Lotus 72

Lotus 72

The Lotus 72 had a legendary engine. Lotus had led the way with the Cosworth DFV. Its winning streak started in '67 - when it was fitted in the Lotus 49. Graham Hill and Jim Clark were the first drivers to reap the rewards. The 'Double Four Valve' V8 would go on to become the gold standard Formula One engine. Unfortunately for Lotus, their rivals were quick to seize upon the source of their success. Not exactly unknown in F1! By the end of the '60s, it seemed like every car in the paddock had a DFV engine. That was great for the sport - since it fostered close, competitive racing. But it was not entirely to Lotus' liking. They had acquired a taste for leading GPs. The ubiquity of the DFV was eroding that lead.

Cometh the hour, cometh the F1 car! Hitting the grid with the 1970 season already underway, there was much that was new about the Lotus 72. Most obviously, cigar-shaped bodywork - previously de rigueur - had morphed into a wedge. Inboard suspension and brakes made the 72 more aerodynamic than its predecessors. They also served to reduce unsprung weight. Suspension was via torsion-bar. Oil and water radiators were laterally placed - centralising weight distribution. The result of all this innovation was higher grip levels. F1 handling had come on leaps and bounds.

Lotus had their lead back! Driver Jochen Rindt duly won four races on the spin. He then crashed in qualifying for the Italian GP, at Monza. He was fatally injured. Remarkably, Rindt still went on to win the 1970 World Championship. That is how dominant he had been, up to that point! Team-mate Emerson Fittipaldi likewise took a drivers' title - in '72. Indeed, he was the youngest driver to do so, at the time. He was just 25 years of age. In '73, Ronnie Peterson - also in a 72 - amassed a record nine pole positions in a season. From 1970 to '75, then, Lotus ruled the F1 roost. Their early adoption of the Cosworth DFV had paid huge dividends. The Lotus 72 was the chief beneficiary!

Alfa Romeo Montreal

Alfa Romeo Montreal

Montreal - in Quebec, Canada - hosted the '67 Expo show. It was there that the Alfa Romeo Montreal made its début. Designed by Marcello Gandini, there was never a doubt that the car would turn heads. Gandini's employer - coach-builders Bertone - built the body. For all that, the Montreal did not sell in shedloads. But it did give Alfa a much-needed publicity boost. Following its 1970 launch, the Montreal stayed in production for seven years. Ironically, Montreal's showrooms were a no-go - on account of the city's strict emissions regulations. Not the best of marketing messages!

Performance-wise, the new Alfa lived up to the hype. Its fuel-injected V8 engine gave 132mph. That was quick - particularly since the Montreal was no lightweight. Its motor was taken from the Tipo 33/2 race car ... suitably de-tuned for the road. That said, it still made 200bhp. And revved up to 6,500rpm. Torque was abundant throughout.

The Montreal's engine, then, was hard to fault. Sadly, the same could not be said of every component. The live axle rear suspension, for instance, was too softly sprung. To the point at which cornering could be compromised. At speed, steering, too, was an issue. Its gearing was set up for a more sedate pace. However, the ventilated disc brakes were fine. Overall - as Grand Tourers go - the Montreal passed muster. Which was important - as GT cars were a new market for Alfa. One thing no one complained about was the car's looks. Dubbed the Montreal, it may have been. But - in styling terms, at least - the new Alfa Romeo was as Italian as cars come!

Suzuki GS1000

Suzuki GS1000

The Suzuki GS1000 was not blessed with the most exotic styling, ever to have flowed from a designer's pen. Indeed, visually, it was straight out of Studio Old Skool. But what the GS lacked in aesthetics, it more than made up in the technical stakes.

The heart of the GS was its in-line four-cylinder engine. We are talking 'classic Jap' here. The bike cruised to a top speed of 135mph. Cornering was consistently solid and stable. Its frame was robust, suspension adjustable and tyres wider than normal for Seventies superbikes. So - properly maintained and adequately set up - handling was never an issue. When the time came, its dual front disc brakes were more than capable stoppers.

Anyway, beauty is, as they say, in the eye of the beholder. For some, the GS was a beautiful bike, precisely because it was big and basic - not despite the fact. 'That's the way a motorcycle should look', they would have said. 'Forget about frills 'n' flimflam!' Heavy metal over cosmetic plastic. So, the Suzuki GS1000 was something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. On the surface, it seemed a placid enough beast. Even slightly staid, perhaps. But rider beware - if you twisted its throttle!

