Prototypes are of course the stuff of dreams. Adventurous, exciting and groundbreaking. But admitted, many of them were clearly never intended to go beyond the attention-grabbing prototype stage. However, in retrospect perhaps some of them ought to. Perhaps some of them could even have proven to be the saving grace of their otherwise doomed manufacturer.
Only last week, Claus wrote about the sharp little Bertone-designed Innocenti Mini from 1974. In my opinion, it was a brave attempt at rejuvenating Issigonis’ original concept from 1959. However, it sadly wasn’t enough to save the Italian company, which had been established as an automotive manufacturer by its founder Ferdinando Innocenti in 1947. Neither British Leyland nor Alejandro de Tomaso could save the marque either, and in the end Fiat didn’t want to. But this got me thinking… Maybe – just maybe– Innocenti’s short-lived flirt with no other than Enzo Ferrari could have led to a very different outcome?
Having only just taken the leap in 1960 from producing Lambretta scooters to manufacturing cars as well, Innocenti wanted to move upmarket from the BMC Austin A40’s they were assembling under license. They did of course also have their sporty little roadster, the Innocenti 950S based on the Austin-Healey Sprite, but even that wasn’t enough for the ambitious Ferdinando Innocenti. A deal was struck with Enzo Ferrari where the two companies would unite their efforts to construct a small Grand Tourer. A team was assembled at Maranello comprising primarily Ferrari personal, but also overseen by Innocenti’s technical director and a few Innocenti engineers as well.
By 1963 the beautifully proportioned Innocenti 186GT was introduced. The lithe yet elegant little coupé was designed by the only 25-year old Giorgetto Giugiaro during his time with Carrozzeria Bertone. The general concept was of course somewhat similar with the ASA 1000 GT equally developed by Ferrari and designed by Giugiaro, but there are also clear design cues from Giugiaro’s fabulous and much larger Iso Rivolta GT. Both the mid-body crease emulating from behind the front wheel arches and continuing all the way down the flanks, and not least the perfectly rounded rear of the Innocenti bears the same design language as the bigger Iso. But then those elegantly back-swept headlights either side of the protruding grill create its own very distinct pretty face.
But the Innocenti was in fact so much more than just another pretty face. Ferrari had truly gone to town with their engineering excellence, and while the Innocenti was naturally pitched for a market well below that of their own V12 sports cars and Gran Turismo’s, they had nonetheless created a tour de force of a GT. In typical Ferrari tradition, there was a tubular steel frame clad by and aluminium body. Suspension was provided by double wishbones at the front and a live rear axle with leaf springs and reaction arms at the rear. Brakes were discs on all four corners. This would be enough to impress most, and we haven’t even gotten to the engine yet! Ferrari basically took the legendary V12 Colombo 250-engine and chopped it in half, thereby creating a 1,788cc 60 degree V6 engine. Breathing through downdraught Webers and revving to a heady 7,000 rpm, the little screamer of a V6 produced a rather impressive for the time 156hp. Drive to the rear wheels was through a 4-speed manual gearbox with overdrive.
However, only two cars were ever built. They differ ever so slightly in detail with one car having a raised profile around the rear wheel arch and aluminium wheels as opposed to the other car’s Borrani wire wheels. The first car produced underwent some testing, but just after the second car was finished, it was decided to abandon the project. It is believed that this was largely down to worries of the Innocenti dealer network not being up for the challenge of selling exclusive GT-cars to affluent customers – they were after all more used to selling Lambretta scooters. Furthermore, the Italian recession of 1964 would have no doubt been the final nail in the coffin for the delicious little Innocenti 186GT.
While one of the two prototypes was destroyed in period, the other went into long-term storage at an Innocenti facility. It remained here until 1994 when Fiat acquired Innocenti and planned to demolish the storage facility. Thankfully, the only remaining 186GT was saved, and subsequently displayed – amusingly alongside an ASA 1000 GT – as part of an exhibition at the Museo Ferrari in Maranello.
All of which leaves us enthusiasts to fantasize over what could have been. Imagine if Innocenti and Ferrari had gone ahead and put the 186GT into production. Would it have lifted the whole company to new levels? Could Innocenti have become a respected player among the refined Italian sports cars of Maserati, Lamborghini and Ferrari? Of course, now we will never know…