The cars : Innocenti Mini 90/120 (P53) development story

In 1974, Leyland’s Italian subsidiary Innocenti introduced a rebodied, three-door hatchback Mini, styled by Bertone. However, within a year of its launch, BLMC went bankrupt, the company was sold to de Tomaso and the opportunity to sell the Innocenti Mini 90/120 in the UK was lost forever.

Prior to the launch of the Austin 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.

The full story: Innocenti Mini 90L/120L

Innocenti Mini 90/120

Now regarded as one of British Leyland’s most stylish missed opportunities, the Bertone-bodied Innocenti 90/120 was several years in the making, even though it wasn’t until after the UK takeover of the Italian carmaker that it was able to build its supermini challenger. Launched in 1974, the Innocenti 90 and 120 were aimed at fighting the Fiat 127 and Autobianchi A112 in their home market, and the class-leading Renault 5 and abroad. This was a task beyond the original Innocenti Mini.

First thoughts on its replacement were in 1967, alongside the Innocenti family’s increasing desire to build its own small car, which didn’t need to rely on shipped-in components from the UK. By the following year the Innocenti 750 was beginning to take shape – powered by an all-new four-cylinder engine, and featuring all-independent suspension by McPherson struts up front and semi-trailing arms at the rear.

Styling came down to two proposals – one from Michelotti, and the other from Bertone (both pictured below). If Michelotti wasn’t aware of the BMC 9X project, then this was a remarkable piece of parallel thinking reflecting the then-current zeitgeist.

The Innocenti 750 takes shape in 1968

Innocenti 90/120
Michelotti’s proposal for the Innocenti 750 was neat and tidy looking (note the 10in Innocenti Mini wheels)
Innocenti 90/120
Another view of the Micholetti-styled Innocenti 750 prototype. Parallels with the BMC 9X prototype – but were they linked? (Photo: Chris Cowin)
Innocenti Mini 90/120
Innocenti 750 (Photo: Registro Storico Innocenti group on Facebook)

The 750 was certainly an ambitious project, especially considering Innocenti had yet to build a car on its own. It had, to this point, relied on the UK for its product and, even if it wrapped up a car in new clothes, they would be brought in from local carrozzeria – not that there was anything wrong with that. So, a car with a new drivetrain, suspension and body would be a big step up, a realisation of the Innocenti family’s dreams.

Following a long period of soul searching and no doubt a long, hard look at the accounts, Innocenti chose to shelve its 750 project and renew its seven-year contract with BLMC to continue building its cars under licence. As well as the financial strain of developing its all-new car, Innocenti was being crippled by ongoing industrial unrest during Italy’s disastrous hot autumn, the country’s equivalent of our Winter of Discontent during 1969.

The troubles were deep, and the inevitable happened. The Innocenti family sold the company in 1969 and, following a long period of intense negotiation, the car building division, Innocenti Autoveicoli, was sold to BLMC, to become Innocenti Leyland Spa in May 1972.

Innocenti 90/120
Bertone’s proposed Mini 750 was styled by Marcello Gandini

The new Mini project progresses under BLMC

So, it wasn’t until after the company was completely taken over by British Leyland that serious work on a new car began. The Turin-based company had previously approached Bertone and Michelotti asking them to submit design proposals for its new small car – but its poor financial performance, which led it to fall into the hands of BL, also meant that the promising programme had to be put on hold.

BLMC’s former Financial Controller Geoffrey Robinson was the bright young executive drafted in to run Innocenti Leyland SpA. He took little time in persuading Donald Stokes to sign off this stalled project when it became clear just how much effect the new Autobianchi A112 was having on the sales of the Innocenti Mini in Italy. He nurtured the project, which went by the codename P53, and did his best to keep cost information out of the prying eyes of British Leyland’s bean counters.

Of the two styling proposals previously mooted, Robinson preferred Bertone’s and, consequently, the Italian carrozzeria was commissioned to prepare the new design for production, while also devising a new interior. There was no budget for the 750cc engine that Innocenti wanted so, as well as using the Mini’s floopan and running gear, it also retained its engine and transmission-in-sump. A useful upgrade over the Mini was a front-mounted radiator with electric cooling fan – reason enough for the new Innocenti to be more refined than the car it was so heavily based upon.

