The Importance of Being Miura

The Lamborghini Miura is the most beautiful car of the sixties. There. I’ve said it. You can't be objective when you're talking about automotive beauty. There's this idea that journalists are meant to be objective, platonic, even handed; set back from the debate. But whichever sort of scales you could possibly employ to define ultimate beauty in a car, the Miura comes out on top. For me, at least.

Sure, Marcello Gandini’s design for Bertone might not be necessarily be possessed of the sublime curvature of Ferrari’s 250 GTO. It might not have the natural racer pulchritude of the Alfa 33 Stradale – nor the long limbed sleekness of Jaguar’s E Type.

But what the Miura had over these titans of sixtes automotive loveliness was its purity. The Miura had a completely uncompromised Latinate machismo encoded in the sort of futurism that defined perfectly the end of the decade that changed everything.

Illustrations by Matt Taylor, commissioned exclusively for Influx

The mid-rear engine layout that had been used to so much success in GT racing; particularly in the form of the Porsche 917 and Ford GT40; was for the first time served up in a road going car of instant appeal. It changed Lamborghini from an also-ran in the world of sports - a tractor maker who upgraded to producing vaguely bourgois GTs for me of a certain age - to a company that would add a dash of hooligan chic to the rarified poise cornered by blokes who drove Ferraris.

Every subsequent 'supercar' can thus trace its lineage back to the birth of the Miura in 1966. Even the latest crop of low volume mid engined hypercars from manufacturers like Koenigsegg and Noble owe their basic format to the Miura. And the thing is, this was a more pretty car than anything produced these last 44 years.

If there is a Miura fan in your life, or you can't get enough of details and beautiful pictures on Gandini's beautiful brainchild, then you should check out The Lamborghini Miura Bible, Joe Sackey's definitive tome on the legend. Published By Veloce, the book isn't cheap, but contains more brilliant pictures than the WWW could ever muster. It reads well too and would make a killer Christmas present for a car nut.

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Sir Alec Issigonis

Alec Issigonis, who would create the most iconic piece of fully realized automotive design of the 1960s, was born in the Greek port of Smyrna in 1906. He was the descendent of at least two generations of passionate engineers, but there were countless reasons why he should not have succeeded in his chosen trade.

This was not a man who cared too much about the whys and wherefores of statistics or market research. To him public demand was bunk, and mathematics the enemy of the truly creative individual. As if to underline his distaste for numbers he failed the maths module of his course at Battersea Polytechnic three times.

But Issigonis compensated for this arithmetical inadequacy with a determined vision that carried him through the troublesome details of engineering. "I thought we had to do something better than the bubble cars”, he said just before his death in 1988, “I thought we should make a very small car for the housewife that was economical to run with lots of shopping space inside which didn't need a big boot."

It was a seemingly modest ambition- but its realisation changed the way the public saw small cars forever.

After finally completing his training at Battersea Poly – under the tutelage of his watchful mother – the nineteen year old began to pick up work with various design consultancies in London and the midlands whilst setting to work on building a racing car. We’re not sure whether the project ever saw the light of day, but it’s fair to say that it sparked in him a desire to build innovative motors that would never fade.

Illustration by Paul Willoughby, commissioned exclusively for Influx

In the thirties he went on to work for Morris on a number of mainstream industry projects, and during the war years he penned a motorised wheelbarrow for the War Department. He was also, of course, the main architect of the iconic Morris Minor.

The project that would become Issigonis’s magnum opus started with unassuming moniker “Austin Design Office Project 15.” The project was infused with innovation from the get-go. Engine was switched sideways to save space. Drive was focused on the front wheels to remove the weighty and space hungry transmission tunnel. The gear box was placed just below the engine in a single unitary design

The result was one of two cars at the time into which my grandfather – at 6’5” – could fit. The other was a Jaguar.

The Mini was an unprecedented success. It was perfect for Joe Public with its price tag – a snatch at £497 and celebrities loved it for its radical new design. The mini came to be associated instantly with a new generation of car owners. This baby boom generation was younger, more fashion conscious and more socially mobile than any that had preceded it. The mini, in other words, chimed perfectly with the times.

Sixties fashion supremo Mary Quant summed up the Mini’s quotidian appeal. "It was my first car and I was very proud of. It was black with black leather seats - a handbag on wheels. Flirty, fun and exciting, it went exactly with the miniskirt."

So was Issigonis’s vision a case of the right man being in the right place in the right time – or a sublime piece of celestial inspiration that can perhaps never happen again? Perhaps we should leave the last word to Sir Alec himself: “the public don’t know what they want - it’s my job to tell them.”

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Jackie Stewart’s 1969: Annus Mirabilis

Jackie Stewart shot to prominence when he won the 1969 world championship in a French-built Matra MS80 run by Ken Tyrrell.

