The Italian Job Minis and the 'ultimate in car chases'
The thrilling sequence in the 1969 film ‘The Italian Job’, where the three patriotically coloured Mini Cooper S get away cars make their escape over, under and through the city of Turin has rightly won plaudits over the years as the best movie chase of all time. Despite the stunts carried out by the crack French ‘L’Equipe Rémy Julienne’, there are however some strong contenders for the title and in some circles it is not a foregone conclusion that the cheeky red, white and blue Minis are the winners. The Italian Job Minis do however definitely scoop the accolade for the ‘ultimate in car chases’ when you look at the complete story of the Minis and not just the exciting dash through Turin with its memorable stunts at numerous city locations, including traversing the steps in front of the Gran Madre di Dio church and speeding through the Galleria San Federico (both pictured above). Right from planning the caper movie through to today, the Minis have always been the subject of a chase. A chase to get Mini Cooper cars into the film, of course the Turin chase sequence (including Turin sewer stand-in location Stoke Aldermoor near Coventry, honoured in the display at the Coventry Transport Museum pictured above) right through to the chase over the years to locate the identity and the fate of the cars.
The Mini Coopers were in the script from day one but convincing everybody this was a good idea, especially the owners of Mini at the time, was not easy. Thanks to Fiat’s generous contribution towards making the film and some lucrative offers to extend that contribution, the getaway cars could well have ended up coming from the Fiat stable. However, the film’s production team were determined that it had to be Minis in the film, for their cheeky character and as a symbol of modern Britain. The team did not give up the chase and turned Fiat down.
Re persuading the owners of Mini, the production team tried on several occasions to get BMC (British Motor Corporation) involved in the film based on the seemingly obvious marketing and publicity benefits for BMC. However, BMC did not see it that way and turned down the request. Only once Michael Caine was signed up as Charlie Croker and Paramount were behind the film did a second approach by the production team eventually persuade BMC to help. Ahead of the successful approach, the production team had to overcome a fresh hurdle with their new American backers since Paramount had never heard of the Mini car, only the mini skirt!
The assistance from BMC was not fulsome however and betrayed a lack of commitment. The exact nature of the help was unclear but initially it seemed as if BMC had loaned or given the two sets of red, white and blue Mini Cooper S cars. In the end though, it seemed the production team paid trade price for them as well as agreeing to pay for damage caused to the cars during filming. The toll on the cars during filming was heavy and there was a need for extra cars, particularly as some scenes saw Minis destroyed as part of the script. A request for additional cars to BMC’s Chairman during filming was initially met with a refusal unless the production team was prepared to buy them. In a nifty bit of manoeuvring, the suggestion from the production team that a change of script might see the Minis ‘break down’ during the pursuit and the occupants be caught up with by the Mafia, changed the Chairman’s mind. I do wonder whether Mr Bridger’s comment to the prison governor about "lazy, unimaginative management which is driving this country on the rocks" might have had its origins in the chase to secure the Minis for the film. Dunlop, to its credit, recognised the value of the association, providing tyres and making a commercial with one of the Mini Coopers.
The well-loved car chase through Turin is still fresh in people’s minds even if it is now over 50 years since the screen antics of ‘chinless wonders’ Chris, Tony and Dominic in the Mini Coopers were first seen by the public. The stories behind some of the most famous stunts carried out by, and in some cases, also created by French stunt driver Rémy Julienne and his team are not as widely known. The stories deserve a blog all of their own and Otway & Orford will pen something at a later date. Suffice to say that the film would not have been the same had Rémy walked out after a dispute over the first planned stunt where the three Mini Coopers are driven onto the coach. Thank goodness the production team relented and that 3 Dinky toys and a lot of hand signals, compensating for Rémy’s lack of English and the few French speakers on the production team, meant that the stunts went from drawing board to execution safely yet in spectacular fashion. This includes Rémy Julienne’s top stunt of the Fiat factory rooftop gap jumped by the three Minis.
The final, and longest running, part of the ‘ultimate in car chases’ involves the fate of the Mini Cooper S cars seen in ‘The Italian Job’. Many of the 'extra' Minis, bought in Switzerland and northern Italy, were destroyed in scenes such as pushing the cars out of the back of the coach. Not much was left after that scene, with some cars falling several thousand feet and crossing a couple of sections of the road in the process. Those 'extra' cars not required for destruction were simply left behind after the production had finished, parked in a hired storage space in Turin.
The real prize though has always been the fate of the cars from BMC used throughout the film. Rémy Julienne confirmed that none of the cars were drivable after filming as they were all damaged, fit only for scrap, but they were duly returned to BMC. Sadly, BMC’s records do not provide the information as to what happened to any of the Minis returned and DVLA records only go back as far as 1978. We must presume that some or all were scrapped and any survivors lost a traceable link to the film once they were returned to BMC.
In the absence of any of the original cars and with the ever-growing popularity of ‘The Italian Job’ over time, a number of ‘Italian Job’ Mini Cooper S cars have been lovingly and painstakingly created in homage to the iconic film. David Morton of Mr Bridger’s Workshop in the North East has been responsible for many of these cars and his close collaboration with both Rémy Julienne and Sir Michael Caine has ensured that his cars are exactly as the original film cars. This has been a “BIG, B – I – G” project to quote Mr Bridger and a hobby that got a “little out of control” to quote David Morton but the authenticity of the resulting cars has made it all worthwhile.
The car number plates seen in the film were not actually issued at the time by the DVLA’s 1960s predecessor. The plates worn by the film cars were all ‘G’ registration, to coincide with the film’s release in the summer of 1969, whereas filming took place during 1968 (‘F’ registration). The modern day DVLA eventually decided to officialise the number plates from the film, as part of a programme to maximise return on assets, and put the registrations up for auction in January 2006. The final auction price was £19,800 and the registrations were bought by David Morton, subsequently being applied to his set of red, white and blue Mini Cooper S cars. As well as buying the registrations and documentation, David has also purchased the only remaining parts from the original cars. Such is the authenticity of these homage cars, including their registrations, that both Rémy Julienne and Sir Michael have signed them as a seal of approval. David’s cars, known as ‘The Official Italian Job Minis’, are recognised by Paramount Pictures and are the only set of cars in the world to be legally registered with the original 1969 Italian Job film registrations.
Who knows whether there is more to be unveiled in the chase for the original cars but in the meantime we can enjoy the Minis courtesy of David Morton of Mr Bridger’s Workshop. Thanks to David and his cars, charities can benefit from each appearance made at events and in TV & promotional work by the only Mini Cooper S cars legally registered with the original Italian Job registrations.
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Find out more about 'The Official Italian Job Minis' at www.italianjobminis.com The image of 'The Italian Job' sewer chase display at the Coventry Transport Museum is courtesy of Karen under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence. The image of Gran Madre di Dio in Turin is courtesy of Gianni Careddu under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licence. The image of the Galleria San Federico in Turin is courtesy of Luigi Giordano under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence. The Gran Madre di Dio and Galleria San Federico images here have been cropped to a square format.