Honda VFR750R-RC30

Honda VFR750R-RC30 1980s Japanese sports bike

In many ways, Honda's VFR750R - better known as the RC30 - was the ultimate 'race replica'. Visually, at least, there was little to distinguish it from the RVF 750 racer, on which it was based. Technically, too, it was along the same lines - allowing for the fact that no roadster is ever really going to compare with its competitive sibling. The RC30's exhaust, for example, could not compete with the racer's super-light, free-flowing set-up. Not if it was going to make it through the MOT, at any rate!

Nor, of course, was the RC30's V4 engine going to be anything like on a par with the race version. That said, it still managed to output 112bhp - at 11,000rpm. Which gave a top speed of 153mph. More than enough for most wannabe GP stars! In like manner, the RC30's handling was not going to get close to that of the apex-slashing track tool on which it was modelled. Again, though, optimal tuning of its suspension enabled a passable emulation of the race god of your choice!

American rider Fred Merkel took two consecutive WSB titles on the RC30 race bike - in '88 and '89. Briton Carl Fogarty did the same in motorcycling's Formula One series. Endurance racing, too, was meat and drink to the RVF 750. So far as Honda were concerned, the RC30 was first and foremost a racer. There was little doubt, though, that the roadster benefited hugely from it. Certainly - with its low-slung front end, aluminium twin-spar frame and single-sided swingarm - the street bike looked seriously stunning. Honda's commitment to the project, then, had paid double dividends. On both road and track, the VFR750R-RC30 did the business - in every sense of the phrase!

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB 1960s Italian classic sports car

The Ferrari 250 GT was the base model for the most expensive car ever made. That was the Ferrari 250 GTO which sold at a Sotheby's auction for silly money. Actually, $48.4m - in California, in 2018. It is easy to see where the GTO got its chops 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, for instance, fell within his remit. Pininfarina helped sort less race-oriented versions of the 250 GT - like the 'long wheelbase' LWB. Felice Boano - celebrated Italian coachbuilder - likewise contributed to the GT's design.

The Berlinetta was launched in '61. It was not just its looks that came out of thè top drawer. Its 3.0-litre V12 motor was also hand-crafted. The man responsible for it - Gioacchino Colombo - was an industrial designer at 14. When most young men his age were gluing pictures of cars to bedroom walls, Colombo was engineering them. Suffice it to say, then, he was a child prodigy. At one point, he drafted a supercharger for homework - as you do. Subsequently, it was shown to Alfa Romeo. Alfa must have graded it A+, since he was offered a job on the strength of it. Several engines later, Colombo was approached by one Enzo Ferrari. The maestro was managing Alfa's race department, at the time. By then, Colombo was aged 34.

When Enzo set up his own car company, Colombo was one of his first hires. The motor man arrived in Modena in '45. Whereupon, he set about adding his own input to the 250 GT project. With such a wealth of design talent dedicated to it, it is little wonder the GT soared to the heights it did. In short, Ferrari's 250 GT Berlinetta SWB was as iconic as a sports car gets. Apart from the Ferrari 250 GTO, of course. Sorry, Sotheby's!

Kawasaki Z1100R

Kawasaki Z1100R 1980s Japanese sports bike

Over the years, many a motorcyclist has had a special place in their heart for a Kawasaki 'Z'. No bike more so than the Z1100R. No flimflam or finery - just straightforward, sit up and beg-style solidity. Highish handlebars, stepped-down seat and anatomically-correct footrests. In other words - a normal riding position. 'The way bikes used to be', you might hear it said. And - after a hundred plus miles in the saddle - who could argue?

Not that that should suggest any kind of staidness! There was little sober or solemn about the 1100R. It was, after all, inspired by a US Superbike racer. The one on which Eddie Lawson won consecutive titles in the early Eighties. Hopefully - from a Kawasaki marketing viewpoint - some of the spirit of the race bike rubbed off on the roadster. Certainly, it was far from unknown for an 1100R rider to feel like Eddie Lawson! And - to be fair - the Z's 140mph top whack was more than enough for most mere mortals. Especially when the high-speed wobble kicked in - on account of the bike's bikini-type fairing. The R's 1,089cc engine made 114bhp. Thankfully - with all that power to play with - the bike was blessed with good roadholding. Squat dimensions helped - as did Kayaba remote-reservoir rear shocks.

Albeit in a no-frills way, the Z1100R was still a stylish motorcycle. Few paintjobs are as emotive as those of Kawasaki's 'green meanies'. Of course, green bikes are considered unlucky by some. That said, owners of spanking-new 1100Rs were obviously prepared to take a chance. For the superstitious, though, other colours were also available. Launched in '84, the Z might be said to have straddled classic and race-rep. To wit, comfortable ergonomics - plus searing speed and cute handling. Fans would argue, then, that with a lime-green Kawasaki Z1100R, you got the lot. Now, that can hardly be considered unlucky!

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale 1960s Italian classic sports car

The driving force behind the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale was Franco Scaglione. He was an engineering whizz-kid from an early age. He was also blessed with precocious design sensibilities. A mechanical marvel of one sort or another, then, was always on the cards. It was just a question of what. Thankfully for car buffs, automobiles were amongst the subjects Scaglione found himself drawn to.

Engineering, then, was a walk in the park for the young Scaglione. Even as a student, he was a natural. He duly graduated to more advanced learning. That is, until the Second World War threw a spanner in the works. Scaglione's studies – started so swimmingly - were decimated. Back in Civvy Street - in '46 - he was 29 years old. Training to be an engineer was in tatters. Time to look for alternative employment. Maybe the motor trade held something for him?

The Fiat Abarth was Scaglione's first full-on design gig. Not a bad way to cut your styling teeth! Launched in '52, he was on Bertone's books at the time. Surprised by the scale of the Abarth's success, Scaglione opted to go solo. In '59, he opened his own studio. The jewel in its crown would be the Stradale. Using Alfa's Type 33 racer as a template, Scaglione fashioned a suitably muscle-bound sports car. Aluminium bodywork was draped over a tubular steel frame. Alfa's 2-litre V8 was installed in the back. Scaglione drew the engine in plain view - in all its mechanised majesty. Once fired up, it made 230 bhp. And full use could be made of the power. For a start, the throttle was ultra-responsive. The gearbox was a flexible 6-speed affair. The Stradale's dimensions were hang-it-out compact. Plus, it weighed in at just 700kg. In its short production run - from '67 to '69 - just 18 Stradales were built. Oddly - given the built-in exclusivity - the price tag was relatively low. That did not detract from the Stradale's prestige one iota. Carrozzeria Marrazzi made a magnificent job of the coachbuilding. Franco Scaglione, of course, drafted a car design tour de force. In short, the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale radiated excellence. Scaglione, then - World War Two interruptions notwithstanding - got there in the end!

MV Agusta 850 Magni

MV Agusta 850 Magni 1970s Italian classic sports bike

In standard trim, the MV Agusta 850 was a class act. Add to that the Magni factor - and quality increased exponentially. Arturo Magni had managed MV's racing department. MV took 17 consecutive 500cc World Championships. That told you all you needed to know about what Arturo Magni brought to a two-wheeled party!

