An impossibly sleek sportscar tears across a high and elegant bridge at the base of the oldest pass in the Western Alps, on the Italian side. The noise from its engine fills the huge space, echoing off the sides of jagged mountains still capped with the last of the season’s snow.
The car takes a right turn immediately after the bridge to start its mountain ascent and homes into view, the sound of four triple downdraught Webers clearing their throats with the blip of its throttle. The audio from its two exhaust pipes is beautifully violent, completely different to today’s sanitised supercars, carrying with it the tantalising promise of one of the drives of your life.
The car is, in the eyes of many, the most beautiful ever to have turned a wheel and it is 50-years old. Time, however, stands still when we think about the Lamborghini Miura – without a doubt the true sire of the supercar as we know it.
What I have just described is the scene that unfolds at the beginning of The Italian Job. Not the hateful, execrable Hollywood remake, but the 1969 cult classic starring Michael Caine and a host of other luminaries. And, while the now legendary chase sequences featuring three Mini Coopers stole the third act, the first belonged to the Miura, bringing grown men to their knees with its sheer beauty and the sounds emitting from its masterpiece of a V12 engine. As soon as the opening credits were done with, however, car and driver became fireball and wreck.
By that stage the Miura’s physical form had done its job and it very quickly became an international film star. Everyone who was anyone wanted one and, for the past 35 years, ever since I saw The Italian Job on a pirated Betamax video brought home by my father, I have dreamed of driving one on the very same roads, with the obvious exception of running into a Mafia bulldozer inside an unlit tunnel.
For the Miura’s half-century celebrations, Lamborghini has arranged just that and, cards on the table, I would have been willing to do time for this one, had anyone stood in my way. Because, not only am I to have a Miura to myself on the very road in the film but the car’s true creators: Paolo Stanzani, Giampaolo Dallara and Marcello Gandini, are in attendance, too. As one-off, never-to-be-repeated experiences go, this is a biggie.
The Miura’s reputation as the original supercar is entirely valid. Unveiled just three years after Lamborghini started building cars, it tore up the rulebook with a liberal application of engineering and design genius, the likes of which had never before been seen in a road car. Lest we forget, Ferrari’s answer to the Miura’s zeitgeist-defining design came two full years later in the form of the 365GTB/4, otherwise known as the Daytona – a front-engined GT car in the traditional form.
Ferrari didn’t embrace the mid-engine layout for its V12 until 1973’s Berlinetta Boxer, old man Enzo having eschewed the idea, believing his customers would find having their engines amidships too much to handle. By the time the Boxer came along, the Miura was dead and the Countach was garnering Lamborghini the worldwide headlines. Enzo must have been incandescent with rage, his thunder being stolen in such style by his upstart neighbour. Indeed, it still provides much amusement for the three ‘fathers’ of the Miura, who have graciously come along to help celebrate the life of this undisputed icon, Dallara, in particular, becoming animated when asked about the rivalry between the two companies.
Lamborghini’s factory museum is a must-see if you’re ever in the region and normally it houses two pristine Miuras: a gold S model and a yellow SV. And it’s the SV’s key that I’m handed, with the added instruction to “avah foon”. I’m not disappointed – the SV is recognised as the best of the Miura’s three iterations and I have dribbled all over this very example (one of just 150 ever built) on numerous occasions. Today, though, I get to drive it without a minder at my side and, fortuitously, without any oncoming traffic to worry about.
Normally at this time of year, this section of the E27 highway is closed, only opening once the last of the winter’s snow has finally melted away. But this is Italy and the authorities don’t usually take much convincing when it comes to anything to do with their country’s supercars, hence the road is still closed except for our scarily valuable convoy.
Yesterday I drove more than 400km in a new Aventador SV to our hotel – a fitting start to proceedings in easily the best driving modern Lamborghini yet, even if I was speed-dialling my chiropractor after just half an hour in its sadistic seat. It’s the ultimate distillation of everything this outrageous company has been about for decades and it owes its very existence to the yellow work of art that awaits me on the side of a mountain.
I’ve been mentally preparing myself for this moment for nearly three weeks and I’m fully expecting it to be a dog to drive. But I’ve resigned myself to the inevitability that I will forgive it because of its heartbreaking beauty. I can be shallow like that.
I pull open the driver’s door by its dainty chromed handle, which neatly nestles within the side air intakes. The cabin is light and airy, despite the somber black hide trim, and is an exercise in stylish restraint, offering a driver-focused environment and a panic grab handle for terrified passengers. I adjust my seat and adopt the only possible position: arms outstretched, legs splayed and feet all over the place in the search for three pedals.
With a twist of the key, the fuel pumps loudly whirr and that magnificent V12 snaps into life with an abrupt bark, threatening to stop altogether once the flare of revs subsides, necessitating the occasional blip of the throttle to keep it going until I select first. Any excuse.
The gearstick is spring-loaded and sits within an evocative open gate, which rarely helps in the business of driving really quickly. An extremely heavy clutch doesn’t exactly help, either, but my initial takeoff is smooth and fuss-free while that lever takes some work to get into my chosen ratio – none of which bothers me in the slightest as it’s all perfectly familiar to anyone who runs an old fashioned classic car. It’s all part of the appeal.
After the furious Aventador SV, any road car designed in the 1960s is bound to feel rather sedate but the Miura gives it all, with the engine only coming on cam after 4,500rpm. There is no red line on the rev counter and I feel compelled to stretch each gear as far as possible before reaching for the next one, all the while the Miura surging forward with relentless energy, accompanied by an omnipresent, delicious thrashing noise that rises from a guttural roar as I keep the throttle nailed through each gear, only changing when I reach 8,000rpm. Make no mistake, this is still a very fast car on the right roads.
The non-assisted steering is delightful once the car is up to speed, offering communication aplenty and only becoming hard work when carrying out three-point turns. The brakes, though, are where the Miura’s age really becomes apparent, especially when descending through tight Alpine hairpins. They feel like blocks of wood are doing the job of the pads and require an almighty shove to offer the retardation required for wiping off speed. So I do the only decent thing and use that seemingly unburstable engine’s resistance to help as I go down through the ’box.
In all of this excitement and sensory overload, it’s difficult for me to relate what I’m seeing through the Lamborghini’s beautifully curved windscreen with the opening scenes of the film that made it famous. But now and then I pass a landmark that seems familiar and the magic is complete. I also pass the gold Miura S, being driven by another journalist and later he tells me the sight and sound of this machine tearing past him is something he will never forget.
I will never forget the sights and sounds, either. The panoramic vistas that appear at every turn, the way the front wings curve gently away from the windscreen’s edge, the view from the mirror through the black slats that cover the engine, the large circular main dials and that small, chunky steering wheel, the relentless surge – they all are exactly as I had dreamed they would be. It’s said you should never meet your heroes because the reality will always fall far short of your expectations but that doesn’t apply here. It’s better than I could ever have hoped.
That the Miura’s beauty is more than skin deep is its ultimate triumph, though. Everything about its design shows a derring-do approach to engineering, where legislators and accountants were left entirely out of the picture. Those days will never return. No other car will ever match the Miura’s flawless form and 50 years from now, when it turns 100, it will still be revered as the ultimate game changer. Happy birthday.