Sunbeam S8

Sunbeam S8 British 1950s classic motorcycle

Even in GB's 'Black Country', the sun still sometimes shines. The Sunbeam S8 was proof positive of that! Sunbeam's factory was in Wolverhampton - in England's Midlands. From the outset - in 1912 - the firm acquired a name for classy and reliable bikes. Some innovation was thrown in, for good measure. The first Sunbeam, for example, came with a fully-enclosed chain. That helped keep both bike and rider oil-free. Such niceties quickly gained Sunbeam a reputation as manufacturers of 'gentlemen's machines'. The Sunbeam S8 - made between '49 and '56 - was another variation on the high-end theme.

The S8's predecessor - the Sunbeam S7 - had not covered itself in glory. It was comfortable, certainly - but that was about it. The S7 was overweight, lacked manoeuvrability - and its brakes were not the best. The deficiencies were addressed - to some extent - by the S7 De Luxe model. It fell to the S8, though, to get Sunbeam fully shipshape again.

The S8 was a sports bike. That was only to be expected. After all, development engineer George Dance had set speed records on Sunbeams. And, in the early Twenties, Sunbeam had twice been victorious in the Senior TT. Indeed, as far back as 1913, a single-cylinder 3.5bhp Sunbeam was successfully raced. So, the twin-cylinder S8 was the latest in a long line of performance-based Sunbeams. Stylist Erling Poppe was plainly inspired by the BMW R75. Design rights to the German-built bike had been passed to BSA - as part of the war reparations. BSA had acquired Sunbeam from AMC - in '43. Under Poppe's aegis, the S8 had shed the 'portliness' of the S7. And it now sported a set of solid front forks. Even its exhaust note had been modifed - to a sound more sonorous. Top speed for the S8 was a heady 85mph. Handling, too, had come on by leaps and bounds. All in all, then, the Sunbeam S8 shone a warm ray of light on its 'Black Country' roots.

Rudge Ulster

Rudge Ulster Britsh 1930s classic motorcycle

The Rudge Ulster was based on the Rudge Multi. The latter machine - launched at the start of the 20th century - boasted 21 gears! Hence, the 'Multi'. An intricate pulley system auto-adjusted the bike's final drive belt. The ratios were selected via a long gear-lever located to the left of the fuel-tank. Early Rudges sported spring-up stands. Back mudguards were hinged - facilitating wheel removal. The Ulster sold well - no doubt due, in large part, to these subtleties of engineering.

A racing version of the Rudge Multi went on to win 1914's Senior TT. And - for Rudge - there was plenty more race success to come. It was in 1928, though, that the firm secured its place in history. When a Rudge won the Ulster GP of that year, the accompanying road-bike was named after the illustrious Irish race. It had fallen to Graham Walker - Rudge's sales manager - to pilot the Ulster to victory.

The roll-call of Rudge's technical innovation went on and on. While the Ulster was only a 500cc single, its engine sported four valves. They helped to output around 30bhp. A dry weight of just 290lb did the rest. The Ulster featured Rudge's linked braking system. The foot-pedal retarded both drum brakes - while the hand lever applied added front-end bite. On the racing front, Rudge continued winning well into the Thirties. However, financial woes came to a head in '39. The proud name of Rudge was no more. But - up until then - the Rudge Ulster was the best-known bike from one of the most forward-looking firms in motorcycling.

Norton CS1

Norton CS1 1930s British classic motorcycle

Norton motorcycles - including the CS1 - are as iconic as classic bikes come. Company HQ was in Bracebridge Street - Birmingham, England. The fledgling firm went bust, in 1913. In true champion style, though, it came back out for another round! James Norton teamed up with Bob Shelley, and his brother-in-law - ace tuner Dan 'Wizard' O'Donovan. The chemistry was spot-on - most memorably, at the Isle of Man TT. Rex Judd was just one of the riders to pilot a Norton to victory in that most iconic of road races.

The Norton CS1 first hit the bike scene in '27. The 'CamShaft 1' sported a bevel-driven overhead cam engine. The 'production racer' model was a sensation from the moment Stanley Woods swung a leg over it. A year later, and the CS1 took to the road. That was in super-sport mode. Again, it left rivals reeling in its wake! Sadly, founder James 'Pa' Norton died a few years before the success came on stream.

