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 could do. So versatile was the 'MKII Jag' that both cops and robbers fell in love with it! That was understandable. 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 - whichever side of the law you were on. Not that observing speed limits would have been top of the robbers' list of priorities, of course! For all 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 transport its well-heeled occupants with ease. The MKII Jaguar, then, was all things to all men. It was also affordably-priced.

It was not long before the movie studios came calling. The MKII played a cameo rôle in Performance - alongside James Fox and Mick Jagger. And starred in Get Carter - in which it was hard on the tail of Michael Caine. On TV, Inspector Morse would not be seen in anything else. Such sashaying across screens did sales figures no harm at all. 83,980 MKIIs were built. At racetracks, too, the Jag played a leading part. In saloon car showdowns, it was highly competitive. Indeed, racing driver Graham Hill - as well as Lotus boss Colin Chapman - both owned MKIIs.

Certainly, the car was beautiful to behold. Designer William Lyons - or, Mr. Jaguar, as he was affectionately known - had seen to that. And that, really, was the reason for its popularity. Stock-broker or law-breaker - in a MKII, you looked like $1,000,000, either way! The car had Sir William's styling stamped all over it. Inside, the leather seats, wooden dash and door cappings all displayed Lyons' keen eye for design detail. As did the dial- and switch-encrusted facia. On the engineering front, the MKII used tried and tested Jaguar technology. Its straight-six 3.8-litre XK engine delivered 220bhp. For a while, that made the MKII the quickest saloon car around. Technically, it was released in '59 - though it will always be synonymous with the '60s. As was the Mini - that other Sixties automotive icon. Instantly recognisable, the MKII helped define its times. In other words, the Jaguar MKII was as cast-iron a classic as cars come!

Lancia Aurelia B20

Lancia Aurelia B20 1950s Italian classic car

The Lancia Aurelia B20 was the first GT - or, Gran Turismo car. It passed through six production phases - from 1950 to '58. F1 stars Juan Manuel Fangio and Mike Hawthorn both drove B20s - when off-duty, of course! That would suggest they were on the speedy side - and they were. Styling-wise, too, B20s were ahead of the field. After all, they had been designed by Pininfarina. Credit, though, must also go to Vittorio Jano. He it was who conceived the Aurelia B10 saloon - in 1950. The B20 was based on that model.

The Aurelia was powered by a V6 motor. Again, this was the first time that that layout had been used in series production. Output was 112bhp. Co-incidentally, that was the same figure as the B20's top speed. The V6's alloy block was rubber-mounted - to reduce engine vibration. 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 'box - and column-shift. Later versions of the B20 were fitted with DeDion rear suspension. That improved the car's wet weather handling. Front suspension, too, was beefed up - to counteract brake judder and steering shimmy. On the fifth and sixth versions of the B20, handling and braking were helped by increased torque stats. That was achieved by de-tuning the motor - with a 'softer' cam profile.

To produce the B20 series, Lancia supplied a a rolling chassis to a succession of coachbuilders. Chief amongst them was Vignale. None of them, though, topped the simple sophistication of Pininfarina's original. Rarely has coupé bodywork looked as good. You could almost say Lancia broke the GT mould with the Aurelia B20 - at the first time of asking!

Lamborghini Espada

Lamborghini Espada 1960s Italian classic supercar

The Lamborghini Espada was designed by Bertone. Their styling 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. An impressive blend, then, of form and function. The Espada's interior was state of the art. Its focal point was a control console, between the front seats. The console - and 'techie' dashboard above it - housed an aircraft-type array of dials and switches. And - Sixties supercar though it was - the 4-seater Espada was far from cramped.

The top-spec Espada was good for 155mph. It was powered by a 4-litre V12. The motor sat beneath an alloy bonnet. Pierced NACA ducts adorned the front profile. Engineering-wise, a one-off 5-speed gearbox did shifting duty.

