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50 years of ‘The Italian Job’ – a tribute

Published in blog.hemmings.com

[Editor’s Note: This piece comes to us from journalist, author and long-time friend of Hemmings Myles Kornblatt.]

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of The Italian Job.  While Butch Cassidy might have been king of the box office in 1969, Charlie Croker was the real anti-hero for lovers of cars and capers.

Without any tears, the movie threw a Lamborghini Miura, a (replica) Aston Martin DB4, and multiple Minis crashing down the Italian Alps.  In between all of that was Michael Caine’s smooth-talking Croker who was working on an inherited plan stealing a Chinese gold shipment on its way through Turin.

The heist was viewed as a way to keep the balance of financial power. It’s hard not to feel some echoes of that fiction in today’s reality. But its real lasting legacy is a good time with lots of cars.  After all, no matter what blows up in life – from an engine rebuild to a boardroom proposal – any person who will lean in and whisper, “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” is a true friend for life.

Michael Caine got top billing, and Noël Coward and Benny Hill added flavor to The Italian Job.  But the Minis and the City of Turin were also the stars.  So it’s worth giving those two a proper tribute.

The movie was rumored to need everything from city support to real organized crime to get so many memorable scenes.  So the scale on this tribute needed to be shrunk, literally. Hot Wheels can be nice stand-ins for the original red, white, and blue Mini trio.

Even with just model cars in hand, the list of memorable recreations was short.  The PalaVela’s angled roof/walls were too dangerous, and the sewer system is too messy.  But there is one place that’s a true motoring icon all on its own, and it survives intact today: Lingotto.

Fiat’s massive factory with a test track on the roof was still producing cars when The Italian Job was made, and it would continue to manufacture vehicles for another dozen years.  Since then, it has become a hub for Turin, and the rooftop test track remains.  It’s still accessible to the public as a nice reminder of industrial art.  More can be read about that here.

But to make this a true tribute, there needed to be more than just a pocket full of limited edition Hot Wheels.  Luckily, there was an Italian “hero” available.

Alfa Romeo was happy to lend a new Giulia.  After all, there’s an argument to be made that the original Giulia TI that chased Crooker and the gang was the true hero car.  It was the local police trying to recover the stolen gold.  So it’s only fitting that we add a blue gumball light and a few decals on the side of the new Alfa to commemorate the classic chase vehicle.

The enduring icons from The Italian Job are still around a half-century later, including the Mini, the Giulia, and Lingotto.  This is just a little bit of fun celebrating 50 years of a film that has brought a little bit of fun into our lives.  And this can even be recreated by anyone reading this when vacationing in Turin (except for bringing along a new Alfa).