The Italian Job has bagged almost £10,000 for three Cumbrian charities. And the men involved in this caper hope even more swag could be on its way to worthy causes.

Paul Rheinbach and Angus Grant have just returned from a nine-day drive to locations used in cult 1969 film The Italian Job. Starring Michael Caine, it showed a gang of crooks using Mini Coopers to steal gold bars from Turin. Paul and Angus were among a convoy of a dozen red, white and blue Minis on an organised trip.

After travelling by ferry from Dover to Dunkirk they drove through France and over the Alps to Turin.

They were raising money for Carlisle Youth Zone, Eden Valley Hospice and CFM’s Cash For Kids. Through sponsorship and donations they have so far raised £9,500 of their £10,000 target.

Paul, 50, is managing director of More Handles. Angus, 38, is managing director of Carlisle Brass. “The whole trip was just epic,” says Paul. “It was a really rewarding experience. The people were from all walks of life. They were all fans of the film. The scenery was mind-blowing. When we got to the foot of Mont Blanc in a beautiful chalet, we didn’t get there until 10 at night. Next morning we opened the curtains. Wow!”

Paul and Angus are both 6ft 1in. But spending hours in a Mini was apparently not a problem. “There’s more space than people think. It is hard driving for 11 hours a day in a 25-year-old Mini. We did about four hours’ driving each then we swapped. It takes its toll on you. As soon as your head hit the pillow you were out like a light.”

The journey also took its toll on some of the vehicles. “One car’s engine blew up on the first afternoon. They had to hire a Corsa. Another’s engine blew up on day three. They were gutted. They had just spent £20,000 on the car.

“There were a couple of hair-raising moments when our car broke down. I had to drive for 60 kilometres on a dual-carriageway at night with no lights. The alternator hadn’t been charging the battery. The only way we could get it going was to turn the lights off. Another Mini drove behind us with its full beam on. My face was two inches off the windscreen.”

Driving down twisting Alpine roads with steep drops and sometimes no crash barriers was also nerve-wracking. But they usually enjoyed the experience, repeatedly playing Matt Monro’s On Days Like These: the song heard during The Italian Job’s opening sequence.

Turin was a highlight. “We arrived on Friday afternoon, in the rush hour. It was chaotic. People weaving in and out of traffic. Gus was driving. I was very relieved about that!

“The convoy brought Turin almost to a standstill. The amount of people waving and cheering, flashing their lights and beeping their horns. They’d never seen so many Minis. You feel like a famous person. So many people are giving the thumbs up. Everybody loves a Mini. People were looking at the car and saying ‘Bella!’

“There was a group of children on bikes in the Alps, waving and cheering. One girl was so excited she fell off her bike!

“Lots of people donated to us. People at service stations were asking what we were doing and giving us 20 Euros here, 10 Euros there. We raised about £300 like that. I’m delighted, and flabbergasted by the amount of support we’ve had. I picked £10,000 not thinking we’d get near it.”

He and Angus are considering another fundraising journey, maybe in the Mini. “It puts a smile on my face when I sit in it. I’m keeping it liveried up with sponsors’ logos. It’s like The Italian Job - it’s quirky, it’s funny. It’s just utter Britishness.”

The car can currently be seen in the Lloyd Mini showroom at Kingstown, Carlisle.

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