The Mini from Desio

The continuous success of the A112 prompted Autobianchi to introduce constant updates during its 17 years of production, starting in 1973 with the second series, which differed from the previous one with rubber-coated bumpers on the new entry-level Elegant version, which took over from the previous E, in addition to the possibility of ordering the Abarth version in a unique colour.

2019 will go down in history as the 60th anniversary of the Mini, a famous British supermini that became a symbol for generations and which has the image of a car that is jaunty and fashionable, remaining in the collective imagination until the present day. It is necessary, however, to remember another important milestone, of a more advanced car, one always of great value: the fiftieth birthday of the Autobianchi A112, a Bertone-designed alternative (penned by Lamborghini Miura and Countach designer, Marcello Gandini) to the Mini which was able to attract instant attention for its qualities, leaving a mark in the heart of young boys who at that time had the luck or desire to own one.

From its debut in 1969 it was undoubtedly the most direct rival of Issigonis’s creation, and appearing 10 years later it incorporated various improvements in terms of driveability and comfort, of habitability and practicality, such as its large tailgate, whilst the mechanicals were largely similar to those of the Mini, i.e. front engine and, FWD, as cars from the house of Desio had been before, with the same solutions on the Primula and later, on the A111, so it could count on proven and robust mechanicals. Other features of the new A112 were the split-circuit braking system, a front transverse-mounted engine, initially a 44 bhp 903 cc unit, combined with a 4-speed gearbox, which although not very powerful gave brilliant performance whilst offering low consumption even at higher speeds. The excellent reception from the public and critics encouraged Autobianchi to expand the range, hence in 1971 the most sought-after “E” and sporty Abarth versions were introduced which, thanks to engine modifications had a 58 bhp 982 cc unit; it differed from the other versions with its two-tone red and black paintwork plus other more unusual details. The latter version soon became the halo model for Autobianchi, winning the attention of many young people who loved its performance and unmistakeable rumble, becoming one of the most coveted “small bombs” of its time. Such was the success of the version with the famous scorpion badge, created in 1977 by Autobianchi and named the “Trofeo A112 Abarth”, that for years it was the launch-pad for rally drivers, its first win being in the hands of Attilio Bettega.

The continuous success of the A112 prompted Autobianchi to introduce constant updates during its 17 years of production, starting in 1973 with the second series, which differed from the previous one with rubber-coated bumpers on the new entry-level Elegant version, which took over from the previous E, in addition to the possibility of ordering the Abarth version in a unique colour. More marked changes were introduced with the third series in 1975, which adopted redesigned rear lights and a fifth seat as standard, achieved with modifications to the rear panels aimed at improving the interior space to create a third rear seat. From the mechanical point of view the adoption of a 70 bhp 1049 cc engine is noteworthy for powering the Abarth version with the name 70 HP, which offered a maximum speed of 160 km/h, positioning itself at the top of its segment, if not beyond, for giving the car the performance of a car with a bigger engine. In 1977 the fourth series was introduced, recognisable by a redesigned front with a trapezoidal grille and by a different roof design, raised by 2 cm to improve interior habitability, and new rear lights and interior trim.

Mechanically it saw the introduction of the new 48 bhp 963 cc engine. This version remained on the lists until 1979, when the range was replaced by the fifth series, featuring new bumpers and plastic wheel arches on all versions, which perhaps spoilt the elegant lines of the car but which didn’t affect sales in any way. For this occasion the Junior version with the 903 cc engine was introduced as the base model of the range and came with a standard fabric sunroof. As for the mechanicals, the new innovation was the fitment of a 5-speed gearbox.

Despite the passing of the years and the arrival of fierce new competitors, the A112 continued to be updated and, in 1982, the sixth series was introduced, featuring a new front and redesigned bumper with incorporated direction indicators which was, on the whole, stylistically more successful compared with the previous series. The four trim levels were: Junior, Elite, LX and Abarth. These were also maintained for the seventh series, on the lists form 1984 to 1985, which didn’t have any relevant changes, and in fact was the very last act of the famous car and its Abarth version, which was deleted from the price lists after another year.

The eighth, or Unified, Series remained on the price lists to 1986, when the baton was passed to the more modern Y10, the first of  a long series of successful models marketed first as an Autobianchi then later and until today as a Lancia. Although the Y10 embodied the elegant and refined spirit of its predecessor it was unable to convey that cheeky and sporty spirit typical of the A112, whose dynamic qualities remained in the annals and hearts of over a million buyers, who in the following years failed to find other cars with the same performance and handling as the small Desio-built car.

Text by Tommaso Lai

Translation by Norman Hawkes

Copyright © Cars Forgotten Stories. All rights reserved.


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