August 20 2010
Simon de Burton
To most people, The Italian Job is all about Minis, Michael Caine and “blow[ing] the b****y doors off” – but as far as Simon Kidston is concerned the movie might as well have ended after the four-and-a-half-minute opening sequence. That’s when a crimson Lamborghini Miura is seen snaking along a pass in the Italian Alps to the accompaniment of Matt Monro singing On Days Like These.
The driver, actor Rossano Brazzi, is concentrating on guiding the Miura swiftly between the switchbacks at a healthy pace – until he enters a tunnel and ploughs head-on into a Mafia bulldozer that tips the car and driver into an adjacent gorge.
Kidston (nephew of celebrated “Bentley Boy” Glen Kidston) was still at school when The Italian Job was released in 1969, but that clip made him determined to own a Miura – and 12 years ago he acquired the last-built SV (Spinto Veloce or “fast-tuned”) version to leave the factory. “It cost me less than £100,000 and it was probably the best investment I ever made – it’s now worth well in excess of £500,000 and, after the Porsche 911 RS given to me by my father, it is the last car that I would consider selling,” says Kidston, a Geneva-based classic car authority and collector.
For most people, owning a Miura has become a dream in the past five years as a textbook supply-and-demand situation has sent prices skywards. In 2003, British auction house Coys sold an “S” version for £67,000. Yet in 2008 a similar car fetched €225,000; last year another sold for £345,000. Recently, the last known one-owner SV reached €750,000 at auction – below the reserve. The owner is rumoured to have wanted more than €800,000, and it is thought he’ll only have to wait a year or two to get it.
“There were just 762 Miuras built, and production lasted from 1966 to 1973,” explains Kidston, who is currently completing the definitive Miura book, the result of 13 years’ work. “It was the first mid-engined, road-going supercar. Many of the people who have the means to buy one now probably had a poster of one on their bedroom wall 35 years ago. The recent revival of Lamborghini under the stewardship of VW has undoubtedly brought the Miura to the fore and helped to renew interest and boost values.”
The story is that the Miura was designed by Lamborghini engineers in their early 20s because boss Ferruccio Lamborghini was more interested in grand touring cars than racers for the street – which is exactly what the Miura became with its 172mph top speed, courtesy of a 12-cylinder, four-litre engine crammed in behind the two-seater cockpit.
The layout had sublime handling but its brutal power, over-light front end, cacophonous engine noise at any revs and gear change that Kidston describes as “like trying to pull Excalibur from its stone” ensured that naming the Miura after a fighting bull was very appropriate. Nevertheless, its “wow” factor ensured that it was the plaything of the rich and famous, attracting buyers such as Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra and the Shah of Iran.
During its relatively short production run, the Miura was upgraded from the original P400 model to the P400S and then to the P400SV, the most powerful of all the standard variants.
There was also a unique convertible and, in 1970, a one-off car called the Jota was developed for racing, which sold to a private buyer after extensive testing – only to be crashed and burnt out on the unopened Brescia ring road while it was being delivered.
It quickly became a Lamborghini legend, prompting calls from customers for the factory to make road-going Jotas. The firm then built five SVJs (SVs with Jota upgrades), the most famous of which was delivered to the Shah in St Moritz.
It ended up back at Tehran’s Royal Palace, allegedly under armed guard until the Iranian Revolution of 1979, when it went to Dubai before being bought at auction in 1997 by Hollywood star Nicolas Cage for $500,000. It was then acquired in 2004 by the Iranian enthusiast Reza Rashidian, who kept it for around four years before selling it privately for a record sum, rumoured by enthusiasts to have been “well into seven figures”.
For commercial property developer Piet Pulford, however, there was one way to be sure of owning a near-exact copy of the original Jota – build it from scratch.
Starting with a badly damaged 1967 P400, Pulford worked with the Lamborghini factory to create the most accurate reproduction Jota in existence, a project that took around 15 years and cost more than he is prepared to divulge.
“I fell in love with the Miura while at school,” explains 55-year-old Pulford. “I’d travelled to London and spotted one through a showroom window. I finally bought my first in 1985: a beautiful, lime-green S and it cost £36,000 from a scrap-metal dealer in the East End – it was auctioned last year for around £250,000.
“You can drive a Miura every day but they can be temperamental. When new, they were regarded as a luxury fashion item and the people who bought them didn’t mind whether or not they were going to last very long – even though they cost the equivalent today of around £200,000. They just wanted the latest toy before moving on to something else.”