By on May 7, 2019

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]

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13 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1978 Innocenti Mini Is Both De Tomaso and Bertone...”


  • avatar
    JimC2

    I remember the Lemon-Aide used car guide mentioning Innocenti kinda sideways, late 1980s/early 1990s, but I don’t think I ever saw one in the flesh- not in the new world, anyway. I’ve probably seen a few in Europe and just didn’t recognize them.

    On the rare scale, this car would be extremely rare on this side of the pond!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    I never heard of this car, but it sure looks familiar, but I can’t place it… maybe a Renault or FIAT?

  • avatar
    conundrum

    They sold the Innocenti with the triple in Canada around 1985. The one I drove was turboed and with two other engineers out on a lunchbreak, we were all reduced to laughs and outright giggling at the silly little thing rushing around like a demented golf cart. You could tell it would last about a summer, but it would be a fun and beserk one!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Probably a total hoot to drive.

  • avatar
    Guitar man

    BMC was taken over by British Leyland in the 1960s, who then manfully ploughed the business into the ground. It was BL that went belly up in the early 1970s and was nationalised.

    The Mini was expensive to manufacture because it used subframes and therefore required a lot of manual labour to assemble. The Marina for example, used a conventional spot welded unitary bodyshell and was actually much cheaper to make but was initially sold at a higher price.

    BL was looking to update the Mini, which after all came out in 1959, but rejected this design since it uses the same sub-frames and was no cheaper to make. Instead they developed the Austin Metro, with a unitary bodyshell.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    Another super cute mini Automobilette…..

    -Nate

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    No distractions in that interior! How much of their lives did these tiny engines spend FLOORED?

    Would be fun to drive at least once.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    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.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    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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