It’s one of the most evocative openings to a movie ever made. A bright orange Lamborghini Miura spears across an elegant viaduct in the Italian Alps. We see its driver – a typically dapper Italian silver fox, wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigarette – deftly hurling it around the mountain hairpins, to the soundtrack of Matt Monro crooning On Days Like These.
It’s a sequence familiar to tens of millions of Britons, and millions more across the globe; the result of countless Christmas-time and holiday repeats on television since The Italian Job was released in 1969. The car is only on screen for a matter of minutes, but it really does leave a lasting impression.
And that’s certainly a running theme with the Miura. If you were asked to name the most beautiful cars of all time, there’s a pretty good chance that it would be somewhere in your top 10. Perhaps even in your top three. While its successor the Countach was brutal, the Miura was lithe, curvaceous, almost effete.
Often regarded as the first production mid-engined road car (although both the Ford GT40 and the Bonnet Djet predated it), the Miura was a revolution in supercar packaging and dynamics. Sure the early ones were pretty compromised, but never before had a 12-cylinder supercar featured its powerplant in the middle – things would never be the same again.
In fact, the structure beneath Gandini’s uplifting body panels had been displayed at Turin in November 1965. It used all the components of the existing 350GT – a conventional Grand Tourer, in the mould of the car that Lamborghini would have had Ferrari build for him – only organised rather more radically, with a deep backbone and sills at the core of the structure, and Lamborghini’s V12 (originally designed with Formula 1 potential by former Ferrari 250 GTO engineer Giotto Bizzarrini, of Società Autostar) slung transversely behind the seats to keep overall length in check.
Of course, the Miura’s achingly beautiful proportions would only become apparent four months later at Geneva, but it remains unusual among mid-engined cars in maintaining the classic long-nose/short-tail GT look. Thank the engine’s orientation for that.
But never mind the engineering or packaging – what really matters is those drop-dead gorgeous looks. Seductive from every angle, the Miura has one of those designs that really couldn’t be improved upon, so if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford one, why wouldn’t you buy your very own Miura?
Which Miura to buy?
Just 764 Miuras were built and not all of them survive, so there are fewer of them about than you might think. Most have been restored or at least worked on in some way – there are few completely original cars left. That shouldn’t be a problem, but it can be, because most Miuras are bought by collectors as an investment rather than to drive, and to them originality – in terms of specification at least – is key.
So before you buy any Miura, establish who has restored it and make sure there’s a full photographic record of any work done. There’s no shortage of companies happy to restore Miuras, but some have a better reputation than others – it’s important than anybody who has revived one of these cars has a track record in doing so.
In terms of which edition to go for, the original P400 is sought after as it’s the first of the breed, while the SV is the most valuable because it’s the most highly developed. However, the P400 isn’t all that usable as the cabin gets hot and refinement is poor.
Reliable production figures are hard to pin down, but in 2005 the factory disclosed that having gone through the build sheets and collated everything, 275 P400s were made, along with 338 Miura Ss and 150 Miura SVs. Many earlier cars have been converted to a later spec though, so check the chassis number against the factory records to make sure that you are buying what you think you’re buying.
If originality is your thing (and you want the Miura’s beauty left perfectly intact), then you might want to skip this part, but those seeking a wilder experience could look at one of the few Jota conversions. Only one official Jota was built – and subsequently destroyed in an accident – but a number of standard Miuras were converted to Jota spec by the factory in the 1970s. These SV/J cars are highly valued, although some more than others. Other replicas, built by specialists over the years are another option. Although quality can vary, some are very good indeed.
Performance and specs
Lamborghini Miura SV
||385bhp @ 7850rpm
||286lb ft @ 5500rpm
|Price when new
Dimensions and weight
• You’re unlikely to find a Miura that’s corroded as such – although you could find one that’s full of filler. Thankfully it's a rare these days. What’s more likely though is that you’ll find a car which has seen some bodywork repairs which are below-par, so look out for poor panel fit and sub-standard welding.
• The Miura’s V12 is an absolutely fantastic piece of engineering, and is extremely strong and reliable - if looked after correctly. It was built to be used, and generally lasts well if the car is used how Ferruccio intended. Hard use is one thing, but the V12 doesn't take well to outright abuse, so regular specialist servicing is really the key to a healthy powerplant.
• Even basic maintenance is often a major undertaking, especially where the engine is concerned. Valve clearances need to be reset every 15,000 miles at least, but this is often left due to the fact it will take up to two days to complete, thanks to the fact you have to remove the carburettors.
• Oil changes should be undertaken every 5000 miles or so. If the engine is in good health, oil consumption won't be too high, and thanks to a 16-litre sump capacity you shouldn't need to top it up with semi-synthetic oil much between changes. As the gearbox on earlier models shares its oil with the engine, it's key to make sure good quality oil has been used since the last rebuild.
• Despite the unconventional packaging (with the gearbox housing and engine block cast as one item), the transmission is usually fairly long-lived. Extreme use, either on track (which is fairly unlikely) or due to an unsympathetic driver, will cause premature wear. Even the best Miura will feature some transmission noise, but the biggest give-away to a worn 'box is an audible whine or rumbling bearings.
• Clutches are reasonably durable; some cars might last up to 40,000 miles before a change is required, but drive the car properly and you'll easily half that figure. Replacement is an engine-out job
1965: The mid-engined Miura chassis is shown at the Turin motor show. It’s unclothed, but causes a major stir.
1966: The production-ready Miura is unveiled at the Geneva motor show. Except Lamborghini isn’t ready quite yet...
1967: The first Miura P400s are delivered to their owners.
1969: The next iteration arrives: the Miura P400S. Air-con and electric windows are optional.
1971: The final Miura goes on sale, the P400 SV. There are wider rear wings, revised lights front and rear, a bigger grille and those famous eyebrows have disappeared.
Summary and prices
It was only as recent as 2010 that we were discussing the idea of the world’s first £1m Miura – and that was a Jota! After years or soaring price rise, they have started to level off recently, and today the cheapest Miura could be around £400,000 – and that would be a P400 restoration project.
Decent to good P400s range from around £650-750k, with the best commanding £950k. The P400S models are more desirable, costing around £150,000-200,000 more. The SV, save for the extremely rare Jota model, is the most desirable Miura, costing £950,000-£1.2m for a good example. The exceptional cars can sell for £1.75m+.