Innocenti 90/120
The Bertone proposal for Innocenti’s new Mini replacement – note the prominent Leyland roundel (Photo: Mini & British Lifestyle)

New Innocenti Mini breaks cover in Turin

The new-style Mini was originally launched at October 1974’s Turin Motor Show. It was 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.

Although it was pure Mini under the skin, the big changes were reserved for the new three-door body and interior, which boasted a new dashboard, seats and other fitments. In a booming supermini market, this was just the product to expand Innocenti’s business and, despite being a fully-owned BL subsidiary since 1972, the future looked bright for this car, and its maker.

At the 1975 Geneva Motor Show, Austin Morris Managing Director Keith Hopkins talked about the Innocenti 90/120 hatchback Mini. He said: ‘This is another example of the versatility of the original Mini concept which was presented to the public at Earls Court 15 years ago. This new Innocenti will consolidate and improve our position in the highly competitive Italian market where, despite difficult economic conditions, sales of the current Mini range are running at 40,000 a year.’

The troubles soon become apparent

The main problem with the Innocenti 90/120 was that it was more expensive than its rivals on the Italian market. Also, its interior packaging was inferior to the original Mini, and it was not a genuine four seater, although it was good enough to carry children in the rear. Geoffrey Robinson was of the opinion that the car had needed an extra 9in in length, and that would have cost an extra £1 million, which Leyland Innocenti did not have.

When questioned why the P53 90/120 would not be sold in Britain, British Leyland said: ‘When a new Mini does arrive from BL it will be a completely new package not just a shell.’ With production of the P53 having begun in September 1974, Leyland-Innocenti began to run down production of the traditionally-shaped Mini, which finally ended in January 1975.

However, a combination of BL’s financial troubles and ultimate Government bailout, and its troubled disposal of Innocenti in an Italian Government-brokered deal to Alejandro de Tomaso, meant that meaningful development of the car wouldn’t take place until much later in its life. It also meant that this promising car was never officially imported into the UK.

Innocenti de Tomaso

Innocenti Mini de Tomaso
Innocenti Mini de Tomaso

Following the sale 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.

UK availability

Towards the end of 1979, with the Metro’s launch still almost a year away, Islington-based dealer London Garages Limited 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 Austin 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 Austin 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 two-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 five-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 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 supplied by Graham Arnold)
A five-door Innocenti Mini prototype that originally appeared in the Italian magazine 4R Quattroruote. Thanks to the Registro Storico Innocenti group on Facebook
A five-door Innocenti Mini prototype that originally appeared in the Italian magazine 4R Quattroruote. Thanks to the Registro Storico Innocenti group on Facebook
The sophisticated three-cylinder turbo version... (Picture: Retro Auto magazine)
The sophisticated three-cylinder turbo version… (Picture: Retro Auto magazine)

Magazine article

Motor Road Test, August 1979: Innocenti Mini De Tomaso


…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.

Innocenti de Tomaso

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 whizzkid 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.

What is a Mini de Tomaso?

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.

Engine-wise 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…

Mini de Tomaso performance

Should the skeptics 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 2cwt 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.

Innocenti de Tomaso

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.

What’s the Mini de Tomaso like to drive?

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 outstanding 33.4mpg and the S’s 29.9mpg. Even so, it’s not a bad figure on a fun-per-gallon basis.

Handling and ride

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.

Mini de Tomaso interior room

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 quite 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 fascia, 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 fascia 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


  1. 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.

  2. 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…

  3. 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.

    • it was a bl product , built in the uk , shipped out to Italy in crates , put together in the innocent factory then sold on , and sometimes exported back to the uk . how mad was that .

  4. 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

  5. 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).

  6. @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.

  7. 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…

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

    • But that wouldn’t have stopped them building them in the UK or adopting Bertone styling for UK designed products. 5 years on my comment stands!

      • It could have made in Britain and Italy, and been marketed as New Mini. Instead the 1959 Mini and its ugly 1969 Clubman version were left to soldier on through the seventies and become completely outclassed by superior rivals from Chrysler, Ford, Fiat, Renault, Volkswagen and Datsun.

        • As the Clubman was 5 years old when this was launched, I think it would have made a good Clubman replacement or it could have been launched as a Triumph and filled a 5 year gap till the Metro was delivered.

  10. 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.

    • Innocenti was at this time owned by Leyland, any royalties would have been “wooden dollar” transactions within the group.

