1934 Bugatti Aérolithe by Jay Leno’s Garage

Vincent Black Lightning by Robb Report

1939 Vincent HRD Series A Rapide by Jay Leno's Garage

1965 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe - Superformance Tribute by AutotopiaLA

1936 Auto Union Type C - V16 Startup by Lemans15

Honda RC30

Honda RC30

The Honda VFR750R RC30 out-race-repped all its roadgoing rivals. Certainly, in visual terms, there was little to distinguish it from the RVF 750 race bike, on which it was based. Technically, too, it was similar. On the face of it, the component which differed most was the roadster's exhaust … compared, at any rate, with the racer's light, free-flowing set-up.

Of course, other parts, too, were not on a par with the race bike. The roadster's V4 engine was never going to be tuned to the degree of its competitive sibling. Notwithstanding, it still output 112bhp - at 11,000rpm. That gave a top speed of 153mph. More than enough for most mere mortals. Though optimal tuning of the high-grade suspension system helped. Not that it was easily achieved!

American rider Fred Merkel took two consecutive WSB titles on the RC30 racer - in '88 and '89. Briton Carl Fogarty did the same in motorcycling's Formula One series. Endurance racing, likewise, was meat and drink to the RVF 750. After all - so far as Honda were concerned - the RC30 was first and foremost a race bike. But - with its low-slung front end, aluminium twin-spar frame, and single-sided swingarm - the road bike had benefited hugely from the care lavished on the racer. The VFR750R, then, was in a league of its own. Honda's commitment to the project had paid dual dividends. On both road and track, the RC30 reigned supreme!

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

The Ferrari 250 GT was the base model for the most expensive car ever - that being the GTO, when sold at auction for silly money. It is easy to see where the GTO got it from. In the case of the Berlinetta, bodywork was by Scaglietti. He styled the 250 GT-based competition cars - and their sports siblings. The 'short wheelbase' SWB Berlinetta fell within his remit. Pininfarina helped sort less race-oriented versions of the 250 GT - like the long-wheelbase LWB, for example! Boano, too, had been on the design team.

The Berlinetta was launched in '61. It was not just its styling that was crème de la crème. Its 3.0-litre V12 motor also came hand-crafted. Gioacchino Colombo was an industrial designer at 14. When most young men his age were sticking pictures of cars to their bedroom walls! Suffice it to say he was a prodigy. For 'homework', he designed a supercharger … as you do! When finished, he showed it to Alfa Romeo - who must have marked it A+. At any rate, he was offered a job at Alfa. Several engines later, he was approached by a certain Enzo Ferrari. The maestro was managing Alfa's racing department, at the time. Colombo was by then aged 34.

When Ferrari set up his own car company, Colombo was one of his first hires. The engineman arrived in Modena in '45. Whereupon, he added his own design input to the 250 GT project. With such a wealth of top-drawer talent devoted to it, then, it is little wonder that the GT soared to the heights it did. Scaglietti's Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta was as iconic as a car gets … well, apart from the 250 GTO, of course!

Mods and Rockers by Tuning for Speed

Kawasaki Z1100R

Kawasaki Z1100R

For many motorcyclists, the Kawasaki big 'Z's have long been special. No bike summed that up more than the Z1100R. No flimflam or finery - just straightforward, sit-up-and-beg solidity. High 'bars, stepped-down seat, and anatomically-correct footrests. In short, a normal riding position.

But if that suggested staidness, it should not have. There was little that was solemn and sober about the 1100R. It had, after all, been inspired by Eddie Lawson's US Superbike racer. He won consecutive titles in the early '80s. Hopefully - from Kawasaki's point of view - the spirit of the racer was imbued in the roadster. 1100R riders certainly felt like Eddie Lawson! And, a top speed of over 140mph was more than enough for most lesser mortals. Especially, if the high-speed wobble kicked in … due to its 'bikini' fairing. The R's 1,089cc engine mustered 114bhp. Not to be messed with! Thankfully, the bike was blessed with good handling. In large part, that was down to its squat dimensions - and Kayaba remote-reservoir rear shocks.

Albeit in a no-nonsense way, the 1100R was still a stylish motorcycle. Few paintjobs are as emotive as the Kawasaki 'green meanie'. And, if green bikes are considered unlucky by some, owners of spanking-new 1100Rs were obviously prepared to take a chance. Though other colours were available! They would have said that with the 1100R you got the best of both worlds. Released in '84, the bike straddled two divides - 'classic' and 'race-rep'. Fans would say that with a 'big Z' you got the lot. Comfortable ergonomics - plus searing speed, as and when required. In the case of the Kawasaki Z1100R, it is rather hard to argue with that!

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

Franco Scaglione – driving force behind the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale - was an engineering whizz-kid from an early age. Mix that in with his precocious design sensibilities - and mechanical marvels seemed only a matter of time. Mind-blowing cars, say!

Engineering, then, was an academic cakewalk for Scaglione. He was a natural. In due course, he gravitated to advanced learning. Then, the Second World War kicked in. Scaglione's studies – which had started so swimmingly - were thrown into disarray. When he found himself a civilian again - in '46 - he was 29. His dream of being an engineer in shreds, Scaglione scouted about for alternative employment.

The Fiat Abarth was Scaglione's first full-on automotive design venture. Launched in '52, he was on Bertone's books at the time. Emboldened by the scale of the Abarth's success, he decided to go solo. He started up his own design studio, in '59. The jewel in its crown would be the 'Stradale'. Using Alfa Romeo's Type 33 racer as his template, Scaglione fashioned a stylishly muscle-bound sports car. Aluminium bodywork was draped over a tubular steel frame. An Alfa 2-litre V8 was strapped in the back. It pleased Scaglione that it be on view - in all its mechanical majesty. Fired up, it made 230 bhp. Full use could be made of that power. For a start, the throttle was ultra-responsive. The gearbox was a flexible 6-speed affair. And, the Stradale's dimensions were hang-it-out compact. Plus, it weighed in at just 700kg. In its short production run - between '67 and '69 - a total of just 18 Stradales were built. Surprisingly - given that built-in exclusivity - the car's price tag was relatively low. That did not detract from the Stradale's prestige one iota. Carrozzeria Marrazzi had made an outstanding job of the coachbuilding. And, Franco Scaglione had drafted a design tour de force. The Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale radiated design excellence. Scaglione - World War Two interruptions notwithstanding - had got there in the end!

1971 Chevrolet Corvette LT1 by Muscle Car Of The Week

MV Agusta 850 Magni

MV Agusta 850 Magni

In standard form, the MV Agusta 850 was an impressive motorcycle. Add to that the 'Magni' factor - and it was even better. Arturo Magni had managed MV's racing department. Under Magni's aegis, MV took 17 top-flight titles on the trot. That surely has to be considered a success!

Eventually, Magni switched his attention to roadsters. To that end, he started up his own engineering facility - in Gallarate, Italy. A steady stream of MVs began rolling into his premises. They did not have far to come. Magni introduced them to his own take on engine components, and chassis modifications. The Magni effect was marked. A top speed of 140mph was now on tap. But, it was not only a power shift that Magni's mods had made. MV's 850 was weighed down by a bulky shaft-drive. Magni's chain-drive conversion kit took handling, too, to another level. Also key to the new 850's stability was Magni's custom-built frame. The single spine original had been replaced by two top tubes. Magni's motor-related mods included uprated cams, high-compression pistons, and a four-piece exhaust. And, that exhaust announced its arrival from a considerable distance away!

As befitted his previous exploits, Magni found inspiration in the GP scene. Most notably, the 850's race-style 'number-plate' signified its high-speed pedigree. A full fairing - on which the plate was placed - lent yet more race-bred mystique. The Magni's performance stats - at least, from a road-bike perspective - amply justified its racy looks. The addition of high-grade parts - from Marzocchi, Koni and Brembo - had fuelled the Magni's fire still further. To say Arturo Magni had racing in his veins would be an understatement. Those 17 500cc World Championship wins spoke for themselves. He had slipped seamlessly into the world of specialist road-bikes. No MV left his facility the same as any other. They were all, ultimately, bespoke bikes. As you would expect, a high price tag was duly attached. But - for those with the wherewithal - the MV Agusta 850 Magni represented the pinnacle of hand-built pedigree!

