Fiat 130 Coupé

Fiat 130 Coupe 1970s Italian classic cars

When Pininfarina say a design is one of the best they ever did, you know it is something special! Such is the case with the Fiat 130 Coupé. Simplicity was its strength. The 130's clean lines gave it gravitas ... as befitted a luxury car. Sadly, the Fiat brand-name simply did not have the cachet of, say, BMW or Mercedes-Benz.

The 130's imposing exterior was matched by the opulence within. The velour seats were drawing-room dapper. Veneer door cappings set off the electric windows, to a tee. There were even dual-tone 'town and country' horns! The 130 provided plenty of space for its four well-heeled occupants. Comfort was its raison d'être. Power steering pampered the driver. As for the passengers, independent suspension ensured a smooth and relaxed ride.

Performance-wise, too, the 130 was no slouch. Top speed was 118mph. The 3.2-litre V6 gave 165bhp. Torque was plentiful. The 'box was a Borg Warner 3-speed auto ... with an optional 5-speed manual. Mechanically, then, the 130 was solid and dependable. But, it was aesthetically that the car really shone. Classic Italian styling cues were abundant. In commercial terms, though, the car was hard done by. Fiat, of course, has a fine and prestigious history. But, had it been built by a 'bigger' marque, the Fiat 130 Coupé would have received more of the plaudits it deserved.

Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1

Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1 1950s British classic sports car

The Austin-Healey Sprite Mk1 must be in the running for the cutest car ever made! Its most adorable feature? Some may plump for its seductive smile - in the form of an almost 'emoticon'-style grille. Most, though, would go with those foxy 'frog eyes' ... after which the car was nick-named. Ironically, they almost did not appear. Donald Healey - the Sprite's designer - wanted the car to have retractable headlights. Mercifully - for classic car buffs - the cost of fitting them proved prohibitive. So, 'pop-up' became 'pop-eyed' ... and a legend was born!

But, the Sprite was not only about styling. A top speed of 84mph was quite acceptable, at the time. Particularly, since the Sprite's in-line four engine produced just 43bhp. Capacity was 948cc. There again, there was not a lot to lug about ... the Sprite measured just 3.5m in length! The 'Frog-eye' was economical - 45mpg the reward for careful driving. Though, tweaking the 'A Series' engine was a breeze. The whole of the one-piece nose section came up, allowing for easy access. The Sprite's four-speed 'box served up the power in bite-size chunks.

The Sprite was the younger sibling of the '3000' - or, 'big Healey', as it was dubbed. So, BMC's shelves were laden with parts, to bolt straight onto the Sprite. Most components had also seen service on Morris Minors, and Austin A35s. 38,999 Frogeyes were built. However, Healey broke the mould after they had built the Sprite. Never again would a car be quite so cuddly!

Chevrolet Camaro

Chevrolet Camaro 1970s American classic sports car

The Chevrolet Camaro was born out of panic! Sales of the Ford Mustang had gone through the roof. General Motors needed to buck their ideas up - and fast! Rolling to the rescue came the 'Camaro'. Key to its success was its 'Coke bottle' styling - by Bill Mitchell. The Z28, especially - with its duck-tail rear spoiler - rivalled the Mustang for glamour. GM were back on track ... and so were sales! 220,000 Camaros were shifted, in the first year alone. Buyers had a choice of V6 or V8 - as well as a variety of tuning options. The most uncompromising package was the SS (Super Sport). Less extreme - and more popular - was the RS (Rallye Sport). These are now the most collectible Camaros.

The '70s ushered in an all-new Camaro. It featured monocoque construction. If the new model's styling was not quite so inspired as the original, it still worked as a cohesive design. And it was a lot slimmer than the latest Mustangs! Sales of '70s Camaros peaked at close to 2,000,000. GM were happy bunnies again! Though down on power compared to the '60s versions, it was clear that Stateside motorists had taken the Camaro to their hearts. Whenever a car starts to symbolise the American dream, things are looking up!

