Caterham 7

Caterham 7 1970s British classic sports car

Above all, the Caterham 7 was fun to drive! The car was Colin Chapman's baby. It began life as the Lotus 7. Chapman - boss of the legendary British marque - claimed to have built the prototype in a weekend. That was in '57. Lotus went on to manufacture the '7' for the next 15 years. It was sold by Caterham Cars - under the stewardship of Graham Nearns. In '73, Lotus stopped producing the Seven - the rights for it passing to Caterham Cars. Encountering problems with the plastic-bodied Series 4 model, Nearns and his team reverted to the aluminium-bodied Series 3 Seven.

Caterham were committed to the 'pure driving experience'. Key to that was light weight ... always a priority for Chapman, too. The 7's nose cone and wings, then, were glass-fibre. And the rest of the bodywork aluminium. There was a tubular steel chassis. The original rear axles were sourced from Ford and Morris. Later, Caterham came up with their own De Dion-based set-up. To begin with, Caterham stuck to the Lotus 'Twin Cam' engine. The 126bhp motor was spot-on ... until stocks ran out. Ford rolled to the rescue. Tuning options came in the shape of GT, Sprint, and Supersprint. Still more power was provided by the Cosworth BDA engine. And even more by a Vauxhall 2.0-litre unit. It made 175bhp. From '91 onward, Caterhams came with Rover 'K-Series' engines ... in 1.4, 1.4 Supersport, 1.6, and 1.6 Supersport varieties!

Top-of-the-range Seven was the JPE - Jonathan Palmer Evolution - model. Named after the F1 driver who helped develop it, the JPE car encapsulated the Caterham creed. Technically a roadster, its race-spec 250bhp engine catapulted it to 150mph. It hit 60 in less than 3.5s. Indeed, the JPE 7 out-dragged a Ferrari F40 up to 100mph. At the time, that made it the fastest-accelerating car in the world. With no windscreen - and carbon-fibre wings - the JPE 7 had 'race-track' written all over it! All in all, then - as Caterham had intended it would be - the Seven was a one-stop shop for automotive exhilaration!

Audi Quattro

Audi Quattro 1980s German sports car

The Audi Quattro revolutionised motoring. On its launch - in 1980 - it was the safest car on the planet. Its state-of-the-art 4-wheel drive set-up had taken grip to a new level. Top speed was 142mph. 0-60 took just 6.3s. That came courtesy of a turbocharged, 2.1-litre 5-cylinder engine. Top-spec output was 220bhp.

Certainly, the Audi rally team had taken 4-wheel drive to its heart! As with the roadster, the Quattro rally car significantly upped traction in the rough stuff. Somewhere between the road and rally cars was the Quattro Sport - a 2-seater 'homologation special'. It was fitted with a 300bhp motor. Just enough production cars were built to qualify it to go rallying. Its shorter wheelbase meant it handled even better than the standard version. Though it was three times the price of the base model, a top speed of 155mph made it more than tempting!

When Audi announced they were pulling the plug on the Quattro, there was uproar. Audi succumbed to public pressure - and production continued until '91. Motorists had fallen in love with four-wheel drive. The Audi Quattro rally car's remarkable tally of wins only intensified that love!

Chevrolet Corvair

Chevrolet Corvair 1960s American classic car

The Chevrolet Corvair never fulfilled its potential. The car garnered a largely unwarranted reputation for oversteer. Professional 'whistle-blower' Ralph Nader pounced on the Corvair's supposed handling defects - duly detailing them in his book 'Unsafe At Any Speed'. This was a tract devoted to automotive health and safety. His views were duly taken up by American motorists - and the Corvair's fate was sealed. A '64 revamp - with revised rear suspension - was a last-ditch attempt to rid the Chevy of its 'wild child' image. It did not work.

The Corvair, though, got a tick in the box marked 'technical innovation'. It featured a rear-mounted flat-six engine. Suspension was fully independent. Several versions of the Corvair were released throughout the '60s. There was a sporty coupé, a convertible, and even a turbo-charged model. At its most potent, it produced 180bhp. That gave a top speed of 105mph.

