Rare Rides: The 1966 Innocenti 950S Spider, Sprite by Another Name

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Innocenti made a name for itself by manufacturing vehicles from British Motors (BMC) under license in Italy. We reported on one of the brand’s later offerings previously, with the hot hatch Innocenti Mini de Tomaso from 1978.

Today we’ll have a look at one of the company’s earlier works: A classic British roadster for which Innocenti ordered up a new body.

Originally the producer of the Lambretta scooter, Innocenti of Milan signed a deal with BMC in the late Fifties to manufacture the company’s cars via CKD kits. When the Innocenti-built cars entered Italian showrooms circa 1961 they became quite popular. Innocenti chased domestic market leader Fiat’s sales, and took more liberties with the BMCs underlying their vehicles. Immediately, the company saw some potential in the Austin-Healey Sprite.

The Sprite went on sale in 1958, bearing love-or-hate looks with its odd “Frogeye” appearance. The Sprite was a couple years old by the time the deal with BMC was finished, and the top brass at Innocenti thought it deserved a makeover. Enter Ghia.

Innocenti phoned up Tom Tjaarda, the young American designer who would later become a superstar. Working at Ghia, Tjaarda penned a body which would fit over the existing Sprite chassis with very few changes. Before long the new roadster was ready, and Innocenti launched their 950 Spider at the Turin Motor Show in fall 1960.

Smooth lines and a more integrated front end replaced the awkward styling of the Austin-Healey. Unlike the BMC, the doors of the Innocenti had actual locks, and windows which moved up and down. The 950 remained unchanged through 1963, when upgrades under hood kept the car in line with a new 1098-cc engine from Austin. Now called the 950S, this faster 46 horsepower version was reeled in by new disc brakes and a more compliant rear suspension.

1966 was the final year for the 950S Spider. Sales had dropped when newer competitors entered the market, and the Sprite upon which it was based modernized once more. After 2,074 950S Spiders were produced, Innocenti unveiled its successor via the larger Innocenti C. Innocenti dropped its coupe in 1968 after slow sales, building only 794 examples of the C. Over in England, the Sprite was near its demise as well.

Today’s red Rare Ride has been imported to England, and will need a moderate restoration. It asks $3,750.

[Images: seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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2 of 11 comments
  • RHD RHD on Dec 04, 2019

    This car and cars like are classics, and will be beautiful in a thousand years. The back end is pretty dull, but the rest is marvelous. Mazda needs to look at this and incorporate some of its elements into the Miata. They are getting too modernish, and would benefit from going back to classic lines and proportions.

  • -Nate -Nate on Dec 05, 2019

    Sprites were sort of go karts with more power, not really fast but oh so fun to drive quickly until they broke . I have no illusions about old British sports cars, still and all when they're right they lovely . This Innocenti look far better than any year Sprite / Midget by far . Unless it's got terminal rust it's a steal at $3,700, too bad that was a couple years ago . -Nate

  • Doug brockman hardly. Their goals remain to punish us by mandating unsafe unreliable unaffordable battery powered cars
  • Lorenzo It looks like the curves are out and the boxy look is back. There's an upright windscreen, a decided lack of view obstructing swoop in the rear side panels, and you can even see out of the back window. Is Lexus borrowing from the G-Class Mercedes, or the Range Rover?
  • Lorenzo Didn't those guys actually test drive cars? I was told that one drove like an old lady, another like a maniac, and the third like a nervous middle aged commuter who needs to get to work on time and can't afford big repair bills, and they got together to pass judgement within their individual expertise. No?
  • Lorenzo Aw, I don't care what they call the models, as long as they don't use those dots over the O's.
  • The Oracle GM just seems hapless lately