Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

Harley-Davidson Electra Glide

Glamorous as they are, not many bikes have made it to the movies. One that did swan serenely across the big screen was a Harley-Davidson. The film was Electra Glide in Blue. The 'hog' fully lived up to its star billing. It caught Harley's free-wheeling spirit, to a tee ... even if it was a police bike! A kingpin of long-legged tourers, the 'Glide' was American to its apple-pie core. It was made to go places. After all - as another great movie put it - 'It's a big country!'

Styling-wise, the Glide was pure Americana. Big, basically. Big fenders, big tires, big gas tank. And - most importantly - big attitude! No marque does machismo quite like Harley. If you are uncomfortable being looked at, don't even think about getting one. Whether you want to be or not, on a Harley, you are a star. There are those who would kill for that kind of kudos!

The Electra Glide's technical spec was impressive. In '65, its motor measured 1,198cc. Piston stroke was 100.6mm. In other words, tall and torquey. Mind you, the Glide needed its pulling power. 770lb was a lot to shift. Notwithstanding, top speed was a cool 95mph. Unsurprisingly, the Electra Glide received glowing reviews. It still ripped up the red carpet, though - in true Harley-Davidson style. 'Here's looking at you, Glide!'

Maserati 250F

Maserati 250F

The 250F was from a strong stable. Maserati was a red-blooded équipe, if ever there was one. Founded in '26, it took the team just eight years to become the world's biggest builder of single-seater race cars. For the first twenty years, Maserati was devoted solely to racing. So, by the time it got round to building production cars, it had learned a thing or two!

The 250F hit the grid in '54. It was fully prepared for the challenges ahead. Its straight-six motor came with three twin-choke Weber carburettors. Like most other GP cars of the era, its engine was front-mounted - and powered the rear wheels. Top speed was 185mph. Engine capacity was 2,490cc. The chassis comprised a tubular steel frame, independent wishbone/coil spring front suspension, and a de Dion rear axle. In '57, Maserati unleashed an updated 250F. It was fitted with a 5-speed gearbox and fuel injection. Power had been upped to 270bhp. Bodywork had been revised. The new frontal area was stiletto-sharp. Braking, too, had been improved. The 250F was now at the peak of its development cycle.

Juan Manuel Fangio was Argentinian. He was also a driving ace. When he climbed into the 250F's cockpit he was already a motor racing legend. The beefed-up version of the car would bring him his fifth World Championship. En route to that, his win in the German GP - at the Nürburgring - has gone down in folklore. Peter Collins - in a Ferrari - was the hapless victim of a genius at work. The Ferrari had been way out in front. But that was before Fangio decided to turn up the wick. Four-wheel drifting his 'Maser' - with robotic precision - he caught up with Collins. As he duly went by him, it was as if man and machine melded. It was the greatest performance either of them ever gave. Motor racing as science. Sporting endeavour of the highest order. Fortunate, indeed, were those in attendance that August day, in Germany. The Maserati 250F - piloted by possibly the best driver of all time - had scaled rarefied racing heights!

Cisitalia 202

Cisitalia 202

The Cisitalia 202 has been on display in NY's Museum of Modern Art since '51. Innovative styling, then, was a given. That came courtesy of Pininfarina - based in Turin, Italy. Their coachbuilding concept was 'integration'. Features flowed into each other, as never before. Front mudguards and headlights, for instance, bled seamlessly into the front wings. In a few strokes of 'Pinin' Farina's pen, automotive design had moved on.

In terms of the 202's form, then, things were just fine. But functionally, too, it excelled. A solid round-tube frame supported 'slippery' bodywork. The car cut through air like a scalpel. As a result, it was good for 105mph ... 120, in competition mode. All from just 50bhp - and a tuned in-line four Fiat 1100 motor. A 4-speed transmission eased the 202 up to such speeds.