Delahaye 145

Delahaye 145

The Delahaye 145 was launched in '46. The mastermind behind it was Henri Chapron. Born in '86, he had been on the steel-crafting scene since he was a kid. Come the close of the First World War, he had begun his own company - in Neuilly, France. Its core business was to import Ford T ambulances from America - and re-cast them into saloon cars. The custom bodies Chapron created were nothing if not impressive. So much so, that he was recruited by Delage.

Chapron's entrée into automotive greatness came courtesy of Delahaye. In the mid-'40s, streamlining was all the rage. Fine, until the end of the Second World War. By then, though, even some upper-crust belts were starting to tighten. Automotive haute couture, it seemed, was no longer as firm a fit!

The 145 combined Chapron bodywork and a Delahaye chassis. A V12 engine was duly inserted. The resulting coupé was bespoke to its core. The 145's luscious exterior was matched only by its luxury interior. Suffice to say, leather and walnut abounded. With rationing now all the rage, Chapron was tossed a commercial lifeline. This time, it was Citroën who came calling. His first brief was a cabriolet - the DS 19. Subsequently, Chapron was transferred to development of the Citroën SM. At some point, Chapron was made coachbuilder to the President. Of France, that is. He also helped turn some of Phillipe Charbonneaux's exotic drafts into roadgoing reality. Chapron's last legacy to Citroën's oeuvre was the DS 23 Prestige. Always classy, then - never outré - Henri Chapron had nailed it down as a designer. From young apprentice - to superstar stylist - he was never less than a credit to his profession. Proof of that? The Delahaye 145 … amongst many others!

Ducati 851

Ducati 851

The Ducati 851 was something of a slow burner. Insomuch as it took a rerun of the original - released in '88 - for the new Duc to really kick into gear. Not that the first version did not have its inches in the credit column. Mainly, they came in the form of its engine and styling. The 851cc motor would always be sound. And the three-tone paint - red, white and green - was irrepressibly Italian. The problem with the first incarnation 851 was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been fitted with smaller 16″ wheels. They were nimble - but to a fault. There was now less room for error, when it came to quick cornering. The flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down - but there was a limit.

Ducati 851 - take 2! The most obvious update was paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike was pure fire-engine red. More importantly, the wheel-size issue had been resolved. A set of safer 17-inchers were now in situ. Things were looking up for the 851 … literally, perhaps! But - while there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes - the engine stayed untouched. The water-cooled 8-valve V-twin had been universally praised. It had taken Ducati just a year to complete the 851 makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for the great Italian marque. Not only was its V-twin engine liquid-cooled, it came with 4 desmodromic valves per cylinder. Ducati's 'desmo' system saw valves opened and closed by cams alone - as opposed to the standard cams and springs set-up. Springs, after all, are prone to go out of adjustment. That had long been a feather in Ducati's powerplant cap. Massimo Bordi - lead engineer - now added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the motor mix. Torque - and its rev-range spread - was upped significantly. At the top-end, 104bhp meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Super-tuned Marzocchi shocks fanned the performance flame still further. Time to call Ducati's race department! Three WSB titles on the spin duly followed - courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. The Ducati 851 road-bike - and its race-going derivative - had truly taken the world of superbikes by storm!

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. The culmination of his life's work, though, would be the Hispano-Suiza Xenia. From a wealthy background, Dubonnet was a car-crazed kid. The only toy he ever really wanted was a one-of-a-kind 'supercar'. Finally - in ’45 - he got it!

For all his wealth, Dubonnet was a worker. Over time, he made himself a more than competent car fabricator. Hispano-Suiza was his marque of choice. Using their style-soaked creations as source material, Dubonnet fashioned several racing prototypes. They graced grand European events – including Monza, the Targa Florio, Le Mans and Boulogne. Not only did Dubonnet build the cars - he drove them, too. He did so well enough to be asked to join the Bugatti race équipe - by boss Ettore.

Dubonnet built up an impressive portfolio of clients. No less a player than GM acquired some of his research work - into hydro-pneumatic suspension, and pumpless oil delivery. But, even Dubonnet needed help from time to time. He recruited Jacques Saoutchik to the Xenia cause. The fabled Russian coachbuilder was tasked with sorting the aerodynamic aspects of the car. Dubonnet had land speed record attempts in mind. So, Saoutchik's wind-cheating know-how would be vital. He also knew how to design a stunning-looking automobile. Sadly, the Xenia never broke a speed record. Though it did get to open the Saint-Cloud tunnel - near Paris. None of which is to suggest it did not have any of the must-have attributes of an LSR car. It was a stability-inducing 5.7m in length. And could clock up 200km/h. Despite its shortcomings, then - in speed record terms, at least - Dubonnet's Hispano-Suiza Xenia was one of the most innovative and spectacular cars of all time. Motoring was never so en vogue! Cheers, André!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2

The Bimota HB2 was the second offering from the illustrious Italian bike builders. The HB1 set the template. Massimo Tamburini – designer at Bimota – had totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Its four-cylinder engine was salvaged from the wreckage. Bimota bodywork was then wrapped around it. The resulting Honda/Bimota hybrid was the first in a line of stylish, trend-setting motorcycles.

The HB2 upped the power ante. The new bike sourced the motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the Honda. It weighed in at just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then added. Ceriani teles were dialled in with a progressive-rate monoshock. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame ensemble gave extra stability. With a 138mph top speed – and more than impressive handling – the new Bimota etched a benchmark. It had taken the superbike fight to its Japanese rivals.

The challenge would have come as no surprise to the Oriental ‘big four’ manufacturers. Bimota had long done the business in GPs. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was superb Italian looks, aligned with Japanese hi-performance. Sadly, less than 200 HB2s went on sale. The HB3 set the seal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. As the HB2 had done before it, the HB3 also uprated the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, however, the Japanese marques had caught up. Notwithstanding – with the HB2 – Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending bikes!

De Tomaso Mangusta

De Tomaso Mangusta

Coach-built by Ghia, the de Tomaso Mangusta was about as chic as a sports car gets. Well, apart from its name … a mangusta being a mongoose. Its body was a sleek lattice-work of lines, slats and shapes. Even the make/model graphics were stylishly scripted.

The Mangusta was on the money technically, too. Its Ford 4.7 V8 motor made 305bhp. Top speed was 250km/h. Released in ’66, just 400 Mangustas were built. 280 of them were sold in the States – no doubt helped by the Ford engine. That was a fair old jaunt from Modena, Italy – mythical melting pot of all things motor racing. A lovely location, then, for Alejandro de Tomaso to have based his workshop.

De Tomaso hailed from Buenos Aires. With a government minister for a father – and an heiress for a mother – it is safe to say young Alejandro was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It was not long before de Tomaso’s motoring muse came calling – mainly, in the form of Maserati. At 27, he moved to Italy – to pursue a career as a racing driver. He was quick … but not quick enough! So, instead, he set up a supercar company. As a designer – rather than driver – de Tomaso fared much better. Soon, both sports cars and single-seat racers were rolling out of his 'shop. In his youth, de Tomaso had idolised Fangio – the Argentinian race ace. Acolyte would never match master, in that regard. But – in penning cars like the Mangusta – de Tomaso had found his own means of automotive expression. By the way - if you are planning to buy a Mangusta - a word to the wise. Mongooses eat snakes. You’ve been warned!

