Autobianchi A112, luxury in small format

So before starting this article, let's take a look back to the middle of the last century, when Fiat launched the Nuova 500 -4 July 1957- and accompanied it with a strong advertising campaign aimed mainly at women. This campaign had a great impact and many women were encouraged to get their driving license and buy a Fiat Nuova 500.

For a few years the Fiat Nuova 500 was a car that enjoyed great commercial success in post-war Italy. Its low price and small size made it popular with both young people and women.

But not everything is eternal, and in 1959 the also Italian Innocenti began to manufacture under license the Mini "classic", which allowed the urban English avoid high tariffs and commercialized at a price somewhat more reasonable than until then. This national production opened the range of potential customers for the Mini and were both young people and women who stopped dreaming of a Fiat Nuova Innocenti and began to look at the Innocenti Mini, which had an impact on sales of Fiat's model to the dissatisfaction of its management.

Autobianchi A112, luxury in small format

Thinking that it would be something temporary, from Fiat did not take any shock measure to relaunch sales of the Fiat Nuova 500 beyond slight aesthetic or engine modifications, so slight that sometimes went unnoticed by the public. It was in the mid-1960s when the great Dante Giacosa proposed making a small, front-wheel drive car with an elegant touch that would be marketed by Autobianchi, a company that at the time was jointly owned by Fiat and Pirelli.

In the middle of the project, the Fiat Group acquired the part of Innocenti that was still owned by Pirelli and injected a significant amount of capital into the project because, in order to reduce development costs, it was decided that the X1/2 project should be used for the marketing of more models within the Fiat Group, which at that time would also buy the Italian Lancia.

The final result was unveiled at the 1969 Turin Motor Show and was very well received by the public.

Before starting to detail the commercial life of the Autobianchi A112 I want to tell you that there are many who divide its commercial life is up to eight different series. I will respect this division, but considering that many series did not have a commercial life of more than two years, I will group them for a better understanding of the article and the variations that the car suffered. My division is as follows:

Autobianchi A112, luxury in small format

First generation

A112 Series I (1969)

The Autobianchi A112 was shown at the Turin Motor Show as a 3.23 m long utility car (only one centimetre longer than the Fiat 600) with an elegant three-door body, front engine and an interior that was much more refined than any other alternative of the time, with circular dials and vinyl seats. As usual, when its commercialization began in October 1969, only one version was offered with a four-cylinder Fiat engine of 903 cc and 44 hp, which thanks to its four-speed manual gearbox allowed the Autobianchi A112 to reach 140 km / h and homologated a consumption of less than seven liters.

But there were more figures that impressed the press. Despite its power, the Autobianchi A112 reached 100 km/h in less than 13.7 seconds and could still accelerate to cover the first 400 m in less than 19 seconds, giving an idea of the agility of this small car. The A112's handling was superior to that of any other small car of the time: according to the press it was a brilliant, practical car with good roadholding. Braking was entrusted to a mixed system of front discs and rear drums. As a curiosity, the handbrake acted on the front axle instead of the rear. The rear axle had independent suspension!

The sales success was immediate and despite the manufacturer's efforts to increase production, the high demand meant that delivery times could exceed 12 months.

As I have already mentioned, other cars within the Fiat group emerged from the initial project, such as the 127. It was when production of the latter began in 1971 that the Autobianchi received a slight improvement in its engine to standardize it with the Fiat 127's. It now offered 47 HP but the brand continued to refer to the Autobianchi as "44 HP". By the end of 1971 two new versions were launched. On the one hand began marketing the A112 E, with improved equipment and roof painted in contrasting color, and the A112 Abarth as a sportier version and commemorative of the purchase of the small manufacturer Abarth by Fiat.

The latter had several modifications to the engine that led him to expand its capacity to 932 cc thanks to the increase in the stroke of the pistons. This block had a new nitrided steel crankshaft and some of the elements of the cylinder head redesigned that allowed the first prototypes well over 60 hp although the units that reached the market offered only 58 hp to avoid compromising the reliability of the engine.

The Autobianchi A112 Abarth was easily recognizable both for its sporty exterior and for being offered only in a striking red colour with the front bonnet painted in black. The interior also exuded this sporty atmosphere with the three-spoke steering wheel, the anatomical seats with headrests, the full instrumentation and the black leatherette upholstery.

