Classic Cars on Film: The Italian Job Land Rover

Forget the Mini Coopers and that Lamborghini Miura; there’s an unsung hero in this 1969 cult movie. We serve up a slice of appreciation for the overlooked Land Rover Series IIA

The unending echo of catchphrases and media ‘homages’ hasn’t diminished the charm and fascination of 1969’s Peter Collinson-directed The Italian Job. What has become the standard for all succeeding heist movies defines the swinging 1960s better than any Beetles album or Pathé public information film; for the petrolhead, at least.

Featuring Michael Caine in arguably his defining role, it’s not the style, class, wit or comedic tics that have witnessed the film’s journey to cult status, nor is it the literal cliffhanger, infectious cockney soundtrack or cameo from comedy icon Benny Hill. While each of these factors alone could secure pride of place in the cultural status chamber, The Italian Job enjoys an undying fan base due to an extra element: the cars.

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Igniting a love affair between the classic Mini and generations of devotees, The Italian Job cemented the humble Brit as an automotive phenomenon. The diminutive model lined up alongside its fellow vehicular cast for eternal recognition as pillars of 1960s ethos – a cast that included that moody-orange Lamborghini Miura, two Jaguar E-types and an ill-fated Aston Martin DB4.

However, there is one vehicle that is often overlooked – and it’s the most important car of all; the Land Rover.

The Mini’s shining moment would never have materialised without the sturdy, traffic-ramming Land Rover Series IIA 109in. Featuring a bespoke tow crane, thick bull bar, front-mounted Jerry cans, extended rear bench seats, spot lamps, blanked-out rear windows, sharp-looking roof rack and mesh window guards – and long before 007 adventure Spectre set the world on fire with aggressive-looking Landies – The Italian Job set the tone. You certainly wouldn’t mess with this fortified Landy, let alone blow its bloody doors off.

Charging through the gang’s carefully orchestrated Turin traffic jam to effectively ‘steal’ Fiat’s bullion wagon containing dozens of Chinese gold bars, the driver of the long-wheelbase Series IIA commands utter respect even now. To feed such an unwieldy vehicle through gaps offering mere inches on either side requires nerves of steel, let alone courage and steadfast determination.

There is no sped-up footage here, no sir! In fact, it was sheer naivety that saw the driver through, as actor George Innes (playing Bill Bailey, Charlie Crocker’s right-hand man) learned to drive purely for his scenes.

Tanking down Turin’s back streets and across courtyards while navigating the city at speed, the Land Rover is last seen as it pulls the bullion wagon into a warehouse to be plundered of its cargo. It’s left behind at the crime scene as the crew scarper in their tuned Mini Coopers loaded with gold bars – and the ensuing chase and cliff-top ending have now become the stuff of legend. Yet, with such a brazen finale, the heroic Land Rover remains criminally overlooked when viewing this cult motoring movie.

Some consolation comes from the fact that it’s referred to by the Land Rover Defenders featured in the 2003 The Italian Job remake (of which we shall never speak again), while the 2001 PlayStation and Microsoft PC console game gave the Series IIA several levels of its own, permitting the player a chance to ‘free roam’ around a virtual, if blocky, Turin.

Land Rover itself even capitalised on its connection with The Italian Job, commissioning an advert for the 2013-model Range Rover based around the film’s opening titles – albeit with some off-road action instead of the fiery, death-by-Mafia-bulldozer suffered by the original Lamborghini driver. Even Matt Monroe’s On Days Like These signature song got the contemporary once-over.

So, enough of this hero worshipping; what became of the starring Land Rover itself? Various claims have been made about BKO 686’s fate. One declares that the Series IIA was returned to the garage from which it was rented for filming, while another claims that a member of the production team bought the Land Rover before selling it on again. However, you can exercise theories all you want, for the trail went cold in March 1991; the last date on which the car was taxed on UK soil.

It appears to be a desolate end for a sadly overlooked Land Rover film star that survived less than three decades in existence. However, AutoClassics is not to be deterred; we’re going to head out and track down its story. Stay tuned for the defining article on the truth behind The Italian Job’s unsung hero.

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