Curbside Classic: Innocenti Turbo De Tomaso – The Anglo-Italo-Japanese Mini

(first posted 11/24/11)    A turbocharged Japanese drive train combined with Italian styling on a British chassis. Sounds quite tempting doesn’t it? How about if I add the name De Tomaso into the mix too? Fantastic! And now add in Innocenti? And Daihatsu? So maybe now I’ve lost you. Our featured little cross-cultural car is a 1982 Innocenti Turbo De Tomaso. Rather a mouthful with that name but an interesting car nonetheless.

Innocenti was an Italian machinery company initially known for steel tubing that later produced Lambretta scooters after World War II. They soon jumped into bed with British Motor Corporation and started off by building license built copies of the Farina Austin A40 above.

Their most well-known model was likely the Spider (above), which was an Austin-Healey Sprite MkII in a smart, Ghia styled suit. They also produced versions of the Mini, Allegro (called the Regent) and Austin/Morris 1100. The Mini in particular was a popular and hot item. Its sporty qualities really suited Italy; maybe more so than the UK.

By 1972 BMC had become a part of British Leyland, and Innocenti was purchased after a leadership crisis. The Innocenti versions were quite often better built and had better interiors than their British built counterparts. By this time, the Mini’s styling was starting to look rather old fashioned and Innocenti wanted to update it.

Bertone was given the nod to update the looks, but the grimy bits were still all Mini. The result was an up-to-date, boxy looking super mini in three door hatchback form that appeared in 1974. Called the Mini 90L with the 998cc engine, and 120L with the 1275cc engine, the Innocenti was slightly heavier than a standard Mini, but of course more practical with the hatchback. In a classic case of hedging bets, the old style Mini continued to be sold as well by Innocenti until 1975. Unfortunately for Innocenti, its parent, British Leyland, went bankrupt and so found itself sold to De Tomaso. Only the Mini based models were continued.

The naming gets a bit confusing here, but starting in 1976 a sporty version of the Innocenti Mini was launched with the larger 1275cc A-series engine and called the Innocenti Mini de Tomaso. By 1982 the long in the tooth British motor was cast out in favor of Daihatsu two- and three-cylinder power plants. The Innocenti Mini de Tomaso continued as the performance version and received an IHI turbocharger equipped version of the CB60 993 cc three-cylinder Daihatsu engine good for 65-70hp.

The model lasted until 1987, and was sold in limited numbers in Canada. They were generally sold by small independent dealers that also carried Skodas, Dacias or Ladas. These days they very occasionally show up for sale, but in either basket case or low mileage, mint condition. I’m convinced there isn’t a daily driver condition one in the country, but would love to be proven wrong.

This one I found on a local dealer’s back lot. I suspect it is one of the few De Tomaso cars to ever see snow. It later came up for sale for what I recall was the low, low price of $1000. Of course this could only be considered a down payment if you considered a restoration. Parts sourcing is likely an issue and probably any of the Mini bits left in the chassis would be the easiest to source. The drive train bits would come from a Daihatsu Charade but they aren’t particularly common anymore. For trim pieces you’d probably have as much of a chance of finding a lower radiator hose for a Corvair.

The red one below is another one I found in a backyard in a nearby town.

It shares the yard with a Nissan Micra, which was another car sold in Canada but not the US. The 1950s Chevrolet is the odd man out in this trio.