A Brief History of the Triumph Italia
By Jamie Palmer
To begin, let me explain that almost all Italia history is open to conjecture, and while doing research for this page, I have found that many sources contridict each other...so take all of this with a grain of salt. If you disagree with any of the following information, please take the time to write and let me know!
Yes, they really ARE steel.
The Italia was introduced at the Turin Auto Show in 1958. Its similar styling to the TR-S Le Mans cars is quite evident; both came from the pen of Giovanni Michelotti at about the same time. It is believed that the car was built with the hopes of interesting Standard-Triumph in producing the car. There has been much speculation over the years that the factory considered producing the model with an aluminum body and the TR-S "Sabrina" twin-cam engine, however, no proof of this rumor has surfaced. Standard-Triumph did obtain one of the first Italias built for evaluation purposes, and copies exist of a document where a Mr. R. Smith of the "Research and Experimental Department" tested TS51639LCO on the M.I.R.A. track on Feburary 17, 1960. It is worth noting that even though the car had only 1200 miles on it, it achieved a corrected lap speed of 109.3 MPH in overdrive, and it is noted on the document that "one other T.R. only has lapped at a speed exceeding 109 MPH."
As Triumph struggled through its labor troubles, Ruffino S.p.A., the Italian Triumph import agent at the time, decided to put the car into production, but with a steel body and a relatively standard TR-3A chassis. There were many detail changes as time went on. The biggest change occured between the first and second cars produced; the first prototype had a "droop" nose, glass-covered headlamps, and many other unusual features. By the time the car re-appeared at the next Turin show, a fairly "standard" specification had been worked out. Build dates of these chassis show that they began around July 1959, and ran through mid-1962.
It appears that Standard-Triumph lost interest shortly after testing the Italia, probably due to no fault of the car's, but more likely because it would provide competition for the soon-to-be-introduced TR-4. Consequently, it is alleged that S-T reneged on some of their agreements with Dr. Ruffino, and that production, distribution, and ultimately the car itself were damaged by this.
Thanks to some research done in the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust Museum archives, it has been determined that a total of 297 TR-3A and 3B chassis were shipped to Italy to be built into Italias, although it is not clear whether all were used or not. The highest serial number I am aware of at this time is #329 (Italias received their own, small Vignale # plate as well as the original TR-3A/B commission plate), although higher numbers have been rumored over the years. Only the last cars, commission numbers TSF501 to TSF530 were built on the TR-3B chassis. It appears all of these cars came to the US, and were sold mainly in Florida. Most of the early US cars were sold through Stutz Plaisted Imports in Salem, Massachusetts.
Dave's car AFTER painting and a tremendous amount of bodywork!
Both of the Italia's Cheri and I own (#317 and #322) were not originally titled until 1965 which leads me to believe that the cars were not particularly popular when new, at least in the U.S. Although the one in-depth magazine article written at the time the cars were being produced was quite favorable, the cost and limited performance (vs. comparably-priced cars) doomed the Italia from the start. Those cars that remain, however, certainly add a unique feature to those events where they appear!
Mr. Adrian Sinnott has done a great deal of research on the murky history of the Italia; most of the facts above come from his research. However, if there are inaccuracies, please blame me, not him! I'd also like to thank Dave Hutchison, and most of all, Bill Krzastek, for providing technical information, copies of original brochures, and Italia companionship!