Mini overseas : Innocenti 90/120

In 1974, Leyland’s Italian subsidiary Innocenti introduced a rebodied, three-door hatchback Mini, sytled by Bertone. However, within a year of its launch, BLMC went bankrupt and Innocenti was sold to de Tomaso.

Prior to the launch of the Metro, the Innocenti was briefly available in the UK, and it continued to be sold as part of BL’s range in many mainland European countries even after the Metro’s appearance.


Innocenti Mini 90L/120L

The new-style Mini was originally launched in two versions, the 90L and 120L – the former having the 998cc A-series engine putting out 43bhp, and the latter the 1275cc unit, with an extra 20bhp on tap. These outputs were later uprated to 49bhp and 65bhp respectively.

Innocenti Mini 90L

Innocenti Mini 90L

Innocenti de Tomaso

Following the sale of Innocenti to de Tomaso in 1975, an uprated version of the 120L was launched in 1976, producing a useful 71bhp (74bhp from 1978 onwards); known simply as the Innocenti de Tomaso, this version featured moulded plastic bumpers (in place of the original chrome items), with integral front foglamps and a go-faster air intake mounted on the bonnet.

Innocenti Mini DeTomaso 120 (Picture supplied by Michele Gandolfo)

Innocenti Mini DeTomaso 120 (Picture supplied by Michele Gandolfo)

UK availabilty

Towards the end of 1979, with the Metro’s launch still almost a year away, Islington-based dealer London Garages Ltd offered the Innocenti range in limited numbers. The 998cc 90L cost £3515, the 1275cc 120L was £3675, and the range-topping De Tomaso version came in at £4040. For comparison, a basic 1.1-litre Allegro cost £3085 at the time, while £4100 would have bought you Triumph Dolomite 1500.

Innocenti Mille

Once the Metro had been launched, the Mini 120L was dropped in favour of the Mille, a restyled and up-specced version of the 998cc 90L. The Mille (Italian for 1000) featured rearward-slanted headlamps (contributing to a 5cm increase in overall length), smoother rear light clusters incorporating a foglamp, and moulded plastic bumpers of a more conservative design than those fitted to the de Tomaso version. The interior trim was also uprated. The 90L and de Tomaso models remained on sale.

Innocenti Mille

Innocenti Mille


The afterlife…

In 1982, after a couple of years on sale alongside the Metro, the Innocenti models were dropped from BL’s continental range. However, production continued, and by 1985 De Tomaso had signed an engine deal with Daihatsu and relaunched the car in two distinct ranges. The entry-level Innocenti 650 and 650SE models had a 617cc 2-cylinder engine producing just over 30bhp, while the new “Mini 3″ range gained the three-cylinder, 993cc engine (which also powered the Daihatsu Charade), producing 51bhp. Both ranges now featured 5-speed transmissions as standard, while the Mini 3 could also be had in automatic, turbocharged (72bhp) and diesel (37bhp) versions.

Innocenti 650SE

Innocenti 650SE

The Mini 3 range, in (l to r) SE, Minimatic, Turbo and Diesel varieties.

The Mini 3 range, in (l to r) SE, Minimatic, Turbo and Diesel varieties.

Before production ended in 1993, the Innocenti Mini would receive one further facelift, with the redesigned bumpers, grille and clear indicator lenses giving it a cleaner, more modern appearance. In this guise it ended its days in the Italian market as the Innocenti 500.

Innocenti 500

Innocenti 500

A long wheelbase version of the Innocenti Mini (utilising the Estate floorpan), coachbuilt by "Embo". This photo was published in the 1982-83 Spanish car catalogue "Velocidad". (Picture kindly supplied by Graham Arnold.)A long wheelbase version of the Innocenti Mini (utilising the Estate floorpan), coachbuilt by "Embo". This photo was published in the 1982-83 Spanish car catalogue "Velocidad". (Picture kindly supplied by Graham Arnold.)

A long wheelbase version of the Innocenti Mini (utilising the Estate floorpan), coachbuilt by “Embo”. This photo was published in the 1982-83 Spanish car catalogue “Velocidad”. (Picture kindly supplied by Graham Arnold.)

The sophisticated three-cylinder turbo version... (Picture: Retro Auto magazine)

The sophisticated three-cylinder turbo version… (Picture: Retro Auto magazine)


Magazine articles

Motor Road Test: Innocenti Mini De Tomaso

INNI MINI MINY MO…

…catch a concept, let it go? Perhaps not, but whether or not BL is right to keep it off the UK market, one thing is for sure; it ain’t half fun! Jeremy Sinek has tested one.

