Brisk Italian Style, Italian Values in Italy

In what appears to be a transcript from 1974, Archie Vicar reviews the all-new Innocenti Regent.

1974 Innocenti Regent: Image: wikipedia

The article first appeared in the Kenilworth Gazette, Feb 28th, 1974. Due to darkening of the paper, stock photos have been used. Original photography was by Edward Ian Dwindemere (sic).

Although blighted by many endemic problems such as a casual attitude to time, indifference to accuracy and a fondness for garlic, some things about Italian manners can compensate to some extent and to some small measure. The cigarettes are cheap, the wine is inexpensive and occasionally they can assemble a pleasant enough motor car such as the newly unveiled Innocenti Regent tested here.

Maserati and Alfa Romeo

It’s not often the Kenilworth Gazette is invited to a car launch and even more rare are invitations to Italian versions of same. Of the very few instances I can truly recall, those that stand out are the Fiat 132 launch (good Chianti) of a few years back, that of the Movauto Portugese-made version of the Alfa Romeo Giulia (excellent pasta) and, perhaps, the bash for the 1952 three-carburetor Maserati 3500 Touring (memorable Asti Spumanti). To this short roll call of memorable promotional arrangements could be added Italian manufacturer, Innocenti’s new “Regent”.

Innocenti offered us a perfectly good launch luncheon ((should that be “launcheon”? – Ed.)) minestrone soup (like Baxter’s) local cutlets (not much like the ones from Kenilworth at all), a yellow rice dish, more familiar-looking beef shin cut in slices topped with lemon rind (odd), meatballs the size of golf balls, something stewed with pork and cabbage I´d think the Scots would dream up and daft rose-shaped bread rolls the fellow from the Melbourne Times threw around after we were served our desert (ice-cream, familiar enough). We all had plenty of Italian red before being assisted towards test the cars waiting in the bright and hot sunshine outside.

It was a good lunch. I’d reckon we were at least four hours later than planned by the time we attempted cajole the starter motors to motivate the test vehicles. It was probably a good thing; the car intended for the Daily Mail chap wouldn’t start.  As he had clearly got through more than his fair share of plonk, driving around on a busy day in Milan would have been unhelpful.

1974 Innocenti Regent: source

Not a hatchback!

What is the Regent? Specialist Italian firm Innocenti (from Milan) have presented a rather attractive and unusual modern family car very much in keeping with the times. As with many Italian vehicles, it has somewhat nicer lines than is normal for “bread-and-butter” entrants to the mass-market (Austin, take note!). It follows recent trends for a ‘fastback’ shape but thankfully is not burdened with the unwanted consequences of having a fifth door like some cars.  Renault’s lamentable 16 or the otherwise passable Austin Maxi, perhaps spring to mind ((see p.14 for a list of Austin Dealers)). The Regent also bravely bucks the modern custom of flatter exterior panels. Together with the well-judged and high bonnet line (to accommodate the engine), the rounded panelwork lends the car considerable elegance and will help the Regent stand out in an increasingly competitive market.


The engineering, though of little interest to many drivers, is worth a short comment. Innocenti’s spanner-men ((would they be spaniards? – Ed.)) have decided on a front-wheel drive arrangement with a sump-mounted (continued on p.23)

(continued from p.22) transmission.

Also of note is the suspension which is an advance on Citroën’s beastly convoluted gas-and-oil system with which they still persist. This Regent is no conservative Fiat, more akin to the ultramontaine eccentricity of Lancia but at a lower price.

Something British motorists appreciate?

What have they done? Innocenti have chosen to use a novel arrangement of interconnected components that link the front and rear wheels. This offers a more comfortable ride along with praise-worthy road-holding, something British motorists appreciate. In fact, those who have sampled cars such as Britain’s Morris 1100 will be happy . A pleasant aspect of this is the enhanced roll-stiffness which does not mean a penalty in ride quality.

Innocenti Regent interior: source

Available six

Innocenti are coy about the full plans for their engines but one would not be too far off the mark if one suggested a choice of 1.2, 1.7, and 2.2 litre four units, with a possible 2.8 litre six being available at some point. There is plenty of space under the bonnet for such a unit and the trend in modern family cars is for a range topping six (per the Austin 3-litre, the Triumph 2500 and the mooted Ford Cortina 3.0). As it is, the Regent weighs only 1900 lbs in its smallest configuration and so there is certainly scope for more accelerative models in the future. Perhaps a more rigid sun visor would be welcome.

Some extra room for the legs

Out on the road, I found a comfortable cabin from which to view the countryside. The rear visibility stands out courtesy of the thick c-pillars (it is not very good). The dashboard is modern and the Italians have opted for an interestingly shaped steering wheel which at least provide some extra room for the legs. Rear passengers will enjoy more room than is found in many smaller cars, something to look forward to if one is buying a larger car.

Hard-shoulders are not a problem

Starting from rest the Regent gathers pace in an acceptable manner. The brakes (discs and drums) do a reasonable job of keeping the show on the road (and not off it) while the steering is commendable for its competence. The rugged suspension in any case makes short work of unexpected encounters with uneven surfaces like hard-shoulders or grassy verges. The new-style bumpers are robust and easily replaced. Seat-belts are provided for nervous drivers and front-seat passengers.

Various controls

Some may find the angle of the steering wheel a little too raked but then again, others may find it acceptable or not even notice it all. The various controls are all located within easy reach and learning their location is not much of a chore. A handy cubby is located under the dashboard, adequate for a day’s cigarettes and a pouch of pipe tobacco.

