There's a big stack of rusty parts just to my right. . .
While no two Italias are exactly alike. Most parts remained surprisingly constant throughout the production. The cars are typically broken down into four categories, the prototypes, the show cars, and for the production run, the TS chassis numbers and the TSF chassis numbers (TR3b-based).
Unlike many coachbuilders, Vignale did not use a wooden buck to test fit parts. He believed that every car should be a "work of art." So, body panels from one car probably wouldn't fit another. These variations are noticeable from side to side on the same car. As an example, the driver's door on Italia #311 is 1/2 inch longer than the passenger door. While the cars were being assembled most parts were stamped with the body number as they were made to fit that specific car. They weren't meticulous about this, especially later in the production run and you will often find parts originally meant for one car used on another being built at the same time. Even the floors were made in two sections to be able to adjust for a slight variation in width.
- The two prototypes are considerably different from each other and from the remainder of the production.
- The show cars have different interior trim including chrome window and door handles and a different finish to the dash which attempted to replicate the look of leather on the steel. The badging on these (at present, we believe the first 13) cars is also different and shows the influence in the project of both Vignale and Triumph. The floors in these cars have stiffening ribs running diagonally.The floors of the TRS LeMans cars are very similar.
- The production cars were all built to a reasonably standard specification. The most obvious difference in the production run being the addition of the side marker light on the front wing. Some of the changes during the production run include the arrangement of the trunk (boot) handle and license plate light and the use of differnet taillight lenses. These were Lucas (polished aluminum housings), Altissimo/Early Carello (polished aluminum housings) or Carello (chromed housings) lenses. Italy was one of the first countries to require amber turn signals starting in late 1959 or early 1960. Cars with the all red Lucas lenses were either built before the requirement (namely a few of the show cars) or were destined for the US. All three combinations, the red Lucas lenses, Altissimo (amber/red) and Carello (amber/red) lenses did make it to the United States. Some of the cars were purchased by military personnel in Italy and shipped to the US when their tour of duty was complete. There were separate castings, of slightly different contours, for the Lucas, Altissimo and Carello housings. The Altissimo and Carello housings shared the same inner fixture for holding the bulbs. Carello lenses and altissimo lenses can be interchanged. The Altissimo housings will only allow the amber side to be placed at the top. Also, the floors of the production cars have stiffening ribs running longitudinally.
- The show cars fuel tank had the filler mounted on the left side (when looking into the boot). This was changed with the start of the production run. The show car filler neck had an almost 90° bend before entering the tank. If you weren't particularly careful, you'd find yourself covered in petrol as it splashed back out. For production, the filler was moved slightly to the right so that it was a direct line right into the tank. Late in the production run, after #227 and before #235, the fuel filler was relocated from inside the trunk to a door on the right rear fender (wing). These cars and the following TSF cars have a revised fuel tank situated where the spare tire had been. The new fuel tank was designed with a space for the spare tire and the boot now had a very long area available, all the way to the back of the rear seat.
- The TSF cars still retained the 1991cc engine and the non-synchro transmission of the earlier cars but they now had Girling front disc brakes. The six-month gap between the end of the original production and the order for these cars meant some changes were made. The interior door panels of these cars are different. They do not use the aluminum trim caps seen in the previous cars and the panels are of one piece.
- Cars remaining in Italy were stamped with the chassis number on the top of the right side inner wing. Show cars, cars destined for the US, including all the TSF cars, were not stamped. In recent times, cars imported back into Europe have been required to have the chassis number stamped. We have seen these stamped behind the Commission plate and also on the front right chassis rails.
- The very early cars tended to have the Vignale number stamped on many parts and on multiple places of the body. As production progressed fewer parts were stamped and the body may not have received a Vignale number stamping anywhere other than the tag mounted in the front of the engine bay. As production reached the triple digits, parts may have been stamped with only the last two numbers of the Vignale number. So, Italia #50 would have parts stamped "50," #150 might have parts stamped "50" and #250 might have had parts stamped "50." So that Vignale badge is of tremendous importance. Carpets and interior panels generally have all digits written in chalk or a wax crayon.
- The engine hood (bonnet) prop stay moved from the right front fender to the left somewhere between car #102 and #116.
- Plexiglas sun visors were changed to vinyl after #102 and before #116.
- First known use of later style mirror is in #109
- Prior to approximately #126, the boot handle and the incorporated license plate light were mounted above the license plate.
- #126 combined the early upper handle, and the light on the later style lower escutcheon.
- #129 and #134 use the early upper handle but with a light mounted on the bumper.
- The license light below the boot lid started sometime after #134 and before #153.
- The later seat style didn't appear until after #126 and before #153.
- The change from the early style "Italia 2000" badge to the later occurred between #194 and #195.
- First Interior map light from the FIAT 1100 and certain Ferraris and Lamborghinis was used up to about #134.
- Second Interior map light from the FIAT 1100 and 600 Multipla appears some time after #134.
- The third interior map light used in the TSF cars is from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint, Sprint Speciale and 2600.
A Tale of Two Italias.
Secondi Automobili, a Peugeot dealer in Milan, specialized in buying up excess stock from defunct dealers. According to Jörg von Appen, many of the cars were relatively generic econoboxes from the sixties. They would put the cars away and occasionally display one in their showroom. But there were, as it now turns out, not one but two very special cars in with all those run of the mill Renaults and FIATs. Both Italia #126 and #215 were hidden away in Secondi's stock. In 1981, he decided that it was time to offer them for sale. This presented some problems as he now had to apply for an exemption from the current emissions standards. There is one visible concession to modernity in both cars. They have a crankcase breather apparatus installed to recycle engine fumes rather than discharge them to the atmosphere as was the practise until later in the Triumph TR4's run. I have to admit that the breather apparatus was my one concern with #126. The discovery of #215 has answered that question.
#126 was purchased from a dealer in 1987. It had been in dealers stock since 1962. Occasionally, it was brought out into the showroom over the years but was never sold until Jörg von Appen happened to come across the car. He was in Italy when someone told him of #126. Jörg went to the dealership and entered into long negotiations and it was some time before the car changed hands.
#126 is an excellent reference for owners of earlier Italias. With only 27km from new, it represents a unique opportunity to see a car as it was when it left the factory. It has the aluminum taillight housings with the Altissimo lenses. The seat pattern, both front and rear, is the early style. The two-part door panels, with a lower strip in addition to the main section, carried through for most of the run. These were to change with the TSF cars (see above).
#215 was purchased from Secondi in 1981 by Mr. Umberto Croce. It was most likely used to gain emissions approval and had approximately 400km when first sold. Mr. Croce added another 6,000 km before offering it for sale in 2013. As with #126, this car is a perfect reference point for Italia restorers. We are extremely fortunate that two such cars have survived from the tiny initial production run.
Paul Harvey purchased #215 from Mr. Croce. It's Paul's aim to photographically document every part of his Italia. Below are just a few sample photos. Many more can be seen here on Paul's Flickr page.