In time, Magni turned his attention to roadsters. To that end, he set up his own engineering facility - in Gallarate, Italy. Soon, a steady stream of MV 850s started rolling into his workshop. They did not have far to come. Magni duly introduced them to his own take on engine components and chassis modifications. The Magni effect was marked. A top speed of 140mph was now available. The 850 was weighed down by a bulky shaft final drive. When Magni's chain-drive conversion kit had been fitted, handling, too, improved. Also key to stability was Magni's custom-built frame. The single spine original had been replaced by one with two top tubes. Magni's motor-related mods included uprated cams, high-compression pistons and a four-piece exhaust system. Suffice to say, you could hear it coming from a mile off!

The 850 Magni was visibly race-bred. A full fairing - complete with rider number - said it all. The Magni's stats justified its looks. High-grade parts - from Marzocchi, Koni and Brembo - added further fuel to the performance fire. Arturo Magni - following on from his high-calibre racing exploits - had slipped seamlessly into the world of road-oriented specials. High price tags came with the territory. But - for those with the disposable - MV Agusta's 850 Magni was the pinnacle of hand-built pedigree!

Delahaye 145

Delahaye 145 1930s French classic car

The Delahaye 145 was launched in 1946. The mastermind behind it was Henri Chapron. Born in 1886, he had been on the steel-crafting scene since he was a kid. Come the close of the First World War, he began his own company - in Neuilly, France. Its core business was importing Ford T ambulances from America - and refactoring them into saloon cars! The custom bodies Chapron created were impressive. So impressive, in fact, that he was recruited by Delage.

Chapron's entrée to motoring greatness, though, came by way of Delahaye. In the mid-'40s, streamlining was all the rage. Which was tickety-boo - until the end of the Second World War. By then, even some upper-crust belts were starting to tighten. Streamlining - and automotive haute couture in general - came at a price. If the hooray Henrys could not afford it, sure as heckers like no one else could!

The 145 comprised Chapron bodywork on a Delahaye chassis. Plus, A V12 engine. The resulting coupé was bespoke to its core. Its luscious exterior was matched only by its luxurious interior. It went without saying that leather and walnut abounded. Of course, that fell foul of the current commercial climate. Chapron, though, was tossed a lifeline. This time, Citroën came calling - with the offer of design work. Chapron's first brief was a cabriolet - the DS 19. Subsequently, he turned his hand to developing the Citroën SM ... always a good career move in France. Indeed, at one point, Chapron was made coachbuilder to the President. Along the way, he helped turn some of Phillipe Charbonneaux's dream-laden drafts into roadgoing reality. Chapron's last legacy to Citroën's oeuvre was the DS 23 Prestige. Always classy, then - never outré - Henri Chapron nailed it as a designer. From young apprentice - to superstar stylist - he was never less than a credit to his profession. The Delahaye 145 was proof of that - alongside many others!

Ducati 851

Ducati 851 1980s Italian sports bike

The Ducati 851 was a slow burner. It took a refit for it to really kick into gear. Not that the first model did not have anything going for it. The 851cc engine was sound. Styling was suitably dynamic. Especially the three-tone paint job - in Italian red, white and green. The issue with the first version was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been released with 16″ wheels - smaller than planned. The problem was that they were too good! The handling was more nimble, but there was less room for error. When it came to quick cornering - without a high degree of accuracy - the small wheels were liable to 'tuck under'. A flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down - but there was a limit!

So, Ducati 851 - take 2! This time, a set of 17″ wheels were in situ. Things were looking up already … literally for some owners! The most obvious mod was the paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike's livery was still Italianate - but now it was fire-engine red. While there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes, the motor was untouched. Indeed, it had been universally praised. It took Ducati a year to complete the makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for Ducati. Its V-twin engine was now liquid-cooled - and came with 4 valves per cylinder. Desmodromic valves, in Ducati's case. Its unique set-up saw valves opened and closed by cams alone - as opposed to the standard cams and springs system. Springs are all well and good - but are prone to bounce and go out of adjustment. Its 'desmo' valve-train had long been a feather in Ducati's cap, powerplant-wise. Plus, Massimo Bordi - Ducati's lead engineer - added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the mix. As a result, torque was significantly increased. At the top-end of the rev-range, 104bhp was now on tap. That meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Souped-up Marzocchi shocks sorted the suspension. With the road bike seen to, it was time to call the race department. Three WSB titles on the trot for Ducati duly followed - courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. Truly, Ducati's 851 roadster - and its race-going counterpart - were on top of the superbike world!

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia 1930s Spanish classic car

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. Many a tippler has had him to thank. His finest hour, however - at least so far as Dubonnet was concerned - was the Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia. From a wealthy background, Dubonnet was a car-crazed kid. It was a gimme, then, that he had plenty of toy automobiles to play with. The toy he craved most, though, was a one-of-a-kind supercar ... a real one. Finally - in '45 - he got it!

For all his wealth, Dubonnet was a worker ... well, of sorts. After a lot of graft, he had made himself a respected 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 and circuits - Monza, the Targa Florio, Le Mans and Boulogne among them. Not only did Dubonnet build his cars - he drove them, too. And did so well enough to be asked to join the Bugatti race équipe - by boss Ettore, no less.

Over time, Dubonnet assembled an impressive portfolio of clients. Indeed, GM acquired some of his research work - into hydro-pneumatic suspension and pumpless oil delivery. Even Dubonnet, though, needed help. To that end, he recruited Jacques Saoutchik to the Xenia cause. The fabled Russian coachbuilder was tasked with sorting the aerodynamic aspects of the car. After all, Dubonnet had land speed record attempts in mind. So, Saoutchik's sought-after streamlining skills would be vital. Saoutchik also knew how to design a stunning-looking motor car. Sadly, the Xenia never broke any speed records. It did, however, play a prominent rôle in the opening of the Saint-Cloud tunnel - situated near Paris. The publicity must have been some consolation to Dubonnet for the Xenia's lack of sporting success. Not that the Xenia lacked all of the attributes of an LSR car. For starters, it was 5.7m in length - aiding straight-line stability. Partly as a result of that, it could clock up 200km/h. So, for all its shortcomings - at least in LSR attempt terms - Dubonnet's Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia was an innovative and spectacular autocar. Motoring had never been so à la mode. Cheers, André!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2 1980s Italian sports bike

The HB2 was the second offering from Bimota - the radical Italian bike builder. The HB1 had set the template. Massimo Tamburini – Bimota's chief designer – totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Tamburini managed to salvage its four-cylinder engine from the wreckage. He then wrapped it in Bimota bodywork. The resulting HB1 - Honda/Bimota - hybrid became the first of the firm's stylish, trend-setting roadsters.

The HB2 upped the ante, power-wise, from the HB1. The new bike sourced its motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the big Honda CB. It weighed just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then fitted. At the front, Ceriani teles were synced with a progressive-rate monoshock at the back. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame added still more stability to the mix. With a 138mph top speed – and high-class handling – the HB2 etched a technical benchmark. Bimota had taken the superbike fight to its Oriental rivals. Pretty impressive from a small-scale manufacturer - certainly as compared with the Japanese 'big four'.