Benelli Sei

Benelli Sei

It is a truism that the Italians are past masters of design. In engineering terms, too, they have often been ahead of the game. How far the latter held true for the Benelli Sei, though, is a moot point. For sure, the Sei was visually impressive. Six-cylinder bikes usually are. The jury was out, though, in the court of motorcycle performance stats.

Certainly, the Sei's engine looked superb. For non-Europeans, by the way, sei is Italian for six. As did its twin sets of triple-stacked exhaust pipes. When it came to horsepower, however, it was another story. Even by '75 standards, the Sei's top speed of 118mph was hardly earth-moving. Not for a six-cylinder sports bike, anyway. In the market-led surge of Seventies superbikes, Benelli's rivals all supplied quicker machines. And Ducati, Laverda and Moto Guzzi needed half as many pots. Or less!

It was not like Benelli did not know how to make bikes go fast. After all, they had been GP 250cc world champions, in 1950. And then again, in '69. But - at least in the case of the Sei - race success did not trickle down to the roadster. Saying that, the sleek contours of the Sei's 'six-pack' bodywork certainly helped. So far as buyers were concerned, they went a long way toward offsetting what the Benelli Sei lacked in the 'go' department!

Kawasaki Z1300

Kawasaki Z1300

The Kawasaki Z1300 is one of a select set of bikes that sport six-cylinder engines. Such a powerplant is always going to pack a punch. In the case of the Z1300, though, it does not make quite the impact you might think. Why so? The radiator plastered across it. In profile, it is still an impressive piece of kit. But - viewed head-on - the 'Z13' paid a visual price for its water-cooling.

Top whack for the big 'Z' was 135mph. It reached that speed with consummate ease. The inline 1286cc motor gave an output of 120bhp. Manoeuvrability-wise, a bike with a wet weight of 670lb was never going to be agile. That said, the Z13's handling was impressive for a bike of its size.

The Z1300 will forever be bracketed with Honda's CBX1000Z. Another Seventies siren, that machine, too, radiated 'six appeal'. The CBX, though, was a brash brute of a bike - more muscular than the Z13. The latter blended power with refinement. Its shaft final-drive, for example, was much easier on the fingers than oil-soaked chains! So, in many ways, the Kawasaki Z1300 was the perfect motorcycle. So long as you were not a designer. In which case, that pesky radiator grille rather upset the aesthetic applecart!

Mondial 250 GP

Mondial 250 GP

The Mondial 250 GP was a unique piece of performance kit. Motorcycle manufacturer FB Mondial was run on a shoestring, compared with some of its more mainstream rivals. They included MV Agusta and Ducati. But it had entrepreneurial spirit by the bucketload. Bespoke to the core, its products were masterpieces of creative engineering. Founded in '29 - by five Boselli brothers - Mondial Moto was based in Lombardy, Italy. Bike racing was in its blood!

Though small, the Mondial race team was a serious player. After all, the great Mike Hailwood successfully campaigned Mondial 250s - in '59 and '60. A decade or so before that, Mondial machines won the first three 125cc World Championships. The opener was in '49. In '57, Mondial won both 125 and 250cc GP series. So, no slouches, for a relatively underfunded équipe!

Such motorsport feats, of course, do not come cheap. Ultimately, Mondial were unable to sell enough roadsters to foot the competition bill. Sadly, therefore, they were forced to retire early from racing. Mondial, as was, ceased trading in '79. Since then, they have enjoyed something of a renaissance - and, indeed, are back in business at this point. And their classic bikes - resplendent in silver and blue livery - still circulate around racetracks. After all, the Mondial 250 GP harks back to a time when beauty was built to last!

Alfa Romeo Spider

Alfa Romeo Spider

Few marques can compete with Alfa Romeo for sheer romance. And few Alfas more so than the Spider. Pour exquisite styling into the cultural cool mix - and superlatives start to become redundant. The Spider's sculpted 'boat-tail' rear end, for instance, could only have originated in Turin. The great Italian city is home to the Pininfarina design house. That firm's legendary coachbuilding skills were key to the Spider's appeal.

The Spider was dubbed the 'Duetto'. That was in homage to the spec of its twin-cam engine. And, the Spider was graced with a snug two-seater cockpit, into the bargain.