Pininfarina's input finessed the fine detail. Flip-out door handles were a typical flourish. The 202's cabin was a paragon of minimalism - and safety. No redundant, distracting dials here. On the 202's launch - in '46 - Cisitalia was still a new company. Short for 'Consorzio Industriale Sportive Italia', it was founded by Piero Dusio. He was a businessman/racing driver. Cisitalia's first specialist product was a single-seater racer. Built by Fiat engineers Giacosa and Savonuzzi, it would subsequently serve as a template for the cars that followed. Sadly - just a year after the 202's release - Cisitalia was already in trouble. Boss Dusio already hankered after a GP car, to be designed by Porsche. That did not sit well with his fledgeling firm's finances. By '63, it was over. As car companies go, then, Cisitalia was a flash in the pan. The 202, though, burned brightly - not least, as an exhibit at MoMA. A mechanical masterpiece, it lit up the car world for years!

Triumph Trident T150

Triumph Trident T150

Not even its most ardent fan would claim the Triumph Trident T150 to be the best-looking of bikes. Especially in the curve-conscious USA - where the Trident's straight-line styling was not to every taste. True - the Trident's 'ray-gun' silencer was Batman-flash. But that alone was not sufficient to rescue a somewhat staid design. Ergonomically, too, things were decidedly conventional. Particularly the 'sit up and beg' riding position. This was a British-built bike, after all … not a cool American cruiser. Styling-wise, it was more stiff upper lip!

On the performance chart, though, the Trident's spikes were higher. It made steady progress up to a top speed of 125mph. And there was high-quality handling, to match. Unfortunately for the Trident, the timing of its '69 launch was not great. The Honda CB750's release was just around the corner. And the Japanese machine's four-cylinder engine would usher in a new dawn for motorcycling.

Not that that mattered at the racetrack. The Triumph Trident would be etched into the annals of sporting history - by the legend that was 'Slippery Sam'. Percy Tait took the Trident-based racer to production TT triumph - from '71 through to '75. At Stateside circuits, too, Triumph triples blazed a trail. In large part, that was thanks to their Rob North frames. In '71, Gene Romero finished second at Daytona. His Triumph looked suitably resplendent in its blue-and-white fairing. A mixed review, then, for the Trident. While it was cheered to the echo at the citadels of racing, design-conscious road-riders were not always as rapturous. But if the Triumph Trident T150 was ever thought of as a tad dull - that was before its throttle was twisted!

Vincent Rapide

Vincent Rapide

In '49, the Vincent Rapide was a superbike. At the time, a top speed of 110mph was seriously quick. Handling-wise, it was impressive, too. Philip Vincent designed its cantilever rear suspension set-up while still at school. He just had not got round to founding the company at that point! And at the front end, too, the Rapide was suspended by state of the art hydraulic forks.

Naturally, such advanced engineering sought competitive expression. Land speed record attempts followed. In line with tradition, Bonneville Salt Flats - in Utah, USA - played host to them. Rollie Free topped out at fractionally over 150mph, on a suitably tuned Rapide. His protective clothing consisted of just shoes and swimming trunks - the better to save weight. Now, that is commitment!

The Rapide was a good-looking motorcycle. Vincent's scrolled emblem embellished a shapely tank - which itself sat atop a metal masterpiece of an engine. Pleasing lines popped up everywhere. Among them were latticed spokes, curved exhausts - and the deft diagonals of the shocks. The Vincent Rapide, then, was visually stunning - and had performance to match!

Moto Guzzi Falcone

Moto Guzzi Falcone

The Moto Guzzi Falcone was one of the most successful machines in the firm's history. It flew onto the European bike scene in 1950. Falcone was fitting - since Moto Guzzi's emblem is an eagle. That was decided when one of the founders - Giovanni Ravelli - was killed in a plane crash. In tribute, his two partners co-opted the winged insignia of their air corps.

The Falcone was the latest in a line of flat-single-cylinder bikes from Guzzi. They took in everything from luxury tourers to pared-down racers. Twin versions of the Falcone were offered - Sport and Touring. They kept the Falcone flag flying until '76 - a full 26 years after its launch. It became an icon on Italian roads. In Sport mode - with its flat 'bars and rear-set footrests - the Falcone was an impressive sight. Its fire-engine red paintwork was eye-catching, to say the least. Ordinarily, top speed was 85mph. But the cognoscenti knew that a sprinkling of Dondolino engine parts served up an appetising 100mph. With a bracing shot of low-down grunt as an apéritif.