Laverda 750 SFC

Laverda 750 SFC

The Laverda 750 SFC was a 'production racer' of the old school. It was conceived to compete in endurance races. Hence, the 'C' in its name ... for competizione. The 'F' stood for freni - or brakes - due to its improved drums, in that department. Both sets were hooked up to Ceriani suspension - telescopic forks at the front, and twin shocks to the rear. The SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race - at Montjuic Park. Its specially-designed bright orange paintwork was a snip to spot - even at night - for both pit crew and spectators alike.

The SFC's road-going activity was somewhat in the shade of its racing endeavours. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. Many of them were to see road, as well as race use. They were not the most 'ergonomically correct' of roadsters. Low clip-on 'bars and rear-set footrests meant relaxation took a back seat - to a racing crouch. And a single back seat, at that. At least, the SFC's smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort. Though, handling-wise, too, the bike was eminently user-friendly.

And to be fair, riders needed to be kept on their toes. The SFC's parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons. They were fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed for the SFC was 125mph. So, an incautious twist of the throttle - and a race-style posture may have proved more than welcome. Rather sore limbs - than a lovely Laverda, in an unlovely ditch! Even if the bike did weigh in at a not-too-hefty 454lb. The Laverda 750 SFC, then, was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling with the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

Aston Martin DBR9

Aston Martin DBR9

First seen in 2005, the Aston Martin DBR9 was the racing version of the DB9 roadster. Saying that, 20 DBR9s were sold privately - so, technically, it was a race/road hybrid. Though, quite how you would do the shopping in a car that took the GT1 Sebring 12 Hours laurels, is anyone's guess. Very quickly, no doubt!

It is not hard to see why the DBR9 won that legendary race - in Florida, USA. The fact that its engine churned out 600bhp would have had a lot to do with it. That power was fed through a 6-speed sequential gearbox - conveniently located on the rear axle. Cutting edge carbon brakes were provided ... and not as an afterthought!

Light weight was a key part of the DBR9's success. Just 2,425lbs needed to be kept in touch with the tarmac. Contrast that with the DB9 - which weighed in at a 'lardy' 3,770lb. Much of the reduction was down to the competition car's carbon-fibre composite body panels. Of course, Aston Martin Racing had designed those panels with aerodynamics at the top of their wish list. An aluminium chassis also helped when it came to scales time. The Sebring win was on the DBR9's maiden outing. For some, it must have conjured up memories of Le Mans, '59 - another famous victory for the great British brand. Aston Martin's race fans had been patient for a long time. But - in the streamlined form of the DBR9 - great things came to those who wait!

Dresda Triton

Dresda Triton

It has no doubt been argued - in refreshment rooms around the world - that the Dresda Triton is the best café racer ever made. Dave Degens would probably agree. His company - Dresda Autos - was based in west London. As well as being a highly-regarded engineer, Degens was a race rider of repute. It followed, then, that he would be on the lookout for 'go faster' tips and techniques. A logical way to go, in that regard, would have been to take a well-sorted engine - and install it in an equally well-sorted chassis. And indeed - since the mid-'50s - certain two-wheeled tech-heads had been doing just that. Specifically, they had been syncing up Triumph motors with Norton frames. Hence, Triton! Triumph engines were patently the most potent powerplants around ... certainly, in Britain, at any rate. And Norton's 'Featherbed' had rewritten the rulebook when it came to firm, but flexible frame geometry.

Triumph's mid-'60s parallel-twin engine was pukka, to put it mildly. The 650 unit was kicking out 50bhp - at 6,500rpm. It paved the way for a top speed of some 120mph. That exceeded 'ton-up boy' requirements by 20%! And from an air-cooled four-valve twin! But - as Dave Degens knew - when it comes to speed, horsepower is only half the equation. Handling, too, needs to be factored in. Enter the Featherbed! Norton's steel twin-cradle frame had excelled on both road and track. Norton's TT rivals, for example, knew all about it! So, Triumph engine, plus Norton frame, equalled high-performance motorcycling.

By the end of the Sixties, the Triton 'brand' had expanded beyond its geeky beginnings. The dream team duopoly - Triumph and Norton - had garnered a substantial share of the 'Brit bike' market. But, 'mass-production' brought a sting to the Triton's tail. Down-market - if not dodgy - deals increased, both in parts and the way they were put together. Of course, Dresda Autos - with Dave Degens at the helm - never lowered their standards. For decades to come, they continued to provide bespoke bikes to discerning buyers. A genuine legend in the specialist motorcycle world, the Dresda Triton took on - and beat - all comers. Brit bikes ruled ... for a while, at least!

Honda NSX

Honda NSX

If you were a car manufacturer, seeking feedback, there would not have been many respondents you would have preferred to Ayrton Senna. Actually, there probably would not have been any! That was the enviable position in which Honda found themselves, in '89. While in Japan, at the time, Senna was politely asked whether he would mind taking the NSX prototype for a spin. What could the world's finest F1 driver do - but politely accept? On returning the NSX to the technicians, Senna declared it impressive - but a tad delicate. In short order, that was remedied. The car was made half as strong again!

Buying an NSX new bagged you a fiver change from £60K. Which you would, naturally, have passed on to Ayrton - as a tip. As supercars go, sixty grand was pretty cheap. If you considered the NSX to be a supercar, that is. Not everyone did - among them, those with, ahem, pronounced European tastes. But, if you could withstand withering looks from more 'discerning' drivers, the NSX gave you loads of bang for your bucks - or, indeed, pounds. A top speed of 168mph was not to be sniffed at. It came courtesy of a VTEC V6. The motor was bolted to the first all-aluminium chassis and suspension, in a production car. There was only going to be one result. Forceful, but finely-tuned handling. Especially, when Honda had added Servotronic steering to the mix.

The NSX's designers were inspired by the F16 fighter plane. Good aerodynamics, then, were a given! With so much going for it, it is no surprise that Honda held a special place in its heart for the NSX. Only their best engineers were allowed near it. Okay - so it did not have quite the pedigree of the Supercar's past masters. But, the Honda NSX still had plenty to offer less picky connoisseurs ... with knobs on!

Honda NR750

Honda NR750

Few road-going superbikes are quite so 'race-bred' as the Honda NR750. It was a direct descendant of Honda's NR500 GP bike. The NR roadster was released in '92. A decade or so previously, the four-stroke racer had been slugging it out with Suzuki and Yamaha two-strokes. Well, trying to, anyway! Always disadvantaged - due to its engine layout - the NR500 was 'discontinued' in '81.

The feature for which the NR will be forever remembered was its 'oval' pistons. Technically, they were not oval. Rather, they were lozenge-shaped. These ovoid pistons, at any rate, were the NR's most clear-cut connection with its racing ancestor. Whatever their form, they obviously worked. The NR delivered 125bhp - at 14,000 rpm. Top speed was 160mph. That was notwithstanding the NR's weight - a tubby 489lb. Ultimately, however - while the performance was impressive - it was not earth-shattering. Honda had done its best to conjure up a V8 - out of a V4! Effectively, to double it up. The NR's V4 engine was fitted with eight fuel injectors and titanium conrods. Four camshafts depressed thirty-two lightweight valves. Sadly, all that did not equate to twice the speed of a standard V4!

The NR's styling was on a par with its engineering. It had a titanium-coated screen, for starters. That was backed up by a brilliant finish - particularly, the paintwork and polished aluminium frame. Build quality was what you would expect from a one-of-a-kind superbike. In every department, the NR delivered. Above all, though, it came with charisma - by the crateful. Bikes like the NR tend not to have too many owners. And not just because of exorbitant price-tags and running costs. Such machines grant access to motorcycling's inner sanctum. Perhaps - more than any other road-bike - the Honda NR750 combined visual and technological exoticism. Glamour was never an issue!

TVR Sagaris

TVR Sagaris

If you bought a TVR Sagaris new, you got a fiver change from £50K. It was not a car which stood on ceremony. Built in Blackpool - on England's NW coast - the Sagaris delivered no-frills performance, in spades. No-frills - not no-thrills! A top speed of 175mph - from 406bhp - made sure of that.

