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Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Lancia Aurelia B20

Lancia Aurelia B20

The Lancia Aurelia B20 was the first Gran Turismo car. It passed through six series of production - from 1950 to '58. GP stars Juan Manuel Fangio and Mike Hawthorn both drove B20s off-duty. Safe to say, then, that they were reasonably quick! Styling-wise, too, B20s were ahead of the field. After all, the design brief had been given to Pininfarina. Credit, though, must also go to Vittorio Jano. He it was who conceived the Lancia Aurelia B10 saloon car - in 1950. That had served as the template for the B20.

The B20 was powered by a V6 engine - again, the first in series production. Output was 112bhp - co-incidentally, the same figure as the B20's top speed. The alloy block was rubber-mounted - to reduce vibration in parts of the rev range. A single camshaft operated on light alloy push-rods. Hemispherical combustion chambers housed in-line valves. A double-choke Weber 40 carburettor squeezed through the juice. Transmission was via a 4-speed gear-box - and column-shift. Later versions of the B20 were fitted with DeDion rear suspension - to improve handling in the wet. Front suspension, too, was duly beefed up - to counter brake judder, and steering shimmy. Handling and braking on the 5th and 6th Series B20s would have been helped by their increased torque levels. That was the result of de-tuning the motor - by means of a 'softer' cam.

Lancia supplied a succession of coach-builders with a rolling chassis. Chief amongst them were Vignale. None of them, though, topped the simple sophistication of Pininfarina's original. Rarely has coupé bodywork looked so good. Arguably, Lancia broke the GT mould with the Aurelia B20 - at the first time of asking. If so, rival manufacturers have been trying to piece it back together ever since!

Friday, 14 December 2018

Lamborghini Espada

Lamborghini Espada

The Lamborghini Espada was styled by Bertone. Design standards were of the highest - both inside and out. Sitting pretty atop the tail lights, for example, was a clear glass panel. Not only was it a sweet visual flourish - it assisted with parking, too. The Espada's interior was state of the art. Its focal point was a control console, between the front seats. That - and a 'techie' dash - provided an aircraft-style array of dials and switches. And classic supercar though it was, the 4-seater Espada was far from cramped.

The top-spec Espada was good for 155mph. The engine was a 4-litre V12. It sat beneath an alloy bonnet - pleasingly pierced by NACA ducts along the sides. A one-off 5-speed gearbox did the transmission honours.

The Espada's ride was pliant and smooth. That was aided by all round wishbone suspension - plus a wide track, and fat tyres. Overall handling was excellent. Power steering, and auto transmission were options on later models. The Espada was based on the 'Marzal' concept car. When the Espada was released - in 1968 - it set a new speed benchmark for 4-seater cars. In terms of both looks and engineering, then, the Lamborghini Espada was a genuine Italian masterpiece!

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Triumph Speed Triple

Triumph Speed Triple

The Triumph marque looked dead in the water in 1983, when the once-famous firm went into receivership. If it was to survive, it needed a saviour - and fast! Up to the plate strode multi-millionaire building magnate, John Bloor. A new HQ was set up in Hinckley, England. Which was actually quite close to the original Triumph factory - in Meriden, Birmingham. For the next eight years - behind walls of secrecy - Bloor and his colleagues planned a new range of Triumphs. Throwing off the shackles of the wilderness years, the new bikes would be modern marvels of engineering. There would also, though, be designer references to Triumph's glory days.

In '91, six new Triumphs rolled into the showrooms. The parallel twins of yore were no more. Instead, there were three- and four-cylinder engines - complete with double overhead camshafts, and water-cooling. Stylistically, a sea change had occurred. The new machines were every bit as slick and futuristic as their Japanese counterparts. Indeed, suspension and brakes on the new bikes were manufactured in Japan. Notwithstanding, they were welcomed into the bosom of the 'Brit Bike' family with open arms. No doubt, there were a few 'dyed-in-the-wool' riders with reservations. Overall, though, a new generation of bikers was just glad to have one of the great British brand-names back in the mix.