      Yes it would have taken investment, however it would tanks to it more modern styling been able to be sold at a higher price point than the Clubman, which was 5 years old at this time.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. @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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. I had a 120L in c. 1998, and absolutely loved it. Horrendous propensity to rust, but genuinely put a smile on my face every time I even looked at it.

    • The contractual agreement with Innocenti didn’t allow them to be sold here. Those that did get to the UK were via unofficial routes. It was a shame as you say.

  22. I have two Innocenti DeTomaso’s and both are great cars. The latest one came in from Genoa and is totally reus free!

  23. I consistent comment on this thread is that a contractual agreement stopped BL selling the car in the UK and so it could not have been used to replace / supplement the Mini outside Italy.

    To me this does not stack up.

    1st the car was conceived and funded when Innocenti was owned by Leyland and as a result there was no barrier for this project to include UK production. ( The car did not just materialise in 1974 it must have been in concept for 2 to 4 years if not longer.)

    2nd Even after sale of Innocenti a deal could still have been brokered, as new contracts can be written.

    I still hold that the car could and should have been brought to the UK from the outset as a Mini Clubman replacement or as a Triumph. The hydragas mini subframes were also developed, so giving hydragas would have cost relatively little to bring to production and with ADO17 and Maxi volumes so low, production capacity could have been released at Cowley by reverting the Maxi line back to the Mini by consolidating the two large Austins onto one line.This would have meant that for what amounted to pennies they could have had 9/10 ths of a Metro in the market 74/75 which was bag on when it was needed in the market.

    It might just have been sufficient to keep British Leyland as a volume producer after the Allegro failed and so made the Ryder plan viable.

    • Something to consider with the Innocenti Mini (and Mini in general) if it was brought into the UK as a Triumph and was somehow able to be sold in markets with harsh emission laws like the US (or North America in general), could it have carried over the Triumph 1300-1500 engine in the same way the 1974 MG Midget 1500 ended up using the Triumph Spitfire engine?

      Granted it would have been simpler to carry over the A-Series or at least use an earlier A+ or A-OHC for such a car, yet cannot help but be fascinated by the notion given the Triumph engine’s similarity to the A-Series.

      • Or the E Series if it could have been made to fit. I understand the E Series was designed with the expectation that the UK / Europe would tighten as the US emissions, it is I understand why the engine was a bit of a weak performer.

        For that matter could they have used the MGC with the E6 as an update of the MGB.

        • Maybe it could have worked as a 1.2-litre 3-cylinder version of a properly updated (aka S-Series) 1.6 E-Series, with elements of the 1113cc 3-cylinder engine from the BL ECV3 so such an engine could put out around 67-83 hp at most.

          A 4-cylinder E-Series in a Mini would be pushing it, even if the Innocenti Mini received the same treatment as wide-body Mini Clubman prototype. In which case they’d be better off fitting the Triumph unit into the Mini, if it could have easily been mounted transversely and mated to an in-sump (or even end-on) gearbox.

          Such a variant would have slotted above the Mini 1275GT at 65-71 hp and 77-82 lb⋅ft in 1493cc form for the home market compared with the 54-59 hp and 65-67 lb⋅ft of the Mini 1275GT or even the 65 hp and 72 lb⋅ft of the existing Innocenti Mini.120L (sans the 71-74 hp Innocenti Mini 1275 De Tomaso or the Cooper S performance of the BL Special tuning kits).

          Would not be much different though with emissions-strangled US spec versions of the Triumph engine, yet the same was the case with emissions-strangled versions of the A-Series engine despite the Triumph featuring a bit more torque.

          It is perplexing as to why they never attempted to fit the 2.2-2.6 E6 into a MGB unless they saw the 2-litre O-Series as a better alternative, though the E6 with decent tuning could potentially step on the toes of the admittingly softly-tuned 137 hp MGB GT V8 (although that could have easily been remedied by using the 155 hp Rover SD1 3500 V8 spec engine).

          • Is not issue with the E series FWD form its height rather than width (after all found its way under the bonnet of both ADO16 with little modification) and, was this not because of the intention to fit the E6 in the Ado17 with side radiator and so restricting its length and so the ability to increase the cylinder bore.

            Given the Innocenti had a front radiator with an electric fan, would this have released enough room for the E series and with the re-skin the chance to accommodate its height, if not then a power hump?

            If sold as a Triumph or Clubman, a 1500 with twin carbs and a tubular exhaust could have been the range topping Triumph / Clubman Mini Sprint on top of a 1100 base and 1275 mid-range models and 1500 single carb (leather and wood) luxury model.