The Corvair was designed to take on cheap European cars flooding the US at the time. It was marketed as 'compact' - though that was more by American than European metrics. Certainly - in terms of styling - the Corvair's restrained lines were cut from a more European cloth than many of its American siblings. It went on to influence the Hillman Imp and NSU Prinz. Size-wise, it was similar to the British-made Ford Zephyr. Chevrolet went so far as to dub the coupé the 'Monza'. More than 1,000,000 Corvairs were built. Sadly, those misgivings about the car's handling never subsided. As a result, '64's Ford Mustang galloped on ahead. The Chevrolet Corvair, though, had blazed a neat and tidy trail for European-style sophistication.

Lotus Elite

Lotus Elite 1950s British classic sports car

The Lotus Elite is widely regarded as one of the most stylish cars the firm made. Primarily, that was down to Peter Kirwan Taylor. Though not a leading light in the automotive design field at the time, Lotus put their faith in him - and it paid off. Launched in '59, the Elite remained in production for four years. In the course of that time, it became an iconic British sports car. As always - with Colin Chapman at the helm - light weight was key. The Elite was the first car to be built on a glass-fibre monocoque chassis. That helped it reach a top speed of 130mph. Supremely aerodynamic lines also helped. The Elite was agile, too. Few cars could hold a candle to it through corners.

Power was provided by an overhead-cam 'Coventry Climax' engine. When kitted out with one carburettor, it delivered 71bhp. A twin-carb set-up increased that to 83bhp. The 4-speed gearbox came courtesy of BMC. The SE version would be fitted with a close-ratio, 5-speed ZF 'box. Power went up to 105bhp. The Elite was always economical, though - in large part because of its light weight. As impressive as the Elite's straight-line speed was its handling. The car was suspended by coil-spring dampers at the front - and Chapman struts (modified MacPherson struts) at the rear. Steering was by rack-and-pinion. A full complement of high-grade disc brakes came as standard. Of slightly more questionable quality were the windows. While pleasing on the eye, their unusual profile meant they would not wind down fully. Not what you wanted on a hot summer's day!

In most other respects, though, the Elite did full justice to its name. Certainly, it was out of the top drawer styling-wise. For example, the dash was designed to echo the car's chic low profile. The Elite did have its faults, however. Apart from the wind-down window problem, the monocoque was prone to noisy vibration. And interior decor was somewhat sparse. In a lesser car, such flaws might have been an 'issue'. In the case of the Elite, though, the blemishes merely 'added character'. Taken in the round, the Lotus Elite was a fine - and quintessentially British - sports car.

Jaguar MKII

Jaguar MKII 1950s British classic car

The Jaguar MKII was one of the great all-rounders. Pretty much anything you wanted from a car, it would do. Indeed, so versatile was the 'MKII Jag' that both cops and robbers fell in love with it! There was a shared reason for that. The top-spec 3.8 version - with manual overdrive - was good for 125mph. And with no speed limit on British roads at the time, you could make the most of that number. Not that observing the speed limit would have been top of the robbers' list of priorities! Saying that, the MKII Jag was also the ideal commuter-car for the business class. As refined as you like when it wanted to be, the MKII would ferry its well-heeled occupants with sumptuous ease. The Jaguar MKII, then, was all things to all men and women. Included in that was that it was - like all Lyons' cars - affordably-priced.

Not surprisingly, then - for a car with such universal appeal - the MKII got a call from the movie studios. It played cameo rôles in Performance, alongside James Fox and Mick Jagger - and Get Carter, in which it was hard on the tail of Michael Caine. On TV, Inspector Morse would not be seen in anything else. Of course, such sashaying across screens did the car's sales figures no harm at all. 83,980 MKIIs were built. At race-tracks, too, the Jag played a starring part. In saloon-car showdowns, it was highly competitive. And the fact that legends like racing driver Graham Hill, and Lotus boss Colin Chapman owned MKIIs only added to its mystique.

