Oddly enough, the adventure that Jeff Ruggles and Matt Woods initially planned didn’t include a Mini or Italy. However, they somehow found themselves with both included in their trip. Jeff and Matt soon realised that to achieve anything they needed a significant amount of funding. So they turned to the Performance Direct Non Standard Awards, who are renowned for turning motoring dreams into reality.
The pair back in 2011 began by pin pointing a location in Europe and purchasing an obscure local car, which they then planned to drive back to Bath. They bought a 1970’s Fiat 126 from Poland to make the long journey home, however, during a test run they realised that this has been done many times before and it wasn’t as exciting as first thought.
It wasn’t until April that they found an Innocenti Mini 1001 in a classic car garage and decided on a total change of plan. They decided to drive the Mini around Europe to follow the path of the film ‘The Italian Job’. This idea was preferred by everyone, including the Performance Direct Non Standard Awards who agreed to fund the trip with £3000.
Many of the Innocentis they found were out of their price range, until they came across one based in Pisa for €3500. The pair didn’t hesitate to put a deposit down and buy a one way ticket to Italy, visiting the Leaning Tower on the way to the garage.
The car wasn’t in the best condition with a few light dents and rust spiders but the boys didn’t want to leave empty handed so they were willing to take the risk.
It wasn’t until they spoke to the car dealer, Walker Rosi, that they realised they had come across their first hurdle. He seemed rather surprised that the pair hadn’t brought their own number plates. As it stands, in many European countries, a number plate belongs to the individual rather than the car.
In the end they managed to persuade Mr Rosi to keep his plates on the Mini as long as they returned them by post once they arrived home in England.
A £1000 deposit had already been put down from when the boys first saw the car back in England. Although they had the money, it would take three days for the funds to be transferred into the Italian car dealers account.
This was a major setback as they had booked a hotel in Turan for the next evening. Luckily, Francesco (their Italian counterpart) was able to act as a guarantor, so they were able to collect the car and begin their journey.
With all the trouble, Jeff and Matt didn’t have the heart to haggle or tell Walter that both CV gaiters were hanging off, the tie rods were bent and all the rubber bushes looked knackered.
So they set off in their Mini, installed with the latest Garmin NuLink 2390 Sat Nav although it repeatedly broke due to a blown fuse in the lighter socket!
It seemed as though they had to stop at every service station due to mechanical faults. First to fix the lights, then to reaffix parts of the ignition and more crucially to make sure the air filter was actually still attached to the car. It wasn’t until over six hours later they arrived at their destination of Turan.
After a relaxing night in their first ‘Italian Job’ sight, The Lingotto Hotel, the pair set off in search of spot number two, the former Fiat factory (now a hotel with a famous rooftop race track). In the film, Croker and his gang made their way through the city via a carefully plotted route, however, this was much easier said than done.
With the local drivers assuming they were also locals because of their borrowed number plates as well as different mechanical faults, it was a struggle to get there in one piece.
Once they had arrived they noticed that the rubbing breaks had nearly set the rear wheels on fire but still insisted on making the steep journey to the top of the hotel, where they spent a good few hours which they claimed was necessary in order to let the breaks cool.
The pair wanted to visit as many film locations as possible and managed to fit in the Palazzo Carignano, where the gang loaded the Minis with gold, as well as replicating the scene where ‘Arfur’ leans out of the window, steals the chicken and utters ‘I could eat a horse’, which the locals were not too pleased with.
There were a number of times that Jeff and Matt thought they would be arrested or deported, especially if they replicated the scene where the Minis skidded around the Palazzo Lascaris, so they decided to walk that part.
After heading out of Italy the break problem was back with a vengeance. They even had to remove the red hot wheel and drum to allow it to cool down. But despite the problems they were still determined to make it to the end scene on the film, where the coach falls off a cliff on the Colle Del Nivolet pass.
They just about made it to the top but coming back down with no breaks was risky. They didn’t want actually to recreate the scene and send the car toppling over the edge!
Jeff and Matt made it back to England safe and sound and they both acknowledged that their ‘Italian Job’ dream would not have been possible without the Performance Direct’s Non Standard Awards.