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Case Study: The Italian Job

Case Study: The Italian Job

| On 29, May 2018

Darrell Mann

The Italian Job is a 1969 British caper film, written by Troy Kennedy Martin, produced by Michael Deeley and directed by Peter Collinson. For Brits of a certain age, it has become a cultural icon. In 2004, the film was named the 27th greatest British film of all time. The line “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” by Caine was voted favourite film one-liner in a 2003 poll of 1,000 film fans, but what people most likely remember about the film is the – quite literally – cliffhanger of an ending: The gang of criminals has escaped with the gold bullion, but during their getaway, their gold-laden coach spins out of control and finds itself teetering on the edge of a cliff: Leaving the unfortunate criminals facing this scene inside the coach:

Part of the idea for the cliffhanger was to open up the way for a sequel. Sadly, that never happened and so the viewing public has been left haunted by Michael Caine’s final words, ‘Hang on a minute, lads, I’ve got a great idea.”

The coach is rocking on a knife-edge, and the moment Michael moves himself any closer to the bullion, the coach is going to tip over the edge of the cliff. Sounds like a problem for TRIZ…

…which probably means starting by thinking about an ‘Ideal Final Result’. Fairly straight-forward in this case: the gang swiftly rescues all the gold and continue safely with their getaway…

…from where, we probably need to do some knowledge gathering…

…starting with the coach, as it happens a Bedford VAL14s:

…launched at the 1962 Commercial Motor Show, the twin steer concept  on 36ft (11m) PSV chassis was the first Bedford chassis designed specifically for bus & coach operation, (hitherto Bedford had produced modified versions of its truck chassis for this purpose). The set back front axles, allowing the entrance door to be positioned ahead of them, making it easier for passengers to get in and out. The coach was powered by a 6.17 litre Leyland 0.400 diesel engine mounted vertically at the front, & driving via a Clark (licence built by Turner) five speed synchromesh gearbox, that in turn drove a propshaft to the rear wheels. The wheels were relatively small – 16 in diameter. The VAL had power steering & a tight turning circle. An exhaust brake was optional to assist the air over hydraulic brakes which, working on small diameter drums, had a tendency to overheat & fade. One feature that made the VAL suitable for the then, new motorway network, was that in the event of a tyre blow-out, the coach would continue to drive normally, & could be brought to a controlled stop.

Beyond that, the problem carries all the hallmarks of a resources problem. Which means the 9-Windows tool, and very likely a definition of ‘system’ that comprises the interior compartment of the coach:

The ‘present’ is probably best defined by Michael Caine’s current position in the still image from the film: If he tries to move any closer to the gold, the coach tips; if he moves back towards the other members of his gang, the coach becomes more stable. He is, in other words, currently right on the fulcrum point of the balancing coach.

In order to achieve our IFR, we need to re-distribute weight. A good Window to start this search is the Sub-System, Present. Which means looking around the scene inside the coach to see what we have available:

  • Michael Caine can retreat to the other gang members.
  • There are blinds on the coach windows, these could be taken down and moved towards the gang, starting with the ones nearest to the gang, and then working further along the coach towards the gold.
  • Having revealed the coach windows from behind the blinds, the gang could somehow break the glass. For the windows on the ‘land-side’ of the fulcrum, they should break them so the glass falls inside the coach; for the windows on the air-side, the should break them so the glass falls outwards – thus reducing the overhanging weight. If they break the land-side glass first, they have the opportunity to experiment a bit with the method of breaking – using a shoe for example, or the discarded blinds?

How about moving to the Super-System?

  • Having broken the land-side windows, one or more of the gang can be supported so they can lean out of the window and let down the four front tyres. This will help reduce the rocking motion of the coach (albeit at the expense of making it difficult to drive the coach away once they stabilize it).
  • The gang can open the skylight above their heads and climb out onto the top of the bus, closer to the front of the coach in order to again re-distribute weight to help stabilize the vehicle. If they remove the skylight, they should retain it in/on the vehicle in order to make use of its weight as a further re-distribution aid.
  • If you look at the picture of Michael Caine, just ahead of his left-hand is an access panel. Once the coach has been made more stable, he can move forward to this access panel and open it. What he will find beneath is the coach’s fuel tank. He can then release fuel from the tank, meaning that somewhere around 140kg of weight will be lost from the air-side of the coach. Removing this amount of weight will then make it very easy for Michael to start moving gold bars towards his gang. The more gold gets moved, the more other people will be able to join in the process of moving the gold faster.
  • Outside the coach, the environment is full of rocks and other heavy objects. As the gang start removing gold from the coach, they can replace the lost weight with rocks from the area surrounding the vehicle.
  • Also outside the coach is the road they have just been travelling along. Once enough weight has been re-distributed in the coach, one or more of the gang-members can flag down other passing vehicles, the bigger they are, the better.

System-Future? (the ‘future’ in the context of our problem, means something like the next 20 to 30 minutes…)

  • The coach engine is still running at the time of the incident, so that, should Mr Caine be unable to release the fuel from the tank, the fuel is gradually being consumed anyway. The longer they ‘wait’ the more the vehicle weight re-distributes towards safety as the fuel tank as towards the rear. If one of the gang gets to the driver’s seat, they can in any event press harder on the accelerator pedal to increase the rate of fuel consumption.
  • In order to cover their tracks once they’ve got the gold out of the coach and suitably commandeered a replacement vehicle, it would probably be sensible to encourage the coach to tip over the edge of the cliff. They could do this by either pushing the coach using the new vehicle, or re-distributing the rocks they’ve place on board so the coach approaches it’s tipping point again.
  • Or – slightly more risky – the gang could get themselves off the coach, let it tip over the edge, commandeer a passing vehicle, and drive down the mountain to where the coach comes to a rest, and remove the gold from where it now lies.

The preferred solution and sequence of events, will probably look something like this:

All in all, the problem doesn’t seem so difficult after all. Maybe that’s the real reason they didn’t make the sequel?