BSA DBD34 Gold Star

BSA DBD34 Gold Star 1950s British classic motorcycle

In a hit parade of the best all-time classic motorcycles, the BSA DBD34 Gold Star would be in with a bullet. And of the plethora of bikes produced by the 'Birmingham Small Arms' company, the Gold Star went straight to 'number 1'. The 'Goldie' wrote the book on classic bike charisma. Its name was a tribute to Walter Handley's 100mph lap of the UK's most famous banked oval racetrack. Handley was awarded a Brooklands Gold Star, for his high-speed trouble.

The Goldie was a great-looking machine. Race-style, clip-on 'bars crouched over a chrome tank - emblazoned with the Gold Star badge. Below, focus flowed from a gaping Amal carburettor - through the finned cylinder-block - to a stylish swept-back pipe. Such visual extravagance was matched technically. The Gold Star roadster had a straight-line speed of 110mph.

In sporting terms, the Gold Star was a versatile competitor. It shone not only in road racing - but in motocross and trials, too. '56 saw the bike's stellar début - at the Isle of Man Clubmans TT. The BSA DBD34 Gold Star was a café racer dream come true. Fast-forward a few decades ... and there is many a classic motorbike fan still dreaming!

Bugatti Veyron

Bugatti Veyron 2000s French supercar

Supercar superlatives abound with the Bugatti Veyron. The list of ways in which it outstripped virtually every other car on the planet is a long one. Top speed - 253mph. Peak power - 987bhp. That was produced by a W16-cylinder engine - in effect, two V8s conjoined. Cubic capacity 7,993cc. The Veyron had 4 turbochargers. It used a 7-speed sequential gearbox ... hooked up to 4-wheel drive. Its motor was cooled by 10, yes, 10 radiators. 0-62mph came up in 2.46s. 'Active aerodynamics' kicked in at 137mph. As tech spec for a roadster goes, it does not get much better than that! The Veyron's high-performance price tag? €1.1m. Bargain!

Volkswagen took over Bugatti in '98. Of course, they would have been looking to make an impact. But it took them seven years to do so. Come 2005, though, and a factory had been built for a game-changing supercar. Just 300 Veyrons were made. They did not, in fact, make much profit. Costs incurred by a car like the Veyron are not easily recouped. As a loss leader for Bugatti, though, the Veyron did fine.

The prototype Veyron debuted at the '04 Paris Motor Show. It was a dazzling affair! The Veyron's bodywork alone was breathtaking to behold. Molsheim, Alsace - the French firm's HQ - had served up a stunner! The Bugatti faithful were suitably blown away. To true believers, the Veyron was little short of a miracle on wheels!

Manx Norton

Manx Norton 1950s TT race bike

The Manx Norton has a proud heritage. Throughout the '30s, Norton were nigh on invincible at the Isle of Man TT. Their top-selling roadster at the time was the International. It was the production racer based on this bike that was first to sport the legendary 'Manx' badge. However, it was not until 1950 that the most memorable Manx Norton of all arrived on 'the island'. So flexible was its frame that one of Norton's race aces said it was like riding a feather bed! From then on, it was known as the 'Featherbed Manx'.

But a great bike still needs a great rider. And riders do not come any greater than Geoff Duke. Clearly a perfect fit for the Featherbed, in '51 Duke took both the 500 and 350cc World Championships. Supreme sportsman that he was, Duke would have been first to acknowledge the part played by Irishmen Rex and Cromie McCandless. They were the top-flight engineers who designed the Featherbed frame.

Today, it seems inconceivable that a bike as successful as the Manx could have been a single-pot 'thumper'. Air-cooled, four valves, 54 bhp. Indeed, it would be the first four-cylinder forays at the TT - by Gilera and MV Agusta - which finally signalled the end of Manx indomitability. Thankfully, though, those booming single-cylinder sounds - exiting megaphone exhausts - can still be heard at classic race meets. As the majestic Manx Norton swoops into sight - on its way to completing yet another lap. Basso profundo, basically!