Not that the Bimota challenge came as a surprise to Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. In no particular order, by the way! After all, Bimota had been around the GP scene a while by then. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was super-cool Italian looks - plus a Japanese engine! Sadly - even for a bespoke builder like Bimota - less than 200 HB2s were sold. The HB3 came to the rescue - to some extent, at least. It sealed the deal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. Like the HB2, the HB3 upgraded the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, the Japanese marques were leading the pack again, in terms of overall performance. Notwithstanding - with their HB2 - Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending motorbikes!

De Tomaso Mangusta

De Tomaso Mangusta 1960s Italian classic sports car

Coachbuilt by Ghia, the de Tomaso Mangusta was about as stylish as a sports car gets. Well, apart from its name, that is. A mangusta is a mongoose. Absolutely no offence to mongooses intended, but they are not typically considered the height of chic. Yes, I am sure there are exceptions to that rule. At any rate, so far as the roadgoing Mangusta went, its body was a sleek lattice-work of lines and slats. In like manner, graphics were elegantly scripted.

But the Mangusta was far from all show. It was bang on the money technically, too. The Ford 4.7 V8 engine put out 305bhp. Top speed was 250km/h. Released in ’66, just 400 Mangustas were made. 280 of them were sold in the States. American sales were substantially upped by fitting the Ford V8. The US was a fair old jaunt for the Mangusta, from Modena, Italy – that mythical Mecca of all things motor racing. The perfect location, then, for Alejandro de Tomaso to base his workshop.

De Tomaso hailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father was a government minister – and his mother an heiress. Suffice to say, Alejandro was unlikely to go hungry. It was not long before de Tomaso’s motoring muse came calling – mainly in the shape of Maseratis. At 27, he moved to Italy – to pursue a career as a racing driver. De Tomaso was quick - but not quick enough. So instead, he set up a supercar company ... as you do! As a designer – rather than driver – de Tomaso fared better. Before long, both sports cars and single-seaters were rolling out of his 'shop. In his youth, de Tomaso idolised Fangio – the Argentinian race ace. Acolyte could never match master, in that regard. But – in penning cars like the Mangusta – de Tomaso had found his niche. His own means of automotive expression, you may say. Oh, by the way - if you are thinking about buying a de Tomaso Mangusta, a word to the wise. Never underestimate its performance. Mongooses eat snakes. You’ve been warned!

Laverda 750 SFC

Laverda 750 SFC 1970s Italian sports bike

The Laverda 750 SFC was a production racer. Originally conceived to compete in endurance races, it went on to be a shining light on the roads as well. The 'C' in its name stood for competizione. While we are at it, the 'F' stood for freni, Italian for brakes. That referenced the improved drum sets, with which the SFC came equipped. Ceriani suspension sealed the roadholding deal - telescopic forks at the front and twin shocks at the rear. Always a good sign, the SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race - at Montjuic Park, Spain. The bike's bright orange paintwork was a cinch to spot, even at night - for both spectators and pit crew alike!

On the road, too, the SFC was a scintillating sight. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. A certain commitment was required of the rider - since they were far from 'ergonomically correct'. Low clip-on handlebars - and rear-set footrests - meant relaxation took a back seat to a racing crouch. And it was a single back seat, at that! At least the SFC's smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort - keeping the worst of the wind off. And - certainly in handling terms - the SFC was eminently user-friendly.

Potentially, SFC riders needed all the handling help they could get. The bike's parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons - fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed was 125mph. An injudicious twist of the the SFC's throttle, then, and a race-style posture may well have proved welcome. Better a little discomfort than finding yourself lying upside down. The SFC weighed in at just 454lb - but that is a lot to pull out of a ditch! So, the Laverda 750 SFC was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling - and the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

Aston-Martin DBR9

Aston-Martin DBR9 2000s GT race car

Hitting the grid in '05, Aston Martin's DBR9 was the racing version of their DB9 roadster. Saying that, 20 DBR9s were sold privately. So, technically, it was a race/road hybrid. Though, whether you should do the shopping in a car that won the GT1 Sebring 12 Hours race, is a moot point. To be fair, it would get done very quickly - leaving you with more time to do good deeds for the rest of the day!

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

Light weight was key to the DBR9's success. Just 2,425lbs needed to keep contact with the tarmac. Contrast that with the DB9 road-going equivalent - which weighed in at a comparatively lardy 3,770lb. Much of the reduction was down to the competition car's body panels - fashioned from carbon-fibre composite. Aston Martin Racing designed the panels - with top-flight aerodynamics in mind. An aluminium chassis also shed weight. Aptly, the DBR9's Sebring win was on its first outing. For spectators of a certain age, it conjured up memories of Le Mans, '59. That was the scene of another famous victory for the great British brand. So, Aston Martin race fans had been patient a long time. But they say great things come to those who wait. Those words were never so true as in the streamlined form of the DBR9!

Dresda Triton

Dresda Triton 1960s British classic motorcycle

It has doubtless been discussed - in refreshment rooms around the world - which is the greatest café racer ever made. Dave Degens could be forgiven for making the case for the Dresda Triton. His company - Dresda Autos - was based in west London. As well as a race engineer, Degens was a rider of high repute. It followed, then, that he would be on the lookout for high-performance tips and techniques. A logical way to go, in that regard, would be to take a well-sorted motor - and install it in an equally well-sorted chassis. Which is exactly what Degens did. Indeed, since the mid-'50s, two-wheeled tech-heads had been bolting Triumph engines into Norton frames. The hybrid fruits of their labour were dubbed Tritons. Triumph's powerplants were the most potent around, at the time. And Norton's Featherbed frame rewrote the rulebook when it came to firm, but flexible geometry.

In the mid-'60s, Triumph's parallel-twin engine layout was cutting edge. The 650 unit was kicking out 50bhp - at 6,500rpm. Top speed was 120mph. Do the café racer math - and that exceeded 'ton-up boy' requirements by 20%! And all from an air-cooled four-valve twin. But - as Dave Degens knew only too well - horsepower is only half the equation. Handling, too, needs to be factored in. Cometh the hour, cometh the Featherbed! Norton's steel twin-cradle frame had excelled on both road and track. Norton's TT rivals could vouch for that! Put it all together - and Triumph engine, plus Norton frame - equalled fast and fluid motorcyling.

By the end of the Sixties, the Triton 'brand' had gone beyond its geeky beginnings. The dream ticket - courtesy of Triumph and Norton - now ate a substantial slice of the Brit bike pie. But, 'mass-production' for the Triton held a sting in its tail. Downmarket, if not dodgy deals increased - both in parts and build quality. Of course, Dresda Autos - with Dave Degens at the helm - never lowered its standards. Even now - decades later - they provide bespoke bikes to discerning buyers. A legend in the specialist motorcycle world, then, the Dresda Triton took on - and beat - all comers!

Honda NSX

Honda NSX 1990s Japanese supercar

For a car maker seeking feedback in the late Eighties, Ayrton Senna was probably first on your wish list! In '89 - with the NSX in the pipeline - that was the enviable position in which Honda found itself. As luck would have it, Senna was in Japan, at the time. Honda wondered whether he would like to take the NSX prototype for a spin? What could the world's finest F1 driver do, but accept! On returning the NSX to its technicians, Senna declared it impressive - but delicate. That could be remedied. In short order, Honda had made the car half as strong again.