Certainly, the naming of the new arrivals harked back to the past. Trident, Trophy, Thunderbird ... this was the stuff of legend! In '94 came the 'Speed Triple'. Its name recalled the 'Speed Twin' of the Sixties - but in every other respect it was state of the art. Of course, Triumph had long turned out a tasty 'triple' - and this new bike was no exception. Clocking up a top speed of 130mph, it output 97bhp from an 885cc motor. Looks-wise, the 'naked' layout pared weight down to 460lb dry - and lent itself to lean and aggressive styling. The Speed Triple was more than competent in every department. Unsightly oil stains were definitely now the stuff of history! The mighty Triumph marque was back on its feet ... and looking like it would be around for a while!

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Lotus 79

Lotus 79

The Lotus 79 was yet another offering from the fertile mind of Colin Chapman. This time, the legendary Lotus boss trained his sights on 'ground-effect' - the process of aerodynamically 'pressing' the car to the race-track. In theory, it is said, an F1 car could be driven upside-down - so strong is the 'down-force' it generates. It was that kind of handling Chapman sought to incorporate into the new Lotus!

Lotus started out on their ground-effect quest with the '78' - dubbed the 'wing car'. Each side-pod housed an inverted aerofoil. 'Skirts' below the side-pods ducted air through a venturi. That created a vacuum - by slowing down, and then speeding up air through a bottle-neck. The skirt sealed in the air - which the aerofoil then used to 'suction-clamp' the car to the tarmac. The upshot was that the Lotus 78 was the fastest car on the grid. Though that would be partly offset by reliability issues. The Lotus 79, then, up-dated the ground-effect project. The best parts of the '78' car were retained. And Chapman and the team added a couple of extras. By placing the fuel tank behind the driver, the chassis could be narrowed. That helped the venturi do its thing - so increasing down-force. The side-pod skirts had also been up-rated. Now they were free to move up and down - providing a surer seal than previously.

The net result of these developments was exactly as Lotus had hoped. The '79' car was streets ahead in the 1978 season. Mario Andretti drove the car to five GP wins - enough to take the World Championship. Team-mate Ronnie Peterson also won - and was runner-up in the final standings. Lotus-Ford took the Constructors' Championship at a canter. Chapman - and the team - were understandably ecstatic. But it was not to last. When the '79 season dawned, it was clear that the competition had come prepared! Almost to a team, they were armed with their own versions of 'ground-effect'. And some of the engineers had twigged that yet more down-force could be wrung from it - so long as parts of the car were strengthened to cope. Lotus would be outstripped by their beefed-up rivals. But that never obscured the fact that - during its season in the sun - the Lotus 79 had put its F1 rivals well and truly in the shade!

Monday, 10 December 2018

NSU Ro80

NSU Ro80

The styling of the NSU Ro80 was ahead of its time. At first glance, masses of glass were straight out of science-fiction. Closer inspection revealed the gently rising line of its profile - giving it a low front, high back stance - which would influence automotive design for years to come. The 5-seater body was supremely aerodynamic for a saloon car - making cruising at speed a breeze. So flawless was it outwardly that it was hardly touched in ten years of production. Just the tail-lights were modified, on later versions.

The Ro80's handling was equally impressive. FWD - and precision power-steering - kept it perfectly pointed. The long-travel strut suspension soaked up bumps. High-efficiency disc brakes were fitted all round. The 3-speed semi-automatic transmission swept through the gears with aplomb. Top speed was a sound 112mph.

But, of course, nothing is perfect. The Ro80 was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine. Unfortunately - in a rush to get the car into showrooms - the motor had been under-developed. A mere 15,000 miles revealed the fault. The Wankel's rotor-tip seals wore out prematurely. Frustrated owners reported less power - and more fuel consumption! As wear increased, engines were harder to start. If the car could be coaxed into life at all, it was with thick smoke billowing from its exhaust pipe. NSU settled warranty claims without ado - and kept on settling them. Indeed, it was not uncommon for an Ro80 to have near double-digit engine replacements by the end of its days! Which only serves to illustrate what an alluring package the Ro80 must have been overall. Any car which can cause so may problems - and still be in demand - must have something pretty special going for it. In terms of its looks, the NSU Ro80 certainly did!

Lancia Aurelia B20

The Lancia Aurelia B20 was the first Gran Turismo car. It passed through six series of production - from 1950 to '58. GP sta...