Former Wheels editor Peter Robinson takes you behind the scenes of his 1997 feature An Italian Job, when he searched in a legendary Lamborghini for the Alpine setting of its most famous crash.
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.
Read Peter Robinson’s classic story, as published in the January 1997 edition of Wheels.
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.
Time for another viewing I reckon.