A new NSX bagged you £5 change from £60K - which you, of course, used to tip Ayrton Senna! As supercars go, sixty grand was cheap. Assuming you considered the NSX a supercar, of course. Not everyone did - among them, some with pronounced European tastes. But - if you could stand a few withering looks from more 'discerning' drivers - the NSX gave you plenty of sports car bang for your bucks. Or indeed, yen. For a start, a top speed of 168mph was not to be sniffed at. It came courtesy of Honda's VTEC V6. Said engine was fixed to the first all-aluminium chassis and suspension set-up installed in a production car. The result was fast acceleration - plus, firm but finely-tuned handling. Especially when Honda's Servotronic steering system was added to the mix.

The design of the NSX was inspired by the F16 fighter plane. Good aerodynamics, then, were a gimme! With so much going for it, it is no surprise Honda held a special place in its heart for the NSX. Only their best engineers were allowed anywhere near it. Okay - so Honda did not have quite the cachet of supercars' past masters. That said, the NSX still had plenty to offer less picky connoisseurs ... particularly ones who liked a bargain!

Honda NR750

Honda NR750 1990s Japanese superbike

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. That was a decade or so on from when the four-stroke racer had been slugging it out with Suzuki and Yamaha 'strokers'. Well, trying to, at any rate. The plucky Honda was always disadvantaged against its free-revving two-stroke rivals. As a result, Honda's NR500 race bike was retired in '81.

The feature for which the NR is famous is its oval pistons. To be pedantic, they were not actually oval. They were lozenge-shaped. The 'ovoid' pistons, then, were the NR's most clear-cut connection with its racing ancestry. Ultimatey - whatever precise form they took - they worked. The NR delivered 125bhp - at 14,000 rpm. Top speed was 160mph. That was notwithstanding the NR's weight - a tubby 489lb. While the NR's performance was impressive - it was not earth-shattering. Honda had done its best to pull a V8 rabbit out of a V4 hat. Effectively, to double it up. With that in mind, the NR's V4 engine was fitted with eight fuel injectors and titanium conrods. Four camshafts depressed thirty-two lightweight valves. Sadly, though, the modifications did not equate to twice the speed!

The NR's styling was almost as adventurous as its engineering. Its screen was titanium-coated, for instance. That was backed up by a brilliant finish - in every sense of the word. The paintwork and polished aluminium frame were particularly lustrous. The bike's build quality was equally dazzling. In every department, then, the NR delivered. Above all, it oozed charisma - mainly on account of its unique engine configuration. Bikes like the NR tend not to clock up too many owners. And not just because of high price tags and running costs. Such a machine grants access to motorcycling's inner sanctum. Arguably - more than any other roadster - the Honda NR750 mixed visual and technical exoticism. Put simply - glamour was never an issue!

TVR Sagaris

TVR Sagaris 2000s British sports car

If you bought a TVR Sagaris new, you got a fiver change from £50K. It did not, though, come with any airs and graces attached. Built in Blackpool - on England's NW coast - the Sagaris delivered no-frills performance - and plenty of it. No-frills, yes - but not no-thrills. A top speed of 175mph made sure of that.

A swift glance at the Sagaris spoke volumes. The transparent rear wing could not have been clearer ... in terms of the car's intent, that is. If you were still in doubt, an array of bonnet vents gave the game away. Does a road car need to breathe that deeply? Nikolai Smolenski - TVR's new owner - obviously thought so. He was a young Russian oligarch - and was taking no chances. In the past, TVR had caught flak over build quality. To be fair, as a small manufacturer of exotic machinery, it was always a risk. Smolenski, then, opted to up the ante, reliability-wise. How much he succeeded is a moot point. Anyway, a sturdy roll-cage was duly installed - which took care of over-zealous pedal-prodders, at least!

Certainly, the Sagaris' straight-six engine called for care. The all-aluminium unit was deceptively pretty. On top of a 406bhp output, it turned over 349lb/ft of torque. As a result, the Sagaris rocketed from 0-60 in 3.7s. 0-100 took just 8.1s. Figures like that mean precision engineering. With a bit of Northern grit thrown in, of course. After all, sports car development is no bowl of cherries! But, while the TVR Sagaris did not stand on ceremony, it was bespoke - not basic!

MV Agusta 850SS Monza

MV Agusta 850SS Monza 1970s Italian classic sports bike

Bikes named after racetracks need to be fast! In the case of the MV Agusta 850SS Monza, it was. Top speed was 145mph. That was quick for a road bike, in '77. Mind you, it did weigh in at only 429lb. Naturally, the engine had a lot to do with it, too. The Monza's cylinders were wider than its MV America predecessor. As a result, capacity was increased to 837cc. The compression ratio had also been raised. Plus, a Marelli distributor - and hotter cams - had been added. All in, power had risen to 85bhp - at 8,750rpm. Previously, the 750S America - built predominantly for the US market - had upped the ante from the 750 Sport. Now, the Monza had trumped them both.

In styling terms, the new MV was equally upbeat. It had 'café racer' written all over it. Low-set 'bars - and a humped-back seat - referenced MV's GP bikes. Not only had the great Italian marque won 17 top-flight titles - it won them on the spin. Now, that is domination! Sadly - for MV Agusta, at any rate - the advent of the Jap 2-stroke motor had put the mockers on it. Design-wise, the Monza's red and silver livery further enhanced its race-based 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. Taking MV's already cutting edge technology, Magni meted out still more modifications to the Monza. Among them were a free-flowing exhaust, a chain-driven conversion from the standard shaft-drive and a bigger-bore kit. In turn, Magni's twin-loop frame firmed everything up. Under Arturo's tutelage, top speed and acceleration had both improved. Handling, too, was a beneficiary - since power delivery was smoothed out. The MV Agusta 850SS Monza was an impressive motorcycle with factory settings. Magni's magic mods made it yet better!

Maserati MC12

Maserati MC12 2000s Italian supercar

The Maserati MC12 cost £515K. 50 were sold - twice as many as were needed to let the competition version race in the FIA GT World Championship. For your half a million quid, you got a Ferrari Enzo, into the bargain. 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, V12 engine, 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 took 3.8s.

Remarkably, the MC12 took a mere twelve months to make. Maserati's engineers were, of course, aided by the Ferrari Enzo factor. Even so, to take a top-grade supercar from drawing board to production line in a year was impressive, to say the least. Design duties fell to Frank Stephenson. He had previously masterminded the Mini Cooper. In terms of the MC12's aerodynamic package, a quick glance told you all you needed to know. Seriously slippery was understatement!

The MC12's white and blue paint mirrored Maserati's 'Birdcage' racers. The Tipo 60/61 machines had competed in sports car events in the early Sixties. The racing theme continued inside. Lightweight carbon-fibre was used for the MC12's cabin - including the fully-harnessed seats. Practical problems arose from the rear window - or lack of it! A quick removal of the targa top, though, soon sorted the shortcoming. Other than that rear visibility 'glitch', the MC12 was reasonably user-friendly. Sequential gear-changing was straightforward, steering nimble and the ride smooth. The sole issue, then, for owners, was sourcing spare parts. Best way around it was buying a Ferrari Enzo as back-up. Or - better still - two MC12s. Maserati probably preferred the latter option!