Moderate understeer

If one is a something of a press-on driver, best wait for the larger-engined versions of the Regent (which will be imported to England in the autumn). The 1.2 litre engine makes a decent case for itself if not hurried too much. The tendency of the car is for moderate to less moderate understeer – drivers of other front-wheel cars will find nothing alarming. An ashtray is standard.

Overall, the Regent is a worthy entrant to the market and doubtless will find customers attracted to its Italian style (and cheerful Italian colours).

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

30 thoughts on “Brisk Italian Style, Italian Values in Italy”

  1. It’s astonishing what enough Italian wine an achieve.
    Allegro San Gimignano anyone?

    1. Irony is dead…
      ”As with many Italian vehicles, it has somewhat nicer lines than is usual for “bread-and-butter” entrants to the mass-market (Austin, take note!)”

  2. Good morning Richard and thank you for unearthing another Treasure from Archie. Even a (modest) dose of Italian style couldn’t do much to improve the Allegro, although the ‘Quartic’ instrument faces are a neat touch.

    We’re the clear (with orange tinted bulbs?) indicator lenses purely an aesthetic change, or were they mandated by regulations for some reason? I recall that contemporary Fiats always seemed to feature clear lenses in brochures and publicity photos, which made them seem a touch exotic to my childish eyes:

    1. The indicators had white bulbs and white lenses in Italy and in France until EEC regulations demanded otherwise.

    1. Thanks, Richard. They never seem to write this kind of thing any more. In some ways, that´s good because the chauvinism was foolish (it leads to Clarkson). In another way, it´s a pity so commercial motoring scribes are so awfully boring.

  3. I note the continued influence of the Allegro – the new Ford EV has a ‘semi-quartic’ steering wheel…

  4. Was this Archie Vicar just drunk, or plainly stupid? He didn’t seem aware that this car was an Austin Allegro with an italian name!

    1. Asgeir: thanks for taking a read. I would infer from the article a) quite a lot of liquor was consumed and b) motoring scribes could be a lot less critical – note that Vicar says he did not get many invites to press launches so perhaps he wanted to ensure more invites by being extra nice. Also, I don´t believe there are any grounds for confidence that this so-called transcript is entirely reliable. It is fun to imagine if someone really was so gullible, servile and/or drunk to set down this kind of lazy journalism, even if it is just for a local paper from a suburb of a drab Midlands town.

    2. The drab Midlands town (at that time) was Coventry; Kenilworth is the suburb (in a manner of speaking). That said, there´s a large lump of woodland that physically divides Cov from Kenilworth so it does not feel as if the urb bleeds into the sub.

    3. I followed the link. On the home page, in 62 pt, it says “Lets get your story started!”. What are Lets? Or is there a huge apostrophe missing in the moat of the famed castle?

  5. Some footage of a test drive taken by one of the Italian journalists at the launch exists, I believe.

    1. Only that in ‘Duel’ the guy never was even remotely as fast as here.
      In ‘Duel’ the ultimate tension is reached when the speedo needle comes close to 70 mph, a speed for which even the average Italian ‘motorino’ (scooter) driver has but a laugh.

    2. Fantastic stuff lol

      Also is it me or is the Innocenti Regent somehow a much nicer looking car than the Austin Allegro even though it’s literally the same thing? How is that even possible? Optical illusion?

    3. I thought similar – not sure if it’s the clear indicators and simpler grille that make the front less pinched. ‘Much nicer’ may be over-stating things though 🙂

    4. Re the Regent looking better, I think the clear indicators and other details help. I think calmer colours might suit it better, too.

    5. I don’t think the advert is horrible.
      It probably makes fun of the Spielberg movie which must have provoked the same reaction in Italians as it did in me when I first saw it which was to ask why the guy didn’t simply drive any faster.
      Every proper Italian would have driven away from the truck in a Fiat 500 just as the guy in the Innocenti did so the moments of ultimate danger and tension when the car in the Spielberg movie is driven at 60 or – heaven help- 70 mph must have seemed pretty ridiculous.

      That obviously was before I made my first experiences with US cars and drivers.

  6. I don’t think I saw the complete Spielberg film ‘Duel’ – the one with the malevolent articulated lorry. But I did see the trailer.

  7. I was rather shocked to be reminded – in DTW’s excellent series on the British version of the Innocenti, the Austin Allegro – that said British adaptation was so disappointing. How did the well-judged bonnet line or the thankfully un-flat side panels turn out so much worse in the Austin? Surely, it’s more than just the sunshine?

    1. It´s the usual business of bad management and unresolved socio-cultural problems in Great Britain in the 1970s. Innocenti handed them a wonderfully modern and technically advanced car to sell locally and messed it up. The same happened with the Honda Ballade when it was sold as a Triumph Acclaim. Out went the tidy, sporty styling to be replaced by boxy shapes and a terrible fuel injection system.

    1. From my side I would dearly like to see some of his work brought back into print. It is bordering on the almost scandalous that his writing are for the most part allegedly stored somewhere only I have access to. Most likely is that while I lived in the UK I was able to buy up a job lot of his archive in a car boot sales in the Midlands, near where he is thought to have lived. I seem to think I recall being told the old boxes had been stored in his former house (now the site of a Tesco) in Great Maldon before being sold on to the car-boot seller under opaque circumstances.r

  8. whoever did Mr. Vicar’s spumanti back then seems to be out of business today. I never had anything close to “good” among sparkling from Asti, let alone “memorable”.

    that said, I’ll have a pistacchio croissant, a cappuccino and an Alfasud, please.

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