Ferdinando Innocenti started his climb to the top of Italy's industrial ladder early in life. At sixteen; when he was not studying, he was employed in a small workshop. By the age of eighteen, he had his own small workshop and in 1922 he moved to Rome and began to experiment with the production and improvement of steel tubing.
In later years, when the huge Innocenti industrial complex was growing, it was to be steel tube and its manufacture which was to play a great part in the development of the company. In 1931, the Rome workshops gave way to premises in Milan, already the capital of Italian industry.
For the next ten years, Innocenti prospered, only to have his handiwork destroyed by World War 2. Undeterred by the fortunes of war, Innocenti began to rebuild his company by basing his formula for success on a car and scooter-production plant. Coupled to the manufacturing side would be his own production of the heavy mills and presses required to build the cars and scooters. At the same time, this heavy machinery would be for sale to outside concerns.
Post-war Italy and Lambretta
Post-war Italy, suffering from shortages of fuel and vehicles, was ripe to receive a method of transport as simple as the scooter. The scooter's value as economic transport in those early years continued into more prosperous times, as it had opened up basic inexpensive mobility to millions. When the Innocenti company controlled Lambretta (sole manufacturing rights have now been sold to an Indian company), they had the majority share of the scooter market in Italy, forty per cent of production going for export.
Besides the home market, countries in South America and the Far East held concessions to assemble Lambrettas. Seven models were produced, with engine capacities ranging from 50 cc to 200 cc, these scooters being designed for basic transport, competition and commerce. A particularly useful variation of the scooter was often seen in three-wheeled form with either platform or tilt body. Ideally suited for local delivery and often staying inside the lowest engine tax levies, it made ideal cheap commercial transport.
Scooter design reached sophisticated heights - so much so that Bertone even designed scooters in co-operation with Innocenti. Some interesting innovations came from the industrial-manufacturing side of the business, stemming mainly from the development of steel tube. One of the most notable was the world-wide use of Innocenti scaffolding-connection joints. Following the research, came the manufacture of auxiliary machinery to turn out welded and seamless tubing. Innocenti also designed and manufactured many types of rolling mill and special machinery for steel-producing concerns.
Assembly-line presses for Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Pininfarina, Volkswagen and Ford
Contracts with some of the world's largest industrial names gave Innocenti an open door to international markets; this led to eighty per cent exports for the heavy machinery. Innocenti designed and built single, double and triple-acting presses used by Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Pininfarina, Volkswagen, the Ford Motor Company and the Fisher Body Company. All assembly-line presses for the factory built to Fiat specifications at Torgliattigrad, in the Soviet Union, which produced the Lada 1200, were from Innocenti. This order comprised more than 170 units and represented the largest group of its kind ever bought from a single manufacturer.
The Innocenti Lambretta.
Innocenti prototype, based on Ferrari mechanicals, with a body by Bertone. It was shown at several motor shows during 1964.
The Innocenti A40S and Roadster
Although in the immediate post-war period it was Ferdinando Innocenti's idea to produce cars, it was not until 1960 that the first cars bearing his name appeared on the market. The first two cars built by the Innocenti were the A40S and the Roadster, both of which were versions 'of the well known BMC A40 Farina of the same period.
In the early days of Innocenti car production, the models produced arrived as 'knocked-down' vehicles which were then assembled locally by the company. Next came the Innocenti C sports car, which was really an Austin-Healey Sprite with a redesigned body; the chassis was the same as that of its British counterpart. The redesigned body proved expensive to produce, but was attractive.
Next came the front-wheel-drive IM-3S, a slightly restyled BMC 1100
with Hydrolastic suspension. Externally, the IM-S3 was treated to a different front grille flanked with vertical headlamp clusters covered with glass shrouds. Seating was superior to that of the British 1100/1300 series, with reclining front seats and more luxurious upholstery.
The Innocenti Mini was running concurrently with the 1100 range and proved to be a good seller against the small Fiats, having luxuries such as quarter lights on the winding-window models. Both Cooper and Traveller derivatives of the Mini were also produced.
The British-Leyland Innocenti
In 1966, after more than fifty years in industry, Ferdinando Innocenti died. His son Luigi took over, having worked for years with his father. After nine years of production, the factory had produced over 300,000 cars. In June 1972, the Innocenti company split up, but the name was retained for the British Leyland-controlled car-manufacturing company.
A greater proportion of the 1974 models used local parts, but the majority of the components, some 55-60 per cent, came from Britain. These included all the running gear and most of the body panels. The remainder, some of the minor panels, electrical components, tyres and the materials to trim the vehicles were purchased locally.
The Innocenti Mini
The Mini had a good following in Italy where the subtle changes appealed to Italian eyes. The 1974 models were the Mini 1000, the Mini Cooper, the Mini Traveller and the Regent, Innocenti's version of the Allegro
. The acquisition of the Innocenti company was a major part of British Leylands plan to take a much larger share of the European market.
The marketing of other British Leyland cars, principally Triumph, Rover and Jaguar, previously controlled by British Leyland Italia, was taken over by the Innocenti organisation. However the future was not exactly rosy.
In 1975, Innocenti was financially on the rocks. British Leyland were left reeling under the strain of a £10 million total capital loss for the year. As far as Leyland were concerned, the end was in sight for Innocenti. Honda, Fiat, de Tomaso all made advances to save Innocenti but Leyland couldn't wait and decided to close the Italian plant, thus leaving Innocenti in the hands of the Italian Government. De Tomaso and Fiat, however, were still battling for control of the company.
Late in 1975 Alejandro de Tomaso won out, and the company was reorganised under the name Nuova Innocenti. The first model had Bertone-designed five-seater bodywork and was available with 998 cc and 1275 cc engines. Later models from model year 1983 used 993 cc engines made by Daihatsu of Japan. Nuova Innocenti made cars until 1992, and all finally came to an end in 1996.
List of Innocenti vehicles:
- 1947-1971 Lambretta (motorscooter)
- 1960-1967 A40/A40S Berlina/Combinata - hatchback Austin A40 Farina
- 1961-1968 950/1100 Spider - roadster based on Austin-Healey Sprite with the original body
- 1963-1974 IM3/IM3S/Austin I4/I5 - rebadged sedan BMC ADO16 (Austin/Morris 1100)
- 1963 Innocenti 186 GT - prototype of the coupé with a 1.8-Litre V6 Ferrari (Dino) engine
- 1965-1975 Mini - rebadged fastback sedans and station wagons BMC ADO15 (Mini)
- 1973-1976 Regent - sedan Austin Allegro
- 1974-1982 Innocenti Mini 90L and 120L - Bertone rebodied Mini
- 1976-1987 Innocenti Mini de Tomaso - sport version of Innocenti Mini developed by de Tomaso, initially equipped with BLMC 1275 engine, since 1982 with 1.0-liter 3-cylinder turbocharged Daihatsu engine
- 1982-1992 3-Cilindri/Minitre/650/500 - further development of Innocenti Mini with Daihatsu 3-cylinder and 2-cylinder engines
- 1986-1992 Mini 990 - longer version of Innocenti Mini with 1.0-liter 3-cylinder Daihatsu engine
- 1991-1993 Koral - Yugo Koral rebadged for the Italian market
- 1991-1996 Innocenti Elba - European version of the Brazilian Fiat Elba
- 1994-1997 Mille - Brazilian Fiat Uno for Italian market (not to be confused with Innocenti Mini version under the same name manufactured between 1980–1982)