Harley-Davidson XLCR

Harley-Davidson XLCR 1970s American classic motorbike

Marketing-wise, Harley-Davidson's XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool, nor - in typical Harley fashion - a laid-back cruiser. More than anything - as far as categories went - it was classic café racer. In the Seventies, though, performance was key. That was, after all, the decade of the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete with them. While its pushrod V-twin engine packed plenty of torque, it was some way off its Oriental rivals at the top-end of the rev range. On the other hand - dramatic though it looked in its jet-black livery - it did not have enough 'attitude' chops to keep Harley die-hards happy. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were sold.

Willie G Davidson - Harley's head of design - had fulfilled his brief. For sure, the XLCR looked the business. From its flat-handlebars fairing - via an elongated tank - to the racy seat/tail unit, the XLCR's lines were in all the right places. Certainly, the swoopy siamese exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the XLCR's speed stats did not stack up as neatly as its styling cues. A peak power output of 61bhp - at 6,200rpm - did not set any alarm-bells ringing. A top speed of 115mph was average - and no more. Suffice to say, then, that boy racers - of whom there were a lot in the late '70s - were underwhelmed.

Harley's sales brochures, however, took a different tack. They pointed to the fact that the XLCR's performance was a marked improvement on what had gone before. Up to a point, they were right. But then, the same could be said of Harley's new Sportster. In white knuckle terms, the XLCR did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. And - crucially for a Harley - the Sportster scored more 'sit up and scowl!' points. Harley-Davidson was right to try to tap a new trend. But - for two-wheeled speed merchants - the XLCR Cafe Racer simply could not cut the cappuccino!

Riley 2.5 Walter Köng Saloon

Riley 2.5 Walter Kong Saloon 1940s British classic concept car

Walter Köng's Riley 2.5 Saloon was unique. That made sense - since it was a solo effort. Well, apart from the engine. All other aspects of the car were overseen by Köng. No wonder, then, that 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 huge amount 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 Sala, in Italy - as well as French firm Gallee. Oh, not forgetting Chrysler and Packard. With the fighting now finished, Köng was hankering to get back to work. With Swiss manufacturing still in the doldrums, he decided to take things into his own hands. Köng would build his own car!

Köng's inspiration came in the form of aircraft. Specifically, fighter planes. That was hardly surprising - since he had, after all, seen a few in recent times. The design brief was radical - especially for someone putting it into practice himself. Bodywork would be aluminium. The roof would be a two-panel, removable affair. In truth, Pontiac and Ford had already pioneered that set-up. What they had not pioneered were mahogany bumpers. They came courtesy of Köng - and his fertile imagination. Eventually, the time came when all the car needed was an engine. A Riley 2.5 was duly sourced and installed. Sadly - after so much effort - Köng's project was not to be a lucrative one. While his work appeared at '49's Geneva Motor Show - and generated a good deal of interest - no sales materialised. But, all was not lost. The annals of motoring history were another matter entirely. Walter Köng slotted into them with aplomb. To motoring's cognoscenti, he was now a kingpin of bespoke car-builders. The Riley 2.5 Saloon was proof positive of that!

Bimota SB2

Bimota SB2 1970s Italian classic sports bike

'SB' stood for Suzuki/Bimota. It signalled Bimota's standard practice of incorporating other marques' engines into its own bespoke chassis. In the case of the SB2, power was provided by the Suzuki GS750. The 8-valve inline-four motor peaked at 68bhp. That gave the the SB2 a top speed of 130mph. Credit was also due to its slippery lines. A dry weight of just 440lb sealed the high-speed deal. This was still the Seventies, do not forget.

The driving force behind the SB2 was Massimo Tamburini. He had been a Bimota co-founder. Tamburini fitted the 'legendary engineer' bill to a tee. In his time, he had designed chassis for 250 and 350cc World Championship-winning bikes. In '77, Tamburini tipped his technical brilliance 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 - did the business suspension-wise. They were duly hitched up to a tubular steel space-frame. The monoshock alone separated the SB2 from its rivals ... in every sense of the word!

First and foremost, though, a Bimota is about style. As befits a firm from Rimini, Italy. Certainly, the SB2 ran true to form, in that regard. Its bodywork wrote the book on 'swoopy'. The tank protector/seat was a self-supporting one-piece - which saved the weight of a subframe. That innovation - like the rising-rate rear shock - would subsequently be seen on mass-produced machines. So, Bimota - that consummate special-builder - had done what it did best. In the beguiling form of the SB2, it merged dynamite design and top-drawer technology. Again!

Fiat 8V

Fiat 8V 1950s Italian classic sports car

Had the 8V - or, Otto Vu - been built in the US, it would have been dubbed the V8! But since it was, of course, built in Italy, the Fiat powers that be opted to call it the 8V. Then again, countries often do things different ways round - like letting people drive on the wrong side of the road, for instance! Anyway - the engine in question was a 2-litre 70° V8 ... in American money, that is. Whatever the nomenclature, once put through its paces, Fiat declared itself 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. In fact, it was an ideal time to consider climbing Fiat's corporate ladder. Young Dante Giacosa - head of testing - saw the new car as a chance to impress. Amidst all the chaos, his superiors made it clear the 8V 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 later upped to 115. After still more development, it finally maxed out at 127bhp. Top speed was a handy 190km/h. The 8V's price tag was 2,850,000 lire. Value was added by all-round independent suspension - a first for Fiat. Originally, the idea was to lengthen - and co-opt - the Fiat 1400 chassis. Then have Pininfarina work its stylistic magic on top. Excess weight, however, put the kibosh on that plan. Into the design breach stepped Fiat's Fabio Rapi. It was his proprietary bodywork which bewitched visitors to '52's Geneva Motor Show. Just 114 8Vs, though, would subsequently be built. By '54 - a mere two years after its launch - it was game over for the 8V coupé. A bit of a damp squib, then, all in all? In a way - but, during its brief lifespan, the 8V returned Fiat to the sports car fold. It got the illustrious Italian firm back on track - manufacturing classy, fast and agile automobiles!

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow 1960s Italian concept car

The Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow was a dream car. Actually, four dream cars! 'Dream cars' are offbeat design prototypes. Typically, they are displayed at motor shows. In the same way couturiers go out on a limb to impress fashionistas, so coachbuilders create a 'buzz' for potential car buyers. So, a catwalk dress is not designed to be worn, just as a concept car is not designed to be driven. In other words, the whole point of a dream car is to make an exhibition of itself!

When it came to creativity, Battista 'Pinin' Farina was a past master. His career started in Turin, Italy, in 1930. Pininfarina - his automotive design studio - would become world-famous. In '46, Alfa presented Pinin and his team with a template. A 3,000cc 246bhp template. Alfa - based in Milan - had built half a dozen cars for experimental purposes. Pininfarina was briefed to put fancier flesh on the Alfa bones. 'Superflow' would be the way to go. As in advanced aerodynamics.

