Mini Cooper embarks on its farewell job

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The Independent Online

They raced around Turin in The Italian Job in patriotic red, white and blue as Michael Caine masterminded the getaway from a bullion raid. But the Mini Cooper has since lost some of its speed and is about to skid round another challenging circuit for the last time.

Forty years ago the icon of British motoring won the Monte Carlo Rally and the British leg of the World Championship. But the sporting version of the British Leyland Mini - which is so light it has to carry 100 kilograms of ballast - is the oldest and slowest car of the rally world and is to be retired from active service at the end of the year.

There will be one last hurrah at Rally GB from tomorrow, when Neil Burgess, an amateur driver, and his navigator, Jim Holder, take a 20-year-old Mini for a final spin.

In memory of The Italian Job, which has been remade this year starring Mark Wahlberg in Caine's role, their ballast will be lead bars painted gold.

Mr Burgess said: "We're going to have a lot of fun on this rally and I think our Mini will be the people's favourite. Competing on the same stages with drivers like Colin McRae is like being invited to play in an FA Cup final.

"Our car, even with all the rally modifications and extras on it, is worth £15,000 compared with the £450,000 car Colin drives, so I don't think he'll have too much to worry about from us."

Mini owners' clubs are expected to converge on the forests of South Wales to support the car's last stand. The team consists of 15 volunteers, including six mechanics. Mr Holder said some of the parts were from the Sixties and their target was simply to finish. He said: "As the song in the film says 'This is the Self-preservation Society'."

Rally GB starts in Cardiff and covers 994 miles before the finish on Sunday afternoon.