Certainly, the MKII was beautiful to behold. And that, really, was the reason for its popularity. Stock-broker, or law-breaker ... either way, in a MKII, you looked like $1,000,000! The car had Sir William Lyons' stamp all over it - both in terms of styling and engineering. Inside, the leather seats, wooden dash and door cappings, and dial- and switch-encrusted facia - all displayed Lyons' keen eye for design detail. On the performance front, the MKII used tried and tested Jaguar technology. Its straight-six XK engine delivered 220bhp in 3.8-litre format. For a while, that made the MKII Jag the quickest saloon car around. Technically, it was released in '59 - though it will always be synonymous with the Sixties. Instantly recognisable, the Jaguar MKII defined its times. Or, in other words - it was a cast-iron classic car!

Lancia Aurelia B20

Lancia Aurelia B20 1950s Italian classic car

The Lancia Aurelia B20 was the first Gran Turismo car. It passed through six series of production - from 1950 to '58. GP stars Juan Manuel Fangio and Mike Hawthorn both drove B20s off-duty. Safe to say, then, that they were reasonably quick! Styling-wise, too, B20s were ahead of the field. After all, the design brief had been given to Pininfarina. Credit, though, must also go to Vittorio Jano. He it was who conceived the Lancia Aurelia B10 saloon car - in 1950. That had served as the template for the B20.

The B20 was powered by a V6 engine - again, the first in series production. Output was 112bhp - co-incidentally, the same figure as the B20's top speed. The alloy block was rubber-mounted - to reduce vibration in parts of the rev range. A single camshaft operated on light alloy push-rods. Hemispherical combustion chambers housed in-line valves. A double-choke Weber 40 carburettor squeezed through the juice. Transmission was via a 4-speed gear-box - and column-shift. Later versions of the B20 were fitted with DeDion rear suspension - to improve handling in the wet. Front suspension, too, was duly beefed up - to counter brake judder, and steering shimmy. Handling and braking on the 5th and 6th Series B20s would have been helped by their increased torque levels. That was the result of de-tuning the motor - by means of a 'softer' cam.

Lancia supplied a succession of coach-builders with a rolling chassis. Chief amongst them were Vignale. None of them, though, topped the simple sophistication of Pininfarina's original. Rarely has coupé bodywork looked so good. Arguably, Lancia broke the GT mould with the Aurelia B20 - at the first time of asking. If so, rival manufacturers have been trying to piece it back together ever since!

Lamborghini Espada

Lamborghini Espada 1960s Italian classic supercar

The Lamborghini Espada was styled by Bertone. Design standards were of the highest - both inside and out. Sitting pretty atop the tail lights, for example, was a clear glass panel. Not only was it a sweet visual flourish - it assisted with parking, too. The Espada's interior was state of the art. Its focal point was a control console, between the front seats. That - and a 'techie' dash - provided an aircraft-style array of dials and switches. And classic supercar though it was, the 4-seater Espada was far from cramped.

The top-spec Espada was good for 155mph. The engine was a 4-litre V12. It sat beneath an alloy bonnet - pleasingly pierced by NACA ducts along the sides. A one-off 5-speed gearbox did the transmission honours.

The Espada's ride was pliant and smooth. That was aided by all round wishbone suspension - plus a wide track, and fat tyres. Overall handling was excellent. Power steering, and auto transmission were options on later models. The Espada was based on the 'Marzal' concept car. When the Espada was released - in 1968 - it set a new speed benchmark for 4-seater cars. In terms of both looks and engineering, then, the Lamborghini Espada was a genuine Italian masterpiece!

Triumph Speed Triple

Triumph Speed Triple 1990s British sports bike

The Triumph marque looked dead in the water in 1983, when the once-famous firm went into receivership. If it was to survive, it needed a saviour - and fast! Up to the plate strode multi-millionaire building magnate, John Bloor. A new HQ was set up in Hinckley, England. Which was actually quite close to the original Triumph factory - in Meriden, Birmingham. For the next eight years - behind walls of secrecy - Bloor and his colleagues planned a new range of Triumphs. Throwing off the shackles of the wilderness years, the new bikes would be modern marvels of engineering. There would also, though, be designer references to Triumph's glory days.

