BMC (British Motor Corporation), the owners of the Mini, refused to donate any cars to the film. The boss of Fiat Motors, offered to donate all the cars they needed, including Fiat 500s in place of the Minis. The director, however, decided that, as it was a very British film, it should be British Minis. Fiat's boss still donated scores of cars for filming, as well as the factory grounds, and even though the authorities refused to close the roads, the Italian Mafia stepped in, and shut whole sections of Turin down for filming, so the traffic jams in the film are real, as are people's actions during it.
The silver Aston Martin DB4 thrown off the cliff by a Mafia bulldozer, was a fake car. The red Jaguar E-Type (smashed up in the same scene), was restored in the 1990s, and featured in a UK classic car magazine. The Lamborghini Miura, which featured in the opening scenes, was recently discovered in a secret car park in Paris, and bought by a collector in Wales (the Miura thrown down the ravine was a wreck).
This is a movie primarily about cars and driving. Michael Caine could not drive at the time the movie was made, and in fact, he is never seen driving a car. The only time in the movie that Charlie Croker is assumed to be driving, is the cut between when he picks up his Aston Martin at the garage, and in the next shot, when we see it arrive outside the hotel. But Michael Caine gets out of a stationary Aston Martin after a further cut. Throughout the drive to Turin, and the entire heist, Croker is always a passenger.
According to Michael Caine, the film did not perform well at the U.S. box-office, due to a misleading advertising campaign. The U.S. poster featured a scantily-clad woman with a map on her back kneeling in front of a Mafioso holding a machine gun. While promoting the film in the U.S., Caine saw the poster, and became so upset, that he immediately flew home to England.
When Charlie Crocker gets out of jail, his girlfriend is waiting for him with a car to drive him home and Charlie mentions that it's the car of the ambassador of Pakistan. The actual car was owned by the ambassador of Pakistan when the film was produced.
Fiat immediately saw the potential for product promotion in this movie, and offered an unlimited supply of Fiat 500s, plus top-of-the-line Lamborghinis and Ferraris, plus 50,000 dollars, if the producers would use the Italian cars instead of the Minis. The Minis stayed, because they were seen as quintessentially British, and one of the themes of the movie is us vs. them, i.e. Britain versus the rest of Europe.
The road used for the climactic cliff-hanger sequence, led only to a restaurant. The first day of shooting was a Saturday, brilliantly sunny, and the shoot went off without a hitch. On the next day, however, a huge line of cars appeared at the bottom of the road. The restaurant was hugely popular on Sundays. Some disgruntled drivers eventually broke through the police cordon and the shoot had to be aborted. Over the next two weeks, it rained steadily, and the snowline came down the mountain by approximately 250 feet. By the time the shot was completed, the crew had to sweep snow from the road.
Peter Collinson's wife, Hazel, appeared in all his films "for luck". In this film, she appears at the Mafioso's dinner, as the blonde wife of the visiting American. She was called in the last minute because Collinson was being sent only tall, dark Italian models and he wanted "a short, blonde scrubber". Also, when Croker is getting out his equipment from under the bed, after he leaves prison, he calls the rope and grappling hook "Hazel."
Noël Coward was not in good health, and had a hard time learning lines for the movie, so his longtime companion and partner Graham Payn, had a cameo role as Bridger's assistant, so he could be on hand to help with any problems.
The rooftop race track was an actual working part of the Fiat factory that was completed in 1923. The track measures 1,680 feet by 260 feet. The five-story building has sixteen million square feet of floor space and was once home to six thousand workers.
According to the DVD commentary, although never formally planned, the start of the anticipated sequel resolved the cliffhanger ending of the original, by having the Mafia arrive in helicopters and lifting the bus back onto the road to recover the gold (incidentally rescuing Charlie and the gang). The rest of the movie would then involve Charlie's crew pulling a second heist to steal the gold back from the Mafia.
The roof to roof jump was filmed on the roof of the Fiat factory. Some crew members walked off, for fear it would end in a fatality, and the Italian Fiat workers made the sign of the cross to the stuntman.
They filmed a scene for part of the Mini Cooper chase sequence on an ice rink, with the cars gliding past each other to the accompaniment of Johann Strauss's "The Blue Danube". The scene was cut for timing reasons, but was included in the Channel 4 documentary "The Mini Job" which later appeared on the Special Edition video. All DVD releases include the scene as an extra feature.
The screenplay originally was set in London, and was to have been a television show. However, the scope of the production was too large for British television at the time, and so the script was purchased for the movie, and the setting changed to Turin, because it had the most extensive computer-controlled traffic monitoring system in Europe. However, Milan had been the original location choice, until the producers realized it would be impossible to get a shooting permit.
August 2001: To mark the completion of a new ten kilometer sewer in Hull, England, Yorkshire Water re-created the famous scene where the Minis escape through the tunnels of Turin, this time using the recently-released new-shape BMW Mini.
The 'in the sewer' scene was filmed near Coventry in Stoke Aldermoor, where several miles of the Birmingham-Coventry sewer was being constructed. The camera car was a Mini Moke that preceded the Coopers and was driven by one of Rémy Julienne's team. Remy was excited about the scene as he wanted to complete a 360 barrel roll, essentially getting the Cooper upside down on the ceiling of the sewer. Remy tried three times, but the slippery algae caused problems and the Mini ended up on it's roof three times. The car was so badly damaged, that a forth attempt was ruled out. John Aldred, the Sound Mixer, claims that Remy did complete a barrel roll on one rehearsal, but the cameras weren't rolling, and it was the only stunt in the finished film to defeat Remy.
The deleted "Blue Danube" sequence was filmed in the Exhibition Hall designed by Pier Luigi Nervi and completed in 1949 after only eight months of construction. It was updated for use as a hockey rink for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Turin.
The sports car featured in the opening sequence was a Lamborghini Miura. They originally sold for 20,000 dollars. In 2015, this is equivalent to 146,113 dollars, but they can fetch, in the neighborhood of, one million dollars on the collector car market.
The number plate of the Daimler limo in which Bridgers arrives at "Great Aunt Nellies" funeral, shows HMP 1, which stands for "Her Majesty's Pleasure". Prison vehicles wouldn't have had personalized number plates, come to that, neither would there have been Daimlers available to move prisoners about, that would have been the role of a Morris Commercial Van, regardless of their "status".
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
In a BBC documentary to celebrate his seventieth birthday in March 2003, Michael Caine revealed his character's "great idea", and the deleted ending of the film, as the gang's bus teeters on the edge of a cliff. "The next thing that happens is you turn the engine on," he said. "You all sit exactly where you are, until all the petrol has run out, which changes the equilibrium. We all jump out of the bus and the gold goes over the cliff. At the bottom are the Italian Mafia, sitting waiting for the gold." This was also rumored to be the premise for the sequel "The Brazilian Job".
When filming the bus hanging over the cliff, the camera helicopter's downdraft started to tip the bus over. Stunt crew had to hang on to the front of the bus to stop it falling thousands of feet into a reservoir.
The book has a completely different ending. There are no problems with the getaway, and they successfully get the gold back to England, and take it to Mr. Bridger, who tells them, "Now go and take it back to where you got it from!"
At the time of making of the film, there was no ending, and it was left to Paramount to create one. The main crew and writer hated what they came up with, so the 2nd unit was given the job of filming it.