The Camaro was a classic case of competition improving the breed. Had it not had the Mustang as a rival, it is debatable whether it would have soared to quite the heights that it did. In the end, the Camaro was a car which it was difficult to fault! With a top-spec speed of 125mph, performance was sorted. Design-wise, it was out of the top drawer. In short, it got everything right. Not so much the Mustang - which rather lost its way, over time. While the 'pony' car developed a paunch, the Camaro maintained a solid six-pack! Ultimately, both are great American automobiles ... stone-cold classics of their muscle-car kind. And if some say the Camaro got it on points ... well, that would only have been because there was a tad more styling stamina in its corner!

Harley-Davidson Model 9E

Harley-Davidson Model 9E American vintage motorcycle

The global brand-name that is 'Harley-Davidson' started in a small shed in Milwaukee! After a few faltering steps, the fledgling firm found its feet, in 1913. The first bikes 'out of the shed' had a single-cylinder engine. The Model 9E, though, came complete with the 45° V-twin, which was to make Harley-Davidson famous. The 1,000cc motor kicked out 10bhp - and delivered a top speed of 60mph. There will be wags who will claim that nothing much has changed!

Harley-Davidson has never really been considered 'cutting edge', when it comes to racing. Since its legacy is a long list of laid-back cruisers, that is not too surprising. Drag-strips are more their domain - where their torquey power-plants can be given free rein. They have long competed at circuits, too, though. The first factory team was formed in 1914. Dubbed the 'Wrecking Crew', it battled it out with the likes of Indian, Merkel and Exelsior. Such exploits - showcasing their eight-valve V-twins - garnered Harley valuable publicity.

By 1919, Harley production numbers had risen to over 22,000 bikes, and 16,000 sidecars. Henry Ford, however, proved to be something of a thorn in their side. His more than affordable 'Model T' put paid to most of the American motorcycle manufacturers. Harley sales halved! Milwaukee's finest, though, survived Ford's four-wheeled onslaught. It was fortitude to which millions of bikers would be subsequently indebted. For, while the marque has certainly had its detractors, it was Harley-Davidson which truly put motorcycling on the map. For once, the word 'iconic' absolutely applies. The Model 9E was where it all began!

Buick Riviera

Buick Riviera 1960s American classic car

As its name suggests, the Buick Riviera was one classy automobile! Built at a time when fins and chrome were pretty much ubiquitous, the Riviera oozed cool sophistication. Automotive haute couture, chéri! Spotlessly clean, styling-wise, the car was especially powerful in profile. Its lines described elegance, in the same way as, say, a Jaguar or a Bentley. The Riviera might almost be said to have been the Rolls-Royce of American cars! Interior décor, too, was 'European' - with its neatly rounded dials, and floor-mounted gear-shift. Electric windows, and power steering came as standard - naturally!

But, excellence did not stop at the styling. In highest-spec 7.0-litre guise, the Riviera's V8 engine produced 365bhp. Top speed was 130mph ... good going for a five-seater saloon car. And that with a two-speed automatic gearbox! Having said that, the Riviera was not perfect. Its live rear axle meant handling was just average. And the drum brakes were prone to high speed fade!

The Riviera, then, was a sweet blend of American and European. The best of both worlds, as it were. For all of its 'pomp and circumstance', there was more than a hint of muscle-bound machismo. So, the Buick Riviera straddled both sides of the 'pond'. And was all the better for it!

Mercedes-Benz W196

Mercedes-Benz W196 1950s classic GP racing car

When Mercedes returned to GP racing - in the mid-1950s - they did so in unforgettable style! They would only be back for a couple of years - but in '54 and '55, the W196 decimated all comers. Not surprising, really ... they had Juan Manuel Fangio and Stirling Moss driving for them! Behind the wheel of a W196, both men were in their element. Masters of their craft, now they had machinery to match!

But there was more to the W196, even than Fangio and Moss. Engineer Rudolph Uhlenhaut was also at the peak of his powers. While his rivals were treading water technically, Uhlenhaut designed a car like no other! Extreme streamlining was the key. Included in that were the wheels - originally, fully enclosed. Handling, though, was wayward, when the car on the limit. So, Uhlenhaut uncovered the wheels ... and the W196 was back to its sure-footed best!