Stewart, with his long hair, corduroy cap and shades, was more Beatle than racing driver and became an icon as the Swinging Sixties morphed into the seventies.

Stewart had lost a three-way final round ’68 title shoot-out in Mexico but there was no stopping him in ‘69. The championship was played out over just 11 rounds back then and Jackie started with a win at Kyalami in South Africa.

After a two month gap he was fortunate to win Spain, which was notable for spectacular accidents to Lotus drivers Graham Hill and Jochen Rindt when the high aerofoil rear wings that were starting to proliferate in F1, broke under load. They were banned from the next race on, in Monte Carlo. Stewart led Monaco from pole position and set fastest lap, but the Matra retired and Hill won.

Stewart made himself all but unbeatable when he scored a hat-trick of wins at the Dutch, French and British Grands Prix. He got a fright at Silverstone, however, when a bit of loose kerbing at Woodcote corner punctured a tyre and put him off at 150mph in practice. He took over team mate Jean-Pierre Beltoise’s car for the race, while the Frenchman was shunted across into the recalcitrant four-wheel-drive Matra MS84 spare car. Later that season in Canada, the car became the only 4WD to score an F1 championship point, albeit six laps down in Johnny Servoz-Gavin’s hands in Canada!

Stewart fought an epic Silverstone battle with friend and chief foe Rindt, until the Austrian was slowed by a car problem. At Monza in September, Stewart took his sixth win of the season and clinched his first world title in what is still the closest four-car blanket finish in F1 history.

Pre-chicane Monza was famous for its slipstreaming battles and Stewart deliberately took a long fourth gear ratio so that he did not have to change gear between the exit of Parabolica and the finish line on the last lap. He came out of Parabolica second to Rindt’s Lotus but was ahead by eight hundredths as they flashed across the line, with less than 0.2s covering Stewart, Rindt, Jean-Pierre Beltoise and Bruce McLaren.

Shaky footage below of an incredible last few corners at Monza

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Already, Stewart was active on the safety front which, as well as his then-record 27 victories and three world titles, would be one of the enduring legacies he left behind when he retired in ‘73. Trapped in a BRM leaking fuel at Spa in ’66, Stewart was appalled by the lack of marshalling professionalism and then the makeshift medical facilities with cigarette butts all over the floor.

That ’69 season saw Spa boycotted after a circuit inspection by Stewart. New Armco barriers would be installed before the race, one of the most dangerous on the calendar, returned in 1970. At the time, Jackie’s safety stand opened him to ridicule although, quietly, all his contemporaries were behind him. That first world title in ’69 increased his worldwide profile massively and gave him the platform from which he became one of the sport’s most influential figures.

Great home movie footage below of the British GP of that amazing season

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1969: Crisis? What Crisis?

1969 was a critical moment in the history of the American and British car industries: it was the beginning of the end. Both were about to endure a pretty horrible 1970s; within a few years there would be virtually nothing left of the home-owned British car industry, and while the US carmakers would survive and sporadically prosper in the future, they would never be as dominant and confident as they were in ’69.

I don’t mean to trivialize the Vietnam War but it’s tempting to compare what was happening there with what was happening in the car world. In both cases, an over-fed, over-manned, over-confident West faced a modest, adaptable, nimble, clever Asian foe able to get by on a bowl of rice each day. Just as the North would win in Vietnam, the Japanese would take advantage of the coming recessions and oil crises to rout the complacent American and British carmakers in their home markets and the new ones that were springing up around the world.

But like all empires, they went out with a party. In America, 1969 was all about the muscle car. Just a year later, the Clean Air Act would kill them stone-dead. But in ’69, you could still buy a Plymouth Barracuda or Superbird, or a Chevelle SS454 or an AMC Rebel ‘The Machine’, all introduced in ’69 for the 1970 model year.

You love muscle cars. You might not think you do, but you just haven’t yet stared slack-jawed at the vast wing on the back of a Superbird, or into the ultra-clean, chrome and body-colour engine bay of a custom. You haven’t seen their candy-coloured paintjobs looking perfect in Californian sunshine. You haven’t smelt the sickly-sweet unburnt petrol, old vinyl and car wax, or heard the lazy whump-whump-whump of a seven-litre V8 that can’t be bothered to make more than 400 horsepower. These things are the inbred, mutated spawn of an utterly isolationist car culture that just didn’t care what the Europeans or Japanese were doing. But their self-confidence makes them instantly, impulsively covetable.

And in possibly the single coolest act in the history of the car industry, Chrysler somehow got over the rule-by-committee that usually cripples creativity in a big corporation and offered those muscle cars in colours called Sub-Lime, Go Mango, Panther Pink and Plum Crazy. The guys at Ford thought this was a great idea, so they loosened their Mad-Men-style tightly-knotted skinny ties, lit a massive doobie and came up with some colour names that were even better. Bring ‘Em Back Olive was probably a thinly-veiled reference to Vietnam, Anti-Establish Mint described the political mood, Original Cinnamon reflected what everyone was up to and Freudian Gilt probably over-estimated the intelligence of the average muscle car buyer. Hulla Blue, History Onyx and Good Clean Fawn were just funny.

