The Italia 2000 coupe was the brainchild of Standard-Triumph's Italian importer, Salvatore Ruffino of Naples.
Ruffino, who bought the rights to distribute Triumphs in Italy in 1957 and formed C.E.S.A.C. for this purpose, wanted to build his own Triumph TR3-based closed sports car, and he approached Carrozzeria Zagato for design proposals.
Not pleased with Zagato's designs, he turned to stylist Giovanni Michelotti, who returned with plans for a handsome slope-nose coupe.
The introduction of the two seater was well received at the 1958 Turin Motor Show.
"Italian artistry and British craftsmanship have come together and produced this new, superlative ltalia 2000 Coupe."
Vignale began production in July 1959 with only a few changes to the original prototype.
There were only two prototype Italias. The first had a sloping front hood (bonnet) with glassed in headlights. It was very daring and modern for the time. Some stability issues at speed became apparent and the opening below the front bumper didn't get enough cool air to the rather small TR3 style radiator. It would be a few years yet before electric fans, modern radiators and aerodynamic studies would make a design such as this possible.
The interior for this car was done in two-tone, something not seen in any of the later cars. It also appears to have a Nardi wooden steering wheel as does the second prototype. In both this and the second car, having the Nardi wheel meant moving the turn signal switch to the transmission tunnel, just below the gear lever.
The first prototype remains unaccounted for and there are only a few photos in existence. Dario Ruffino remembers the first prototype being converted to production Italia specification at a later date. This photo appeared in the July 1959 issue of Esquire
magazine which had a feature on Italian car design. Others of the car at the 1958 Turin Auto Show appeared in Automobile Year
#6 and a German-language auto magazine.
Badging differs from the production cars but is similar to that used on the show cars. The first prototype has the "by G. Michelotti" badge on the bonnet. The rare "Vignale 'V'" can be seen on the front just above the bumper (photo at left, click to see more about badges). In this instance and on the second prototype it is black on the left and red on the right, the colors being reversed in the lower half of the badge. "Triumph Italia" appears on the lower front wings near the "Vignale" badge. The rear wings sport only the "Vignale-Michelotti" crossed flags.
The second prototype, which still survives, looked much more like the final design. Lots of details would be changed before the Italia as we know it arrived. The second prototype uses taillights also used on an Alfa Romeo (not found on the remaining production but since substituted for the rare Carello's by a few owners desperate for something that would fit). The nose appears to come further out in front of the car perhaps because the grille is set back deeper within the opening. This photo is from the June, 1959 issue of Automobile Engineer
This car also uses the rectangular Carello front parking lights. A very few of the production cars have similar rectangular lights. It now seems that early owners/restorers may have been attempting to match the photos of this prototype. While it is possible that some cars may have come with them, it is appearing unlikely. The dashboard has a silver section below the glovebox and auxillary instruments. The ignition switch is located to the right of the steering wheel in this same section next to the other switches rather than on the left side. The words, "dii prudenta" appear as a badge on the glovebox door. The ashtray is in a special housing which was also used on the "show car" Italias but not on the production ones. On the engine hood is the "by G. Michelotti" badge, "Triumph Italia" appears on the lower front wings near the "Vignale" badge. The rear wings sport only the "Vignale-Michelotti" crossed flags, the "Vignale 'V'" can be seen on the lower front part of the grille surround and "Triumph 2000" appears on the boot lid. The car sports Borrani wire wheels which were available as an option on the later cars but have not been seen on any surviving Italias.