A cursory glance at the Sagaris was enough to get the idea. A transparent rear wing was clue enough. An array of bonnet vents gave the game away. Surely, no car needs to breathe that deeply. Nikolai Smolenski - young Russian oligarch - was taking no chances. In the past, TVR had caught flak, regarding build quality. As a small manufacturer of exotic automobiles, that was always likely to be an issue. So, new owner Smolenski opted to up the ante, reliability-wise. To what extent he succeeded is a moot point. At any rate, a sturdy roll-cage was still installed - for over-zealous pedal-prodders, if nothing else!

Certainly, the Sagaris' straight-six-cylinder engine called for care. On top of its huge power output, the all-aluminium unit turned over 349 lb/ft of torque. As a result, the Sagaris rocketed from 0-60 in 3.7s. 0-100 took 8.1s. Figures like that bespeak precision engineering. It may well have benefited from a bit of Northern grit. After all, sports car development is no walk in the park. Saying that, the TVR Sagaris was always bespoke - never basic!

MV Agusta Monza

MV Agusta Monza

If you name a bike after a racetrack, it had better be fast! In the case of the MV Agusta Monza, it was. Top speed was 145mph. That was good going, in '77 - when the Monza was released. And that from a bike weighing a portly 429lb. Of course, the engine had a lot to do with it. Its bore was wider than its MV America predecessor. That took it up to 837cc. The compression ratio had been raised. A Marelli distributor - and hotter cams - had been added. Power had risen to 85bhp - at 8,750rpm. The 750S America - built for the US market - had upped the ante from the 750 Sport. In turn, the Monza had trumped them both.

Styling-wise, the new MV was equally upbeat. It had 'café racer' written all over it. Low-set 'bars - and a humped-back seat - recalled MV's GP bikes. Right up until recently, the Italian firm had won 17 top-flight titles - on the spin! Sadly - for MV, at least - the advent of the Japanese 2-stroke motor had put the mockers on world domination. The Monza's red and silver livery further enhanced its race-based design brief.

Key to that brief was Arturo Magni. He was MV's chief engineer. Reporting to him were mechanics from MV's former 4-stroke race team - before the 'stroker' invasion! Magni meted out modifications to the Monza. Among them were a more free-flowing exhaust, a chain-drive conversion (from the standard shaft-drive) - and an even bigger-bore kit. Magni's twin-loop frame firmed it all up. Top speed and acceleration both improved. Handling, too, benefited - as power delivery was smoothed out. The MV Agusta Monza was impressive with factory settings. Magni's magic mods only made it an even finer motorbike than it already was!

Maserati MC12

Maserati MC12

The Maserati MC12 cost £515K to buy. Just 50 were sold - 25 more than were required to allow the competition version to race in the FIA GT world championship. For your half a million quid, though, you got a Ferrari Enzo, too. Well, sort of! Much of the MC12 was based on the Enzo - as a by-product of the Ferrari Maserati Group partnership. Replication ran to the carbon monocoque, the V12 engine - and the steering wheel and windscreen. The MC12's 6-litre motor was detuned a tad from that of the Enzo - but still managed to provide a cool 622bhp, at 7,500rpm. Top speed was 205mph. 0-60 was 3.8s.

Remarkably, the MC12 took a mere twelve months to make. Maserati's engineers were, of course, aided by the Enzo factor. Even so, to take a top-grade supercar from drawing board to production line in a year, was highly impressive. A glance alone tells you all you need to know about the aerodynamics of the MC12. It was seriously slippery! Design duties fell to Frank Stephenson. He had previously masterminded the Mini Cooper.

The MC12's white and blue paintwork referenced the Maserati 'Birdcage' racers - from the early Sixties. The racing theme continued inside. Lots of lightweight carbon-fibre was used for the contents of the cabin - including the fully-harnessed seats. One practical problem came in the form of the rear window - or lack of it! A quick removal of the targa top, though, soon sorted the shortcoming. Other than that visibility 'glitch', the MC12 was reasonably user-friendly - certainly, as far as supercars go, at any rate. Sequential gear-changing was straightforward, steering nimble, and the ride smooth. Probably, the sole problem, then, for an owner, was sourcing spare parts. Best way around that would have been to buy a Ferrari Enzo - as back-up. Or - better still, from Maserati's viewpoint - two MC12s!

Harley-Davidson XLCR

Harley-Davidson XLCR

From a commercial success standpoint, the Harley-Davidson XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool - nor a laid-back cruiser. In the late Seventies, performance was key - as exemplified by the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete, any time soon - not with a pushrod V-twin engine, at any rate. And - though it looked menacing, in its jet-black livery - it did not have enough 'attitude' chops to keep Harley die-hards sweet. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were built.

Willie G Davidson - Harley's head of design - had done his utmost. The XLCR looked the real deal. From its flat-'bars fairing - via an elongated tank - to the racy seat/tail unit, the Cafe Racer's lines were in all the right places. The swoopy 'siamese' exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the stats did not stack up as neatly as the styling cues. A top speed of 115mph was only average ... though Harley's marketing materials begged to differ! And, a peak power output of 61bhp - at 6,200rpm - was not exactly explosive, either.

To be fair, the Harley sales brochures were right - up to a point. The XLCR's performance was a marked improvement on Harley's standard fare. But then, so was the new Sportster's. In terms of white knuckles, the Cafe Racer did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. And, the Sportster scored more 'sit up and scowl' points! Harley-Davidson were right to try to tap a new trend. But - for two-wheeled speed merchants - the XLCR Cafe Racer could not cut the cappuccino!

Riley 2.5 Walter Köng Saloon

Riley 2.5 Walter Kong Saloon

Walter Köng's Riley 2.5 Saloon was unique. It had to have been - it was a solo effort! Well, aside from the engine, anyway. All other aspects were overseen by Walter Köng. No wonder it took him 5,000 man-hours - or two years - to complete!

Köng was Swiss. In '45 - with the war only just over - not a great deal was happening in his native land. Switzerland's key industries - textiles and clock-making - were having a tough time of it. Köng was well-versed in all things automotive. He had worked at Italy's Sala - as well as French firm Gallee. Not to mention Chrysler and Packard. Since manufacturing was still in a state of flux, Köng decided to take things into his own hands - literally. He would build his own car!

Köng's inspiration came in the form of aircraft - specifically, fighter planes. After all, he had probably observed a few in recent times. The design brief Köng set himself was radical - at least, for someone who was going to be putting his plans into practice himself. Bodywork was to be all-aluminium. The roof would be a two-panel, removable affair. Pontiac and Ford had already pioneered that set-up. What they had not pioneered were mahogany bumpers. They came courtesy of Köng. The time arrived when all the car needed was an engine. A Riley 2.5 was sourced and installed. Sadly - after so much effort - Köng's vision was not to be a lucrative one. His work was exhibited at the '49 Geneva Motor Show. But, while the car generated a good deal of interest, there were no sales. The annals of motoring history, though, are another matter entirely. Walter Köng was a king of bespoke car-builders. His Riley 2.5 Saloon was proof positive of that.

Bimota SB2

Bimota SB2

'SB' stood for Suzuki/Bimota. It codified Bimota's standard practice of incorporating proprietary engines into its own bespoke chassis. In the case of the SB2, power was provided by the Suzuki GS750. The 8-valve inline-four-cylinder unit peaked at 68bhp. That gave a top speed of 130mph. Credit was also due to the SB2's slippery lines - as well as a dry weight of just 440lb.

The main man behind the SB2 was Bimota co-founder Massimo Tamburini. Legendary engineer that he was, he had previously designed chassis for 250 and 350cc world championship-winning bikes. In '77, his technical brilliance was poured into the new Bimota. It was a gimme, then, that the SB2 would handle as well as it went. Ceriani telescopic forks - and a first-of-its-kind rear monoshock - were duly hitched to a tubular steel space-frame. The monoshock alone distanced the SB2 from its rivals - in every sense of the verb!