The inspiration for the Superflow was the US. Alfa had its sales sights set on America. Stateside motorists had gone gaga over Sixties sci-fi - as they had in the Fifties, too. Basically, they were suckers for anything that smacked of Space. The Ford Mystere had a lot to do with it. Its roof consisted of a transparent plastic bubble. Back in the day, it conjured up images of lunar landing craft and the like. Alfa were minded to cash in on the fad. In all, Pininfarina would have four conceptual shots at the Superflow - namely, the I, II, III and IV. For starters, fins were added to the rear wings. Technically, they were there to assist with high-speed stability. However, it did no harm at all that they also looked Saturn 5 cool. The Superflow's roof emulated that of the Mystere - since it, too, was made from see-through plexiglass. Likewise, the headlights were covered by the same streamlined material. As things turned out, the Superflow's space-age charms did not cut it with gizmo-addicted Americans. As a result, Alfa U-turned - and readdressed the European market. Styling briefs would be altered accordingly. Nonetheless, the Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow had given futuristic wings to Pininfarina's distinguished design skills.

B Engineering Edonis

B Engineering Edonis 2000s Italian supercar

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. Not just any old supercar, mind - a one-of-a-kind supercar. Enter the Edonis! Arguably, the best tagline a car could have would be 'Made in Modena!' Certainly, the Italian city is now synonymous with automotive excellence. B Engineering never used that slogan. But - while 'B Engineering' may not have quite the same cachet as 'Ferrari' - it can still hold its own in high-calibre company.

'Edonis' is Greek for pleasure. In the case of a supercar, the kind of pleasure that 720bhp generates. It came courtesy of a twin-turbocharged V12 engine. The Edonis' top speed was 223mph. No surprise, then, that it broke the lap record at the Nardo racetrack. When it came to the car's colossal power output, every other component was clearly supremely in sync with it. Edonis project director Nicola Materazzi led a crack team of engineers. Between them, they had worked for all of the top supercar marques. Jut 21 Edonis units were built. The figure referenced the 21st century.

B Engineering's links with Bugatti stayed strong. Its owner - Jean-Marc Borel - had been Bugatti's vice chairman. 21 carbon-fibre tubs - originally earmarked for the Bugatti EB110 - were duly used for the Edonis. The latter's 3.7-litre engine was developed from that of the EB110. It was hooked up to a 6-speed gearbox. 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. After all, the crème de la crème of the car industry had contributed. For the B Engineering Edonis, then, quality was never going to be an issue!

Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

Kawasaki built its first bike - a 125cc two-stroke - in 1960. From the outset, Kawasaki was synonymous with high-performance sports bikes. Bikes like the H1, for instance. Technically, it was released at the tail-end of the Sixties. But, it is one of those machines which make lovers of Seventies superbikes come over all misty-eyed. That was the decade in which the H1 was most often seen - being ridden hell for leather - along the highways and byways of Britain. And, indeed, other locales - usually in the same high-spirited fashion. It was what two-strokes were made for, basically. And, if the H1's handling was a bit imprecise - at least as compared with bikes of today - hey, it only added to the fun!

The H1's 500cc three-cylinder engine output 60bhp. The 'stroker' motor screamed all the way to a top speed of 120mph. It did so in a way that induced mile-wide eyes - and smiles - in those brought up on a strict 'Brit bike' diet. Heck, the sound alone was worth the asking price! The H1's slimmed-down weight of 383lb only added to its searing acceleration. Revs peaked at 7,500rpm - with a noticeable surge as they hit the power band.

Kawasaki's first forays into motorcycle manufacture had been influenced by BSA. By the time of the H1, 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 its diminutive dimensions. The Kawasaki H1 hurled bodies and souls into two-stroke hyperdrive. Some '70s bikers never fully recovered!

Honda CB77

Honda CB77 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

The CB77 was a landmark bike for Honda. The firm started up in Hamamatsu, Japan. In a wooden shed! Just as Harley-Davidson had done, in Milwaukee, USA ... except theirs was made out of tin! Okay - so sheds is where similarities end between the two marques! Of course - like Harley-Davidson - what Soichiro Honda's company went on to achieve is the stuff of motorcycling legend. Not surprising, really. That small shed was home to the Honda Technical Research Institute. In its early days, that is!

Three years in and Honda produced its first bike. The 98cc machine was dubbed the Dream. Sales were sound. That set the scene for the two bikes which put Honda on motorcycling's map - the CB72 and CB77. The larger of the two - the 305cc CB77 - was launched in '63. It was up against the 'Brit bikes' of the early Sixties. They ruled the two-wheeled roost, at the time. Not for much longer! Next to the likes of Triumph and Norton, the 'Jap bike' came supremely well-equipped. In engineering terms, it blew them away, basically. While it did not quite clock up the mythical 'ton' - the 100mph so beloved of British riders - its acceleration was scorching. By comparison with Brit bikes, anyway. And - with a top speed of 95mph - it came close. The CB77's parallel twin motor revved out to 9,000rpm. The bike weighed in at just 350lb dry. Do the math, as they say!

Several factors gave the CB77 the edge over similarly-sized British bikes. Top of the list was engine design. A 180° crankshaft allowed the two pistons to move up and down alternately - balancing each other out. That took the smoothness of the ride to another level - at least, relative to the Brit bikes. The engine was held securely in situ by a tubular steel frame. Telescopic front forks - and twin rear shocks - raised the suspension game, too. Two sets of solid, sure-stopping drum brakes were fitted. The net result was that the CB77 accelerated smoothly, handled well and pulled up in short order. On top of all that, it was oil-tight and reliable. Not something that could be said of every British-made bike! In the States, it was sold as the Super Hawk. The CB77, then, was Honda's first attempt at a full-on sports bike. Suffice to say - there were others in the pipeline!

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 1960s British classic motorcycle

Royal Enfield may not be quite so celebrated as some of its 'Brit bike' brethren. Its logo, though, adorned a long line of sturdy, but stylish motorcycles. A perfect example was the Interceptor 750.

Power output for the Interceptor was 53bhp. Revs rose smoothly to 6,000rpm. Those stats no doubt impressed American - as well as British - buyers. Which was good, because the bike - and its 750cc capacity - were largely targeted at the US market. Indeed, the excellence of the Interceptor's engine made up for 'deficiencies' in other departments. The front brake, for example, was not the most reassuring ever made. And the forks could have been firmer.

Eventually, 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. It might not have been at the cutting edge of Harold Wilson's 'white heat of technology', but the 750 certainly showcased some of the best of British innovation. After the collapse, the rights to Royal Enfield were licensed to India. In time, the marque became part of the 'retro revival' marketing boom. For sure, the Interceptor 750 helped inspire it. Royal Enfield now has the kudos of being the oldest motorcycle manufacturer still shipping product. Long may that continue!

NSU Supermax

NSU Supermax 1950s German classic motorcycle

NSU began by knocking out knitting machines. Then it branched into bicycles. It built its first motorcycle in 1901. The German firm went on to release a steady stream of successful motorbikes - including, of course, the Supermax. It carried on doing so until the early Sixties. On both road and track, NSU was at the forefront of bike design and development. Cars, too, were added to its catalogue. NSU, then, deserves its berth in motoring history every bit as much as its illustrious compatriot, BMW. Well, almost!

