The Prettiest Car

For classic car junkies, The Italian Job is undeniably a film that fuels the addiction. From the opening scene featuring the brilliant "Aranico" Lamborghini Miura P400 traversing the Italian Alps, to the red, white and blue Mini Coopers chasing around Turin, it is a colourful, cult movie guaranteed to keep petrol-heads spinning.

The Jaguar Series 1 E-Type, that Enzo Ferrari described as “the most beautiful car in the world”, is also present in both Fixed Head Coupé and Roadster versions, but the standout star of the four-wheeled performers has got to be the “pretty” 1962 Aston Martin DB4 convertible.

Pretty impressive.

The tragedy for motor fanatics is that all of the machines mentioned above are destroyed at various points throughout the course of the film. Car lovers are left feeling particularly heartbroken when the Aston Martin meets its demise after being brutally pushed off a cliff by the mafia. Almost as upsetting is the sight of the heroic Mini Coopers being sent to their graves... by their own drivers! 

The trio of Mini Coopers are soon to meet their fate.

Given that motor vehicles were such an integral part of the action, there is some irony in the fact that Michael Caine (who plays Charlie Croker) didn’t know how to drive at the time, which explains why he is not seen in control of the wheel. The Aston features as Croker’s personal car in the film, and he gives the impression that he loves it (even if he hadn’t driven it) which makes the scene of its destruction particularly poignant.

Two near-identical Aston Martins were used on set, with one prematurely exploding as it was about to be filmed tumbling down the mountainside. The director needed to reshoot the scene, but the remaining vehicle was in London and out of commission. A replacement was urgently sought, proving something of a challenge, as only 70 DB4 convertibles were ever made.

The DB4 convertible - about to become an increasingly rare species.

By chance, Italian manufacturer Lancia had designed a similarly pretty car, the Flamina, and the convertible version was produced in relatively abundant numbers – 847 to be precise – one of which was immediately acquired and taken to a local bodywork shop in Turin for cosmetic surgery. Following a quick nose job, the Lancia was ready to perform as the stunt double in the second take of the dramatic scene.

1963 Lancia Flamina GT 3C Convertible (recently sold at RM Auctions for a relatively modest €132,250).

Only the eagle-eyed would recognise that the Aston on the road was right-hand drive - but the car in freefall had its steering wheel on the opposite side. Also, at a point of descending impact, the bonnet springs open and is clearly hinged from the rear – whereas the Aston’s bonnet is hinged from the front (evident when Croker retrieves his stash of cash from the engine bay in an earlier scene).

These nerdy minutiae are not designed simply to reveal a continuity blooper, they are presented to beg the question – what happened to the other Aston? Half a century after the film was released, the value of original Mini Coopers can exceed £50,000, Series 1 E-Types £200,000, and it would require a 7-figure sum to acquire a Lamborghini Miura. It is difficult to imagine what the price of a DB4 with such cinematic provenance would be.

The surviving "Italian Job" Miura sold to Mr Fritz Kaiser in 2018 for an undisclosed sum.

It is an incredible fact that, almost 60 years after their launch, 68 of the 70 Aston Martin DB4 convertibles produced are still in existence. Thankfully, one particularly important example, with registration 163 ELT, is amongst the surviving numbers and has been lovingly restored to its original condition.

Sir Michael Caine reunited with 163 ELT for the filming of My Generation (2017).

In an act of extraordinary kindness, the current owner, Brian Morrison, loaned his beloved vehicle to Mason & Sons for the production of their Italian Job video. He was even generous enough to allow our very own star, Matthew Field, to do something that Michael Caine hadn’t done – drive it! There was only one stipulation… we had to promise not to “blow the bloody doors off”.

163 ELT arrives at Mason & Sons HQ, Montagu Square, London (Dec 2019).

 Looks inviting.

Sitting comfortably.

Lights.

Camera.

ACTION.... and please be careful with those doors.