Previous to the CS1, it fell to 'Wizard' O'Donovan to fabricate the 'Brooklands Special'. It was designed specifically to cater to the unique challenges of the Surrey oval track. Subsequently, though, it was detuned for road use. A certificate accompanied sales of the racer - confirming it had topped 75mph. The roadster's certificate guaranteed just 5mph less. The CS1, then, had a tough act to follow. It did so with aplomb. Styling-wise, it was engineering as art. That was set off to a tee by the silver-and-black colour scheme - Norton's trademark regalia. It was a shame 'Pa' Norton's heart could not hold out a little while longer. He was never really a businessman ... but he loved bikes to the core of his being. He would have loved the sight and sound of one of his company's master strokes. Certainly, the Norton CS1 has been exhilarating classic bike fans for many a year since.

Costin Amigo

Costin Amigo 1970s British classic sports car

Frank Costin - creator of the Amigo - was an automotive pioneer. Saying that, he learned a lot of what he knew from the aircraft industry. He had been a top aeronautical engineer. Costin had then transferred his considerable skill-set to motor racing. In the '50s, Lotus and Vanwall benefited directly from his input. Indirectly, the ripples of his expertise spread far wider. When Costin met up with Jem Marsh, they went on to found sports car maker MarCos. The marque had a unique take on English eccentricity. That was fully in keeping with Costin's character. An out and out maverick, he did things his way. That certainly extended to his cars' construction. Costin liked wood. The chassis in Marcos' first sports cars would be made from laminated marine plywood.

Over time, Marcos moved to more orthodox chassis. Costin, though, was still a believer. He sought backing to build a car of his own. Enter the Costin Amigo! Its monocoque frame was still forged from plywood ... albeit with pine strips bonded on. The light weight of the chassis was mirrored by a glassfibre body. The finish was seriously smooth. The Amigo's shape was sublime. Visually - and aerodynamically - it more than cut the mustard.

The Amigo's engine, drive-train and suspension were sourced from the Vauxhall VX4/90. The car was built close to Vauxhall's Luton HQ. Fittingly - given Costin's former employment - it was at an airfield. Overall performance for the Amigo was impressive. Top speed was 137mph. Handling was high-calibre. Only the car's spartan interior let the design side down a tad. Doubtless, that contributed to the Amigo's woefully low sales. A scant eight units were shifted. Had Frank Costin been more of a marketing man, things may have been much better. But, engineering was all he knew. The story behind the Costin Amigo, though, was richer than many a car that sold a thousand times more!

Ford Escort RS

Ford Escort RS 1970s British classic car

In the Seventies, the Ford Escort was an automotive must-have. Especially when kitted out in 'go faster' stripes, the RS ticked all the right boxes. With RWD - and a light body - the Escort was a boy racer's dream come true. Cameo rôles in TV show The Professionals bolstered the car's hard-hitting image. They did its sales figures no harm, either.

The RS was a top rally car. Indeed, the 'Mexico' model marked Ford's win in the London to Mexico Rally. The RS 1800 was built to compete. Complete with twin-cam motor - and all round disc brakes - many an owner took to the stages. On the road, too, the Ford Escort flew. 'X-Pack' optional extras saw to that. The nose of the RS 2000 sported a 'droopsnoot' ... a polyurethane strip, reputed to cut drag.

Technically, then, the Escort impressed. Suspension-wise, it was on solid ground. A set of MacPherson struts sorted the front. A live axle - on leaf springs - took care of the rear. The RS' monocoque steel shell could be strengthened. Its in-line four engine produced 86bhp. That made it good for 103mph. Later versions upped both numbers. Transmission was 4-speed manual. The Escort interior was slick. A goodly array of instruments, bucket seats, and a sports steering-wheel all helped with high-speed shenanigans. Which - to a large degree - was what the Ford Escort RS was about. A 'good-time Charlie' of a car, if ever there was one!

Sunbeam S8

Even in GB's 'Black Country', the sun still sometimes shines. The Sunbeam S8 was proof positive of that! Sunbeam&...