When a 1600 Duetto hit Hollywood, the Spider's celebrity status was assured. It co-starred with Dustin Hoffman - in the '67 film, The Graduate. The Spider had made its automotive début a year before - at the Geneva Show. On its release, it went on to perform well in the showrooms, too. While pricy, the Spider's combination of refinement and practicality still made it good value for money. The Alfa Romeo Spider, then, weaved an attractive web. Many a driver was willing to dash headlong into its exotic allure!

Jaguar E-Type

Jaguar E-Type

The Jaguar E-Type is one of the most recognisable sports cars of all time. Logically enough, its shell was derived from the D-Type. A production racer, par excellence, the D-Type had been a multiple Le Mans 24 Hours winner. In large part, that was due to its slippery shape. Like its forebear, the E-Type cleaved quickly through air. After all, it pretty much wrote the book on long, low and sleek. Road-holding was also a forte. Notwithstanding its cross-ply tyres being Kate Moss thin, hard cornering induced nary a wobble. The E-Type was a technological trendsetter. Its unibody construction helped make it lighter and more robust than the competition. Its disc brakes - and all-round independent suspension set-up - made it safer and more agile. A rack-and-pinion steering system only ramped up the car's smiles per mile quotient.

The E-Type was a Sixties icon. Anyone who was anyone wanted one … as well as many who were not. Rock stars and footballers were especially susceptible to its charms. The E-Type, though, transcended celebrity. When exhibited at NY's Museum of Modern Art, it became a design classic in its own right. Malcolm Sayer was the man who had drawn such illustrious bodywork. Built in Coventry, England, E-Type production lasted from '61 to '75. On the day of its launch, no less a critic than Enzo Ferrari described it as 'the most beautiful car ever made'. A string of prestigious automotive publications found themselves agreeing with him. Doubtless, MoMA had taken note.

E-Type power was provided by Jaguar's 3.8-litre XK engine. Though a bit long in the tooth, even then, the venerable motor could still pack a punch. The gracefully rising contours of the E-Type's bonnet were practical - as well as aesthetic. They were there, first and foremost, to accommodate the dimensions of the XK. The resulting top speed was around 150mph. 0-65 mph came up in less than 7s. The Jaguar E-Type, then, merged cooler than cool lines with prodigious poke. A shortlist of items defining 'Swinging London' would simply have to include the 'E-Type Jag', darling!

Honda VFR 750F

Honda VFR 750F

The Honda VFR 750F was about as versatile as a motorbike gets. Indeed, it is often cited as the ultimate all-rounder. The VFR played footsie with perfection ... then improved on it! Fast, fine-handling - and styled with finesse. What more could a motorcyclist want?

In engine layout terms, the Japanese in-line four had the market pretty much covered. Until the VFR arrived, that is. Its water-cooled, 16-valve V4 was to prove a more than viable alternative. The motor's 100bhp output gave a top speed of 150mph. Sweet stats, by any standards! Combined with that, the VFR's 460lb dry weight was reasonably slim for a bike of its size. Plus, the VFR was fitted with a sturdy twin-spar aluminium frame. That was state of the art chassis technology, at the time.

As if all that were not enough - the VFR impressed visually, too. Not only did its bodywork sear through air, but the paintwork was sprayed to last. Hondas have long been known for their build quality. Deftly designed ducts sat by discreetly drawn graphics. Neat tucks and folds were the order of the day. Sales-wise, the VFR was a banker from the off. And Honda needed it to be. The VFR's predecessor - the VF750 - had damaged the Japanese giant. It had taken reliability issues to another level! Technically, then, the VFR 750F more than restored bikers' faith in Honda. As a bonus - it did so in impeccable style!

Lamborghini Miura

Lamborghini Miura

The Lamborghini Miura is considered the world's first supercar. It was conceived - in '65 - by Lamborghini's trio of star engineers. Gian Paulo Dallara, Paulo Stanzani and Bob Wallace wanted a road/race hybrid - equally at home in either environment. Developing the new car after hours, the prototype was dubbed the P400. Boss Ferruccio Lamborghini, though, took time to be convinced. He saw the future in terms of elegant GT cars - rather than the more performance-based products of Ferrari. Eventually, however, he conceded that the P400 may have marketing miles. Somewhat against his better judgement, he gave the Miura the green light.