First and foremost, though, a Bimota exudes style. The SB2 certainly ran true to form, in that regard. Its bodywork wrote the book on 'swoopy'. The stylish tank protector/seat was a self-supporting one-piece. That subframe-saving innovation - like the rising-rate rear shock - was subsequently seen on mass-produced machines. So, the consummate special-builders - from Rimini, Italy - had done what they did best. In the form of the SB2, Bimota had dreamed up a beguiling mix of dynamite design, and top-drawer technology. Again!

Fiat 8V

Fiat 8V

Had the Fiat 8V been produced in the US - rather than Italy - it would have been dubbed the Fiat V8. The engine in question was a 2-litre 70° V8. Once put through its paces, Fiat's powers that be declared themselves well-pleased with the result.

The 8V was released in '52. At the beginning of the Fifties, the upper echelons at Fiat were in disarray. Rumours spread that chicanery and sharp practice were rife. It was a good time, then - for those made of the 'right stuff' - to climb the corporate ladder. Young Dante Giacosa - Fiat's head of testing - saw the 8V as a chance to impress. Indeed, his superiors had advised him the new car needed to deliver.

The 8V was conceived as a luxury sedan. So impressive, though, was its V8 motor, that thoughts soon turned to the sports car market. Initially, the 8V served up 105bhp. That was subsequently upped to 115bhp. And, it finally maxed out at 127bhp. Top speed was a more than handy 190km/h. That set you back 2,850,000 lire. Value was added by all-round independent suspension - a first for Fiat. The original intent had been to lengthen the Fiat 1400's chassis. Then, clothe it in Pininfarina's sumptuous 'fabrics'. But, excess weight put the kibosh on that plan. Into the design breach stepped Fiat's own Fabio Rapi. It was his bodywork which bewitched visitors to '52's Geneva Motor Show. After the brouhaha had abated, just 114 8Vs would be built. By '54 - a mere two years after its launch - the game was up for the 8V coupé. A bit of a damp squib, then? In a way - but, during its brief lifespan, the 8V returned Fiat to the sports car fold. The illustrious Italian company was back on track ... manufacturing classy, fast and agile automobiles.

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM

'Dream cars' are offbeat design prototypes. Typically, they are displayed at motor shows. In much the same way as couturiers go out on a limb to wow fashionistas, so coachbuilders try to break out a 'buzz' around what will shortly be showroom products. The raison d'être, then, of dream cars, is to make an exhibition of themselves!

A past master of such creative artifice was Battista 'Pinin' Farina. He set up shop in Turin, Italy, in 1930. Pininfarina - his automotive design studio - would become world-famous. In 1946, Alfa Romeo presented Pinin and his team with a template. A 3,000cc, 246bhp template. Alfa - based in Milan - had built a half dozen cars, just for experimental purposes. Pininfarina were briefed to go the 'Superflow' route. Aerodynamics would be key.

The driving force behind the CM was the US. American motorists had gone gaga over the space-age - the Sixties space-age, that is. The Ford Mystere had had a lot to do with it. Its roof consisted of a transparent plastic bubble. To American drivers, it must have conjured up images of lunar landing craft, and the like. Alfa were minded to cash in on the fad - with Pininfarina's assistance. For their first version of the new car, the design gurus had introduced fins to the rear wings. The aim was to help high-speed stability ... though it did no harm that they looked Saturn 5 cool, too! The roof emulated the aforementioned Mystere - being similarly see-through. Mirroring the roof, the headlights were surmounted by transparent streamlined covers. Sadly, that was not sufficient for gizmo-addicted Statesiders. As a result, Alfa were forced to do a U-turn - and readdress the European market. Pininfarina's brief was altered accordingly. The Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM thus straddled the transatlantic divide. That it did so practically - as well as elegantly - was due to the distinguished design skills of Pininfarina.

B Engineering Edonis

B Engineering Edonis

Maybe, the best asset a car can have is to be 'made in Modena'! Certainly, that particular part of Italy is now synonymous with the supercar. And, while B Engineering may not have quite the same cachet as, say, Ferrari - it could still hold its own, even in such high-calibre company. B Engineering began as an offshoot of Bugatti - when the latter went bust, in '95. A small group of ex-Bugatti staffers banded together to create their own take on a supercar. A one-off, one-of-a-kind supercar, at that!

'Edonis' is Greek for pleasure. In the case of a supercar, the kind of pleasure that only 720bhp can generate! It came courtesy of a twin-turbocharged V12 engine. Top speed was 223mph. As a result, the Edonis broke the lap record at the Nardo racetrack. Clearly, every component was in sync with the car's colossal power output. Project director Nicola Materazzi led a crack team of engineers. Between them, they had worked for all of the top supercar marques. Just 21 examples of the Edonis were made. The figure referenced the oncoming 21st century!

B Engineering's links with Bugatti stayed strong. Indeed, the owner of the new firm - Jean-Marc Borel - had been Bugatti's vice chairman. 21 carbon-fibre tubs - originally earmarked for the Bugatti EB110 - were now used for the Edonis. And, the latter's 3.7-litre motor was a development of that to be found in the EB110. It was hooked up to a 6-speed manual 'box. The Edonis cost a cool £450,000. From a manufacturer without a proven pedigree. Those in the know, though, did not baulk at the price. Some of the crème de la crème of the supercar industry had stepped up to the plate. For the B Engineering Edonis, quality was never going to be an issue!

Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki did not build its first bike - a 125cc two-stroke - until 1960. From the get-go, though, it was synonymous with high-performance, devil-may-care machines. Bikes like the Kawasaki H1, for instance. It officially hit the streets at the tail-end of the Sixties. But, it is one of those mythical machines which make lovers of Seventies superbikes come over all misty-eyed. For, it was in that decade that the H1 was most ridden - usually, hell for leather - along the highways and byways. And, if the H1's handling was a bit 'imprecise' - which it was - hey, that only added to the fun!

The H1 had a power output of 60bhp - courtesy of a three-cylinder engine. The 500cc 'stroker' screamed all the way to a top speed of 120mph. It did so in a way that brought tears to the eyes of those brought up on a strictly 'Brit bike' diet. Heck, the sound it made was better than 'Bill Haley & His Comets'! The H1's meagre weight of 383lb certainly helped with its blistering acceleration. Revs peaked at 7,500rpm ... with a noticeable surge as they entered the power band.

Ironically, Kawasaki's first forays into motorcycle manufacture were influenced by BSA. By now, though, the Japanese giant had forged its own style. Middleweight though it was, the H1 passed muster among the big Seventies 'muscle bikes'. Naked aggression more than made up for diminutive dimensions. The Kawasaki H1 stirred '70s bodies and souls in equal measure!

Honda CB77

Honda CB77

Honda began life in Hamamatsu, Japan. In a wooden shed! So, similar beginnings to Harley-Davidson - in Milwaukee, USA. Of course - like Harley - what Soichiro Honda's company went on to achieve is the stuff of motorcycling legend. Not surprising, really. That small wooden shed was home to the 'Honda Technical Research Institute'. That was more than a title ... it was a mission statement!

It took three years for Honda to produce a proprietary machine. After that, though, there was no stopping them. That first 98cc Honda was dubbed the 'Dream' - pretty apt, given what the future held in store for the firm. Sales of the Dream - and others - were sound. That set the scene for the two bikes which would throw open the doors of the two-wheeled world to Honda - the CB72 and CB77. It was in '63 that the larger of the two - the 305cc CB77 - changed the face of biking. It came well-equipped for the task. The CB77 was locked in combat with the 'Brit bikes' of the early Sixties. It did not quite clock up the 'ton' - but with a top speed of 95mph, it came pretty close. And how it got there was equally impressive. The CB77's parallel twin engine revved out to 9,000rpm. The whole bike weighed in at just 350lb dry. Enough said!