The blueprint for the Falcone's 498cc engine was drawn in 1920. Back when Carlo Guzzi designed the first of the bikes that would bear his name. The 4-stroke motor - with its horizontal cylinder - had plenty of stamina. It just kept on going - whatever was asked of it. Moto Guzzi has been around for a century now. Its products have always been stylish - but with a homely feel, to boot. Borne up by their ever-loyal fan base, here is to another 100 years of gorgeous Guzzis. And more bikes with the finesse of the Falcone!

Bimota SB6

Bimota SB6

Without question, the Bimota SB6 was made from the right stuff. For decades, Italian motorbike manufacturers have provided us with unfathomably good-looking products. In an ever-growing array of shapes and sizes, their common denominator has always been style. Many such machines have passed through a certain set of factory gates. They belong to Bimota - based in Rimini.

Over the years, Bimota has 'borrowed' several proprietary powerplants. Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda have all bequeathed engines to the Bimota brand. Even rivals Ducati have played ball with Bimota. The high-flying design firm mated the motors with their unique take on bodywork. In turn, specialist cycle parts, too, were sourced. Of course, it did their partners no harm at all to be linked with Bimota's cool creativity. In the case of the SB6, it was Suzuki's GSX-R1100 engine which piled on the coals. Right the way up to 175mph!

The three men who founded the firm were Bianchi, Morri and Tamburini - voilà, 'BiMoTa'. It was right that they were recognised. Since '73, Bimota have been pushing motorcycling's envelope. In terms of performance, development and design, they have set two-wheeled trends with the best of them. The Bimota SB6 was proof positive of that!

Mercedes-Benz 300SL

Mercedes-Benz 300SL

Whilst car doors have their uses, they are seldom the focal point of the overall design. In the case of the Mercedes-Benz 300SL, though, that is exactly what they were. Dubbed the Gullwing, its dexterously hinged doors 'flew' upwards. And if the seagull might not be considered the height of elegance, the 300SL certainly was. Especially with those doors flung high to the sky, the Mercedes was a magnificent sight. Not when perched on its roof, however ... following an accident, say. prising the doors open would then have proved difficult!

But, even with the SL's 'rubber side down', things were far from glitch-free. For starters, its handling was below par. Mainly, because the rear suspension was way too soft. Comfort-wise, too, it was not the best. In the event of rain, let us just say the 300SL's bodywork was not as 'well-sealed' as it might have been! The SL's 'SuperLight' space-frame was sweetly engineered. That said, it was literally a pain in the neck for mechanics. And the SL's engine was inclined 45° - to accommodate a lower bonnet line. Again - while designers doubtless cheered that to the echo - mechanics were not quite so appreciative!

To be fair, the SL was trying to span the gap between a Le Mans prototype and a well-appointed roadster. To say the least, different automotive worlds. For sheer sports car style, it had few peers. On the practical side, well - room for improvement. While it did not come cheap, if you could afford one, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL was, in fact, good value for money. Though - with its technical blemishes - deep pockets of patience also came in handy!

Honda Gold Wing

Honda Gold Wing

The Honda Gold Wing was - and is - a luxury motorcycle. Then again, Gold Wings always are! Whichever 'Wing' you plump for, there will always be a few constants. It will be big, it will be heavy - and, surest of all, it will be comfortable. So much so, indeed, that extra care may be called for. When riding a motorcycle, it pays to be alert. On a bike as relaxing as the Gold Wing, that could pose a problem!

Not that such concerns have harmed the Wing's sales. The GL1000 had a five-year production run - from '74 to '79. Obviously, it was doing something right. Overall - given its gargantuan girth - the Wing was a smooth and compliant mount. A dry weight of 571lb was a lot to coax through corners - and a handful to haul up. On both counts, though, the Wing scored well. Just in case, the 'Aspencade' came with a compressor ... for on-board suspension adjustment.

The Gold Wing is a bike with a cult following. For an owner, the 'season' starts early and ends late. Summer rallies cascade like confetti ... for those married to a Wing! The bike was always big in the US. And the Gold Wing has graced many a European get-together, too. In fact, the Gold Wing has gone global. Wherever there is a road, there will be a Honda flying up it, sooner or later. And - with a top speed of 122mph - the Wing will probably be sooner!