Rare Rides: The 1978 Innocenti Mini Is Both De Tomaso and Bertone

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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rare rides the 1978 innocenti mini is both de tomaso and bertone

Rare Rides returns again to De Tomaso, shortly after it covered the obscure Guarà Barchetta. This time, the subject vehicle is a British-designed Mini, rebodied by Bertone, then sported up by De Tomaso. Quite a pedigree.

Presenting the 1978 Innocenti Mini De Tomaso:

The Innocenti brand was founded in 1947 and made its name producing various models of Lambretta scooters in Milan. In an effort to expand the company’s horizons, it ventured into car production for the first time in 1961, receiving various licenses from British Motor Corporation (BMC), the company which would later become British Leyland. Innocenti built Minis, Allegros, and Austin-Healeys, all with Italian flair.

Innocenti vehicles were popular, and by the early Seventies domestic sales trailed only the massive Fiat. BMC was impressed with the company’s efforts, so much so that it bought Innocenti outright in 1972. All was well!

Well, not really. A few (three) years later, BMC went bust and was taken over by the government in a fine moment for capitalism England. Prime Minister Wilson was not interested in Innocenti, so the government arranged a sale to interested buyer Alejandro De Tomaso.

Innocenti built its Mini 90 and 120 models starting in 1974, while still under BMC ownership. Bertone handled the styling, though engines stayed British. De Tomaso wanted more, however, and ordered his people to develop a new version. First shown at the Turin Auto Show in 1976, the new hot hatch from Innocenti began production in 1977. Staid chrome bumpers disappeared in favor of aggressive plastic ones and an additional body kit. There was also a hood scoop, a new mesh grille, and specially-designed alloy wheels.

The De Tomaso carried a top-spec 1.3-liter inline-four from the Mini 120, with the power figure bumped from 65 to 71 horses. Said figure increased for the 1978 model year, to a raucous 74 hp. The transmission was the same (and only) one used in all Innocenti Minis: a four-speed manual.

Limited in production, Innocenti kept building Minis mostly unchanged through 1982. That year, De Tomaso’s license arrangement with BL concluded its tenure, and the British giant was not interested in signing new paperwork. De Tomaso no longer had an engine source, and sources for parts were slowing down, as well. After some engineering work, Innocenti continued producing Minis with a few cosmetic changes and brand new three-cylinder Daihatsu engines.

Throughout the early Eighties, Innocenti continued to revise the Mini while adding more parts from the Daihatsu Charade. In ’84, the model was renamed Minitre, and production of the rebodied Mini continued through 1993. During that decade, Innocenti continued to build cars; most were rebadge jobs for Europe, and some were the Chrysler TC by Maserati for Americans. The company closed up during 1996.

Today’s Rare Ride is the more powerful 1978 version of the De Tomaso, slathered in stunning red and black. With about 59,000 miles on the odometer, it’s presently for sale in Switzerland and asks $24,000.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.

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  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 11, 2019

    What was it with Italian cars of this era having the absolute minimum possible amount of dashboard? No intrusive consoles here. No room for the stuff we take for granted in modern cars either. Want a heater, or God forbid air conditioning? Optional extras, we'll bolt 'em in under the dashboard.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on May 11, 2019

    Fun fact: in its later years, Innocenti sold the actual Daihatsu Charade as an Innocenti, including in Canada. The combination of a three-cylinder engine and a car that had grown a fair bit wasn't a great one. Car & Driver tested one, puzzled over "the case of the missing fuel economy," and concluded "it may be rough, but at least it's slow."

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