In 1975, as a 12- year old boy who was crazy about cars, two separate events occurred that stamped the name of Lamborghini indelibly on my consciousness. One was hearing for the first time one of their glorious V-12 engines (in this case in an Espada which I would later own, but that’s another story) drive past the family home, and secondly having my first viewing of the movie “The Italian Job”. The opening scene, with the orange Lamborghini Miura driving through the Alps, signified how far from normal life for most people (myself included) this car was.
The Miura took on an ethereal persona as exotic and unreachable. I’ve been very fortunate in life to pursue professionally my two passions, cars and performing arts. My constant fascination with complex machinery led me on an inevitable collision course with complex cars. Having started my working life as a mechanic in a Rolls-Royce and Bentley service centre, the discipline, challenges and rewards of working on some of the best cars in the world were ingrained from the outset. Nevertheless, there was always something new to discover, and very quickly I found myself studying and working on those very cars that had hitherto eluded me….Lamborghinis!
In this respect, my world was about to be turned upside down with just one phone call.
The phone call
Fast forward to 2015. By this time, I had been fortunate enough to work on many Lamborghinis. There was however one car that was still a fish that had never knowingly been in captivity anywhere, so much so that it wasn’t even in my consciousness or wildest dreams. In this respect, my world was about to be turned upside down with just one phone call. I was speaking with my friend, Lamborghini historian Olivier Nameche when he asked, almost in passing, if I had any interest in the “Italian Job Miura”. What followed was a very exciting journey indeed…
I had done as much preparation as I could before venturing to see it in the flesh, but this was very condensed due to being basically two days after that first conversation! I resolved myself not to get sucked into the emotional “draw” of it being the actual movie car, and if there was a question mark about the 100% truth of any aspect, it was to be discounted immediately from my investigations.
I was highly sceptical, but my interest was piqued. I had the “inside track” on the car at the time of the phone call, and realised I had to act quickly before word started to get out and I potentially missed the boat. There were already some people beginning to make noises about it being the movie car. It was located in a secure and covert deep basement level in an underground car park in Paris, the sort of place that you wouldn’t know existed, even if you drove right up to it. This, and the manner in which I was accompanied from the airport to inspect it was slightly Bond-esque, and only added to the mystique of this already enigmatic car. Arriving at this location and awaiting entry, the adrenaline was coursing through my veins: It was nearly impossible to be objective!
My early research focussed on indisputable facts, such as the exact dates of the shooting of the scenes with the car (to form the opening 4-minute sequence of the movie). These were in the public domain, from Paramount and other sources such as members of the film crew who were there. They were the 28th_ 30th June 1968. This rather obviously discounted any Miura made after that date. Another point of record was the details of the car itself, observed by others and yours truly, scrutinising stills of the movie closely in HD format. This is where things get rather technical, so we need to take a look at Lamborghini Miura history!
The Miura first entered proper production in April 1967. This started as rather a “rush job”, because Lamborghini, Marchesi (who made the chassis frames), and Bertone (who made, painted and trimmed the bodies) were all taken off-guard by the huge acclaim and more particularly demand for the car from the word go. The deposits were flying in, and what started as a “hobby project” for Ferrucio Lamborghini’s insatiable young development team had to be transformed into something suitable to be sold to the (admittedly hand-picked) public within the space of a few months. Why do I mention this? The net result was that the first cars, stupendous game-changing achievement as they were, were not as developed as they could or should have been and were barely fit for purpose, even in the different world of the late 1960’s! Consequently, early production Miuras went through some significant improvements very quickly, and it is these changes that formed the second strand of my investigations.
Almost inevitably, if someone has been working with something for 33 years, more so if one is passionate about it, one does build up a degree of familiarity (but hopefully not contempt) about that subject. So it is with myself and classic cars, including Lamborghinis. I will wholeheartedly confess to being a Miura Nerd! This rather placed me in the fortunate position of having both first-hand knowledge, and a large amount of reference material I’d built up over the years, at my disposal. I trawled through photographs, my own notes, and got the little grey cells working overtime. Looking at specific modifications introduced at particular build dates, I noted the following changes by timeline over the months of Miura production before end of June 1968…
- Different steering wheel. First-series wooden rim with 3 polished and ribbed spokes, second series with thicker leather rim and 3 round holes in each un-polished spoke.
- Updated door trims, with completely new design.
- Introduction of leather seats as a factory option.