Honda NSR 500

Honda NSR 500 1980s MotoGP bike

Freddie Spencer, Eddie Lawson, Mick Doohan, Wayne Gardner. Four of the finest riders ever to have straddled a race bike. And they all grappled with the Honda NSR 500, at some point. I say 'grappled with', because the NSR was never the best-handling bike out there. Its one-of-a-kind V4 engine, though, more than made up for any deficiencies through the twisty bits. Numerous race wins - and indeed, world championships - are the strongest testament to that.

So, the NSR's staggering straight-line speed was never in doubt. Shinichi Itoh - aboard an NSR 500 - was the first rider to top 200mph. That was at Hockenheim, in '93. Itoh had a neck-wrenching 185bhp at his disposal that day. The NSR's performance stats were eclipsed only by its success rate. By the time Valentino Rossi signed off the GP 2-stroke era - on an NSR, in 2001 - it had won 10 'blue riband' titles in 18 years. Mick Doohan took five of them - on the spin! Back in '85, 'Fast Freddie' Spencer had won the 500 and 250cc World Championships ... both on Honda NSRs!

Visually, too, the 'Rothmans' Honda impressed. While tobacco sponsorship has fallen from favour, there is no denying it inspired some superb paint-jobs. The NSR's was among the most lustrous. A satisfying blend of hues and graphics, so to speak! A true legend of the race-track, then, the NSR 500 has to be one of the most iconic bikes the 'Honda Racing Corporation' has ever created!

McLaren F1

McLaren F1 1990s British supercar

When people say a car looks like $1,000,000, they are speaking figuratively. State of the art GP cars excepted. They certainly would not be referencing a roadster. Not unless it was the McLaren F1, that is. The first F1 off the production line had its last nut nipped up on Christmas Eve, '93. A late addition to an oversize stocking, perhaps? It had taken 6,000 man-hours to build. If you did not get the first one, no worries … a further 99 followed. You would, however, need $1,070,000 in your oversize wallet ... or £635,000, if you were that side of the oversize pond. Check your app for euros. If the F1 was not cool enough, there was always the limited-edition F1 LM to fall back on. It was resplendent in the orange colours of legendary racing driver Bruce McLaren. He had been founder of the race car constructor which bore his name. McLaren, the brand, bent over backwards to woo buyers. Customisation options were legion. A standard F1, though, suited most owners. BMW Motorsport were recruited to design the F1's V12 engine. They did a good job. The F1 produced 627bhp. That translated to a top speed of 231mph. Make that a very good job! You could still do the shopping in it, though, if you were inclined. Higher-grade throttle control skills an advantage! The motor was finished in gold ... not just the colour, but the material itself. The better to shed heat, you see! If you still had engine trouble - or an issue of some sort - McLaren flew out a mechanic. All part of the million-dollar service!

The F1 was the brainchild of Gordon Murray. He had been lead designer for the Brabham Formula One team. After that, he moved to McLaren. Suffice to say, he was well-placed to oversee a car's technical needs. The task of styling the most exotic car ever fell to Lotus' Peter Stevens. Murray's project planning focused on a few key needs. He proposed that the three seats form an 'arrowhead' - the driver sat centrally at its tip. A core concern, too, was that weight be kept down. Make that to the absolute minimum! Every part played its rôle in lightening the load. It was finally reduced to 2,205lb - staggering, even by supercar standards. In August '93, the F1 was ready for testing. Piloting it was ex-Formula One driver Jonathan Palmer. Location was the Nardo test track, Italy. The performance stats Palmer wrung out of the F1 were off the dial. Only Murray could even have dreamed of them!

The F1 GTR won virtually every race it contested - including the '95 Le Mans 24 Hours. Whether on road or track, then, the F1 pushed the envelope to limits not previously reached. The reason the McLaren F1 looked like $1m is that is how much it cost to develop. Well, something like that, anyway! Engine by BMW Motorsport, styling by Peter Stevens, genius by Gordon Murray!

