As the first-generation Mini forged ahead with its early sales success, Italian carmaker Autobianchi must have been looking on with envious eyes. Its attempt to grab a slice of the pie was launched in 1969 as the A112, a three-door hatchback that used the same (back then) relatively unusual transverse engine/front-wheel drive layout in a marginally larger package.
Bertone’s Marcello Gandini, the man behind the Lamborghini Miura, Countach and Diablo, was drafted in to do the design, which to contemporary eyes looks like a very agreeable mash-up between the Fiat 126 and the British Mini. Speaking of Fiat (which had bought the brand a year earlier), under the skin was a shortened 128 Platform, while power came from a 903cc inline-four taken from the 850.
The Mini Cooper and Cooper S had proven years before the A112 that tiny cars have performance potential, and it didn’t take Autobianchi long to go down the same route with its creation. It turned to Fiat motorsport arm Abarth for the work, which involved dropping in a 982cc engine with a twin-choke carburettor and a ruder exhaust.
In 1975 the capacity was bumped up to 1050cc, with the power climbing to about 70bhp. Doesn’t sound like much, be we are talking about a car that weighed less than 700kg. Continuing the Mini parallels further, the A112 turned out to make a pretty sweet rally car, leading to the creation of the one-make Campionato A112 Abarth series.
A112 production lasted all the way up until 1986, by which time Autobianchi had made about 1.2 million of the things. Today, though, survivors are relatively scarce, even back in the A112’s native Italy. You’ve even less chance of finding on in the UK or USA where they weren’t ever sold officially, but there are a few kicking around in both countries.
The 1977 Abarth you see here was imported to the USA relatively recently after spending some time in storage in Italy. Before being brought across the pond it was treated to a respray, a reupholstered interior and a rebuilt engine featuring a fancier camshaft and a stainless steel exhaust. The finishing touch is an oh-so-lovely set of 13-inch Campagnolo wheels. In all, the restoration cost $25,000, with receipts to prove the financial pain.
The five-digit odometer is thought to have rolled over, so the total mileage isn’t known. Currently, it’s showing as 40,000 kilometres, which is about 25,000 miles.
Currently residing in Manchester, New Hampshire, the A112 is offered via a no-reserve auction on Bring a Trailer. Since these come up for sale so infrequently, it’s hard to say how much it might go for. A modified A112 Junior went for just under $5000 on the same platform in 2020, while a late Abarth ‘Smash’ sold for $9700 the year before, just to give you an idea.