Several factors gave the CB77 the edge over similarly-sized Brit bikes. Its well-designed engine was key. A 180° crankshaft allowed the two pistons to move up and down alternately - balancing each other out. The motor was secured by a tubular steel frame. To that were attached telescopic front forks - and twin rear shocks. Both wheels came with a set of sure-stopping drum brakes. The result was that the CB77 accelerated smoothly, handled well, and pulled up in short order. In other words, it was a classic all-rounder. On top of that, it was oil-tight and reliable ... something which could not be said of every British-made bike on the road! No wonder, then, that it was sold as the 'Super Hawk' in the States. The CB77 was Honda's first crack at a sports bike. Suffice to say, it would have its successors!

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750

The Royal Enfield marque may not be as celebrated as some of its 'Brit Bike' brethren. The company logo, though, adorned a long line-up of sturdy, but stylish motorcycles. A prime example was the Interceptor 750.

Power output for the Interceptor 750 was 53bhp. Revs rose smoothly to 6,000rpm. Those stats would no doubt have impressed American buyers - at whom the 750cc capacity had, in large part, been targeted. In truth, the excellence of the engine made up for 'deficiencies' in other departments. The front brake, for example, was not the strongest ... and the forks could have been firmer.

In time, Royal Enfield suffered a financial meltdown. Sadly, it was one from which it never recovered. The Interceptor range had been in production throughout the Sixties. While it might not have been at the forefront of Harold Wilson's 'white heat of technology', the Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 nonetheless showcased some of the best of British innovation, in that dynamic decade. The rights to Royal Enfield were subsequently licensed to India - and the marque became part of the 'retro revival' marketing boom. The Royal Enfield brand now has the kudos of being the longest-surviving motorbike manufacturer. Long may that continue!

NSU Supermax

NSU Supermax

NSU started out making bicycles. It built its first motorcycle in 1901. The German firm went on to release a steady stream of successful bikes - right up until the early Sixties. On both road and track, NSU were at the forefront of motorbike design and development. As such, they deserve their place in two-wheeled history every bit as much as their illustrious compatriots, BMW. Well, almost as much, anyway!

Actually, NSU began by knocking out knitting machines. Only then, did they branch out into bicycles. Cars, too, would subsequently be added to their manufacturing arsenal. NSU hit pay dirt when, in '29, they recruited Walter Moore - who had also worked at Norton. He helped shape NSU's first bike to be fitted with an overhead-camshaft engine. The result was not entirely dissimilar to the Norton CS1. That prompted wags at the British firm to opine that NSU was short for 'Norton Spares Used'! Ignoring such ribaldry, NSU pressed on regardless. By the time of the Second World War, they had become one of the world's biggest bike manufacturers.

Probably, NSU's finest hour came in the form of the 250cc 'Supermax'. First launched in '55, it lived up to its billing. The Supermax did pretty much everything well - or better! Acceleration and braking were equally impressive. Handling-wise, too, it was bang on the money. The bike's exceptional performance stemmed from a combination of its single-overhead-cam motor, pressed-steel frame, and leading-link forks. The Supermax sailed to a top speed of 75mph. Such excellence, though, came with a high price-tag attached. Sadly for NSU, not enough motorcyclists were prepared to pay it. So, the '60s would see in a switch to car production. But not before NSU had sealed themselves into the annals of bike racing. In '53, Werner Haas won both the 125 and 250cc World Championships for NSU. He was the first German to achieve such feats. In '54, Haas took the 250 title again. Indeed, '55 saw NSU take the 250 crown for the third time in as many years. For sure, then, BMW always had a rival. NSU, too, produced a panoply of prestigious motorcycles, over the years. And none more so than the sublime 250 Supermax!

Panther M100

Panther M100

A mere glance at the Panther M100 is enough to reveal its most striking asset. Seldom can a motorcycle engine have been quite as 'skewed' in its design as that of the M100. Its 'Sloper' motor did just that. It was tilted forward some 45°. If there was any concern about that interfering with oil circulation, it was unjustified. The M100 was nothing if not reliable.

The long stroke (100mm) of the 598cc Sloper served up an abundance of torque. That was handy - as many an M100 was pressed into side-car duty. As often as not, that came in the form of a 'Watsonian' single-seater. And if you were the one wedged snugly into the 'chair', the M100's top speed of 68mph was probably quite quick enough!

Panther were based in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, England. No surprise, then, that their products were solid, rugged and dependable. Panther started out as Phelon and Moore (P&M). The first Sloper-equipped bike appeared in 1904. Others were to follow. The single-cylinder push-rod powerplant came complete with two air-cooled overhead valves. The dramatically-inclined unit was - and is - guaranteed to draw a crowd, among connoisseurs of classic motorcycles. The way in which the Panther's exhausts swooped down from the steeply-banked ports bordered on the exotic. And that from a motorcycle born and bred in Yorkshire - not a county traditionally associated with exoticism. This was at a time when a motorcycle and side-car were standard family transport. Above all else, then, the Panther M100 needed to get from A to B - and back again - with the minimum of fuss. That it accomplished ... and in style, too!

AJS Model 30

AJS Model 30

The Model 30 was released in '56. AJS was founded at the beginning of the century, by 'Albert John Stevens' - in Wolverhampton, England. Its factory gates would shut for the final time, in the late Sixties. In the intervening 60 or so years, AJS went through several changes of ownership. In '31, AJS was subsumed into London's Matchless. As a result, the AJS Model 30 ended up being the self-same machine as the Matchless G11 - save for the company livery and exhaust set-up. Matchless were keen to keep AJS devotees onside - so, the 'two' bikes were twinned. Seven years later, and the hybrid marque merged into AMC (Associated Motor Cycles). Then - in '67 - AMC were taken over by Norton Villiers. By then, some of the AJS machines were being fitted with Norton parts.

At the racetrack, things were much more straightforward. In 1914, AJS took the Junior TT title. And yet finer feats were to follow. AJS made history by winning the first 500cc world championship, in '49 - Les Graham piloting a 'Porcupine' twin to the title. Arguably the most iconic of the AJS competition bikes, though, was the 'Boy Racer' - the single-cylinder 350cc 7R. It first appeared in '48. The 7R's motor was subsequently uprated to 500cc - to power the Matchless G50.

The Model 30 roadster's 593cc engine powered it to a respectable top speed of 95mph. The bike handled well, into the bargain - and was comfortable, reliable and economical. In short, the Model 30 was a paragon of virtue! No surprise, then, that a company of the calibre of AJS was the source of its excellence.

Henderson KJ

Henderson KJ

In 1929, the Henderson KJ Streamline was serving up a top speed of 100mph. That superb stat came courtesy of a 40bhp output - from a 1,301cc engine. What made it still more impressive was that the KJ weighed in at a portly 495lb. Atypically, for an American bike - V-twins normally being the order of the day - the Streamline was powered by an in-line four motor. Specifically, an air-cooled, eight-valve, inlet-over-exhaust unit.

The KJ was a luxury motorcycle. It sported a long list of fancy features. For starters, there were electric lighting, a fully-enclosed chain, and leading-link forks. State-of-the-art stuff, in the Twenties. As was an illuminated speedo' on the gas tank. Bill Henderson - the firm's founder - would have been proud of that. And the Streamline's straight-line stability - thanks to its long wheelbase - would have given ample opportunity to consult said clock in safety.

By the time the Great Depression hit, Bill Henderson had moved on to start up Ace. The company which still bore his name fared badly in the financial crash. The KJ's finery did not come cheap. There was no way it was going to sell well in a time of serious austerity. Henderson struggled on as best it could - but it was a lost cause. In 1931, Schwinn - the firm which had taken the reins, on Bill Henderson's departure - put the ailing beast out of its misery. With its passing, the world lost a beautiful motorcycle. The perfection of its pinstriping was echoed throughout. The Henderson KJ Streamline was class on two wheels!