Lotus Esprit S1

Lotus Esprit S1 1970s British classic sports car

The Lotus Esprit S1 was the product of a more than fertile mind. 'Genius' is not a word bandied about in the car world so much as in certain other sectors. Most notably, Art and Science. But, automotive design straddles both disciplines. Someone in motoring to whom the tag has been applied is Colin Chapman - founder of Lotus Cars. Chapman was as enigmatic as they come. He could also be controversial - in a way only the seriously single-minded can be. What was never in doubt was that Chapman lived for Lotus. And for cars like the Esprit.

The Esprit S1 prototype was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro. It was a futuristic fantasy … albeit, one built in rural Norfolk! Hethel has long been the home of Lotus - both physically and spiritually. Technologically, the Esprit was impressive. Its 2-litre 4-cylinder engine produced 160bhp in European spec. Its central location spread out the mass loads - helping the car handle. A Lotus maxim was 'Performance through light weight'. To that end, its bodywork 'wedge' was made from glass-fibre.

Chapman's mission statement was to create cars he himself would want to own. A supercar of its day, the Esprit was nothing if not head-turning. Styling-wise, it summed up the Seventies ... teetering, as it did, on the brink of kitsch - but backing up in the nick of time. The Lotus Esprit S1 was glamorous, mercurial - and an all-round class act. Just like Colin Chapman, in fact!

Ford Thunderbird

Ford Thunderbird 1950s American classic car

The ultimate classic car? Impossible to say - though the Ford Thunderbird must be right up there! Visually stunning, of course … full-gloss Americana, as it was. But, there was always more to the Thunderbird than met the eye. Its no-nonsense V8 motor made sure of that. In 5.1-litre format, the 'Bird was good for 120mph. The engine was borrowed from the Ford Mercury.

Next to some of its rivals, the visual design of early 'Birds was reserved. There is little that is excessive in the clean, bold lines of the first models. All pedal to the metal sports car styling. That said, it helped if you were travelling in a straight line. 'Birds tended to wade through bends - due to their super-soft suspension set-up.

The Thunderbird was Fifties, through and through. As the decade wore on, though, time took its toll. Like Elvis, it started out in life lithe and agile - with ebullience and looks all its own. In later versions, some of that grace faded. But, nothing can detract from the original. A proud day it was, when the first Thunderbird - pristine and powerful - flew the Ford coop.

Porsche 911

Porsche 911 1960s German classic sports car

Birthplace for the Porsche 911 was Stuttgart, Germany. On both road and track, its sales and success stats have been off the scale. Throughout motorsport's modern era, the Porsche 911 has been seeing off the best of them. Entire series have been devoted to it. As a rally car, it was right up there. Indeed, the Porsche 911 is virtually synonymous with close, competitive racing. When the 911s come out to play, hamburgers are put on hold!

'Ferry' Porsche - son of founder Ferdinand - drafted the outline design. His own son 'Butzi' fleshed out the details. Many versions of the 911 duly appeared. The Carrera model, in particular, packed panache, as well as power. It sported a 'duck-tail' spoiler, flared wheel arches and racing-derived decals.

Stamina has been key to 911 development. Each model iteration has relentlessly refined its predecessor. By a process of incremental improvement, then, its engineers and designers have reached four-wheeled perfection. In one or other of its now eight variants, the Porsche 911 has been an automotive icon since September '64. Such has been its staying-power that a sports car world without it would be inconceivable!

Britten V1000

Britten V1000 1990s MotoGP bike

At top velocity, the Britten V1000 was a glorious sight. Race bikes are not normally considered style classics. As the name suggests, they are built to win races - not design awards!

The Britten, though, was an exception to that rule. Pop Art on wheels, its sleek curves were dual-purpose. Visually stunning, they were aerodynamic, too. Proof of that was the V1000's top speed - a cool 185mph.