BELIEVE IT or not, almost five years have already passed since Innocenti unveiled its pert little Mini-derived hatchback at the Turin Show and sparked off a chorus of pleas for BL to put it into production, or at least market the thing, in the UK. Sadly, that still hasn’t happened, and indeed, BL has in the meanwhile sold its Italian subsidiary to automotive entrepreneurial whizz-kid Alejandro de Tomaso, who has continued to churn out Bertone’s butch babies to the extent that they are now commonplace in practically all of Western Europe’s major cities, except our own.

Much as de Tomaso would like to export them to Britain, he isn’t allowed to, but of course there’s nothing to prevent the individual bringing one in privately, provided you, manage to cut, or at least disentangle, the relevant red tape. That was certainly no problem for Mario Condivi, who is the UK Concessionaire for Maserati and de Tomaso (the supercar variety), and whose daughter Loretta thereby took delivery last year of Willy, an Innocenti Mini of the de Tomaso variety, to give its full title.

Thus it is to Loretta that our gratitude is due for so generously, and bravely, allowing her personal transport to fall into our hands for a few days to be subjected to the rigours of a full Motor road test. It should be stressed, though, that this is not a formal road test of a car that is available through normal channels in this country; moreover, the car was a privately run example that had been plucked straight out of its owner’s hands without any of the meticulous preparation normally lavished on press demonstrators. Loretta’s car (which was swiftly and ever so neatly converted to right-hand-drive by one of Modena Concessionaires’ own mechanics) is the top model in a three-car range collectively known as Innocenti Minis, the individual models being the 90, the 120, and the de Tomaso. All three share the same Bertone-styled hatchback bodyshell, and are based mechanically on the basic box we all know and love so well, though with the front disc brakes and 12-inch diameter wheels of our top-of-the-UK-range 1275GT, and with a front-mounted radiator cooled by an electric fan.

Enginewise it’s the familiar A-series in 998cc form in the 90, and 1275cc form in the 120 and the de Tomaso, but performance-wise they’re like nothing that’s been seen in this country since the days of the Coopers. The 998, for example, is rated at 49bhp (DIN), 10bhp more than the UK version, while our own 1275GT’s 55bhp looks distinctly weedy compared to the 65bhp (DIN) of the 120, or the 71bhp (74 on 1978 models) of the de Tomaso. In fact the latter is to all intents and purposes in Cooper ‘S’ tune, though it uses a single 1.25in SU in place of the S’s twin 1.25s, and has an ordinary 1275 camshaft, advanced by 4 degrees, rather than the old S’s wider-overlap grind. What’s more, these pokey units are not specially breathed upon by some Italian tuning wizard, but are actually produced in the UK and then shipped out to the Italian manufacturer, which makes you wonder what’s to stop BL from slotting them into the 1275GT; excuses about ‘rationalisation’ begin to sound a bit hollow…

Should the sceptics among you be inclined to suspect the worth of Italian horses, we can only suggest you direct your attention to the performance figures, remembering as you do so that the Inni Mini is almost 2 cwt heftier than the home-grown variety, that the car we tested had been plucked straight out of the commuter routine in Central London, and that out of deference to its ‘civilian’ status we didn’t try too hard to shave every last tenth of a second off the standing start times. In spite of all of which, Loretta’s Mini turned in a set of figures not far off those of the original ‘S’, and comfortably quicker than practically any modern alternatives. The 0-60 mph sprint, for example, took 12.0 sec, compared to 10.9 sec for the ‘S’, 12.9 sec for the 1275GT, 13.0 sec for the Fiesta 1300S, 13.9 sec for the Peugeot 104ZS and 12.3 sec for Fiat’s 127 Sport. Its maximum speed lap (in windy conditions) round MIRA’s banking of 94.7mph wasn’t quite so impressive, but still good; the Cooper S (96.8) and Fiesta 1300S (96.6) are faster, but the Peugeot (94.3), the Fiat (92.5), and the 1275GT (88.7) were all slower.

