Long before the Austin-Healey Sprite “Mk I” entered into legend for its amicable appearance, many considered its styling to be odd – even stylist Gerry Coker was nonplussed with the fixed headlights – and plans were made to combine the many virtues of the car with more attractive styling. In 1959, Innocenti – famous for the Lambretta scooter – was in the process of consummating a license agreement with BMC for the manufacture of the English company’s products.
Plans were made for the assembly of a rebodied Sprite by Officine Stampaggi Industriale (OSI) – a venture established by Ghia with Innocenti involvement – that would be sold and marketed by Innocenti as an upmarket alternative to the Sprite. The roadster body was designed by American Tom Tjaarda and the 950 debuted at the 1960 Turin Motor Show. Series production did not begin until 1961, after the original Bugeye had been replaced by the square-bodied Mk II and joined by a badge-engineered sibling from MG.
The diminutive Innocenti Spider 950 combined English practicality with Italian style and resulted in a much more luxurious car with an integrated windscreen header, roll-up windows and wraparound chrome bumpers. A lockable glovebox, courtesy lights and better trim and switchgear transformed the essential character of the vehicle into a more accomplished, refined sports car. The Lucas electrical components were replaced by Marelli substitutes and the convertible top was much more secure and protective than the original.
What should have been an unqualified success was somewhat less so due to the expense of the final product and the reduced performance that resulted from the added weight of all the accouterments. Sales of the roadster suffered mightily and its likely that just more than 7500 Innocentis were produced overall. In 1966, the “C” coupe debuted with an attractive enclosed bodyshell that sold in even far fewer numbers than the roadster. Although production likely ended in 1968, the final cars were not sold until 1970 with the final numbers set at 6857 Spiders and 794 Coupes manufactured and eventually sold. The Innocenti Spider & Coupe represent a drop in the bucket of overall Spridget sales, but they make up for that deficit with their surfeit of style, luxury and grace.
By Johnny Oversteer