In '91, six new Triumphs rolled into the showrooms. The parallel twins of yore were no more. Instead, there were three- and four-cylinder engines - complete with double overhead camshafts, and water-cooling. Stylistically, a sea change had occurred. The new machines were every bit as slick and futuristic as their Japanese counterparts. Indeed, suspension and brakes on the new bikes were manufactured in Japan. Notwithstanding, they were welcomed into the bosom of the 'Brit Bike' family with open arms. No doubt, there were a few 'dyed-in-the-wool' riders with reservations. Overall, though, a new generation of bikers was just glad to have one of the great British brand-names back in the mix.

Certainly, the naming of the new arrivals harked back to the past. Trident, Trophy, Thunderbird ... this was the stuff of legend! In '94 came the 'Speed Triple'. Its name recalled the 'Speed Twin' of the Sixties - but in every other respect it was state of the art. Of course, Triumph had long turned out a tasty 'triple' - and this new bike was no exception. Clocking up a top speed of 130mph, it output 97bhp from an 885cc motor. Looks-wise, the 'naked' layout pared weight down to 460lb dry - and lent itself to lean and aggressive styling. The Speed Triple was more than competent in every department. Unsightly oil stains were definitely now the stuff of history! The mighty Triumph marque was back on its feet ... and looking like it would be around for a while!

Lotus 79

Lotus 79 1970s classic F1 car

The Lotus 79 was yet another offering from the fertile mind of Colin Chapman. This time, the legendary Lotus boss trained his sights on 'ground-effect' - the process of aerodynamically 'pressing' the car to the race-track. In theory, it is said, an F1 car could be driven upside-down - so strong is the 'down-force' it generates. It was that kind of handling Chapman sought to incorporate into the new Lotus!

Lotus started out on their ground-effect quest with the '78' - dubbed the 'wing car'. Each side-pod housed an inverted aerofoil. 'Skirts' below the side-pods ducted air through a venturi. That created a vacuum - by slowing down, and then speeding up air through a bottle-neck. The skirt sealed in the air - which the aerofoil then used to 'suction-clamp' the car to the tarmac. The upshot was that the Lotus 78 was the fastest car on the grid. Though that would be partly offset by reliability issues. The Lotus 79, then, up-dated the ground-effect project. The best parts of the '78' car were retained. And Chapman and the team added a couple of extras. By placing the fuel tank behind the driver, the chassis could be narrowed. That helped the venturi do its thing - so increasing down-force. The side-pod skirts had also been up-rated. Now they were free to move up and down - providing a surer seal than previously.

The net result of these developments was exactly as Lotus had hoped. The '79' car was streets ahead in the 1978 season. Mario Andretti drove the car to five GP wins - enough to take the World Championship. Team-mate Ronnie Peterson also won - and was runner-up in the final standings. Lotus-Ford took the Constructors' Championship at a canter. Chapman - and the team - were understandably ecstatic. But it was not to last. When the '79 season dawned, it was clear that the competition had come prepared! Almost to a team, they were armed with their own versions of 'ground-effect'. And some of the engineers had twigged that yet more down-force could be wrung from it - so long as parts of the car were strengthened to cope. Lotus would be outstripped by their beefed-up rivals. But that never obscured the fact that - during its season in the sun - the Lotus 79 had put its F1 rivals well and truly in the shade!

NSU Ro80

NSU Ro80 1960s German classic car

The styling of the NSU Ro80 was ahead of its time. At first glance, masses of glass were straight out of science-fiction. Closer inspection revealed the gently rising line of its profile - giving it a low front, high back stance - which would influence automotive design for years to come. The 5-seater body was supremely aerodynamic for a saloon car - making cruising at speed a breeze. So flawless was it outwardly that it was hardly touched in ten years of production. Just the tail-lights were modified, on later versions.

The Ro80's handling was equally impressive. FWD - and precision power-steering - kept it perfectly pointed. The long-travel strut suspension soaked up bumps. High-efficiency disc brakes were fitted all round. The 3-speed semi-automatic transmission swept through the gears with aplomb. Top speed was a sound 112mph.

