Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia 1930s Spanish classic car

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. The culmination of his life's work, though, would be the Hispano-Suiza Xenia. From a wealthy background, Dubonnet was a car-crazed kid. The only toy he ever really wanted was a one-of-a-kind 'supercar'. Finally - in ’45 - he got it!

For all his wealth, Dubonnet was a worker. Over time, he made himself a more than competent car fabricator. Hispano-Suiza was his marque of choice. Using their style-soaked creations as source material, Dubonnet fashioned several racing prototypes. They graced grand European events – including Monza, the Targa Florio, Le Mans and Boulogne. Not only did Dubonnet build the cars - he drove them, too. He did so well enough to be asked to join the Bugatti race équipe - by boss Ettore.

Dubonnet built up an impressive portfolio of clients. No less a player than GM acquired some of his research work - into hydro-pneumatic suspension, and pumpless oil delivery. But, even Dubonnet needed help from time to time. He recruited Jacques Saoutchik to the Xenia cause. The fabled Russian coachbuilder was tasked with sorting the aerodynamic aspects of the car. Dubonnet had land speed record attempts in mind. So, Saoutchik's wind-cheating know-how would be vital. He also knew how to design a stunning-looking automobile. Sadly, the Xenia never broke a speed record. Which is not to imply it did not have any of the must-have attributes of an LSR car. It was a stability-inducing 5.7m in length. And could clock up 200km/h. Despite its shortcomings, then - in speed record terms, at least - Dubonnet's Hispano-Suiza Xenia was one of the most innovative and spectacular cars of all time. So ... cheers, André!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2 1980s Italian sports motorbike

The Bimota HB2 was the second offering from the illustrious Italian bike builders. The HB1 set the template. Massimo Tamburini – designer at Bimota – had totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Its four-cylinder engine was salvaged from the wreckage. Bimota bodywork was then wrapped around it. The resulting Honda/Bimota hybrid was the first in a line of stylish, trend-setting motorcycles.

The HB2 upped the power ante. The new bike sourced the motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the Honda. It weighed in at just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then added. Ceriani teles were dialled in with a progressive-rate monoshock. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame ensemble gave extra stability. With a 138mph top speed – and more than impressive handling – the new Bimota etched a benchmark. It had taken the superbike fight to its Japanese rivals.

The challenge would have come as no surprise to the Oriental ‘big four’ manufacturers. Bimota had long done the business in GPs. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was superb Italian looks, aligned with Japanese hi-performance. Sadly, less than 200 HB2s went on sale. The HB3 set the seal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. As the HB2 had done before it, the HB3 also uprated the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, however, the Japanese marques had caught up. Notwithstanding – with the HB2 – Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending bikes!

De Tomaso Mangusta

De Tomaso Mangusta 1960s Italian classic supercar

Coach-built by Ghia, the de Tomaso Mangusta was about as chic as a sports car gets. Well, apart from its name … a mangusta being a mongoose. Its body was a sleek lattice-work of lines, slats and shapes. Even the make/model graphics were stylishly scripted.

The Mangusta was on the money technically, too. Its Ford 4.7 V8 motor made 305bhp. Top speed was 250km/h. Released in ’66, just 400 Mangustas were built. 280 of them were sold in the States – no doubt helped by the Ford engine. That was a fair old jaunt from Modena, Italy – mythical melting-pot of all things motor racing. A lovely location, then, for Alejandro de Tomaso to have based his workshop.

De Tomaso hailed from Buenos Aires. With a government minister for a father – and an heiress for a mother – it is safe to say young Alejandro was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It was not long before de Tomaso’s motoring muse came calling – mainly, in the form of Maserati. At 27, he moved to Italy – to pursue a career as a racing driver. He was quick … but not quick enough! So, instead, he set up a supercar company. As a designer – rather than driver – de Tomaso fared much better. Soon, both sports cars and single-seat racers were rolling out of his 'shop. In his youth, de Tomaso had idolised Fangio – the Argentinian race ace. Acolyte would never match master, in that regard. But – in penning cars like the Mangusta – de Tomaso had found his own means of automotive expression. By the way - if you are planning to buy a Mangusta - a word to the wise. Mongooses eat snakes. You’ve been warned!

Laverda 750 SFC

Laverda 750 SFC 1970s Italian classic sports motorbike

The Laverda 750 SFC was a 'production racer' of the old school. It was conceived to compete in endurance races. Hence, the 'C' in its name ... for competizione. The 'F' stood for freni - or brakes - due to its improved drums, in that department. Both sets were hooked up to Ceriani suspension - telescopic forks at the front, and twin shocks to the rear. The SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race - at Montjuic Park. Its specially-designed bright orange paintwork was a snip to spot - even at night - for both pit crew and spectators alike.

The SFC's road-going activity was somewhat in the shade of its racing endeavours. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. Many of them were to see road, as well as race use. They were not the most 'ergonomically correct' of roadsters. Low clip-on 'bars and rear-set footrests meant relaxation took a back seat - to a racing crouch. And a single back seat, at that. At least, the SFC's smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort. Though, handling-wise, too, the bike was eminently user-friendly.

And to be fair, riders needed to be kept on their toes. The SFC's parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons. They were fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed for the SFC was 125mph. So, an incautious twist of the throttle - and a race-style posture may have proved more than welcome. Rather sore limbs - than a lovely Laverda, in an unlovely ditch! Even if the bike did weigh in at a not-too-hefty 454lb. The Laverda 750 SFC, then, was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling with the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. The culmination of his life's work, though, would be the Hispano-Suiza...