Of course, if you really were part of the counter-culture you probably didn’t care much about cars, unless you were into the nascent environmental movement and had a vague idea that a 7-litre V8 wasn’t good for, like, the air, or something, or had no other way to get to Woodstock or Altamont. Probably couldn’t afford them either, unless you were a Beatle.

By 1969 John Lennon had finished work on the Rolls-Royce Phantom V – also used as transport by the Queen – which he’d bought three years earlier. He added a double bed, a thumping sound-system with loudhailer, and finally a gyspy-caravan-meets-mescaline paintjob by Dutch art collective The Fool. A year later, the Beatles would split and John and Yoko would ship the Rolls to New York, but in 1969 it was still a regular sight on London streets.

But the Beatles’ other car choices reflected the classness of the time. Brian Epstein had bought them each a Mini Cooper S. George Harrison painted his with mystical Indian scenes, and he, John, Cynthia and Patti Boyd are reported to have folded themselves into its tiny cabin to take their first acid trip.

The Italians weren’t much concerned with the counter-culture, and were just taking advantage of the relative economic prosperity to produce some of their most seductive supercars and GTs. Ferrari and Lamborghini were in full flow – the Miura was unquestionably the star – and they were briefly joined by super-exotic marques like Iso and the Swiss-based Monteverdi. ’69 driving Italian-style is perfectly encapsulated in the opening scenes of The Italian Job, released that year, in which Beckermann in his big shades and driving gloves pilots an orange Miura over the St. Bernard Pass, managing somehow to light a (conventional) cigarette as he tackles the Alpine hairpins. The reality of ’69 Italian motoring was rather different: an unreliable Fiat 124, with premature rust.

The Italian Job made heroes of its British star cars; not just the Minis, but the E-Types, a Land Rover, an Aston-Martin DB4 and a Bedford coach too. It ought to have launched a colossal export drive; plainly, the British car industry could do sexy, fast, clever, tough and affordable too. But another film – this year’s Made in Dagenham, set a year earlier in 1968 – shows why it didn’t happen. The film captures the atmosphere of a sixties car plant perfectly; all brown overcoats, roll-ups, tea breaks and sexism. The boxy MkII Cortina gets a starring role. It tells the story of the walkout by 150 women employed by Ford to stitch Cortina seats when they were reclassified as unskilled labour and denied the better pay of the men – often their husbands – who assembled the cars’ oily bits with varying degrees of success at the main plant across the road.

The Ford strike of 1968 was different to the walk-outs led by the infamous Red Robbo at Longbridge in the ‘70s. It wasn’t directed specifically at the mismanagement of the car industry but was inspired by the general principle of equal pay, and led, admirably, to the Equal Pay Act of 1970. But it marked the start of a decade of industrial action that, together with that mismanagement, some terrible products and terrifying new competition from Japan and Germany, effectively killed the British-owned car industry. As the Dagenham women walked out, Britain was making more cars than ever; peak production actually came in 1972 with a slightly freakish 1.9 million. Less than a decade later that figure had halved.

But in 1969, nobody really knew what was coming. Cars reflect their times. The times were good.

Do the Lambre Twist!

In terms of iconic 1960s design Innocenti’s Lambrettas are on a par with the the E-Type Jaguar and BMC Mini (yes, I know it was first shown in 1959). In my mind, there isn’t another two-wheeler that sums up the decade’s design influences better.

Innocenti, based in the Lambrate district of Milan, crawled out of the smouldering wreckage in the bombed-out industrial north with a plan to put post-Mussolini Italy back on its feet by putting the nation’s workers on Lambretta’s eight-inch wheels.

Of course, fellow Italians Piaggio created the Vespa, and their wasp buzzed onto the roads in 1946, a year earlier than Lambretta’s model A was released. And the Vespa’s designer Carradino d’Asconio, whose aeroplane design business had been curtailed by being on the losing side in the war, should be regarded as a genius for establishing a template the company’s scooters still use now: full legshields; revolutionary monocoque frame; ‘bubble’ sidepanels; single-sided front fork.

The original Vespa was pretty, clever, a classic. In contrast the first Lambretta was utilitarian. And Piaggio went on to sell over 10 million scooters to Lambretta’s four million. But that’s all blah, blah, blah as far as I’m concerned, because in my mind Vepsas are for Roundheads with bad Madness tattoos and I’m a Lambretta loving Cavalier.