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. On its release - in '68 - the Espada set a new speed benchmark for 4-seaters. So - in every automotive aspect - the Lamborghini Espada was a genuine Italian masterpiece!

Triumph Speed Triple

Triumph Speed Triple 1990s British sports bike

In '83, Triumph looked dead in the water. Finally, 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. That was not a million miles away from the original Triumph factory - in Meriden, Birmingham. For the next eight years, Bloor and his colleagues planned a new range of Triumphs. One of them would be the Speed Triple. Throwing off the shackles of the wilderness years, the new bikes would be modern marvels of engineering. There would also, though, be design references to Triumph's glory days.

In '91, six new Triumphs rolled into the showrooms. The parallel twins of yore were no more. Now, three- and four-cylinder engines were the norm - complete with double overhead camshafts and water-cooling. Stylistically, a sea change had occurred. The new 'British' bikes were as futuristically slick as their Far Eastern counterparts. Indeed, their suspension and brakes had been made in Japan. Notwithstanding, they were clutched to the 'Brit Bike' bosom with eager arms. Whilst there were reservations amongst dyed-in-the-wool riders, a new breed of bikers was just glad to have a British brand-name back in motorcycling's mix.

The names of the new arrivals harked back to the past. Trident, Trophy, Thunderbird ... these were legendary labels! In '94, came the Speed Triple. For bikers of a certain age, that evoked memories of the Sixties' Speed Twin. Technically, though, it was state of the art. Saying that, Triumph had long turned out a tasty 'triple'. But, this was a three-cylinder machine with some major updates. As a result, it clocked up a top speed of 130mph. 97bhp was output from an 885cc motor. The bike's 'naked' look - devoid of a fairing - pared weight down to 460lb dry. It also lent itself to lean and aggressive styling. Road tests were positive. The Speed Triple was competent in every category. Unsightly oil stains were a thing of the past. A mighty marque was back on its feet. The Triumph Speed Triple - and its second-generation siblings - would take another tilt at the two-wheeled big time!

Lotus 79

Lotus 79 1970s classic F1 car

The Lotus 79 was yet another product of Colin Chapman's fertile mind. 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 'downforce' it generates. It was that kind of handling, then, that Chapman sought to incorporate into the new Lotus.

Lotus had started their ground-effect quest with the 78 - or, '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 had been the fastest car on F1's grid. The 78's speed advantage, however, had been offset by reliability issues. The 79 would sort them - or so Lotus hoped. The best parts of the 78 car were retained. Lotus then added a couple of updates. By placing the fuel tank behind the driver, the chassis could be narrowed. That helped the venturi do its thing - which was increasing the downforce. The side-pod skirts, too, had been upgraded. They now moved up and down, as required - providing a surer seal.

The net result of these changes was precisely as Lotus had planned. The 79 car was streets ahead, in the '78 season. Mario Andretti drove the car to five F1 wins - enough to take the World Championship. Team-mate Ronnie Peterson also won - and was runner-up in the final standings. And Lotus-Ford took the Constructors' Championship, at a canter. Chapman - and the Norfolk-based team - were ecstatic. But - as is so often the case in F1 - it was not to last. From the start of the '79 season, it was clear Lotus' competition had come prepared. Almost to a team, they were armed with their own takes on the ground-effect phenomenon. Indeed, some of the engineers had twigged that yet more downforce could be served up - so long as parts of the car were strengthened to cope. Lotus was duly outstripped by its beefed-up rivals. But, that would never obscure the fact that - during its brief season in the F1 sun - the Lotus 79 had put the opposition well and truly in the shade!

NSU Ro80

NSU Ro80 1960s German classic car

The NSU Ro80's styling was ahead of its time. At first glance, the masses of glass seemed straight out of science-fiction. Closer inspection revealed the gently rising line of its profile. Its 'low front, high back' stance would influence automotive design for years to come. For a 5-seater saloon car, the Ro80 was highly aerodynamic. Cruising at speed, then, was a breeze. So well-sorted was the NSU outwardly that it barely changed in the ten years of its run. Only tail-lights were modified, over time.