Fangio won first time out in the W196 - at the '54 French GP. He did not know it, but he was already on his way to a second driver's title. There were just two occasions on which the W196 did not win that season. '55 was more of the same - except this time there was but a single race the W196 did not win! Fangio took a third title. Uhlenhaut had produced a car packed with cutting edge spec. The straight eight engine was rotated for a lower centre of gravity. Its valve-gear was 'desmodromic' ... look, Ma, no springs! And it was fuel-injected - almost a decade before that became de rigueur in GP racing. A consummately-crafted race-car, the Mercedes-Benz W196 was a fruitful marriage of man and machine.

Ford GT40

Ford GT40 supercar

The Ford GT40 might have been a Ferrari! In the mid-1960s Ford were in the throes of taking Ferrari over - only to have their offer rejected just prior to signing on the dotted line. That snub goaded Henry Ford II into taking the fight to the Italian marque, to hit them where it hurt - at the racetrack! The GT40 was to be his weapon of choice! Ford were fortunate to be in a position to recruit race-car constructor Lola. The British firm had just put the finishing touches to their Mk6 GT car - into which had been slotted a Ford V8 engine. From the outset, it was plain that the car was packed with potential. The timing, then, was perfect! Ford leapt at the chance to bring Lola on board - and bought the Mk6 project. Eric Broadley - founder of Lola - would continue to oversee it.

Not that that meant Ford would be taking a back seat. They would be styling the new car, for starters. But, Ford were not race engineers! The shape they came up with was not as aerodynamic as Lola could have made it. Plus, Ford's future plans for the GT40 extended to road-cars. Therefore, they would need the GT40 to be factory-built. Ford felt that a relatively cheap steel monocoque chassis would be sufficient. The light aluminium 'tub' Broadley had designed - for Lola - was thus surplus to requirements. As a result, the GT40 was not only less slippery than it might have been - it was now heavier, too! Ford were trying to have their cake and eat it. They wanted a race-car to beat Ferrari ... while at the same time cutting production costs!

The proof of the pudding would come at Le Mans. And - to Ford's palate - the pudding that was the 1965 24-hour race did not taste too good. Ferrari won! After some fettling, though, the GT40 came on song - winning its next four Le Mans outings. The '66 and '67 wins were under Ford's own aegis - before a privateer team took charge for '68 and '69. In the course of that string of victories, the GT40 hit the headlines for more than just winning. It was the first car to chalk up 3,000 miles over the 24 hours - with New Zealanders Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon doing the driving. And subsequently, with Jacky Ickx at the wheel, a GT40 beat a Hans Herrmann-piloted Porsche to the flag - by a mere 100m. After a day's high-octane racing, that was a pretty tight margin! To put it in context, the GT40 was topping out at over 200mph. It was by no means, then, as if the car was in any way lacklustre - or down on performance. Far from it - its 4,727cc V8 made 485bhp. And no car wins at Le Mans four times on the bounce, without having something going for it! No, the Ford GT40 was a fantastic racing car. It was just that, had Eric Broadley, and his colleagues at Lola been given their head ... it could have been even better!

Koenigsegg CC

Koenigsegg CC supercar

In 1994, Christian von Koenigsegg was a man on a mission! He was a Swedish tycoon - and he had decided to build the fastest road car the world had ever seen! F1-derived technology would help - so it was duly factored in. In 2000 - six years after von Koenigsegg first conceived the project - the carbon-fibre-skinned fruit of his labours appeared. The prototype - unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show - became the Koenigsegg CC 8S. That went on sale in 2002. In 2004, came the CCR. At the Nardo test track - in Italy - it was officially clocked at 241.63mph. Which made it the fastest production car in the world. Von Koenigsegg had delivered! His tiny outfit had cocked a snook at some of the biggest automotive players ... like the mighty McLaren, for example.

