17 September 2014

Innocenti C

Italian Style, British Practicality

View this lovely little coupé from the side and you can see front fenders that evoke a Sprite Mk II and a door redolent of Fiat 124 Spider. Examine the grille or fixed roof and you’ll think TR6. Overall, the Innocenti C channels the spirit of the Bristol 411 — in miniature.

And miniature it is, because the Italian Innocenti company based its C coupé and S spider on the chassis and running gear for BMC’s Sprite. This means that although Jeremy Wilson’s coupé was sold new in 1969, it carried the 1,098-cc version of BMC’s A-series engine. More than a rebodied Sprite, the all-steel Innocentis are lower, wider and have more interior room. The initial design, first seen on the 1960 Innocenti 950 Spider, was American Tom Tjaarda’s first complete automobile after arriving at Ghia. The Spider evolved into the S before Ghia colleague Sergio Sartorelli revised the design and added the fixed roof to yield the C.

Wilson acquired his coupé in late 2013 after becoming enthralled with the beauty and rarity of the car combined with the serviceability of the drivetrain. For many other parts, Innocenti went Italian, with Marelli electrics and Veglia instruments. Items like switches and door handles came from a variety of parts bins. Body panels and bright trim are unique, and could pose a problem in the event of damage.

Although the body had been resprayed, when he bought the Innocenti C, according to Wilson, ‘the carpets were very worn and the seat vinyl was deteriorating’. Fortunately, his trimmer had the correct basket weave material for the seats, although the carpet proved more difficult.

In addition to the interior and a new half-axle, Wilson has replaced several gaskets, including those for the sump, timing chain cover and front crank seal.

Currently the Innocenti C rolls on wider Minilite wheels. The car did come with its original Sprite four-inch wheels and hubcaps, which Wilson has retained.

With a Maserati Khamsin and a 1981 Mini convertible in the garage, the Innocenti gets mostly local use and he has managed to clock 1,000 miles in six months. Thanks to the small engine and low axle ratio, it is very noisy, turning 4,200 rpm at 60 mph. But it’s unique, fun to drive and Wilson loves the Italian style and British reliability.

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