The Britten's technical virtuosity went beyond aerodynamics. Its fuel-injected engine was highly innovative. Take, for example, its computerised management system. Heady stuff, in '95. All this racing research and development was by New Zealander John Britten - and his small team of mechanical engineers. Tragically, Britten lost his battle with cancer at the age of just 45. Bike racing will never know what further visions - and composite materials - he would have dreamed up. The Britten V1000, at least, stands as testament to his avant-garde skills.

Kawasaki Z1

Kawasaki Z1 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

The Kawasaki Z1 was nick-named the 'King' ... which kind of says it all! Suffice it to say, it was well-received - on its release, in '73. Riders had been putting up with past its sell-by date technology for years. As often as not, it was down to outdated management techniques. All that was blown away by the Oriental invasion. When the Japanese - and their new wave of machines -disembarked at the Isle of Man, 'Brit bikes' were dead in the water. The TT wins which followed presaged the future - not just for racers, but roadsters. When the Z1 hit the showrooms, the future had arrived.

The Z1's twin-camshaft, four-cylinder motor left its road-going rivals reeling! The ageing 'thumpers', twins and triples simply could not compete. The Z1 took cycle parts, too, to another level. Performance stats had gone up a gear … well, several gears, actually! The 'King' came, saw, and conquered! Before long, the British bike industry was a mere memory.

The new bike heralded Kawasaki's iconic 'Z'-series. A plethora of 'superbikes' - from the 'big four' Japanese manufacturers - followed. Never again would bikers settle for second-best. From that point on, a test-ride delivered outstanding performance, handling and braking - or the deal was off! The Kawasaki Z1 had secured its place in motorcycling's pantheon. As for Brit bikes ... the king was dead, long live the 'King'!

Suzuki GSX-R750

Suzuki GSX-R750 1980s Japanese sports bike

By no means every motorbike can claim to be the first of its kind. One that can is the Suzuki GSX-R750. So closely did its looks reflect those of Suzuki's '85 Endurance racer, that it was designated a 'race-replica'. Performance-wise, too, it did not fall far short. 145mph on the road was not for the faint-hearted!

The 'Gixer', then, was built to go fast. Corners were no obstacle to that mission statement. The GSX-R's light aluminium frame - and beefed-up forks - made it highly 'flickable'. Powering out of bends, though, needed the rev-needle firmly to the right. The GSX-R's power-band was uncompromising. Low-down 'grunt' was not its strong suit. Keep the revs up, though, and you were flying. When slowing could not be put off any longer, state of the art stoppers responded with relish.

The first GSX-R 750 was dubbed the 'slab-side'. That referenced the perpendicular lines of its design. Certainly, it communicated solidity - and a sense of purpose. So - single-handedly - the Suzuki GSX-R750 sparked the 'race-rep' revolution. After that, roadsters really were not ever the same again!

Moto Guzzi Le Mans 850

Moto Guzzi Le Mans 850 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

Moto Guzzi is rightly renowned for rugged, reliable machines. If any bike is going to get from A to B, a Guzzi stands as good a chance as any. One model, though, that had more going for it than mere practicality, was the Le Mans 850. Strong and purposeful, certainly. But, also a kingpin of two-wheeled design.

The Le Mans' top speed of 130mph was plenty impressive, in '76. Especially, since it was delivered by shaft-drive. A relatively heavy power-train, it is more associated with low maintenance, than high performance. So, like its second to none Italian styling, the Le Mans motor was simple - but effective.

The engine in question was an across-the-frame V-twin. So interlinked is it with Moto Guzzi, that it has attained iconic status among fans of the Mandello del Lario marque. Rather like another well-known V-twin - made in Milwaukee. Except that Harley-Davidson opted for a longitudinal layout. Guzzi's mill was first installed in a 3-wheeler ... built to cross mountains. Suffice it to say, torque was not an issue! It would be a long journey from such icy wastes - to the furnace of France's most famous racetrack. But, the Le Mans ate up the miles ... and never missed a beat. Which probably goes some way to explaining why Moto Guzzi - founded in '21 - has outlasted any other European motorcycle manufacturer. The Le Mans 850, then, blended style, power and solidity - in pretty much equal measure!

