COAL: 1984 Innocenti SE – Electrical Spaghetti

Any lengthy COAL is going to have some ups and downs to it. Having come off a few wins in a row I was due for a stinker and unfortunately that is what this Innocenti ended up being. I did go into it with good intentions as we had just finished the Great Beater Challenge which unfortunately claimed the engine in the 1961 Pontiac Laurentian. We had also just moved to a new house with a smaller garage in which the full size Pontiac did not fit well into. What I needed was a smaller, straightforward project car. The Innocenti was certainly smaller.

It is probably not a great idea to buy a car out of a shipping container. The format does not lend itself to a rigorous inspection which is where I fell short on this one. I had been told that only a few years previous the Innocenti had been a running, functioning car and at a glance its condition indicated this was so. The owner had a turbocharged example, a cache of spare parts as well as several other classic cars. He even had a set of decent TRX tires to go with it. It seemed like a relatively straightforward proposition to get it running and road worthy again.

The problem of the Pontiac not fitting into the new house’s garage well was definitely solved by the Innocenti. Size wise the Innocenti has almost same dimensions of the original Mini which in my garage allows for plenty of room to work around it. The aluminum hood was unfortunately stripped and painted black at some point and needed work again.

I love the (perceived?) cost savings of the single reverse light. Does not do much for styling symmetry though.

The interior was pretty clean although missing a few small items like ashtray, cigarette lighter and radio blanking plate.

The gear shifter knob is interesting and was featured in a Guess that Shifter by Car & Driver a number of years ago. According to that link Car & Driver tested the Innocenti in the March of 1985 issue.

The gauges are different but more conventional than the turbo model.

The engine, a Daihatsu three cylinder, was complete but a little dirty.

It cleaned up quite nicely though. The radiator is the smallest unit I have ever seen in a car and more the size of an oil cooler.

Suspension wise this generation of Innocenti diverged from the early ones with the Mini suspension which was replaced by MacPherson struts at the front paired with rack and pinion steering. It is not really evident from the photos but everything is tiny. More golf kart scale than car scale.

The rear has a transverse leaf. I blew out the rusty muffler the first time I got the Innocenti running so it got cut off shortly after.

All these single wire connections were loose and unlabeled when I got the car

Once I started to evaluate the car in detail I started to get a bit of sinking feeling. Nothing electrical worked on the car beyond the starter and distributor. The wiring harness was rather hacked up, having butt connectors going to all the switches rather than the standard blocks. Compounding this issue was that none of the switches were hooked up and no wiring diagram seems to exist for this car. The earlier ones with the British Mini mechanical bits seem to be fairly well documented but not so for the later Daihatsu powered cars. Even the equivalent Daihatsu Charade had a radically different wiring loom.

I was able to get a spare wiring harness for an automatic car from the seller which I planned to use as a three dimension wiring diagram. After spending countless hours tracing and labeling wires I was able to connect up the switches. At this point an electric window worked but everything else did not.

To distract myself from the wiring woes I repainted the hood, poorly as it turns out since I used an old spay can I had lying around. At least the hood was all one color now and looked decent assuming one left it in the dark garage.

I put in three new spark plugs which was somewhat annoying as they were only sold in groups of two. The definition of a first world problem I guess. I changed the oil next but as a bad omen the old oil seemed rather thin and smelled rather like gasoline. The engine turned over and even started very strongly with a bit gas poured down the carburetor but would not stay running. I then discovered the fuel pump seals had failed and it was pumping fuel into the crank case rather than the carburetor ruining my freshly changed oil.

I had also got two spare fuel pumps from the seller but neither was in any better condition than the one I had, so I ordered a small electric one which I roughly put in place. It dutifully pulled fuel from the Jerry can to the carburetor but the engine still did not stay running.

Getting back to the electrical I decided on more decisive action and tore the interior apart to swap in the automatic wiring harness which was not so hacked up. I had to trick the harness that the car was in neutral for starter to be engaged. The lack of a wiring diagram made for a little trial and error process but not too bad. After hooking everything up things were no better. So I stripped everything again and started tracing wires. I am not sure who designed the wiring schematic for this car but I can confidently state they do not think like me. Power for the heater fan? That routes through the clock… obviously. Eventually I did get a few bits and pieces like the heater fan working.

At this point I assessed the car as an extremely rust free (amazingly so actually) shell with a reasonable interior, but not much else going for it. As mentioned in the Great Beater Challenge Toyota Tercel preparation my intention was to use the Tercel running gear and electrical components in the Innocenti to make a modest hot rod of sorts. When the Tercel did not fulfill this destiny but rather returned to street duty I was left in a quandary on what to do. Working on this Innocenti stock electrical system was absolutely no fun as nothing worked. I suspect it may have been someone’s parts car at some point. But when your hobby car is just not fun it is time to move on. So I put the car back together, posted it up for sale and a week later the Innocenti was out of my life and someone else’s problem to deal with it. I will probably regret selling it one day but today is not that day.

My whole COAL series so far


As an update the owner sent me a couple photos of it in late December receiving a new paint job, so he is making much better progress than I ever did.