NSU hit pay dirt when - in '29 - it recruited Walter Moore. Previously, he had worked for Norton. Moore helped shape NSU's first bike to be fitted with an overhead-camshaft engine. No doubt partly due to his past employment, the result was not entirely dissimilar to the Norton CS1. Wags at the British firm suggested NSU was short for Norton Spares Used! Ignoring such ribaldry, Moore pressed on regardless. He must have done something right. By the time of the Second World War, NSU was one of the world's biggest bike manufacturers.

A decade after the end of the war came NSU's finest hour. The 250cc Supermax was launched in '55. Thankfully for NSU, it lived up to its billing. The Supermax did pretty much everything well. Acceleration and braking were equally impressive. Handling-wise, too, it excelled. The mix of its single-overhead-cam motor, pressed-steel frame and leading-link forks was bang on the money. The Supermax sailed to a top speed of 75mph. Said performance, though, came at a price. Sadly, one which most motorcyclists were not prepared to pay. As a result, the '60s saw NSU switch to car production. But not before it had secured its place in the annals of bike racing. In '53 - on NSUs - Werner Haas won both 125 and 250cc World Championships. He was the first German rider to achieve such a feat. In '54, Haas took the 250 title again. Indeed, '55 found NSU taking the 250 crown for the third time in as many years. So, BMW's bike division always had a rival. NSU, too, produced a panoply of sublime motorcycles. None more so than the Supermax!

Panther M100

Panther M100 1930s British classic motorcycle

A glance at the Panther M100 showed its most striking asset. Compared with your average engine design, the M100's looked distinctly skewed. Enter the 598cc Sloper motor. It was tilted forward 45°. If that caused technically-minded riders to be concerned about oil circulation, no worries. The M100 was eminently reliable.

The Sloper's cylinder block was blessed with a long stroke. 100mm, to be precise. Hence an abundance of neck-twisting torque. In a good way! That was handy - since many M100s had side-cars attached. This was before automobiles were two a penny. The M100's top speed was 68mph. If you were the one wedged into the Watsonian, that was probably quite quick enough!

Panther was based in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire. No surprise, then, that its bikes were solid, rugged and dependable. Panther started out as Phelon and Moore (P&M). The first Sloper-equipped bike appeared in 1904. The single-cylinder push-rod powerplant came with two air-cooled overhead valves. Sporting its dramatically-inclined mill, a parked-up Panther was guaranteed to draw a crowd. It was only made bigger by the way in which the exhausts swooped down from the steeply-banked ports. And this from a bike born and bred in Yorkshire ... not a county associated with razzmatazz. As alluded to, this was a time when motorcycles and side-cars were still standard family transport. It followed that a Panther's top priority was to get from A to B - and back again - with a minimum of fuss. The M100 accomplished that - and with style thrown in, for good measure. Connoisseurs of classic motorcycles rejoiced!

AJS Model 30

AJS Model 30 1950s British classic motorcycle

AJS - Albert John Stevens - set up shop in 1909, in Wolverhampton, England. Though the firm bore Albert's initials, it was in fact a Stevens family concern. In its own right, it lasted until '31. After that, the AJS brand-name went through several changes of ownership. Pay attention, as this does get complicated. First off, AJS was subsumed into Matchless - based in Plumstead, London. Then, in '38, the AJS marque merged into AMC - Associated Motor Cycles. In '67, AMC were taken over by Norton Villiers - along with AJS. Two years later - in '69 - the 'classic' period of the AJS timeline came to an end. So - in the sixty years since its founding - AJS lived through a sizeable chunk of modern British history! Because of its connections to several other big British brands, it can be seen as something of a hybrid. The Model 30 was released in '56. As a result of all the marque-mixing, it was in many ways the exact same machine as the Matchless G11! Well, apart from the AJS livery and exhaust set-up. Matchless were keen to keep AJS devotees onside. So, the 'two' bikes were effectively twinned. In like manner - following the AMC takeover - some 'AJS' stock had Norton parts fitted. Classic bike nerds never had it so good!

At the circuits, though, things were much simpler. AJS won a lot of races! In 1914, its race team took the Junior TT title. Finer feats were to follow. In '49, AJS made racing history by winning the first 500cc World Championship. Les Graham rode a Porcupine twin to the title. Was that painful? He had previously been an RAF pilot - in World War II. One cannot help but wonder which was the more exciting! Arguably the most iconic AJS competition bike, however, was the 'Boy Racer'. A single-cylinder machine, the 350cc 7R hit the grid in '48. The 7R's motor was subsequently enlarged to 500cc - to power the Matchless G50 racer. So, it was not just AJS roadsters which mixed and matched with sibling marques, so to speak.

The Model 30's 593cc engine powered it to a top speed of 95mph. The bike handled well, into the bargain. It was also comfortable, reliable and economical. In other words, the Model 30 was a paragon of motorcycling virtue. Entirely fitting, then, that a company of the calibre of AJS was the source of its two-wheeled excellence. Saying that, AJS did make cars as well. Though not, perhaps, to the same standard. In the opinion of Model 30 owners, at any rate!

Henderson KJ

Henderson KJ 1920s American classic motorcycle

As early as 1929, the Henderson KJ was hitting 100mph. It came courtesy of a 1,301cc in-line four engine - outputting 40bhp. What made the top speed stat yet more impressive was that the KJ weighed in at a portly 495lb. The KJ's plucky powerplant was an air-cooled eight-valve inlet-over-exhaust unit. Whatever its configuration - it clearly worked!

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

Mercifully - by the time of the Great Depression - Henderson had moved on. Ace was his new venture. The company which bore his name fared badly in the crash. The KJ's finery did not come cheap. It had no chance of selling well amidst serious austerity. Henderson struggled on as best it could - but it was always a lost cause. In '31, Schwinn - the new owners - threw in the towel. With the demise of the KJ, America lost a beautiful motorcycle. Its pinstriping, in particular, was close to perfect. And the rest of the design followed suit. In short, the Henderson KJ was class on two wheels ... direct from the USA!

Harley-Davidson WL 45

Harley-Davidson WL 45 1940s American classic motorcycle

These days, the Harley-Davidson WL 45 is seriously old school. That is a good thing, of course! '45' referenced its engine capacity - in cubic inches. The side-valve 45° V-twin slung the WL to a top speed of 75mph. A long way from Harley's high-tech Evo powerplant of today. Still, that was plenty enough speed, given the WL's suspension set-up - or lack of it. Well, at the rear, at any rate. The WL was a full-on factory hard-tail ... no concealed shock absorber here! The WL's sprung saddle, though, kept it comfy. At the front, however, things were looking up - hopefully, not literally! '49 saw the introduction of Harley's Girdraulic damping system. It was duly fitted to the WL's 'springer' front fork assembly. Friction damping was thereafter consigned to the Harley history book.