In top gear the BMC cars are clear leaders, the Inni taking 9.4 sec for the 30-50mph increment compared to 9.0 sec for the 1275GT and the S’s astonishing 7.3 sec; the Ford (11.0 sec), Peugeot (13.2 sec) and Fiat(11.9 sec) are a long way adrift, and for the 50-70mph speed increment the story is much the same except that the Inni Mini has overtaken its modern British counterpart. So it’s certainly got the urge to go with its cheeky charm, and from the driver’s seat you don’t half know it. The engine has that raring-to-go eagerness that’s the hallmark of any nicely tuned A-series, zipping up through the rev range at the merest tickle of the throttle and making you want to keep blipping the pedal just for the sheer fun of it. Even if it’s not quite as flexible as the 1275GT, it’s still got the same quickly-without-trying punch in the low and middle rev ranges, yet revs much more freely and smoothly at the top end.

The absence of the British car’s engine-driven cooling fan eliminates at a stroke one major Mini noise source, and although the Inni substitutes another for it, the negligible silencing of the Italian car’s intake and exhaust is hard to dislike, except for a rather nasty mid-range boom period. At the bottom end the carburation growls, developing a rasping snarl at about 70mph, then smooths out to a remarkable degree at 80mph, at which speed it’ll cruise quite happily without drowning out the radio and is quite capable of creeping up to 90mph without you even noticing it.

Good ratios and a snappy, quick gearchange nicely complement the bubbling-over-with-enthusiasm engine, and although the clutch action is a little sharp and juddery on take-off, it’s easy to make smooth gearchanges on the move. Larger tyres compensate for a lower final drive ratio to give identical gearing to the 1275GT, at 16.5mph per 1000rpm, but the steady speed fuel consumption is nonetheless a long way down on the (exceptionally good) figures we recorded with the 1275GT, resulting in a touring consumption down from 39.6mpg to 33.5mpg (34.6 on the ‘S’). Similarly, our usual enthusiastic driving gobbled fuel at the rate of 28.2mpg overall, compared to the GT’s out-standing 33.4mpg and the S’s 29.9mpg. Even so, it’s not a bad figure on a fun-per-gallon basis.

The fun continues with the handling, which is much the same as the British car’s except that the quick steering is a little heavier — which isn’t necessarily such a bad thing as it provides a shade more feel — and with the fatter tyres the roadholding is even better. The handling is chuckable and safe and the attitude understeer or tuck-in, can be controlled at will with your right foot. The only flaw is the easily-provoked steering tug and wheelspin when powering out of a 2nd or 3rd gear corner.

Braking effort is a little on the heavy side, but the system is nonetheless powerful and progressive. With its heavier body and lighter (alloy) wheels we expected the Inni Mini to behave better on bumps than the British car, but that proved not to be the case. It is similar, i.e. just about acceptable, over small bumps and most sharp edges, but the jerks and sheer bounciness over large bumps and humps were, if anything even worse — to the extent that on country lanes we sometimes had to slow down just to keep from hitting the roof; perhaps the heavier body has the effect of using up some of the already very limited spring travel, a theory supported by the fact that the ride deteriorates further with a load aboard.

Accommodation-wise, what you gain on the roundabout compared to the normal Mini you lose on the swings. What you gain is a lifting tailgate providing access to a boot slightly larger than normal, and the facility to tip the rear seat forward to obtain a flat and usefully shaped cargo deck. What you lose is some legroom, not because the interior is any shorter than the British car’s, but as a consequence of valuable fractions of inches stolen by the more plushly upholstered front seats. On the other hand, said seats really are quit comfy, and help you make the most of the strange driving position forced on you by the curiously angled steering wheel.

Switchgear follows Italian rather than British practice, with the light master switch on the facia, and one left hand column stalk that alternatively selects side, dipped or headlights, and also operates the horn; a smaller left hand stalk operates the indicators, while that on the right of the column caters for the wash/wipe systems.

The heating system has proper slide controls for both distribution and temperature, the effectiveness of which could not properly be determined during the warm weather of our test; ventilation is by ram effect only, through face-level penny-flap vents, and didn’t seem quite as effective as in the British version. Highly reflective glasses in individual round housings cover the numerous instruments, which comprise of speedometer and tachometer with needles rotating clockwise and anti-clockwise respectively, and smaller gauges covering battery voltage, water temperature, oil pressure and fuel level. The whole instrument pack is set into a neat, symmetrical facia moulding which must have greatly facilitated the right-hand-drive conversion, with a useful open compartment on the opposite side where the instruments used to be.