Aesthetically, the Miura had strong credentials. It was drafted by Nuccio Bertone's legendary design house. A young Marcello Gandini headed up the team. Even at that early stage in his career, he was the pick of Bertone's stylists. The Miura's supercar lines flew freely from his pen. It mesmerised onlookers at the '66 Geneva Show. Named after a Spanish fighting bull, the Miura's muscular beauty demanded respect.

The Lambo's 4-litre V12 pushed out 350bhp. Top speed was 170mph. The mid-engined configuration was installed transversely - behind the two seats. That reduced the wheelbase - and optimised the centre of gravity. All grist to the mill of high-speed handling. The set-up subsequently became the gold standard for sports cars and supercars. The original P400 was released in '66. It was duly followed by the P400S - and finally, by the P400SV. Unsurprisingly, all three were a resounding success in the showrooms. Production stopped in '73. Just 764 cars had been built. The Lamborghini Miura, then, was powerful - but user-friendly. Glamorous - but refined. Well, apart from the S model's false eye-lashes. He had taken persuading, but - finally - Ferruccio had called it right!

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang

When the Ford Mustang muscle car was first unveiled - at '64's New York World Fair - it triggered a tidal wave of excitement. Thereafter, it became one of the fastest-selling cars in history. It took the Mustang just two years to pass the million sales mark. Lee Iacocca was the whizz-kid Ford executive who conceived the car. It had Sixties all-American looks, straight out of the crate. But, the real beauty of the Mustang - at least, for aficionados - was its long list of extras. Everything, from the engine and gearbox - to suspension and braking - was ripe for user input. Trim options were legion!

And if all you wanted was to cut a dash in your new Mustang, the straight-six motor was more than sufficient. However, if performance was more up your street, a V8 was available. Power outputs went from 195 to 390bhp. If your Mustang was towards the top end of that range, the optional front disc brakes were a wise choice. Standard suspension suited most drivers. It comprised coil-spring and wishbone up front - and a beam axle on leaf springs at the rear. Naturally, a stiffer set-up was there, if needed. Gearbox options were a 3-speed auto, or a 3/4-speed manual.

At full gallop, the Mustang made 130mph. If you wanted more, there was the Carroll Shelby model - with added muscle! A road/race hybrid, it was based on the GT350 fastback. Subsequently, it grew into the 7-litre GT500. By then, it was pummelling out 425bhp. The most iconic Shelby Mustang of all has to be the GT390. It was Steve McQueen's co-star in the '68 film Bullitt. Thanks to that iconic movie, 'pony cars' were hot to trot. Rival manufacturers fell over themselves to build their own take on the trend. But, nothing cut the Mustang mustard quite like the original. And that included Ford's own updates. Later versions - with added flab - lacked the simple, strong styling of their predecessors. For many an owner, the Ford Mustang was their entrée into the American Dream. Waking up was not an option!

Honda Fireblade

Honda Fireblade

The launch buzz around the Honda Fireblade was electric! It was released in '92 - to rapturous applause, from press and public alike. In the unlikely event that you saw one stationary, it was sure to be engulfed in a gaggle of onlookers. Months of speculation had induced a feeding frenzy of interest in the new Blade. Tadao Baba was the boffin in charge of its development. The Fireblade - or CBR900RR - was the first Honda to sport the 'RR' nomenclature. The bike's racing traits had been duly declared!

The Fireblade screamed street-fightin' bike! Squat - and barrel-chested - it looked like it would be up for a ding-dong at the drop of a hat. Steep steering geometry - and a super-short wheelbase - meant the Blade cut corners to ribbons. Suspension settings were decidedly 'firm'. 407lb dry was no weight at all for a bike of its size. Factor in 113bhp - at 10,500rpm - and the results were always going to be explosive. Top speed for the Blade was 167mph. How much the holes in its fairing helped is not known!

Visually, too, the Blade was well up to speed. Blessed with eye-catching graphics - and a super-big tank - it was a brilliantined bobby dazzler of a bike! A beefy twin-spar frame - and braced swing-arm - visibly signalled the strength of the cycle parts. The sunk-down seat - and bulbous tailpiece - lent rock-solid support. Too solid for some, no doubt. Padding was minimal. Very minimal! But then, comfort was never the name of the Blade's game. The Fireblade was a single-minded superbike. High-speed hats off to Honda!