Piaggio are now one of the world’s heavyweights in two-wheeled production. They own Moto-Guzzi, Aprilia and Gilera. Innocenti, meanwhile, Lambretta’s manufacturer, stopped scooter production in 1972 (before going out of business completely in the 1990s). These contrasting facts elicit nothing but a shrug and a teenaged ‘So?’ from me. In virtually every area that can be turned into a pie chart and illustrated with an overhead projector Vespas trump Lambrettas. But Lambrettas are cool and beautiful. And better. End of.

It did take a while for the Milanese company to hone their design. Legshields and sidepanels didn’t appear till 1950 and can’t be described any more accurately than ‘slightly bulbous’ till the Slimstyle designs appeared in 1962. Throughout the 1960s the Slimstyle, first used on the Li Series 3, developed into the TV series 3 and, for me, the last word in scooter design, the SX200.

Why do I get so frothed-up about a somewhat effeminate commuter scooter? Let me explain.

The long, steel sidepanels have creases sharper than those in Dean Martin’s Rat Pack-era trousers. The pure jet-age panel indentation is augmented with a three-pronged flash in cast alloy. One of the prongs dissects a daintily cast number giving the engine’s cylinder capacity. The 150 has different, only slightly less beautiful panels with it’s own design of sidepanel flash. The rear of the SX200’s sidepanel has another delicate cast Lambretta badge, while the square-topped legshields have a further chromed script ‘Special’ and either X150 or X200 badge. There are details everywhere: heavy alloy panel handles; cable operated disc brakes (Lambretta were one of the first factories to fit them to production two- wheelers); the cast alloy horn cover with it’s lower-case ‘i’ for Innocenti.

I remember reading that the designer referred to the SX200 as 'his beautiful swan'. See one from the side and you can understand why. The headlight and handlebars are the head, the sweep of the legshields a long neck, the panels are the wings folded over the bird’s body. And like the swan, the exterior is serene while underneath the simple 200cc two-stroke, four-speed single paddles away frantically.

Now I tend to like bikes that are stripped-back and minimal. I generally curl my lip at the over-designed. But the SX200 is fussy and covered in styling baubles and tinsel. You can’t deny your first love, though, and the SX200 is mine. I’ve owned one, the same one, for 19 years and I’ll never sell it.

Lambretta might have gone out of business but they went out with a bang. Car design genius Bertone was commissioned in 1969 to redesign the SX range and created the Grand Prix. The GP came in bold colours like a blood red, turquoise and a very 70s mustard ‘yellow ochre’. Bertone fought to ditch the polished alloy badging that makes the SX so recognisable and of its time. The Grand Prix’s badging is minimal. Instead of polished castings the sidepanels have plastic grilles and racey stick-on stripes. The horn grille is simplified and black.

In fact, all the grey rubbers and plastics that had been grey on Lambrettas since the early-50s, turned black. Some early 150cc Grand Prixs had a black ‘blob’ sticker on their legshields. The legendary story of how it came to be there states Bertone became so angry that the bosses at Innocenti wouldn’t let him replace the old-fashioned polished alloy with the new black he, and other leading designers, would usher in, he threw his pen on the desk and it landed on the drawings of the new scooter, spitting a glob of ink right onto the legshields on one of the plans.

Bertone won, but there are still dozens of labour intensive fittings, like the fiddly floorboard runners and rubber legshield edges, that can’t have helped production costs. But these are the kind of touches that make old scooters, bikes and cars so much more special than the aggressively built-to-a-price machines that followed.

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Grand Prix, 1966

There's been a lot of stuff written about Le Mans, Steve McQueen's 1971 classic portrayal of endurance racing. Sure, it was a brilliantly gritty portrayal of the scene and featured the Coolest Man in the World. But for us, Jon Frankenheimer's 1966 feature Grand Prix does all the things that Le Mans does, but slightly better and with an understated style.

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With a budget of around nine million dollars and some of the most incredible action photography ever shot: the film's look and feel was augmented by maestro of the title sequence Saul Bass. And though the plot line and the acting, even from non-professional driving stars like James Garner is fundamentally hokey - it matters little.

Because what you're really watching this movie for three other things: the brilliant titles and graphic montages; the power and the glory of the action sequences; and last but no means least, the beautiful, ear-splitting sound.

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Though Bass failed to be rewarded for his title sequences, the movie did pick up the Oscar gongs for Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Sound Effects. But curiously, despite its widespread success and obvious visual and aural quality, it remains a relatively obscure classic.

Featuring many of the leading drivers of the year's GP roster, including Graham Hill, Phil Hill, Jim Clark and John Surtees, what the film manages to capture is the grease thick danger and adrenalin of Formula 1 during this era.

And the sequence that features the Spa-Francorchamps circuit (below), is the greatest I have ever seen. This sort of quality footage would be almost impossible to achieve with all the digital tech available today.

Enjoy and marvel at how this was achieved. In glorious celluloid.

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