The Italian Mini

In its lifetime the Bertone Mini project saw numerous updates, amongst the most important of which was the adoption of Japanese components and 3-cylinder engines supplied by Daihatsu, which led to the MiniTre

Replacing the original Mini was always going to be an almost impossible task, but despite this, during the 1960s we saw various proposals aimed at renewing the legendary British minicar.  One of these emanated from right here in Italy, more precisely from Innocenti of Lambrate (MI), famous for its Lambretta scooters and for having produced the Mini in our country under licence from BMC and its successor British Leyland.  In the mid-seventies the Milanese company had recently entered into the orbit of British Leyland, a giant that shortly thereafter started to creak, involving in the cracks which were appearing the Innocenti factory and its workers, which had recently started assembly of the new Mini-based small car designed by Bertone.  Production halted and there were numerous strikes which led, after various unfortunate events, to the transfer of the company from British Leyland to the Argentinian businessman Alejandro De Tomaso, who saw something revolutionary in the design of the new Bertone Mini and immediately put it back into production in 90 (basic) and 120 (more luxurious) versions, adding the sportier De Tomaso version soon after.

In its lifetime the Bertone Mini project saw numerous updates, amongst the most important of which was the adoption of Japanese components and 3-cylinder engines supplied by Daihatsu, which led to the MiniTre.  A version with a two-cylinder engine was also proposed with a Daihatsu 617 cc engine and named the 650 SE; it was listed for a couple of years and is today very rare.  A 990 version followed in 1986, with an elongated wheelbase making the car appear less square and in fact becoming the final evolution of the model which had started life way back in 1974.  At the beginning of the nineties De Tomaso, who had been in poor health for some time, sold the brand to Fiat, which then up-dated the range, renaming the cars “Small 500” and “990” (the longer wheelbase model).  These cars were built until March 1993, when production ended and the Lambrate factory was closed and remains in a state of neglect to this day.

Currently the Bertone Mini is coveted by a group of fans and the small number of cars manufactured in its 19 years of production (about 300,000) makes it very rare, since there are so few left on the road.  Returning to the Innocenti marque, it remained active until 1997, offering a range of re-branded Fiat cars such as the Mille (Fiat Uno CS) and Elba (Fiat Duna Weekend).  Note the short presence in the price-lists, from 1991 to 1993, of the Koral, a car based on the Serbian Yugo, built by Zastava.  Over the years there has been talk of the re-birth of the marque as a low-cost version of Fiat, similar to what Renault has done with Dacia, but nothing concrete has ever come of it.

2017 saw more talk of a re-launch and in 2018 the marque reappeared with production in Palermo. The new Innocenti SrL has returned to the limelight thanks to Industrie Riunite SpA, Euro Mobile International B.V., Finambiente Group SpA and the Perrotta family.  The intention of the reborn marque is to manufacture micro cars; the coming months will see how this new project develops.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

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