Harley-Davidson WL 45

Harley-Davidson WL 45

The Harley-Davidson WL 45 was definitive 'old school'. '45' referenced its engine's capacity - in cubic inches. A forerunner of Harley's high-tech 'Evo' powerplant, the side-valve 45° V-twin pushed the WL up to a top speed of 75mph. That was probably plenty, given the bike's suspension - or lack of it. The WL was a classic 'hard-tail' ... no hidden soft shock absorber here! The sprung saddle did its best to keep things comfy at the rear. At the front, it was a different story. '49 saw the introduction of Harley's 'Girdraulic' damping set-up. It was duly fitted to the WL's 'springer' front fork assembly. Friction damping was thereafter consigned to the Harley history books.

The WL 45 served up a steady 25bhp. That was an increase on the W model's output - engine compression having been upped a tad. 4,000rpm were available from the new machine. The 3-speed 'box was operated via a hand shift and foot clutch. Performance, then, was not earth-shattering. It fell to Harley's WR racebike to take care of that side of things. To be fair, the WL's motor had its work cut out. It was heaving 528lb wet weight - though that was not too excessive for a bike of the WL 45's size. At the time, carbon fibre was no more than a glint in a scientist's eye!

The WL45 could be viewed as a bridge between Harley's vintage crop and the modern age. 45ci equated to 750cc - somewhat short of the big beasts in the company's current range. '45'-powered bikes were hugely importance to Milwaukee's finest. They helped see the firm through the Great Depression. Were it not for the '45' bikes, the Harley brand - on which so many lives have been based - may not have existed long. That is a measure of how much is owed to the Harley-Davidson WL 45 - and its trusty predecessors.

Sunbeam S8

Sunbeam S8

Even in GB's 'Black Country', the sun still sometimes shines. The Sunbeam S8 was proof positive of that! Sunbeam's factory was in Wolverhampton - in England's Midlands. From the outset - in 1912 - the firm acquired a name for classy and reliable bikes. Some innovation was thrown in, for good measure. The first Sunbeam, for example, came with a fully-enclosed chain. That helped keep both bike and rider oil-free. Such niceties quickly gained Sunbeam a reputation as manufacturers of 'gentlemen's machines'. The Sunbeam S8 - made between '49 and '56 - was another variation on the high-end theme.

The S8's predecessor - the Sunbeam S7 - had not covered itself in glory. It was comfortable, certainly - but that was about it. The S7 was overweight, lacked manoeuvrability - and its brakes were not the best. The deficiencies were addressed - to some extent - by the S7 De Luxe model. It fell to the S8, though, to get Sunbeam fully shipshape again.

The S8 was a sports bike. That was only to be expected. After all, development engineer George Dance had set speed records on Sunbeams. And, in the early Twenties, Sunbeam had twice been victorious in the Senior TT. Indeed, as far back as 1913, a single-cylinder 3.5bhp Sunbeam was successfully raced. So, the twin-cylinder S8 was the latest in a long line of performance-based Sunbeams. Stylist Erling Poppe was plainly inspired by the BMW R75. Design rights to the German-built bike had been passed to BSA - as part of the war reparations. BSA had acquired Sunbeam from AMC - in '43. Under Poppe's aegis, the S8 had shed the 'portliness' of the S7. And it now sported a set of solid front forks. Even its exhaust note had been modified - to a sound more sonorous. Top speed for the S8 was a heady 85mph. Handling, too, had come on by leaps and bounds. All in all, then, the Sunbeam S8 shone a warm ray of light on its 'Black Country' roots.

Rudge Ulster

Rudge Ulster

The Rudge Ulster was based on the Rudge Multi. The latter machine - launched at the start of the 20th century - boasted 21 gears! Hence, the 'Multi'. An intricate pulley system auto-adjusted the bike's final drive belt. The ratios were selected via a long gear-lever located to the left of the fuel-tank. Early Rudges sported spring-up stands. Back mudguards were hinged - facilitating wheel removal. The Ulster sold well - no doubt due, in large part, to these subtleties of engineering.

A racing version of the Rudge Multi went on to win 1914's Senior TT. And - for Rudge - there was plenty more race success to come. It was in 1928, though, that the firm secured its place in history. When a Rudge won the Ulster GP of that year, the accompanying road-bike was named after the illustrious Irish race. It had fallen to Graham Walker - Rudge's sales manager - to pilot the Ulster to victory.

The roll-call of Rudge's technical innovation went on and on. While the Ulster was only a 500cc single, its engine sported four valves. They helped to output around 30bhp. A dry weight of just 290lb did the rest. The Ulster featured Rudge's linked braking system. The foot-pedal retarded both drum brakes - while the hand lever applied added front-end bite. On the racing front, Rudge continued winning well into the Thirties. However, financial woes came to a head in '39. The proud name of Rudge was no more. But - up until then - the Rudge Ulster was the best-known bike from one of the most forward-looking firms in motorcycling.

Norton CS1

Norton CS1

Norton motorcycles - including the CS1 - are as iconic as classic bikes come. Company HQ was in Bracebridge Street - Birmingham, England. The fledgeling firm went bust, in 1913. In true champion style, though, it came back out for another round! James Norton teamed up with Bob Shelley, and his brother-in-law - ace tuner Dan 'Wizard' O'Donovan. The chemistry was spot-on - most memorably, at the Isle of Man TT. Rex Judd was just one of the riders to pilot a Norton to victory in that most iconic of road races.

The Norton CS1 first hit the bike scene in '27. The 'CamShaft 1' sported a bevel-driven overhead cam engine. The 'production racer' model was a sensation from the moment Stanley Woods swung a leg over it. A year later, and the CS1 took to the road. That was in super-sport mode. Again, it left rivals reeling in its wake! Sadly, founder James 'Pa' Norton died a few years before the success came on stream.

Previous to the CS1, it fell to 'Wizard' O'Donovan to fabricate the 'Brooklands Special'. It was designed specifically to cater to the unique challenges of the Surrey oval track. Subsequently, though, it was detuned for road use. A certificate accompanied sales of the racer - confirming it had topped 75mph. The roadster's certificate guaranteed just 5mph less. The CS1, then, had a tough act to follow. It did so with aplomb. Styling-wise, it was engineering as art. That was set off to a tee by the silver-and-black colour scheme - Norton's trademark regalia. It was a shame 'Pa' Norton's heart could not hold out a little while longer. He was never really a businessman ... but he loved bikes to the core of his being. He would have loved the sight and sound of one of his company's masterstrokes. Certainly, the Norton CS1 has been exhilarating classic bike fans for many a year since.

Costin Amigo

Costin Amigo

Frank Costin - creator of the Amigo - was an automotive pioneer. Saying that, he learned a lot of what he knew from the aircraft industry. He had been a top aeronautical engineer. Costin had then transferred his considerable skill-set to motor racing. In the '50s, Lotus and Vanwall benefited directly from his input. Indirectly, the ripples of his expertise spread far wider. When Costin met up with Jem Marsh, they went on to found sports car maker MarCos. The marque had a unique take on English eccentricity. That was fully in keeping with Costin's character. An out and out maverick, he did things his way. That certainly extended to his cars' construction. Costin liked wood. The chassis in Marcos' first sports cars would be made from laminated marine plywood.

Over time, Marcos moved to more orthodox chassis. Costin, though, was still a believer. He sought backing to build a car of his own. Enter the Costin Amigo! Its monocoque frame was still forged from plywood ... albeit with pine strips bonded on. The light weight of the chassis was mirrored by a glassfibre body. The finish was seriously smooth. The Amigo's shape was sublime. Visually - and aerodynamically - it more than cut the mustard.

The Amigo's engine, drive-train and suspension were sourced from the Vauxhall VX4/90. The car was built close to Vauxhall's Luton HQ. Fittingly - given Costin's former employment - it was at an airfield. Overall performance for the Amigo was impressive. Top speed was 137mph. Handling was high-calibre. Only the car's spartan interior let the design side down a tad. Doubtless, that contributed to the Amigo's woefully low sales. A scant eight units were shifted. Had Frank Costin been more of a marketing man, things may have been much better. But, engineering was all he knew. The story behind the Costin Amigo, though, was richer than many a car that sold a thousand times more!

