By most accounts, only 329 of the hand-formed bodied TR3s were ever built – known as the Triumph Italia 2000 Coupé. Designed by Giovanni Michelotti and built by Alfredo Vignale in Turin, under contract to Ruffino S.p.A. Industria Construzione Automobile of Naples – it was thought that these cars would appeal to people willing to spend more for the dependability and ease of obtaining stock mechanical parts, but who wanted a better looking car than the standard Triumph - "Italian bodywork at its best, British tradition in sports car engineering at its finest.”
At the time, Signore Salvatore Ruffino was the managing Director of CESAC, the Italian company that distributed Standard-Triumph in Italy. He approached Standard-Triumph to supply chassis and mechanical components to build 1,000 cars. The introduction of the closed-top, two seater was well received at the 1958 Turin Motor Show – “Italian artistry and British craftsmanship have come together and produced this new, superlative Italia 2000 Coupé.”
Vignale began production in July 1959 with only a few changes to the original – rather than a slanting nose and covered glass headlights displayed on the prototype, a look similar to Michelotti’s Maserati 3500 design was produced. And although the two prototypes had some aluminum body panels, all Italias used steel. Cars came through with Ascari mufflers with a distinctive and melodious tone, and the original Triumph electric overdrive switch was moved from its left-hand dash-mounted position to an under-dash spot right above the gear shift, providing faster, more convenient downshifting out of overdrive in turns at high speeds.
Ruffino envisioned building 1,000 cars, between 1960 and 1962, with worldwide distribution including the American marketplace. He had a verbal agreement to have every Triumph dealer (720) purchase an Italia. The Italia never became an official model of Standard-Triumph.
However, Ruffino’s vision didn't come to pass for a number of reasons. Faced with ensuing financial and labor problems, Standard-Triumph was taken over by Leyland Motors in 1961. Shortly afterwards, Triumph withdrew their support for the Italia. Perhaps fearing increased competition, Triumph concentrated their efforts on the new TR4 to be released in 1962. The TR4, also designed by Michelotti, clearly borrowed many elements from the Italia - the distinctive bonnet bulge, kick-up door with wind-up windows, and roomier modern body design.
Despite Triumph's pull out, Ruffino S.p.A. re-badged the car as the Italia 2000 and continued production. Over a three-year production period (mid-1959 to mid-1962) Vignale produced approximately 329 cars. Most were left-hand drive with the probable exception of six cars. The last run of roughly 35 cars were based on the modified TR3B chassis rather that the TR3A, and benefited from the improved gearbox that had been developed for the TR4.
Most Italia sales in America were handled by Stutz Plaisted Imports (Salem, Massachusetts). Even though production at Vignale came to a close in 1962, some of the last cars remained unsold until 1965. Slow sales can be attributed to the expensive $5,000 price tag ($1,000 premium over the TR3) and since body parts were not stocked outside Italy, buyers were required to sign a release form of acknowledgment.
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