            I think the issue with the MGB/C was that Triumph was selected as the future sports car brand, so thus the MGB was seen to need to just hang on till the TR7 arrived (why the US never git the MGB V8). Not entirely a bad idea, other than they missed that MGB had a good US following and as a stop gap parts bin special had sold well at a good price to its US customers.

          • There is the issue of height as well as weight of the E-Series engine so not sure how it would have been an improvement over the small A-Series and Triumph 4-cylinder engines, the only way to reduce the height of the engine would be to mate it to an end-on gearbox layout and that would in turn entail increasing both the width and length of the Mini, based on how a Maestro-sourced A-Plus with end-on gearbox was too tight a fit during the original Minki project (prior to increasing the later Minki-II by 2-inches at the wheelbase and width to fit a 1.4 K-Series with an end-on gearbox).

            While hearing about the E-Series allegedly being tested in a Mini Clubman test car in 1500cc form, the only concrete evidence for an E-Series Mini at this time is the 1750cc Mini one-off by Andy Saunders and not sure how he went about modifying the Mini in order to fit the 1750cc E-Series lump. –

            IIRC the wide-body Mini Clubman prototype either featured the same width as the Austin Allegro or was basically derived from a SWB Allegro platform in an attempt to reduce costs, hence why it seems more plausible for such a model to carry over the E-Series engine yet on the other hand it is mentioned that the standard Mini Clubman was developed the way it was with the E-Series in mind.

            It can be argued the selection of Triumph as a maker of sportscars over MG also negatively effected further development of the E-Series engines to some extent and BL’s refusal to standardize the Downton E-Series improvements over to the rest of the E-Series powered range, which would have otherwise help elevate the E-Series from mediocre at best to at least class competitive.

  24. Am assuming the new 750cc engine which Innocenti wanted was in fact the 750cc version of the 9X engine, otherwise could the 750cc (or 721cc) A-Series allegedly used (or planned for use) in Chilean Minis as a low-tax special have sufficed in Italy?

  25. @ Nate, there were still Fiats in production with even smaller engines and the Citroen 2 CV with a 602 cc engine, so 750 would have been enough for a city car in Italy. Also high petrol prices and a taxation system that was favourable to small cars would help in Italy.

  26. there was still most space for patriotic buyers in the ’70s, so I do not know if it could have been a real success in Uk. Someway this car (at least its underpinnings) extended lifespan in Italy to the ’90s, but this was only due to an extended engine range which also brought the then indispensable 5-speed box. The 90/120 appeared in 1974 was widely appreciated for its look, soon became a youngsters dream but soon it was realized that missing 5th gear, unadequate suspension arrangement sole 2-doors chassis did soon labelled Innocenti as a minor contender in italian market. In 1980 Metro was selling far better, even in Italy

  27. Chronologically was under the impression the Mini-Mini project (featuring a wheelbase reduced by 4-6 inches and overall reduction of 9 inches in length) was the genesis for both the 9X and later the Mini-based Innocenti Mini?

    Both the suspension and engine displacement for the Innocenti 750 sound exactly like the 9X, so find it difficult to believe the Innocenti 750 was an independent project and not a planned Italian built 9X with proposed Bertone or Michelotti styling.

    What was originally meant to be a 750cc sub-Mini car for Innocenti by Issigonis eventually drifted away from its project brief to become a potential clean-sheet Mini replacement.

  28. In 1977 while working in Tunisia we hired one of these cars in Tunis, to get to a location town called Sfax. Although small, it was big enough to get the two of us there and our equipment + suitcases. I remember it was quite nippy too.

  29. Just reading this story again, I wondered why they chose the mini to base the car on and not the 1100? This was already produced in Italy and had the extra wheelbase size would have given it the room as Geoffrey Robinson wanted. Yes it would have been bigger than the Autobianchi A112 but it would have been comparable with the Renault 5 that was launched 2 years previously.

    • Just looked at this again. If Geoffrey Robinson thought it needed to be bigger, why didn’t they use the Mini Van/Estate platform? Was it because it was not produced in Italy? If so why not use the 1100 as per my previous comment.

      • Yes that would have given them an extra 10 cm in the wheelbase and the mini is quite wide for its length so I do not think the proportions would have been hurt by such a gain and would have provided a useful 100mm in wheelbase..