Handling-wise, the Ro80 was just as impressive. FWD and power-steering kept things nicely aligned. Long-travel strut suspension soaked up bumps. New-fangled disc brakes were fitted all round. A 3-speed semi-automatic transmission swept through gears with aplomb. Top speed was a creditable 112mph.

Nothing, though, is perfect. The Ro80 was powered by a twin-rotor Wankel engine. Unfortunately - in a rush to get cars into showrooms - said motor was under-developed. Which is when the problems started. A mere 15,000 miles was all it took. The Wankel's rotor-tip seals wore out. Frustrated owners cited less power - and more fuel consumption. As wear increased, the engines grew harder to start. If the car could be coaxed into life at all, it was with thick smoke billowing from the exhaust pipe. Even in less environment-sensitive times, that did not go down well. To be fair, NSU settled claims with alacrity. Indeed, it was not unknown for it to stump up double-digit engine replacements, in due course. Which only serves to show what an alluring overall package the Ro80 was. A car which caused so many headaches - and was still in demand - must have had something going for it. And - in terms of looks, at least - the NSU Ro80 most certainly did!

Bristol 401

Bristol 401 1940s British classic car

The Bristol 401 showed off the Aerodyne body shell. It was the work of Italian design house Touring. As its name suggested, aerodynamics were the name of the game. The 401's Aerodyne lines - and 'teardrop' tail - flowed through air with minimal resistance. Indeed - years after its production run ended - there were few cars that could match the 401's aerodynamic package. Aptly, then, the car was developed at an airport. Specifically, along the two-mile stretch of the Filton runway - in Bristol, England. Tests measured it travelling at a tad shy of 100mph - powered by a two-litre, 85bhp engine. Not much to play with, given that the 401 was a four-seater saloon car - with plenty of interior trim. Clearly, aerodynamics were playing a pivotal part in that 100mph top speed stat. Saying that, it was no ordinary motor it was using. Bristol had 'borrowed' the engine from BMW - as part of Germany's First World War reparations. As far as the 401's 'slipperiness' went, low wind noise - and 25mpg fuel economy - were more than welcome by-products.

With regard to the 401's shape, the same degree of rarefied design found its way into other aspects of the car, too. The body panels, for example, were graded for thickness - according to function. Thus, those that made up the wings were more meaty. Mechanics liked that - it was something solid for them to lean against! The 401's four-speed gearbox was all slick engineering. Its steering-wheel, too, was exquisitely crafted. Complete with its 'banana' spoke, it mimicked the one found in Bristol aircraft, of the time.

The 401, then, was a gift to design students - many of them born years after the end of its run. Bristol's stylists and coachbuilders were a rare breed indeed. If you had used the phrase 'built-in obsolescence' to them, they would have been seriously confused. Not because they were stupid - but, because it simply would not have occurred to them to think in that way!

Bentley Continental R

Bentley Continental R 1950s British classic car

The Bentley Continental R was always going to be beautiful. It was, after all, coachbuilt by HJ Mulliner - out of their London HQ. But, there was more! It also had a top speed of 124mph - which made it the fastest 4-seater in the world, at the time. Mind you, that was a combination few could afford - in what was still, technically, post-war Britain. The Continental R was strictly for business magnates and movie stars - oh, and possibly, royalty! High levels of comfort came as standard. In a nutshell - in the early Fifties - 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 - stylist extraordinaire - oversaw the operation. Combined with Mulliner's alloy body - and a one-off Supersports chassis - the result was a cutting edge British 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 upped. A big-bore exhaust system was installed. As a result, the Continental's deep-breathing 4,566cc engine made light work of country roads. Notwithstanding the car's gargantuan size, aluminium bumpers - and alloy-framed bucket seats - helped keep the weight down.

