When Innocenti reinvented the Mini

By the late 1960s, the Milanese company Innocenti had managed to cut for itself a significant presence on the Italian car market thanks to the success of the British cars it assembled under license: chiefly among those, the Mini, whose Italian production started in 1965.
The Minis from Milan were generally better appointed than their Longbridge counterparts, as Innocenti cleverly positioned the Mini as being a cut above the run-of-the-mill Fiat small cars, something a bit more special than the cheaper Fiat 850.
The people in Turin’s Fiat HQ weren’t amused though and designed the Autobianchi A112, introduced in 1969 and explicitly aimed at the Mini’s market. Sales of the Mini proved quite resilient, but by then it was already clear that Innocenti had to up their game to stay competitive long-term.
The “750” prototype was very close to the Mini in terms of size but was a brand new design that looked very smart thanks to Marcello Gandini of Bertone. Underneath its fashionably boxy look, the Innocenti 750 no longer had British parts, but a newly-designed four cylinders engine and McPherson front suspension.
Perhaps ironically, the financial resources needed to put the 750 into production ultimately came from Britain, thanks to British Leyland’s takeover of Innocenti in 1972.
The Leyland-Innocenti Mini 90 and 120 debuted in 1974 with its Bertone lines unchanged, but its bodyshell modified to use the old, trusty Mini subframes and A-Series engines. The new cars were well received, a rather brilliant update of the successful Mini formula… But then, British Leyland collapsed.
By November of ’75, the now nationalized British Leyland sought to streamline its business by putting its Italian subsidiary into liquidation. But those were the 1970s and, with thousands of jobs on the line, the Italian government stepped in and placed the future of the company in the hands of Alejandro De Tomaso, the Argentinian entrepreneur who had just taken over Maserati the same way.
Production of the Mini 90 and 120 resumed in 1976 using the engines supplied from Britain, with production reaching around 40.000 cars per year; also thanks to the “hot” Mini De Tomaso, whose 1275cc engine was mildly tuned to 70HP.
Leyland’s commitment to supply Innocenti with parts wasn’t going to last, though, and 1982 saw the introduction of the revamped “Innocenti Tre Cilindri” range.
The car’s exterior appearance barely changed, but under the skin, new front and rear suspension replaced the old Mini components, improving comfort but at the expense of handling, which lost some of the original Mini’s playfulness.
Japanese manufacturer Daihatsu supplied to Innocenti the three-cylinder engines from the contemporary Charade.
The sporty Mini De Tomaso was equipped with a small Sanyo turbocharger that brought the power output to 72HP, and, as the 1980s fashion required, the magic word “Turbo” was abundantly used on the car’s exterior. Innocenti’s small car sales had allowed the company to survive, but certainly not thrive.
Unable to generate enough capital to invest in new models, the ultimate demise of Innocenti was just a matter of time. By 1990 De Tomaso had sold his controlling stakes to Fiat, and production continued until the 31st of March 1993, when the Innocenti factory near Milan closed its doors forever.

Innocenti: When Italy Reinvented The Mini

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