        Robinson is not wrong, to hit the Supermini market square on the head they would have needed to be 20cm longer wheelbase, although 12 to 16 cm wider to which it might have been cheaper and quicker to shorten the Ado16 platform than widen and lengthen the Mini platform.

        The Ado16 would have been I think too big for the Italian market at that time, Innocenti had had limited success with it in the market, however options like a 4 and 5 door and tooling cost savings might have at the end of the day work better.

      • When the now Daihatsu powered Innocenti 990 appeared in 1986 under De Tomaso with additional 6-inches in its wheelbase, it was understood to be a dusting-down of the long-wheelbase model proposed in the British Leyland era.

        That earlier model was likely the 1982 LWB Innocenti Mini concept by Embo using the Estate floorpan with the bodywork extended by simply adding an insert behind the B-pillar, resulting in a less elegant form of what later would later become the finished 990 model.

        • The problem is the later 990 loses a lot of the funkiness of the original styling, it is subtle because I remember in the mid to late 70s seeing a white Innocenti 120 somebody had at the Whitley Plant, as a car mad school boy I nearly wet myself at its sheer funkyness with its raspy exhaust, and its boxy cuteness.

          Few years later on seeing a 990 in Italy, I wondered why I thought it looked so good, as it looked not so special, only later still seeing the two together you see the reason is the stretch, it just throws the proportions out.

          The solution would have been to make it something like 4 inches wider and 3 inches higher but that would have taken some serious engineering effort.

          The more I think about this I think they missed a trick, Innocenti were going to pull the slow selling ADO16 from the market, so using the Ado16 platform as a basis for a shortened 2300mm wheelbase supermini (Polo sized) would have enabled them to use existing and modified Ado16 tooling that was now surplus to requirements whilst retaining (Mini Clubman with square headlamps?) as an entry level model may have been a better way to go.

          • The 990 was only 0.18 inches shy of ADO16’s width at 60.2-inches vs 60.38-inches, whereas the Metro’s and Allegro’s width was 61-61.6-inches and 63-inches respectively.

            Meanwhile later versions of the Metro based R6X were said to have included an additional 4-inches in the wheelbase, with the 990’s close dimensions to the Metro suggesting it was similarly capable of additional increases in wheelbase.

          • When comparing width you need to compare like with like and so width without mirrors to be sure not to include 20 years of mirror growth.

            Then you find the Innocenti Mini are 1295mm width v ADO16 1534mm width and Metro 1550 mm

          • Opps made an error there, Innocenti Mini is 1359mm.without mirrors.

            As it sits on mini floor and subframes it achieves its 3.5 inch growth in width by swelling out over its wheels and some flalred wheel arches.

          • Thanks for clearing that aspect on the subject of width.

            Not completely against the idea of the Mini’s width (let alone a LWB one) being increased to a certain extent if only for the purpose of accommodating a different transmission layout as seen in the Minki-II project, that said having seen an image of a wide-body Clubman prototype (alongside a regular Clubman) that may very well have been the same width as the Allegro the result does not translate all that well.

            What is interesting about the Mini and later the Metro platforms would be how they were able to be stretched out with the R6X project’s later 4-inch increase in wheelbase equating to an approximate wheelbase of about 92.6-inches / 2352mm (and length of about 138-inches), whether the platforms could be stretched out more in terms of width is another matter yet not completely out of the question so long as the increase is not too extreme.

  30. That initial Innocenti 750 concept is fascinating but ridiculously ambitious for a tiny independent company. A clean sheet design, with its all new engine and chassis, to be sold in a sector of the market notorious for its slim profit margins, against the might of Fiat…

    • Looking at those photos I am not sure if that is 100% a clean sheet design. The wheels look very mini sized, and there does not look much difference in wheelbase. Was this a clean sheet design or was it the 9x or the barrel mini with a new body? These projects were running back in blighty, and if money had been available one of them would have been made, and make Innocent look to base the new car on the new model?

      • Though had a 2nd thought. Maybe this was just a proposal that Michelotti built for Innocenti on a Mini platform? Many manufacturers use other manufacturers cars to develop new models.

        • Cannot see the rear of the Michelotti Innocenti 750 proposal to make a full judgement, that said from other angles it does have a slight resemblance to the Reliant Kitten.