Tucker Torpedo

Tucker Torpedo 1940s American classic car

The Tucker Torpedo came out of left field. Its designer - Preston T Tucker - was a confirmed maverick. Cars were in his blood. He started out at Cadillac - as an office boy. After a stint as a car salesman, he became a partner in an Indianapolis motor racing business. In '45 - with the War over - Tucker determined to create the ultimate car. Style and speed would come as standard. But, there would be more.

When it came to 'health and safety' - especially of the automotive kind - Tucker was an evangelist. Maybe it was a war thing. In the last few years, an ocean of blood had been shed. Perhaps Tucker had seen enough - and decided to redress the balance a bit. To that end, the Torpedo would have seat-belts. A padded dashboard and pop-out windscreen, too. Where accident prevention was concerned, Tucker dreamed big. But - as the Torpedo entered production - the real world kicked in. As in the 'bottom line'. Customers were concerned about seat-belts. Why did the car need them, they asked. The marketing men got jitters. Seat-belts were subsequently binned. Along with swivelling headlights, disc brakes and the central driving position. In the end, Tucker settled for independent suspension. Oh, and the padded dashboard!

To be fair to Tucker, he was right to be anxious. After all, the Torpedo could certainly shift. Its flat-6-cylinder engine gave 166bhp. Top speed was 121mph. Rear-mounted - and water-cooled - the motor was bleeding edge. '47 saw the launch of the Torpedo's final model. Just a year before, Tucker had bought the world's biggest factory. The new premises - in Chicago - had been an aircraft plant. But, a problem was looming. Tucker was accused of fraud. He had - it was alleged - tampered with the Torpedo's design. Having already signed contracts. Tucker pleaded with the industry - categorically denying the claims. But - though he was cleared in court - mud stuck. Shortly thereafter, The Tucker Corporation filed for bankruptcy. It was a sad finale to so much idealism. Preston T Tucker's Torpedo was built to save lives - not end them!


BMW R90S 1970s German classic motorcycle

The BMW R90S' biggest asset was its engine. The 'Boxer' has been a BMW bastion for decades. It was thus dubbed because of the way the flat-twin's pistons 'punch' their way in and out - or, 'reciprocate', for the technically-minded. The set-up provided surprisingly swift progress. It is, after all, not a layout famed for its sophistication. However, it was well-balanced and, of course, impressively engineered.

Okay, so the R90S may have been a tad behind some of its rivals in all-out power terms. But, it more than made up the deficit with its styling. A neat bikini fairing topped off stylish smoked orange paintwork.

Within biking circles, BMWs - and their riders - enjoy a unique reputation. A BMW has long been the machine of choice for the respectable, law-abiding biker. Smooth, suave and well-heeled, 'hell-raising' does not come naturally to them. BMW bikes were always a natural fit. In its blending of upright solidity - and dashing good looks - the BMW R90S is considered a two-wheeled design classic.

Laverda Jota

Laverda Jota 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

The Laverda Jota was a stalwart of the Seventies superbikes. It combined impressive performance with Italian styling. In '76, the Jota's top speed stat of 140mph was admirable. Particularly, given that it was sourced from just three wallet-hugging cylinders!

Yet - for all its virtues - the bike might never have been launched. Prior to the Jota, Laverda had knocked out a few frankly average motorcycles. Average, but affordable. At the same time, a wave of cheap cars - like the Fiat 500 - rolled into showrooms. Non-bikers - especially, those with families - tended to plump for four wheels. As a result, Laverda came close to going out of business. In the nick of time, the management changed tack. They gave the green light to the two-wheeled exotica for which the firm is now renowned. Classic bike aficionados will forever be in their debt.

But, the bike's British importer also deserves credit. It was they who suggested to Laverda's top brass that the latter pack more power into what was already a perfectly pukka motor. Thank goodness, the marque's managers rose to the challenge. Laverda lovers have not stopped dancing since! Now, they had an engine which did justice to the Jota's impeccably-drawn lines.