In austerity-ravaged '50s Britain, then, 'Continental' must have conjured up an exotic vision. Filled with cars like the R, sweeping through idyllic villages and rolling landscapes. Certainly, the interior came fully-furnished for far-flung travels. The wide wooden dashboard housed a rev counter and oil temperature gauge. Such items had been deemed surplus to requirements for the saloon version. Only 208 Continentals were built. So, the Bentley Continental R was exclusive, to say the least. It was, however, at the top of its game in virtually every department!

Facel Vega Facel II

Facel Vega Facel II 1960s French classic car

You know when a car has cracked it. Celebrities and royals are first in line. So it was with the Facel Vega Facel II. Among them was a certain Ringo Starr - drummer in a band called The Beatles, apparently. Along with racing drivers, too, of course. Stirling Moss and Rob Walker both owned a Facel II.

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

Not that the Facel II's V8 motor did not have its work cut out for it. With four passengers - and a full tank of fuel - the car weighed in at almost two tons. Thoughtfully, Facel Vega had fitted Armstrong Selecta-Ride rear dampers. A full set of Dunlop brake discs did the stopping honours. The Facel II came with power steering, leather seats and electric windows - all as standard. Design-wise, the car's cockpit instrumentation was on an aeronautical theme. This particular Facel Vega, then, was fast, comfortable - and supremely stylish. Saying that, it cost as much as several comparable cars put together. So, just 160 Facel IIs were built ... in true exclusive French style!

Marcos GT

Marcos GT 1960s British classic sports car

As much as any manufacturer, Marcos encapsulated English eccentricity. That was amply demonstrated by a succession of GT cars. 'Marcos' was an amalgam of the names of the two founders - Jem Marsh and Frank Costin. The new firm's first product was a sports car - built mainly from wood. The race version was a stellar success. Jackie Stewart launched his career in one. Which possibly points to where Stewart first got a taste for 'health and safety' within the sport! From that ornate creation emerged the classic Marcos sports car. It was to see several shape shifts 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. This time, the bodywork was fashioned from glass fibre - cutting edge, then, in every sense. Its chassis, though, still stood by wood. Suspension-wise, that first Marcos was fitted with Triumph wishbones at the front - and de Dion and Triumph arms at the rear. A Ford live-axle set-up followed in due course. Over time, Ford, Volvo and Triumph engines would be installed. So, it was already apparent that Marcos did not do 'predictable'!

Marcos and motor racing go way back. In '66, a 'Mini-Marcos' hybrid was the sole British entry to complete that year's Le Mans 24-hour race. Equipped with its Mini motor, the Marcos car was cheap to campaign. Incredibly, one could still be sourced new right up to '94. Two of Marcos' Le Mans cars were aptly code-named the LM500 and LM600. Launched in '94, they marked Marcos' return to the famous French circuit.

The Seventies got off to a good start for Marcos. The mythical Mantis was released. As the decade wore on, though, the firm was much less visible. Indeed, it fell to Jem Marsh to keep the servicing and parts departments open. '81, though, saw a Marcos resurgence. Power was supplied by Ford. With not a lot happening on the sports car scene at the time, Marcos' revival was a shot in the arm not just for the marque, but the industry. 1983's Marcos Mantula - powered by a Rover V8 - was a hit in the showrooms. Yet more plaudits followed two years later - with the arrival of the Spyder. Marcos moved into the '90s with the Mantara - which saw a styling revamp. The Adams brothers' original curves were still there - but suitably updated. '97 saw a new model Mantis. Thanks to its Ford V8 engine, the Mantis GT thundered around race-tracks at more than 170mph. While Marcos may have been 'different', those in the know have never taken the marque less than seriously. Certainly, many an eyebrow has been raised by a Marcos GT car over the years. Though one cannot help but suspect that was always part of the Marsh/Costin game-plan!