This sporty model had two particularities compared to the models equipped with the 903 cc block: on the one hand it had a lower consumption, but on the other hand the braking distances had increased by 15%. This sporty model was also a great success and in 1972, while the versions equipped with the 47 hp block did not enjoy any update, the A112 Abarth sports car received a small oil cooler and two new colors: mink and salmon, but always with a black bonnet.

Just in this year 1972 was when the Innocenti Nuova Mini began marketing with the same concept and commercial approach as the Autobianchi A112, so Fiat decided to make a small update to his model, thus giving what many call the second series. Regarding this, some experts speak of the existence of up to eight series. However, the changes between them are so nuanced that I prefer to speak of a continuous evolution, although for better understanding, I will mark the different "series" correctly.

A112 Series II (1973)

Presented at the Geneva Motor Show, the first update of the Autobianchi A112 was introduced in 1973 and the modifications made depended on the model. For example, the most basic model only benefited from a new design of the front grille in exchange for losing the chrome color of the metal fenders and the trim of the main headlights in favor of some also metallic but in black.

The Autobianchi A112 Elegante also began to offer the new grille, but also replaced the chrome bumpers with others made of plastic material with a chrome trim and modified the design of the wheels. The interior also featured better quality materials, although the design remained unchanged.

It was the A112 Abarth model that enjoyed the biggest changes. On the exterior, the metal bumpers with rubber trim were replaced by rubber bumpers with metal trim and the chrome trim on the grille and headlights were replaced by black trim. Iodine main headlights, anti-theft starter and heated rear window were introduced. In addition, also began to offer white and blue for the body, the color "salmon" took on an orange hue and, on request, could be purchased with the entire body in the same color. In the interior only new seats with reclining backrest and adjustable headrests were observed.

As a commercial curiosity, it was with this update when the manufacturer spoke of the car as the "47 HP" model in relation to the "new" power of the 903 cc block, although there are many voices that claim that the 47 hp already offered since 1971. It will never be known...

A112 Series III (1975)

In 1975 the Autobianchi A112 is introduced in a series of improvements that makes some speak of the third series. As in previous occasions, the improvements seen in the Autobianchi on the occasion of the 1975 update vary according to the model. Common to the entire range was the introduction of new interior panels with a new design that allowed the interior width of the passenger compartment to be increased, so that it could be homologated as a five-seater (previously only a four-seater). On the other hand, the C-pillar ventilation grille was considerably increased in size. In addition, the interior and exterior colour range was renewed, among which the "Lancia blue" was a rare sight.

The basic or Normale model had its bumpers painted matt black and the Elegante and Abarth models were fitted with a reversing light integrated into the lights themselves. As for the mechanicals, in addition to the already known 47 HP for the Normale and Elegante versions and 58 HP for the Abarth, a new 1,050 cc and 70 HP engine appeared, which was exclusively combined with the Abarth finish and whose name was 70 HP. This engine was directly derived from the 982 cc block (which in turn was derived from the 903 cc block) and had slightly shortened gear ratios.

It was the first Autobianchi to reach 160 km/h and to be fitted with a brake servo. In addition, and only for the Abarth, having the front bonnet painted in matt black went from being standard equipment to being optional. A few months after the launch of this third series and due to the need to adapt the engines to the emission limitations, the Normale model now offered only 42 HP and the Elegante 45 HP due to the adoption of a new smaller carburettor. The 58 bhp Abarth was simply withdrawn.

Second generation

A112 Series IV (1977)

At the end of 1977 the fourth series was introduced with major modifications to the car. To begin with, the car grew two centimetres in height to improve the space available in the passenger compartment, which also benefited from a completely redesigned dashboard. On the exterior, a new front grille, redesigned tail lights and increased size of the C-pillar air vents could be seen.

Elegante models began to use new all-black fenders and black side moldings also of significant size and that ran the entire wheelbase of the car. The sportier Abarth added to the Elegante modifications with a plastic finish on the front bonnet to direct air towards the air vent. Another important detail of the Abarth is that they stopped wearing this word on the front grille, which became similar to that used by the Elegante and Normale.

