Clay minerals from soils of a red-black soil complex developed from basaltic parent material in Sardinia are formed along a short toposequence (200 m). At the foot of the sequence, a clay-rich, black Vertisol forms, whereas at the summit, the soil is a dark reddish-brown Inceptisol. X-ray diffraction, infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), cation exchange capacity (CEC) and permanent and variable charges analyses were used, and the data show that clay minerals varied according to soil horizon and topographic position of the soil. Clay minerals in the Inceptisol are dominated by kaolinite and mixed-layer kaolinite-smectite (K-S, K:S >0.5), whereas the Vertisol contains smectites and K-S with K:S proportions <0.5. In the Vertisol, the proportion of kaolinitic layers in the K-S increases from the C horizon (K:S ~0.35–0.40) to the Ap horizon (K:S ~0.40–0.45). This soil clay-mineral distribution, in relation to topography, is similar to that reported for other (kaolinitic) red-black (smectitic) soil associations in subtropical and tropical areas. The sequence forms by downward drainage on summits and slopes, and buildup of ions in ‘lows’ produces smectites. Fourier transform infrared spectra indicate that two types of smectite are formed in the C horizon of the Vertisol; one is more ferric (Fe-beidellite, nontronite), the other more aluminous. Mineralogical evolution in the soil profile (from C to Ap horizon) shows a decreasing proportion of ferric smectite layers (compared to the more aluminous smectite layers). This would indicate that ferric smectite layers are preferentially transformed (or dissolved) to give kaolinite layers, with Fe precipitating as oxides and/or oxy-hydroxides or retained partly in kaolinite layers. Because the surface properties of clay minerals are related to mineralogy, the CEC (33–41 cmol kg−1) in the brown Inceptisol is ~50% pH-dependent charge while in the Vertisol up to ~75% of the CEC (48–61 cmol kg−1) comes from accessible permanent charges.