automotive manufacturing plant / Milano / 1933 - 1993 / 2005, 2006, 2007
This historical mechanical engineering company was established in Milan in 1933 by Ferdinando Innocenti, the father of the famous metal scaffoldings patent known as "tubi Innocenti". An impressive development throughout the 1930s was then favored by the shift towards ordnance manufacturing (bomb shells, grenades, etc.). This "perfect example of fascist industry" - as described by Benito Mussolini in occasion of a site visit in 1939 - was selected by the Ministry of War to take part to a national secret plan to establish bullets manufacturing units. The largest one, named "Guerra III", was settled up right next to the existing Innocenti factory, and consisted of four giant steel-made halls (each covering an area of 23140 square meters). During the wartime around 7000 people were employed in the complex, of which mostly unskilled females.
The postwar reconversion, managed by the founder and a couple of aeronautic engineers - Pier Luigi Torre and Cesare Pallavicino - is pretty an epic story. Inspired by US Army motorcycles, the team designed a low-cost vehicle for the working class, which turned to be the world's most famous scooter Lambretta (named after Lambrate, the Milanese neighborhood in which the factory was located). Put on sale on december 1947, Lambretta was sold up to 9000 units already in the first year. In 1950 the number increased up to 100000, of which 30% between Europe, US and South America. However, the success of Lambretta was about to extinguish as low cost city cars made their appearance. After some failed attempts to manufacture a series of own-designed automobiles, Innocenti signed a contract in 1959 with the British Motor Company to assemble a model of Austin A40. Starting from 1965 a series of Mini cars based on British models but improved in finishings and design was produced.
In 1970s the two main branches of the company were split up: heavy mechanics was sold to Finsider and merged with Sant'Eustacchio into INNSE, while the automobile sector was taken over by British Leyland. Soon the bad financial situation of the latter infected the Italian subsidiary, which was forced to close in 1975 leaving 4500 people jobless. Protests arose and the factory was permanently occupied for some months. A restart was then promoted by the public financial holding GEPI and the Argentinian entrepreneur Alejandro De Tomaso. Production was then concentrated on Mini and Maserati cars. In 1990 Innocenti was finally taken over by FIAT, anyway not interested in maintaining the production. The historic Lambrate plant was definitively closed in march 1993.
Gamba, M. (1976), Innocenti: imprenditore, fabbrica e classe operaia in cinquant'anni di vita italiana, Mazzotta, Milano.