Ford Escort

Ford Escort

In the Seventies, the Ford Escort was an automotive must-have. Especially when kitted out in 'go faster' stripes, the RS ticked all the right boxes. With RWD - and a light body - the Escort was a boy racer's dream come true. Cameo rôles in TV show The Professionals bolstered the car's hard-hitting image. They did its sales figures no harm, either.

The RS was a top rally car. Indeed, the 'Mexico' model marked Ford's win in the London to Mexico Rally. The RS 1800 was built to compete. Complete with twin-cam motor - and all round disc brakes - many an owner took to the stages. On the road, too, the Ford Escort flew. 'X-Pack' optional extras saw to that. The nose of the RS 2000 sported a 'droopsnoot' ... a polyurethane strip, reputed to cut drag.

Technically, then, the Escort impressed. Suspension-wise, it was on solid ground. A set of MacPherson struts sorted the front. A live axle - on leaf springs - took care of the rear. The RS' monocoque steel shell could be strengthened. Its in-line four engine produced 86bhp. That made it good for 103mph. Later versions upped both numbers. Transmission was 4-speed manual. The Escort interior was slick. A goodly array of instruments, bucket seats, and a sports steering-wheel all helped with high-speed shenanigans. Which - to a large degree - was what the Ford Escort RS was about. A 'good-time Charlie' of a car, if ever there was one!

Daimler Dart

Daimler Dart

At the time of its release - in '59 - the Daimler Dart was dismissed as something of an ugly duckling. In time, though, qualms over the SP250's styling deficiencies subsided. Daimler was on a downswing in the late '50s. New management sought to remedy that by emulating Jaguar, Triumph and MG. They, too, would produce a sports car for the American market. Trouble was that Daimler had relatively little experience with sports cars. The chassis and suspension set-up from the Triumph TR3 served as a useful template. After that, Daimler turned to the bodywork. Which is when things started to go awry. The glassfibre shell Daimler had designed was fine. What was not fine was that the doors were liable to fly open when the going got rough. Nor did the Dart's looks come riding to the rescue. The consensus was that the fins looked dated, the headlamps bug-eyed - and the grille like it would be more at home on a marine mammal! The writing was on the wall for the Dart as early as 1960 - at which point, Jaguar took over the reins. Sir William Lyons was the new head honcho. As well as being a top-flight manager, he was a stylist of high repute. Lyons and the Dart did not see eye to eye. Its unwieldy form upset his design sensibilities. One of them was going to have to go ... and it would not be Lyons!

Prior to the Jaguar takeover, Edward Turner had been managing director at Daimler. Before that, he had worked at Triumph - in its motorcycle division. His engine design work there had achieved widespread recognition. Indeed, in the bike world, he was something of a legend. Some of that found its way into the Dart. The motor was pretty much flawless. Combining smoothness and torque, Turner's engine shot the lightweight Dart to a top speed of 125mph. 0-60 took 9.5s. Hemispherical combustion chambers - and twin SU carburettors - were key. The Dart returned a respectable 25mpg. A full set of Dunlop discs were fitted.

Attempts were made to upgrade the Dart with a stiffer chassis and bumpers - and a few more creature comforts. In the end, it slotted in between the cheaper Triumph TR and MGs - and the more expensive Jaguar XK150. 2,644 SP250s were built. Production of the Daimler Dart ceased in '64.

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII

The Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII is among the most iconic British cars of all time. One of the legendary 'big Healeys', it was built in the Midlands, England. Bodies were built by Jensen - in West Bromwich. Final assembly took place in the MG factory - at Abingdon. First of the breed was the Healey 100 - which used the 4-cylinder engine from the Austin Atlantic. But, it was when a 6-pot motor was lowered into the 3000 version, that the Healey range really sprang into life.

The 3000 MkI arrived in '59. Looks-wise - as a sizeable, stylish 2-seater - it was not vastly different from what had gone before. But, it was what had occurred beneath the bonnet that changed the game. The 'six' kicked out 124bhp. Top speed was 114mph. To cope with all that, robust front disc brakes had been fitted. Come the the 3000 MkII - and output had been upped to 132bhp. That was largely courtesy of triple SU carburettors. '64's MkIII model racheted power up yet further - to 148bhp. The needle now flickered at over 120mph. Suddenly, the motorsport world sat up and took note. Before long, the Healey had been turned into a works rally car - and a competitive one, at that.

Styling-wise, the 3000 was definitively low-slung. Whilst that certainly looked cool, it did not help the car's rallying cause. On the stages, ground clearance was suspect. In design terms, though, the 3000 was a triumph. The dramatic grille - and subtly sloping lines - were a joy to behold. Wire wheels were a web-like work of art. The curved windscreen - and neatly-folding hood - were gentle embellishments. The 3000's rear-end was nothing if not shapely. Distinctly British though it was, the car was built primarily for the American market. Ironically, it was Stateside safety regulations which caused its demise. Production stopped in '67. By then, though, the 3000 was well and truly woven into the fabric of moody, muscular sports cars. With a bit of finesse thrown in for good measure!

Triumph Daytona 650

Triumph Daytona 650

When you name your bike after one of the most legendary of race-tracks, it had better deliver! Not a problem for the Triumph Daytona 650. It had a top speed of 160mph. And weighed in at just 363lb dry. Performance - whether in a straight line or through corners - was never going to be an issue.

That said, the Daytona's in-line four engine made a modest 110bhp. The power was unleashed, though, with blistering efficiency. Revs peaked at 12,750rpm. That came courtesy of 16 watercooled valves. A wise man knows never to confuse power with size. The Daytona 600 was not as big as some of its speed merchant rivals ... but it packed a pretty potent punch, nonetheless!

Daytona design was drop-dead dynamic. Taking in all the twists and turns of its bodywork is a time-consuming business. What may have ended up a jumbled mess, was fashioned into an intricate interplay of curves and scallops. There is a 3-D depth to the Daytona. Superior styling - plus tip-top technology - made the Triumph Daytona 650 a sports motorbike dream.

GM Firebird XP-21

GM Firebird XP-21

GM's mythical 'Motorama' show spawned many an unusual exhibit. An orgy of exoticism, visitors expected the radical and bizarre. Whether they were quite prepared for what GM served up to them in '54 is debatable. The Firebird XP-21 took automotive outlandishness to another level! For starters, was it a car or a plane? Well, it did not fly, so presumably that made it was a car. But, it did not look like one - at least, not in any conventional sense. What it was, of course, was a 'concept' car ... one which pushed the limits, visually and technically.

The Firebird's space-age looks were drawn by the legendary Harley Earl. He was GM's head of design, at the time. From its projectile-style nose - to rear-mounted fin - the Firebird had dynamism written all over it. Its gas-turbine-engine made 370bhp ... though its top speed stat is not known. It was just a 'dream car', after all. Could it have kept pace with the Douglas Skyray - the plane on which it was modelled? Probably not - though its aviation-style cockpit suggested otherwise! Mauri Rose was the Firebird's fearless test-driver. He gave the XP-21 a big thumbs-up. Straight-line stability, he reported, was more than impressive.

The XP-21 was America's first gas-turbine car. As such, it set a trend that other marques followed. The 'Whirlfire Turbo-Power' turbine revved to 13,300rpm. The 'gasifier' that turned it spun at nearly twice that speed. Heat from the exhaust reached 677°C. Drum brakes and 'wing-flaps' slowed the car down. The XP-21 was the first of a trio of Firebirds. '55 saw the birth of the Firebird II - a 4-seater affair. In '58 came the 2-seater Firebird III. By that stage, the car had entered road mode - and was a test-bed for cutting edge components. The Firebird XP-21, then, was proof positive of GM's commitment to the future.