Innocenti made a name for itself by manufacturing vehicles from British Motors (BMC) under license in Italy. We reported on one of the brand’s later offerings previously, with the hot hatch Innocenti Mini de Tomaso from 1978.
Today we’ll have a look at one of the company’s earlier works: A classic British roadster for which Innocenti ordered up a new body.
Originally the producer of the Lambretta scooter, Innocenti of Milan signed a deal with BMC in the late Fifties to manufacture the company’s cars via CKD kits. When the Innocenti-built cars entered Italian showrooms circa 1961 they became quite popular. Innocenti chased domestic market leader Fiat’s sales, and took more liberties with the BMCs underlying their vehicles. Immediately, the company saw some potential in the Austin-Healey Sprite.
The Sprite went on sale in 1958, bearing love-or-hate looks with its odd “Frogeye” appearance. The Sprite was a couple years old by the time the deal with BMC was finished, and the top brass at Innocenti thought it deserved a makeover. Enter Ghia.
Innocenti phoned up Tom Tjaarda, the young American designer who would later become a superstar. Working at Ghia, Tjaarda penned a body which would fit over the existing Sprite chassis with very few changes. Before long the new roadster was ready, and Innocenti launched their 950 Spider at the Turin Motor Show in fall 1960.
Smooth lines and a more integrated front end replaced the awkward styling of the Austin-Healey. Unlike the BMC, the doors of the Innocenti had actual locks, and windows which moved up and down. The 950 remained unchanged through 1963, when upgrades under hood kept the car in line with a new 1098-cc engine from Austin. Now called the 950S, this faster 46 horsepower version was reeled in by new disc brakes and a more compliant rear suspension.
1966 was the final year for the 950S Spider. Sales had dropped when newer competitors entered the market, and the Sprite upon which it was based modernized once more. After 2,074 950S Spiders were produced, Innocenti unveiled its successor via the larger Innocenti C. Innocenti dropped its coupe in 1968 after slow sales, building only 794 examples of the C. Over in England, the Sprite was near its demise as well.
Today’s red Rare Ride has been imported to England, and will need a moderate restoration. It asks $3,750.