maxi but on the 1100, and it is still used today on the MGf, yet another testament to his brilliant work!

  • Chris Lamb

    RIP gentleman engineer.

    My sponsor @ Bath University final year project, had tea @ his home………………..

    A true gent.

  • Bob Hayhurst

    I never realized who was the inventor/designer of this system. I owned a 1971 Austin America which had the Hydroelastic suspension. Of the several Minis I’ve owned, they were all equipped with the “dry” suspension. As I recall the Austin America was the same vehicle as the MG 1100 (more or less) but was equipped for importation to the USA. The Austin America had a superior ride quality compared to the cars equipped w/ the rubber cone suspension but didn’t handle quite as well. The Hydoelastic suspension, while giving a better ride quality, was not without it’s problems. It used a water/antifreeze mix to charge the system and was prone to leaks. It took special equipment to work on the suspension as it was under considerable pressure and a bit fiddly what with the rubber bags and control valves. The ride could get choppy at cold temperatures but for me I don’t recall having any real problems.

    The local MG dealership where I live (Connie Hack Buick/MG/Austin) went belly up and I was able to buy the machine used to pump antifreeze into the system but as it turns out I never had the occasion to use it. I do recall that many Mini owners at the time would convert the “wet” suspension over to a “dry” suspension and kits were sold to make the conversion primarly because of the maintenence required of the Hydroelastic suspension. Thanks Mr. Nolan for your comments. I’m sorry to hear of Mr. Moulton’s passing. Sliderule engineers are a thing of the past to be sure but innovation still requires thinking.

    • nick dawson

      I was interested in your reference to the Austin America, which was based on the Austin 1300 (1275cc) MKII two-door. The ‘America’, produced exclusively for North America and Canada, was fitted as standard with the AP four speed automatic transmission, which became available as an optional extra in 1965 on both the Mini (ADO 15) and the 1100/1300 (ADO16).

      This auto transmission was revolutionary in that, despite having a torque converter, it was incredibly compact and was designed to fit within the sump of the engine, in the same way that the manual gearbox did. It could be driven in fully automatic mode, or operated manually. Very little performance was lost compared to the manual transmission car.

      The consensus view amongst motor industry historians (myself included) is that ADO16, the second of the four FWD cars designed by Alec Issigonis, was his best car. Introduced in 1962, it was the right car at the right time, and quickly became the UK’s best-selling car. At the peak of its production 250,000 were made annually, which is more than MINI’s current total annual production.

      It is little wonder that it was such a success, for it had the combined pedigree of being engineered by Alec Issigonis, its Hydrolastic suspension system designed by Alex Moulton, and its body styled by Sergio Pinninfarina. ADO 16 was made in both two and four-door versions, and derivatives included Austin, Morris, GT, MG, Riley, Wolseley and Vanden Plas models, the latter being a super luxurious model with acres of leather and walnut interior fittings. Two capacious small Estate cars were also made, the Austin Countryman and Morris Traveller. In all, 2.15 million ADO 16’s were made between 1962 and 1973.

      I too was sorry to learn of the death of Dr Alexander Moulton. He was a fine example of a breed of English gentleman rapidly disappearing. Born into a priviledge background, his father was a distinguished scientist and entomologist who died young, and Alex was brought up in his grandfather’s house,’ The Hall’ at Bradford-on-Avon, in Wiltshire, England, built in 1589-1601, Alex was educated at Malborough School and Cambridge University, where he obtained a degree in engineering. His great grandfather had acquired the rights from Charles Goodyear in America, to produce vulcanised rubber in the UK, an enterprise which was a great success, and greatly increased the Moulton family’s wealth.