There are bins on the doors — the latter trimmed in vinyl and a denim-like cloth that matches the seat upholstery — with further bins either side of the rear seat, and the floor is covered by a tidy one-piece carpet. The fairly plush overall effect is somewhat let down, though, by large areas of bare painted metal. As for the exterior appearance, the pictures speak for themselves.

We found it irresistible; an engaging little car with an on-the-road performance as chirpy as its appearance; but it isn’t, as has sometimes been suggested, the car that BL should have produced as the successor to the Mini. For all its charm, the Inni Mini still has all the old failings of the original article — turbulent ride and high noise levels especially — with even less passenger space. Nonetheless, there would surely be a market for it as a cult-car appealing both to chic-about-town Chelsea-ites, and “bring-back the Cooper S” enthusiasts.

Keith Adams

Editor and creator AROnline at AROnline
Editor at AROnline and @hjclassics. Likes cars, taking pictures, travelling and knee-high boots...


26 Responses

  1. David A Thompson - November 2, 2011

    Another crazy BL decision not to market this in the UK.

  2. Nate - August 9, 2012

    Even considering the fact that the Innocenti Mini had even less passenger space than the original Mini, had BL brought the car to the UK market under the Austin brand (i.e. Austin Mini-Match?) and included a production version of the Embo Coachbuilt LWB version (along with other bodystyles) to appeal to those looking for something a chic, plusher, modern / practical and sporting Mini, they could have gradually phased out the original mini and later marketed the car to sit beneath the Metro (albeit in sub-1.0 two or three-cylinder form with engines being sourced from Daihatsu or Honda) in order to cater for younger / budget-conscious drivers.

    Apparently the 2-cylinder versions of the Daihatsu Era Innocenti Mini were originally intended to be powered by a Moto Guzzi 650 cc V-twin motorcycle engine, though the work and cost involved in making the unit suitable for a car led Innocenti to use engines from the Daihatsu Cuore instead.

  3. Nate - November 27, 2012

    Based on the following photo, it appears a 5-door Innocenti Mini prototype was developed though not given the final go-ahead.

    http://img145.imageshack.us/img145/570/innocentimini5poz1.jpg

  4. Phil Simpson - July 28, 2013

    The five door version looks like another missed opportunity.

  5. didierz65 didierz65 - July 29, 2013

    This was a winner, add BL’s management pride and the rest is history!!! There were plenty of these in France, along with Autobianchi A112, they beat the Mini in every department but price, but then again, UK minis were a money pit…

  6. James Riley James - July 29, 2013

    I’m surprised there aren’t more comparisons with this and the ill-fated Issigonis 9X. This is essentially what the 9X was supposed to be. How come the italians managed to build it launch it and we failed miserably? Why didn’t someone in the UK operation nab these blueprints and put the bloomin thing straight into production? Arguably this wouldn’t have resulted in a longer life for the Mini, but it might have maintained better sales in the short term.

  7. colin clarke - July 30, 2013

    Yet another example of hidebound management taking decisions on the “we know what’s best for our customers” principle. you could never accuse them of attempting to make anything with a bit of pizzaz, that’s for sure

  8. Nate - July 30, 2013

    James – July 29, 2013

    Well in the case of the 9X, it was roughly 2-inches(?) shorter yet more spacious then the original Mini while the Innocenti was cramped in comparison.

    Though with Minki-inspired improvements (e.g. 3/4-cylinder K-Series with 5-speed gearbox, R6 Metro/100-style Hydragas suspension, improved driving position / interior / fascia / controls / etc), a UK-built Innocenti Mini could have potentially lasted as long as the original Mini.

    Especially if the UK Innocenti Mini was pitched below the alternate LC8 Austin / MG Metro and later “AR6X” Rover 100 (a production AR6 with the styling of R6X).

  9. KC - November 26, 2013

    The earlier versions especially are a dead ringer for the Fiat 127.

  10. Paul - November 26, 2013

    @1 – Even crazier that at the same time Bertone was setting this style for Innocenti, back in the UK BL was adopting Harris Mans design (if you can call it that) for its crucial ADO16 replacement, the Allegro. If the thick, arrogant, internal politic driven idiots that ran BL had adopted something like this, but on a larger scale, the Allegro really would have been Britain’s Golf rather than the national joke it became.

  11. Graham SAS - November 26, 2013

    You would think this would have been a decent boost for BL if introduced in 1974/75. A full four or five years before Metro. Sadly NIH (not invented here) and lack of money ruled the day…

  12. rob - November 27, 2013

    i do remember seeing one of the de-tomaso ones eleventy-twelvety years ago when i was a lad and thinking “how cool is that”- cos we knew what it was as my sticker album had the innocenti cars listed!