Mechanically, the brake servo was introduced as standard equipment on all models. In addition, the Elegante model was fitted with a 965 cc, 48 bhp engine, which was well received by the press thanks to the engine's flexibility and ease of use at low and medium revs.

A112 V Series (1979)

In 1979 a fifth series began to be marketed, which also brought many significant changes to the Autobianchi A112. In the same way that I have stated that the fourth series was the first to introduce important changes in the Autobianchi, this fifth series was like an evolution or improvement of the modifications introduced in the fourth series. On the 1979 model you could see new plastic bumpers and side skirts for all models.

In addition, both the headlights and taillights were framed in a kind of black mask. The side moldings also became more visible and were also extended to the wheel arches and exterior mirrors increased in size. In general, we can speak of a more robust visual appearance while better protected from small parking bumps against other vehicles, much larger, wider and sturdier than the small Autobianchi.

However, this profound exterior update left the Autobianchi unchanged in the interior, which had been completely redesigned two years earlier. On the commercial side, however, some changes were made to adapt the range to market requirements with the introduction of two new versions.

At the lower end of the range, the Junior model was introduced to replace the Normale and at the top end, the Elite, which shared the same engine as the Elegante but had a more refined interior with higher quality materials. In addition, the Elite incorporated the five-speed manual transmission as standard equipment. The Elegante could also be fitted with this gearbox but only as optional equipment.

The Autobianchi A112 Abarth had this five-speed manual gearbox as standard equipment and despite what one might think, it was not a welcome change because the long development of the last gears made its top speed drop from 160 km/h to just over 150 km/h. This fifth series introduced the optional panoramic roof and rear fog light, while the front fog lights and rear window wiper were standard or optional depending on the trim level.

Throughout the 1980s the Autobianchi A112 began production in Sweden at the Saab factory for exclusive marketing in the Nordic countries under the name Saab Lancia A112, along with the Saab Lancia 600, a kind of Lancia Delta with Saab badges. As you can see, the car lost its Autobianchi trade name in favor of Lancia, something I already remarked when I talked about the introduction of the Lancia Blue color in 1975.

A112 Series VI (1982)

In 1982 the marketing of what would be the sixth series began, recognizable because the front indicators were integrated into the bumper, by the visual lightening of all the plastic structures of the body, by the new taillights and by having a completely redesigned dashboard and with certain reminiscences Fiat. Only the sportiest Abarth kept the plastic wheel arches.

Along with the already known equipment, there was a new luxurious finish with electric windows, window wipers, velvet upholstery, front headrests, digital clock, ashtray and even tinted windows. This new version was called Autobianchi A112 LX, a name closely linked to Lancia, which had begun to use it in 1966 to designate the most luxurious models launched on the occasion of the brand's 60th anniversary.

A112 Series VII-VIII (1984)

The seventh series was launched in 1984, but it did not bring any major innovations. To begin with, the front bumper was modified in order to install the fog lights, which were part of the standard equipment of the Abarth and optional on the other models. At the rear, the number plate was placed on the bumper and the lights were visually joined with a red moulding, except for the Junior model, which kept the number plate between the lights.

Because of this detail, to distinguish an Autobianchi A112 Junior of the seventh series from the sixth series, it was necessary to look at the wheels: the seventh series had a small hubcap that covered only the central part of the rim.

Just a year later, in 1985, there is again talk of a new series, and it is the eighth, due to changes in the range: it was reduced only to the Junior model that remained on the market for another year, until 1986 when it was withdrawn from the market. There were no further modifications and that's why talking about "eighth series" seems to me very adventurous. The reason for this cessation was the launch of the Lancia Y10, which in many markets was marketed as Autobianchi.

The relationship between Autobianchi and Innoccenti

Having finished this article, I think it is easy to draw parallels between the Autobianchi A112 and the Innocenti Nuova Mini.

  • Both replaced iconic models derived from the Fiat 500 and the Mini.
  • Both had similar exterior averages
  • Both had similar powertrains
  • Both shared the same commercial period
  • Both were intended as small luxury cars
  • Both ended up in the orbit of the Fiat group.

And unfortunately...

  • Both cars are often confused by the general public
  • Both were cannibalised by the launch of the Lancia Y10.

Do you really still not believe in parallel lives?

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