But, of course, nothing is ever perfect. The Ro80 was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine. Unfortunately - in a rush to get the car into showrooms - the motor had been under-developed. A mere 15,000 miles revealed the fault. The Wankel's rotor-tip seals wore out prematurely. Frustrated owners reported less power - and more fuel consumption! As wear increased, engines were harder to start. If the car could be coaxed into life at all, it was with thick smoke billowing from its exhaust pipe. NSU settled warranty claims without ado - and kept on settling them. Indeed, it was not uncommon for an Ro80 to have near double-digit engine replacements by the end of its days! Which only serves to illustrate what an alluring package the Ro80 must have been overall. Any car which can cause so may problems - and still be in demand - must have something pretty special going for it. In terms of its looks, the NSU Ro80 certainly did!

Bristol 401

Bristol 401 1940s British classic car

The 'Aerodyne' body shape - as exemplified by the Bristol 401 - was the work of Italian design house Touring. As its name suggests, aerodynamics were the name of the Aerodyne game. The 401's fluid lines - and 'teardrop' tail - moved it through air with the minimum of resistance. Indeed - years after its production run ended - there were still few cars that could match the 401's aerodynamic package. Aptly, the car was developed at an airport - along the two-mile stretch of the Filton runway - in Bristol, England. Tests showed that it was travelling at a tad shy of 100mph. It was powered by a two-litre, 85bhp engine. Pretty small beer, given that the 401 was a four-seater saloon car - carrying plenty of interior trim. Clearly, aerodynamics were playing a pivotal part in that 100mph top speed stat. Saying that, Bristol had 'borrowed' the engine from BMW - as part of the First World War reparations. So, no doubt, Teutonic efficiency helped. Low wind noise - and 25mpg fuel economy - were welcome by-products of the 401's 'slipperiness'.

The same kind of rarefied design work found its way into other areas of the 401, too. The body panels, for example, were graded for thickness - according to the job that they did. So, those that made up the wings were more meaty - thus, giving mechanics something to lean against. Now, that is functional design! The 4-speed gearbox was a slick piece of precision engineering. The 401's steering-wheel was on a suitably aeronautical theme. With its 'banana' spoke, it mimicked that which was found in Bristol aircraft, at the time.

The Bristol 401, then, was the sort of machine which makes people - born years after the 401 expired - seek to become design students. Hopefully, of the automotive kind! If you had used the phrase 'built-in obsolescence' to those who styled and manufactured the Bristol 401, they would not have had the first idea what you were talking about. Not because they were stupid ... but because it simply would never have occurred to them to think in that way!

Bentley Continental R

Bentley Continental R 1950s British classic car

The Bentley Continental R was beautiful - coach-built, as it was, by London's HJ Mulliner, among others. But that was not all! It had a top speed of 124mph - making it the fastest 4-seater automobile in the world at the time. Mind you, it was a combination few could afford - in what was still post-war Britain. The Continental R was strictly for business magnates, movie stars and royalty. And the odd member of the landed gentry. The highest levels of comfort came as standard. Put simply - in the early '50s, the Continental R was the best car money could buy!

The Continental R's stately lines were refined in the Rolls-Royce wind tunnel - at Hucknall, England. John Blatchley was the stylist extraordinaire who oversaw the operation. When combined with HJ Mulliner's alloy body - and a one-off Supersports chassis - the result was a cutting edge coupé. Gearing was raised from that of the Bentley R - the Continental's less sophisticated predecessor. That meant long-legged power throughout the rev range. The straight six motor's compression ratio was also upped. And a big-bore exhaust system was introduced. As a consequence, the Continental's deep-breathing 4,566cc engine made light work of country roads. Aluminium bumpers, and alloy-framed bucket seats, helped keep the Continental's weight down - notwithstanding its gargantuan size.