  31. I’m reminded of the Gen 1 Fiat Panda ( long gone due to Italian specifications of rust protection) and another long-forgotten car, the Lancia Y10 known to the few who recall it as Lancia white hen

  32. Thank you for the New Pictures Keith of Michelotti.

    Whilst the car had far too many flaws to be considered a true replacement for the Mini (although nor did the Metro succeed in this 6 years later), I still believe that this car enhanced by the fitment of long cone suspension (which took until 99 to be fitted to the Mini some 25 +years later than they were developed by Moulton) or the hydragas suspension Moulton developed for the Mini adapting his own as a technology demonstrator would have served as a very effective replacement of the then 5 year old Mini Clubman and allowed British Leyland to focus on resources on resolving the “Dumpster Fire” that was their mid sized offering in the 70s instead of the Ado88 whilst costing very little to bring to market.

    Even sadder that British Leyland would have delivered this car into the market bang on time for the fuel crisis and well ahead of Ford with the Fiesta, for once they would have been lucky!

    The other puzzling aspect, is that British Leyland executives must have seen the work of Gandini and Michelotti and whilst knowing the Allegro was a car aimed at the wider European market did not question the direction Mann was taking with its styling.

  33. For info: As mentioned in the article, outside Italy the Innocenti 90/120 cars were marketed through the BL network in eight countries which were France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria (all from around 1974) – and for a shorter period at the end of the ’70s/1980 Spain and Portugal. They appear to have been considered (but not imported in any volume) by Denmark. As Keith mentions, this resulted in an overlap with Metro (launched on the continent in early 1981) in some markets like Germany and the Netherlands (but not all as the Innocenti was dropped earlier in France for example) – but it should be noted Metro was infinitely better “packaged” and offered much more interior space than the 90/120/Mille.
    Another aspect of this story is that – to avoid hurting sales of the 90/120 in its native Italy (one must presume) British Leyland did not import the traditional Mini to Italy in the late ’70s. This was despite Innocenti having halted production of the classic Mini, and Leyland having sold Innocenti so that Leyland Italia was from 1976 an independent sales organization. (By contrast after Innocenti stopped building their Allegro-based Regent, Leyland Italia started importing in 1976 the “British” Austin Allegro – typically via assembly in Seneffe, Belgium).
    The only “British” Mini you could buy in Italy between 1976 and 1982 (when Austin Rover Italia reintroduced the classic Mini) was the Clubman Estate (which was very popular).
    That decision to restrict competition on Innocenti’s home turf, and the agreement to distribute the 90/120 across the rest of Europe (where Innocenti had no independent sales network) would have greatly helped the viability of the 90/120 by bolstering production volumes.
    Which was in the interests of British Leyland – as while Innocenti continued to build the 90/120 they remained a huge customer for the engines and other mechanical components exported from the UK – and at the end of day more of those things were being built (which helped BL’s “economies of scale” and turnover) than if the 90/120 had been rendered unviable by low volumes and died.

    When sold through the BL network outside Italy, the 90/120/Mille counted in calculations of British Leyland sales volume and market share.
    In 1982 when Innocenti switched to Daihatsu engines (and stopped being distributed via BL dealers across Europe) that ceased to be the case.

  34. Seeing at all stylish the Bertone bodywork is, it seems amazing that they weren’t asked to provide an option for ADO74. None of the ADO74 prototypes, including the Michelotti version, looks as sharp as the Innocenti Mini.

  35. It is interesting to compare the Innocenti 990 with the Austin Metro, the 990 was actually not that far off of the Metro in terms of length, wheelbase and width. Not to mention the 990 appeared to feature more luggage capacity at 10.5 cu. ft compared to the Metro’s 7.5 cu. ft or the later 100’s 8.1 cu. ft as well as the original 80-inch wheelbase Innocenti Mini’s 9.9 cu ft, yet would assume the extra luggage space comes at the expense of rear passenger space in the 990 compared to the Metro.

    Not sold on the idea the Mini needed an extensive rebody like the Innocenti’s given its cost and compromises in rear space along with the company’s reluctance to pay money to outside companies like Bertone, that is where Barrel Car aka Project Ant would have been a better alternative whilst retaining the styling cues of the previous Mini.

    However one lesson to draw upon from the Innocenti would be a LWB Mini platform would have been a better starting point for an early 70s Supermini compared to a shortened ADO16 / Allegro platform or a costly clean sheet design like 9X/10X and ADO74.