If the CCR was the stuff of fantasies, the Koenigsegg CCX introduced some real-world charm. While it was way out of reach of the average buyer, it did, at least, seek to address everyday issues. Air pollution, for one. US safety and emissions regulations are nothing, if not stringent! But, von Koenigsegg's cars would meet them head-on! Key to that was a squeaky-clean engine. Koenigsegg HQ is in Ängelholm, Sweden - and it was there that an environmentally-friendly V8 was developed. Specialised heat treatment reduced the amount of aluminium needed. Two centrifugal superchargers were fitted. The result was a staggering 806bhp - from just 6,900rpm! Dry-sump lubrication let the engine's centre of mass be lowered - aiding handling. The gearbox was six-speed. As for gear ratios - buyers could select from a range of driving-style options!

Bodywork-wise, the CCX was equally-well-sorted. It was made from carbon-fibre and kevlar. The CCX's aerodynamics were meticulously crafted. The car's underside was flat - save for venturis cut into the rear. An optional rear spoiler only added to the downforce. And yet - for such a state-of-the-art supercar - the CCX was eminently manageable. Its doors were 'dihedral synchro-helix' ... meaning that they rotated forwards and up, of course. Nice and convenient! And - on a sunny day - the car's targa top could be detached, and stowed beneath the bonnet. Though that might not have been the best time to test the 259mph top speed available. 0-60 came up in a very convenient 3.2s! The Koenigsegg CCX, then, fused supercar performance with practicality. Which was, no doubt, all exceedingly pleasant ... if you could afford to find out!

MV Agusta 500 Four

MV Agusta 500 Four Italian classic racing motorcycle

Atop a monument to motorcycle racing might well sit MV Agusta! It is a mythical marque in the annals of the sport. Between '58 and '74, MV won seventeen 500cc world championships - on the spin!

Among the MV équipe's rider roster, over the years, were some of the most famous names bike racing has known. We are talking Agostini, Surtees, Hailwood, Read! It all began at the back end of the Second World War. Count Domenico Agusta founded Meccanica Verghera - Verghera being the village in which his new firm was based. 'MV' would go on to become the ultimate in red-blooded Italian style!

But, another great Italian marque was key to the MV race-team's success. Chief engineer and manager - Arturo Magni - had been at Gilera, prior to joining MV. What he had learned there helped create a twin-cam 500cc four-cylinder motor. That engine would be the bedrock upon which MV subsequently built. For excelling so much - and for so long - in such a hostile environment, the bike racing world will be forever in awe of MV Agusta. The '500 Four' was a large part of the legend!

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R

Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R Japanese sports motorbike

'Fast', 'dynamic', 'exciting' ... just three of the descriptions provided by the letter 'Z', when attached to a Kawasaki motorbike. The ZX-6R - released in 2003 - deserved all of those plaudits, and more. A race-bred riot on wheels, it had a licence to thrill, on the road, too. As uncompromising as they come, the ZX-6R made 116bhp ... and that was before the ram-air system kicked in! Top speed was 160mph - impressive for a 636cc 'middleweight'. The fact that the bike weighed in at just 354lb could only assist its awesome acceleration.

The ZX-6R's chassis was well up to the task of keeping all this power in line. Among its attributes were twin radial front brake calipers - derived directly from Kawasaki's racing programme. For sure, the ZX-6R's seats were not designed for comfort! But - crouched race-style atop the plot - rider and pillion were well-placed to steer the beast. The lack of leverage from the stubby 'bars meant 'hanging off' through the corners ... an art best acquired with caution! But - with weight distribution correctly addressed - the reward was high-precision handling.

Just as a single letter says so much when it is a 'Z', so a single colour can speak volumes. Every shade in the spectrum has bedecked bikes at one time or another. But seldom has a hue had quite the impact of 'Kawasaki lime-green'. Since the '70s hey-day of the 'Green Meanies' - those evil-handling H2R racers - lime-green has adorned so many 'Kwakkers' that it is virtually a part of the marque. It suited the ZX-6R perfectly. The bike restored Kawasaki's status as sports-bike supremos. 'Zzzzz'? Nah!

Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud

Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud 1950s British classic car

What's the most elegant car ever built? There are several possible answers to that question, of course - but, most of them were made by the same firm. No prizes at all for that one, I'm afraid ... Rolls-Royce!

No offence intended to Crewe, England - but, it might not automatically be considered a centre of suave sophistication. Yet, the units which rolled out of one of its factory's gates were possessed of a pedigree, without parallel. For is there a product known to man with the peerless cachet of a Rolls-Royce? So, what, then, is the most elegant Rolls-Royce of all time? A clear contender is the 'Silver Cloud'. Released back in '55, it pretty much epitomised the marque.

There are few drawbacks commonly associated with ownership of a Rolls-Royce. Rather, it is seen as a status symbol, to which most people aspire. For 'high rollers' of a nervous disposition, however, knowing whether or not the engine is running could be a source of stress! The 'culprits' were the Rolls-Royce engineers - who were nothing, if not meticulous. Indeed, so silent were their charges - by the time they reluctantly signed them off - that it could have been a serious problem for the hard of hearing! That caveat aside, 'Rolls-Royce' and 'Silver Cloud' were by-words for automotive excellence. To say, 'They don't make 'em like that anymore', would be understatement of the most sinful sort!

Suzuki Hayabusa

Suzuki Hayabusa Japanese superbike

At the time of the Suzuki Hayabusa's release - in 1999 - Honda's Super Blackbird ruled the motorcycle roost. At least, in top speed terms. From Suzuki's viewpoint, that was a statistic which needed to change! The Hayabusa is a Japanese bird of prey. No doubt, one which would be quite partial to a tasty blackbird or two on its travels!

Suzuki's assault on the top speed slot was a three-pronged attack. The Hayabusa - or GSX1300R - was a big bike, with a big engine. So far, so good! It was also relatively light - weighing in at just 473lb dry. Not slimline, as such - but, less than might be expected for a bike of its size. The third term in Suzuki's speed equation was aerodynamics. Its bulbous bodywork may not have been to every taste. But, it made mincemeat of air resistance!

The Hayabusa's 1300cc engine was, essentially, a bigger version of the GSX-R1100 unit. Each iteration of Suzuki's flagship model had refined its core components. So, by the time the Hayabusa came along, the GSX-R package was pretty well primed. Which resolved to around 190mph for the Hayabusa, at full chat. Enough to knock the Super Blackbird off its top speed perch! Mission accomplished, for the Hayabusa. It was now, officially, the fastest road-bike on the planet!

Cadillac El Camino

Cadillac El Camino 1950s American classic concept car

When it came to '50s 'dream cars', GM set the standard for design creativity. Their 'Motorama' show was a travelling circus of avant-garde automobilia. The Cadillac El Camino was a 'space-age' case in point. El Camino Real - The Royal Highway - was a sobriquet for Highway 101. But though the El Camino may have sounded Spanish, it was actually as American as apple pie! It was also one of the most influential concept cars ever created. Certainly, many of the features the El Camino pointed to could be seen on production Cadillacs, by the end of the Fifties.

Show-car though it was, a V8 was duly dropped into the Camino's engine bay. 5,422cc - and 230bhp - were therefore technically available. Had the GM boffins wanted it to go touring, they could no doubt have 'persuaded' it to do so.

But the Camino was all about styling. Its pearlescent paint-job was a cinch to turn heads. Silver had never looked so good! And the car's radical roof-line was equally engaging. The curvaceous windows - and deftly-drawn pillars - were topped off by brilliant brushed aluminium. The front bumpers incorporated 'bullets'! And the front arches were wrought so as to expose the wheels in all their intricate glory. At the rear, the tail-fins were a metallurgical delight. The Camino blended easily into the Motorama mix. Cadillac's 'class of '54' also comprised the 'Espada', and the 'Park Avenue'. But, the Camino, in particular, was the blueprint for many a Cadillac to come.