  13. Kev - November 27, 2013

    For all the abuse being handed out – “NIH (not invented here) and lack of money ruled the day” – “…. thick, arrogant, internal politic driven idiots that ran BL….” – etc, etc – there is one major fact that you don’t know. When the deal to produce the Mini in Italy was put in place, it contained a clause that precluded the products being sold back to the UK market. This clause was added to prevent UK built cars being undercut by low labour rate imports.

  14. Will M - November 27, 2013

    I can sort of understand where BL management were coming from.

    The original car was selling at a loss, or at least by the 70s with a very small margin.

    Bringing in extra tooling, extra bodywork etc., paying royalties to Innocenti and trying to build it in the UK probably wouldn’t have turned a profit unless it was priced accordingly – in which case it probably wouldn’t sell.

  15. Graham SAS - November 27, 2013

    I accept Kevs point that these couldn’t be sold back to the UK. Given BLs situation there would have been little, if any, spare money to put the car into production in the UK as a Metro stopgap in the mid 70s.

  16. Kev - November 28, 2013

    Re 15: What money there was available was being gobbled up by the SD1. That’s why we got the Ital – it was all we could afford after King’s folly. It’s why the Metro had to labour on with the A series engine and that bloody awful transmission, instead of the 3 pot motor from the Charade – we couldn’t afford the licence.

  17. Slartybartfast - November 28, 2013

    When I look at the Innocenti Mini I ask myself one question. Why?. Its the un-coolest pug of its time. Someone clearly decided to take up car design using only their feet. The only thing it had in its favour was the hatchback. Why ever the Allegro was stopped from becoming a hatchback beggars belief.
    Sorry if you love the Innocenti and own one.

  18. Kev - November 28, 2013

    Re 17: You’re speaking with the benefit of hindsight. When Allegro was laid out, the ‘hatchback’ was a thing of the future. Those that had been around, like the A40, were relative failures compared to the booted 1100 and 1300. In those days, if you wanted a big door at the back, you bought an estate.

  19. Slartybartfast - November 29, 2013

    @18 I take your point, hindsight true but Harris Mann did originally intend the Allegro to be a far sportier sleek hatchback. I really admire Harris Mann, he was way ahead of his contemporaries of that period. He was the right man in the wrong company, which is a real shame.

  20. Graham - November 29, 2013

    I was told by an Italian involved in this car was that it was cheaper to build than a standard mini yet could attract a higher price. This was because it needed less pressings and was easier to assemble.

    I think it should have been brought to the UK, fitted with hydragas it would have been 9/10 th of a Metro and used to replace the 5 year old Clubman or sold as a Triumph.

  21. Martin - November 29, 2013

    This rare to see in UK Innocenti De Tomaso 1275cc hatch is currently for sale on ebay……hope it goes to a good home:
    http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/VERY-RARE-COLLECTIBLE-INNOCENTI-DE-TOMASO-BL-LEYLAND-CARS-MINI-1275-GT-/321260865230?ssPageName=ADME:L:LCA:GB:1123

  22. Jonathan Carling Jonathan Carling - November 30, 2013

    The 3-pot Daihatsu engine arrived in 1982 I believe

  23. Kev - December 3, 2013

    Re 22: That particular engine was around for a long time before that – just not in the UK.

    You probably don’t know about the Wankel engined Metro either.

  24. Christopher Storey - December 3, 2013

    It had a hatchback, but in every other way was bargain basement stuff, using Russian steel which melted away as you looked at it – the Fiat 127 and Alfasud being prime examples of this. It is wonderful what rose coloured specs and a tendency to prefer the exotic will do posthumously for a car’s reputation

  25. Kev - December 3, 2013

    Re 24: Contrary to rumours, the big influx of Eastern-Bloc steel was Polish, rather than Soviet. But the origin wasn’t the real issue. The corrosion issues of the time were due to a dubious flirtation with single-sided zinc coating….

    That being said, the bulk of steel used by PSF was from British Steel.

  26. Nate - December 3, 2013

    23) Kev

    Rotary Metro, really?! And I thought the Issigonis 1300cc 6-cylinder 9X engine in an MG Metro body was a bit crazy.

    Do any sources / information exist regarding the Rotary Metro? The only thing I can find are a few bits of info at the nortonownersclub.

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