    Basically the Mini platform should have been thoroughly updated and underpinned two cars instead of just one car (that just happen to belatedly provide mechanicals to the Metro), similar to what was done at Innocenti where they sold both the SWB and LWB models simultaneously yet further differentiated into A-Segment (Mini) and B-Segment (Supermini) cars with increased component sharing.

    That in turn would allow the company to focus its energies on the LM project and maybe even allow the latter to later spawn an upper B-Segment sized model from the early 80s below the Maestro analogue yet above the LWB Mini-based Supermini, reminiscent of like how the larger Peugeot 205 indirectly replaced the Peugeot 104 with both being sold alongside each other for another 5 years.

      • Agree to some extent although the envisaged proposals appear to make use of a LWB-derived platform, whereas the Peugeot 104 Coupe was a SWB version though an actual non-SWB 104 Coupe was said to have been a possibility. –

        It is interesting to compare the saloon/coupe proposals with the mk1/mk2 VW Derby, Fiat 127 Coupe Moretti or Fiat 127 Coupe by Francis Lombardi, SEAT 1200 Sport, larger Fiat 128 Coupe / 3p and the later 2-door Austin Metro saloon prototype (even more so had the Innocenti Mini been Metro-sized from the beginning).

        Quite like the 2nd saloon/coupe proposal that vaguely brings to mind a heavily shrunken Audi Coupe B2, yet there are probably a few other cars as well that the proposal reminds me of.

  36. Somehow de Tomaso was able to keep using the name Mini. We can only assume this was under an agreement of some sort. An enterprising lawyer could find if this agreement was in some way perpetual, and if there is some de Tomaso successor… they could cause a profitable headache for BMW.

  37. The Mini was an outdated buzz box by the mid seventies and had woeful crash protection, a tiny boot, terrible refinement and poor interior space. Yes the car was quite sprightly, handled well and was cheap to run, but the new generation of superrminis were showing the Mini up as a relic from the 1950s. Had there been some agreement to make the Innocenti over here, then this could have acted as a decent stop gap until the Metro arrived in 1980.

  38. Even though it’s from a different era, the Innocenti Mini P53 looks more appealing to me than the more recent Indian built CityRover. For all its shortcomings the original Mini was still a suitable candidate for a first car (as it was for me for 10 months)

  39. I tried to buy one of these when they were current and I worked in Paris. My wife had originally wanted a classic style Mini 1000 in a particular metallic blue paint. Impossible! No dealer in the Paris region had one or would order one. So my wife looked at the Innocenti. Same problem. It was always take “something out of our stock or we can’t help you!” Perhaps that was why BL sales were so low…. We ended up buying a Fiat, followed by several more. I still have one today.

  40. I tried to buy one of these for my wife when they were current and I was living in Paris. My wife really wanted a classic Mini 1000 in a particular paint colour. No dealer in the Paris region had one or would order one. So my wife looked at the Innocenti. Same story. It was always take something out of our stock or no deal…. Perhaps that is why BL sold so few there. We ended up with a Fiat and have had several since. I still have one today.

  41. Although the following PDF link to Seventy-five years of cars and motorcycles by Sandra Colombo in AISA monograph no. 96 is in Italian, pages 23-28 seem to talk of his time at Innocenti including projects like the 40 hp (at 6.500rpm) Innocenti 750, 28 hp (at 5.500rpm) 500cc small van in collaboration with Boneschi and a paper project for a city car with the same engine as well as the Innocenti 186 GT.

    Originally was of the view Issigonis was involved in the development of the engine and gearbox via the Mini-Mini project mentioned in one of his biographies, since it is claimed it was soon carried over to 9X though now not so certain of the link between 9X and the 750.

    The PDF says the 750 engine was to be a four-cylinder transverse, entirely in light alloy with liners reported, of 750 cc, built on the scheme of the 500 twin-cylinder. Prototypes of the engine they have have been built allowed them to detect a power around 40 HP at 6.500 rpm.

  42. IMHO Fiat missed a trick by not developing a 2/4-cylinder Fiat version of the Autobianchi A112 in place of both the rear-engine 126 and 133. It might have also helped influence Innocenti to consider the same years before the Daihatsu-powered 650/500.

    What Fiat did was the self-sabotaging city car equivalent of Volkswagen retaining the Audi 50 and opting not to create a Volkswagen Polo badged version, even though they belatedly came to realise their mistake for the Panda and Cinquecento.

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