In austerity-ravaged '50s Britain, the name 'Continental' must have conjured up visions of exotic locales. Replete with cars like the 'R' sweeping majestically through idyllic villages, and rolling landscapes. Certainly, the car's interior was furnished for far-flung travel. The wide, wooden dashboard housed a rev counter, and oil temperature gauge. Such items had been considered surplus to requirements for the saloon version of the car. Only 208 Continentals were built. The Bentley Continental R was about as exclusive as a motor-car gets. But then - since it was at the top of its game in every department - it was always going to be that way!

Facel Vega Facel II

Facel Vega Facel II 1960s French classic car

You know when a car has cracked it - celebrities and royalty queue round the block to snap one up! So it was with the Facel Vega Facel II. Among them would have been Ringo Starr - drummer in a band called The Beatles. There were racing drivers, too, of course - like Stirling Moss and Rob Walker.

Fittingly, the Facel II fared well at the race-track, as well as on-road. It was, after all, powered by a highly tractable V8. Top speed was 140mph. A 4-speed manual Pont a' Mousson gearbox was hooked up to that 390bhp Chrysler 300 block.

With four passengers and a full tank of fuel, the Facel II weighed in at almost two tons. Thankfully, Armstrong 'Selecta-Ride' rear dampers were fitted. Brakes-wise, a full set of Dunlop discs did the honours. The Facel II came with power steering, leather seats and electric windows, as standard. Cockpit instrumentation was on an aeronautical theme. The Facel II, then, was fast, comfortable - and, above all, supremely stylish. It cost as much as several comparable cars put together. So - as you would expect - just 160 Facel Vegas were built ... in true exclusive style!

Marcos 1800 GT

Marcos 1800 GT 1960s British classic sports car

If ever there was a company which encapsulated English eccentricity, it was Marcos. The name was an amalgam of the two founders - Jem Marsh and Frank Costin. Their opening salvo was a wooden sports-car! So successful was it at the track, that Jackie Stewart launched his career in one. Now we know where Stewart first got a heads up for racing 'health and safety'! Out of that ornate oddity emerged the classic Marcos sports car. It was to sport several changes of shape over the years. The formative lines were drawn by Dennis and Peter Adams. Unveiled in '64, the Marcos wowed London's 'Earls Court Racing Car Show'. Its body was fashioned from cutting edge glass-fibre. Its chassis, though, was still made out of wood! Suspension-wise, the Marcos was first fitted with Triumph wishbones at the front, and de Dion and Triumph arms at the rear. That was later replaced by a Ford live-axle set-up. Over time, Ford, Volvo and Triumph motors would be installed. It was already apparent that Marcos did not do 'predictable'!

Marcos have long been associated with motor racing. In '66, a 'Mini-Marcos' hybrid was the sole British entry to complete that year's Le Mans 24-hour race. Equipped with a Mini motor, the Marcos was relatively cheap to campaign. It could still be sourced new right up to '94. Marcos' Le Mans exploits were referenced by the LM500 and LM600 models. Launched in '94, they marked Marcos' return to the legendary French circuit.

At the start of the '70s, Marcos released the iconic Mantis. As the decade wore on, though, the marque was less visible. It fell to Jem Marsh to keep the servicing and parts departments open. '81 saw a Marcos resurgence - with power supplied by Ford. It was perfect timing. With not a lot happening on the sports-car scene at the time, Marcos' revival was a shot in the arm not only for the marque, but the industry. 1983's Marcos Mantula - complete with a Rover V8 motor - was a hit in the showrooms. More plaudits followed two years later - with the arrival of the Spyder. Marcos moved into the '90s with the Mantara - which saw a shift in styling. The Adams brothers' original curves were still there - but suitably revised for the run-up to the new millennium. '97 saw an update of the mythical Marcos Mantis. Thanks to its Ford V8 engine, the Mantis GT thundered around race-tracks at a top speed of more than 170mph. All in all, then, Marcos had definitely ticked the 'quirkiness' box! But those in the automotive know have never taken the marque less than seriously. Certainly, Marcos cars have raised many an eyebrow, over the years. But one cannot help but suspect that that was always part of the Marsh/Costin game-plan!