Innocenti Austin A40
In 1959, Innocenti signed a deal with BMC that would see it become a car manufacturer for the first time.
(Photo: Gaetano Zagra)
WHEN BMC joined forces with Innocenti in the late 1950s, the first fruit of their union was the Innocenti A40. The car must almost have suggested itself for production in Italy: after all, it had been in the vanguard of BMC’s new wave of stylish, Farina-penned models, while also being of the compact two-box design so beloved of Italians. Production got underway in 1960, and as in the UK, the car would remain in production for the next seven years. However, during that time, the Italian version would see an innovative, even prescient, development which was never offered in the home market.
Italy was by no means the first overseas country in which the A40 was built, or rather, assembled. Between the time of its UK launch in October 1958 and the beginning of Italian production towards the end of 1960, it had established itself as something of a world car, with CKD kits being despatched to Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, South Africa, Holland, Belgium and Ireland. Of course, the car was also widely exported, to countries such as Norway and Sweden, where it was known as the A40 Futura, and even to the USA, where it was quaintly marketed as “The Gayest Economy Sedan Ever”. But Italy was an important market for BMC to crack, and one from which it had thus far been largely excluded due to a protectionist import policy that saw a high sales tax imposed on cars built abroad.
Production line: Visitors to the Innocenti plant in Milan were always apt to remark on how clean and tidy the factory was, and how effeciently it operated.
Indeed, to start with, Innocenti also built their A40s from CKD kits, but bearing in mind that the company’s primary business was in the production of industrial machine tools, it was inevitable that before long Innocenti would pressing its own panels and building the cars from scratch. From the outset, Innocenti had taken great interest in what would be their first car-building project, and had insisted on making some changes for the Italian market, such as the wind-up windows that would later find their way on the UK-built cars. Innocenti also took a fastidious approach to build quality, and it is often remarked that the cars they turned out in Milan could teach their Longbridge counterparts a thing or two. And in a neat coals-to-Newcastle manoeuvre, Innocenti were actually supplying A40 rear axles to Longbridge for a while…
Launch day: A variety of Italian motoring luminaries were gathered for the launch of the Innocenti A40 in 1960. It was the least expensive car in its class; indeed, it had been carefully costed to ensure that it could be priced to compete with the ubiquitous Fiat 1100. (Photos kindly supplied by Graham Arnold)
The Italian versions were known as the Berlina (saloon) and Combinata (estate), the latter being the equivalent of the split-tailgate A40 Countryman, as sold in the UK and across the rest of Europe. In February 1962, a Series 2 version was introduced, gaining the extended wheelbase and handling refinements which had been introduced on the UK’s Mk2 version the previous year, along with a variety of other minor styling revisions, such as rectangular indicators and side repeaters. However, the Innocenti A40′s most forward-thinking feature would not arrive until the end of the year…
Built with care: The A40S Combinata in production.
In December 1962, Innocenti’s A40 gained the 1098cc A-series engine (replacing the original 948cc unit), and become the A40S. As before, it came in Berlina and Combinata varieties, but the latter version had a new trick up its sleeve. Rather than retaining the split-tailgate of the previous version, the A40S Combinata had a single-piece, top-hinged tailgate – in fact, what we might call a hatchback today. Taken together with the original car’s general dimensions and two-box design, the A40S Combinata set the blueprint for the superminis that would follow around a decade later. OK, so under the skin it was still rear-wheel drive with relatively primitive, A35-sourced underpinnings, and its A-series engine was installed in north-south configuration, but bear in mind that it took Vauxhall another 13 years to launch the similarly-arranged Chevette, and you get some idea of how ground-breaking the new Combinata’s concept really was.
Supermini: The A40S Combinata set the trend for the all-conquering hatchbacks that would follow.
Ever since the launch of the Series 2 version, the split-tailgate Combinata had been outselling the 2-door Berlina, but the introduction of the A40S saw Combinata sales streak ahead. In 1965, the Berlina was withdrawn from sale, but the Combinata remained in production until 1967 (as did the A40 in the UK), selling steadily alongside the 4-door ADO16 varieties that also rolled out of the Milan plant. In all, over 67,000 A40s were built there.
|Berlina||10,213||Nov 1960 – Jan 1962|
|Combinata||6,444||Dec 1960 – Jan 1962|
|Berlina||6,828||Feb 1962 – Dec 1962|
|Combinata||9,979||Feb 1962 – Jan 1963|
|A40S||Berlina||6,861||Dec 1962 – Apr 1965|
|Combinata||27,381||Dec 1962 – Feb 1967|
|Total built||67,706||Nov 1960 – Feb 1967|