- Change of design of “Bertone” badge on side of body.
The main driver (no pun intended) to the first three changes was that the first Miura interiors were not deemed of high-enough quality by lots of buying customers- again casualties of the hasty introduction. Indeed, I know of several that were sent by their eager buyers straight to coachbuilding companies for a full re-trim of the interior before they even took delivery! Lamborghini and Bertone realised this, and started upgrading the look very quickly. The Miura underwent lots of alterations and improvements during its manufacture, as has just about any car ever made, but I was specifically interested only in those visibly identifiable in the movie sequence and before June 1968 in this case.
All four above mentioned changes are incorporated into the car in the opening sequence; all were introduced around the same time, November 1967, so this narrowed the window of potential cars to a total of seven months’ production only. Now we drill down in to more specifics again….
Black and white
The leather seats option was particularly interesting, and telling. The interior shots show us quite clearly that there is a very light cream or white headrest behind Rossano Brazzi’s head as he is driving the car. What can also be identified is some sort of pattern embossed horizontally in the leather itself on this. To the initiated, this is a particular type of embossing made by special tooling used by Bertone when they made the leather interiors for Lamborghinis. The same pattern was used in Lamborghini’s other flagship model, the Espada, which was launched in 1968, which when “productionised” came with leather as standard. This tells us that this has to be a factory leather headrest, but then we notice something strange- the driver’s seat doesn’t match. It is finished in a black fine basket-weave patterned vinyl. Once again, there is an explanation for this. The white leather seat, matching the headrest, has been removed, and the factory “Mule” driver’s seat in the movie has been temporarily fitted to save the easily-marked leather being damaged. This particular pattern of vinyl was used by Bertone in all sorts of contemporary interiors for the likes of FIAT (124 Sport Coupe and 125), and Alfa Romeo (Montreal), as well as early Miuras. It would have been perfectly logical to make this temporary change, particularly as the seats in a Miura take literally seconds to remove and refit- most unusually they slide right off their runners when pushed far forward, and then simply lift out. What is revealed by the white factory leather headrest is that this was one of the first Miuras ever to have an original interior to that specification. When matched with the build records of Miuras up to June ’68, there were only two other cars that left the factory with white leather seats other than this one, and neither of them is orange. Now things begin to get interesting!
The more I looked into it, the more convinced I became that it was indeed the car.
One other noteworthy anomaly with this car is the gap between completion and delivery dates. Normally a finished Miura was dispatched to its chomping-at-the-bit new owner immediately. Not this one- the car was completed on the 27th. June 1968, but left the factory for delivery on the 2nd. July. Why was the car most unusually kept back for those few days? Just enough time for the 400km drive from Sant’Agata to the location in the Alps, a couple of day’s shooting, return drive and change the aforementioned seat, as well as wheels and sills (which are also easily changeable parts and are scruffy in the movie), and delivery to its totally unsuspecting first owner. It will be noticed in the movie that the speedometer was disconnected and not working- it was a different world back then!
I must confess, I can’t recall exactly the timeline of the above conclusions, but some things, like the embossed leather, I was able to identify immediately, before the viewing. The more I looked into it, the more convinced I became that it was indeed the car. The further forensic investigation into the exactly-matching hand-made stitching twixt movie and car was really just another confirmation.
Dispelling the myth
However, there remained a slight sense that the final piece of the puzzle was missing – confirmation from Lamborghini themselves that, beyond any doubt, this was ‘the’ Miura from the movie.
As is the case for millions of other people around the world, my love affair with the iconic Lamborghini Miura began with that four-minute passage of cinema; namely the opening sequence to the Italian Job. Remarkably, the film celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. The mystery surrounding whether one or two cars were used to film the sequence, and if one car survived just what happened to it afterwards, became a topic for discussion over the following forty-six years. Undoubtedly then, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that ‘the’ Miura became something akin to a mythical creature, making it one of, if not the most coveted movie cars of all time. As one might imagine, its legendary status significantly heightened the intensity of my adrenaline levels during the process of its unearthing.
Lamborghini Miura Chassis number 3586 has now been acknowledged as the Italian Job Miura by the factory. I must be one of the luckiest people alive to not only have got up close and personal with it, but to have driven it in anger on the very roads that started it all 50 years ago. It would be nice to think that there’s another similarly fascinating car waiting to be unearthed that comes across my path somewhere in the world, but that would be a tall order indeed!