An Italian Job

PETER ROBINSON’S Classic Wheels

Peter Robinson

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES FIRST PUBLISHED JANUARY 1997

FOR CAR LOVERS IT IS SURELY BOTH THE MOST MEMORABLE AND SHOCKING OPENING SEQUENCE IN MOVIE HISTORY. THE CAMERA PANS DOWN ON AN ORANGE LAMBORGHINI MIURA BELTING THROUGH THE SNOW-COVERED ALPS, INITIALLY TO THE UNMISTAKABLE SOUND OF A V12 ENGINE ON SONG BEFORE THIS FADES TO THE VOICE OF MATT MONRO SINGING ON DAYS LIKE THESE.

Nothing suggests what is coming: the Miura blasts into a tunnel… then you hear savage braking, then a devastating explosion. We then see a bulldozer throw the wrecked Lambo down a ravine, watched by an assembly of Mafia henchmen (see photo on the opposite page).

On first viewing the 1969 movie The Italian Job, it’s impossible to believe the producers would wreck a Miura, then probably the world’s most desirable – and certainly the most beautiful – sports car. “Oh no, they couldn’t,” I’d shouted in astonishment in the movie theatre.

I always wanted to find the road, preferably in a Miura, to bring car and magnificent scenery together again.

An Italian friend provided the Lambo, even if the yellow didn’t match the burnt orange of the film car, and after watching the film yet again with a car designer mate, I spent a Saturday searching for the road in the mountains north of Turin. Eventually, on the Colle Gran San Bernardo, which runs north off the A5 autostrada that links Turin with Mont Blanc, we realised we’d scored. There was no sign of the tunnel, though; only many years later did I learn that it is 50km away on the other side of the valley.

A few days on, photographer Stan Papior collected the Miura in Turin and we headed for the Alps for an unforgettable day. Not because the Miura was a great car to drive – it wasn’t – but for the excitement of driving that car on roads that provided Papior with the best photographic location he’d ever used.

Styling took total precedence over practicality and everything else in the Miura. Even in 1996, 30 years after it was launched, the Miura seemed impossibly compact and light. It weighed just 1200kg, and the 2464mm wheelbase is 236mm shy of today’s Aventador, Lambo’s equivalent V12.

With one stroke, the Miura made every production Ferrari obsolete; the first 12-cylinder mid-engine Ferrari didn’t arrive until 1971. Working in complete secrecy, Lambo engineers Gian Paolo Dallara and Paolo Stanzani effectively copied the Ford GT40 and Ferrari 250LM racers, though the Miura was always intended to be a road car.

Today, we know that Lamborghini provided the movie producers with two Miuras – one for the driving shots (recently found and now valued at about $2.5m) and another with a body shell mounted on an accident-damaged chassis that could be destroyed for the movie. Only on close examination can you see the body doesn’t include an engine.

“A LOCAL BARMAN TOLD US THAT, UNTIL THEY WERE CLEARED AWAY BY RANGERS A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, BITS OF THE WRECKED CARS COULD STILL BE FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF THE VALLEY” – PETER ROBINSON, 1997

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Drawing conclusions

THE question of who designed the Miura will be debated forever, without resolution. Most people like to believe Bertone’s claim that the mid-engine supercar – the world’s first to use the tag – was styled by Marcello Gandini, then Bertone’s design boss. However, after seeing Giorgetto Giugiaro’s original design drawings for the car, I’m certain that he was responsible for the proportions and basic styling, carried out in the months before he left Bertone in late 1964. Gandini only added the detail when he replaced Giugiaro. Apart from these drawings, there is also the evidence of Giugiaro’s 1963 Testudo concept car, a rebodied Chevrolet Corvair that shares essentially the same design language.

ALSO IN WHEELS, January 1997

ROBBO cuts loose in a trio of German roadsters; driving the facelifted Lexus ES300; testing the first offering from Korean carmaker Kia, the Mentor; Ford’s American-built Explorer; Senator John Button reflects on his controversial car plan; our favourite cars (and photos) of 1996; the 10 dumbest cars in history; on the road with the World Solar Challenge

THE WAY IT WAS '97

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READ THIS STORY AND HEAPS MORE CLASSICS AT WheelsMag.com.au/classic