The WL's motor made 25bhp. That was an improvement on the W model - compression having been upped a tad. 4,000rpm was now available. The 3-speed gearbox was controlled by a hand shift and foot clutch. While the roadster's performance was not exactly earth-shattering, Harley's WR race bike did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair to the road bike's output, it did have its work cut out. 528lb wet was plenty of weight for the WL to heave. Saying that, it was not excessive for a bike of its size. Bear in mind that in the Forties, carbon fibre was just a glint in a scientist's eye!

Bikes like the WL45, then, were a bridge between Harley's vintage crop and its current range. 45ci equated to 750cc - or middleweight, in modern money. The 45-powered bikes were hugely important to Harley. Indeed, they helped the firm weather the Great Depression. Were it not for those bikes, Milwaukee's finest may well not have survived. Many a biker's life would have been lessened - such is the impact Harley-Davidson has had. So, much is owed to the WL 45 ... and its pioneering predecessors!

Sunbeam S8

Sunbeam S8 1950s British classic motorcycle

Even in England's 'Black Country', the sun still shines. Aptly, then, Sunbeam's factory was located there - in Wolverhampton, West Midlands. From the outset - in 1912 - the company gained a name for classy, reliable motorcycles. They became known as 'gentlemen's machines'. The Sunbeam S8 was one of them. It was made between '49 and '56. Innovation was thrown in, too, for good measure. The first Sunbeam, for example, featured a fully-enclosed chain - keeping both bike and rider clean. Assuming the owner had oiled his chain, that is!

It is fair to say that the S8's predecessor - the Sunbeam S7 - did not exactly smother 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. Those deficiencies were redressed - to some extent, at least - by the S7 De Luxe version. It fell to the S8, though, to get the good ship Sunbeam fully seaworthy again.

The S8 was a sports bike. That was only to be expected. After all, development engineer George Dance set speed records on Sunbeams. And, in the early Twenties, Sunbeam won the Senior TT - twice. As far back as 1913, a single-cylinder 3.5bhp Sunbeam raced to success. The twin-cylinder S8, then, was the latest in a string of performance-based Sunbeams. Plainly, S8 stylist Erling Poppe had been inspired by BMW's R75. Indeed, rights to the German-built bike had been passed to BSA - as part of war reparations. Then, in '43, BSA acquired Sunbeam - from AMC. Under Poppe's design aegis, the S8 shed the portliness of the S7. Plus, it now sported a solid set of front forks. Even the exhaust note had been modified for the S8 - to something more sonorous. Top speed was a heady 85mph. Handling had come on leaps and bounds ... not literally, of course. So, all things considered, the Sunbeam S8 shone a warm ray of light on its Black Country roots!

Rudge Ulster

Rudge Ulster 1930s British classic motorcycle

The Rudge Ulster was based on the Rudge Multi. The latter - launched in 1911 - came with 21 'infinitely variable' gears. 'Multi', indeed! In theory, there was not a slope in the UK it could not get up. An intricate rear pulley system auto-adjusted the bike's final drive belt. The ratios were selected via a lengthy gear-lever, located to the left of the fuel-tank. From early on, Rudges sported spring-up stands. Back mudguards were hinged - facilitating wheel removal.

A production racer Multi won the 1914 Senior TT. And - for the Rudge race team - there was more success to come. It was in '28, though, that the firm secured its place in history. A Rudge won that year's Ulster GP. A street-legal version duly appeared. It was named after the illustrious Irish road race. The Ulster inherited the engineering subtleties of its Rudge roadster predecessors. Unsurprisingly, it was a serious seller. Graham Walker was Rudge's sales manager. Fittingly, it had fallen to him to pilot the Ulster to victory.

The Ulster only added to the roll-call of Rudge's technical innovations. A 500cc single, its engine was fitted with four valves. They helped output 30bhp. That pushed a dry weight of just 290lb. The Ulster featured Rudge's linked braking system. The foot-pedal retarded both drum brakes - while the hand lever applied added front-end bite. Ahead of the game, to say the least. On the racing front, Rudge carried on winning well into the Thirties. In '39, however, financial problems came to a head. Rudge folded shortly thereafter. The Ulster, though, had carried the flag for one of the most forward-looking firms in motorcycling history!

Norton CS1

Norton CS1 1930s British classic motorcycle

Classic Nortons are as iconic as Brit bikes come. That certainly includes the CS1. Norton was based in Bracebridge Street, Birmingham. In 1913, the fledgling firm went bust. In true champion style, however, it got back on its feet, dusted itself down and came out for another round! James Norton teamed up with Bob Shelley and his brother-in-law - ace tuner Dan 'Wizard' O'Donovan. The chemistry must have been spot-on, if the Isle of Man TT was anything to go by. Rex Judd was among the riders to win on Nortons in that most iconic of road races.

The CS1 arrived on 'the island' in '27 - prepped for its first TT. The 'CamShaft 1' production racer boasted a bevel-driven overhead cam engine. It was a sensation from the second Stanley Woods swung a leg over the saddle. Fast-forward a year - and the CS1 roadster appeared, in supersport mode. Again, rival marques were left reeling in its wake. Sadly, James 'Pa' Norton - company founder - died before his bikes saw success.

Before taking on the CS1, 'Wizard' O'Donovan had plenty of practice. He built the Brooklands Special. It was designed specifically for the unique challenges of the legendary English oval. When sold, Brooklands Specials came with a certificate - confirming they had reached 75mph. Detuned Specials were sorted for street use. The roadster's sale certificate guaranteed 70mph - just 5mph less than the racer. So, the CS1 had a tough act to follow. It did so, though, with aplomb. Stylishly engineered, it sported silver-and-black paint - Norton's trademark colour scheme. It was a shame 'Pa' Norton's heart could not hold out a little while longer. Never really a businessman, he loved bikes to the core of his being. He would have loved to see and hear one of his company's masterpieces. Thankfully, at least the Norton CS1 has been exhilarating classic bike fans for many years since!

Costin Amigo

Costin Amigo 1970s British classic sports car

Frank Costin - creator of the Amigo - was an automotive pioneer. That said, he learned a lot of what he knew from the aircraft industry. He had been a top aeronautical engineer in his time. In the Fifties, Costin shifted his skill-set to motor racing. Lotus and Vanwall benefitted directly. Indirectly, the ripples of his expertise spread far wider. When Frank Costin met Jem Marsh, they founded 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 were made from laminated marine plywood.

In time, Marcos moved to more orthodox chassis. That was probably partly as a result of Marsh's input. Costin, though, was still a believer. He sought backing to build a car of his own. Enter the Costin Amigo! Its monocoque frame was forged from, yes, plywood - albeit with strengthening pine strips bonded on. The chassis' light weight was echoed by a glassfibre body. The latter was sublimely smooth - both of shape and finish. Visually and aerodynamically, it cut straight to the chase.

The Amigo's engine, drive-train and suspension were sourced from the Vauxhall VX4/90. Indeed, the Amigo was built close by Vauxhall's Luton HQ. Fittingly - given Costin's former employment - it was at an airfield. And the Amigo's performance was jet-plane impressive. Top speed was 137mph. Handling was high-calibre. Design-wise, only the spartan interior let the side down a tad. It certainly contributed to the Amigo's woefully low sales. A scant eight units were shifted. To be fair to the Amigo, had Frank Costin been more of a marketing man, it might have helped. To be fair to Frank Costin - engineering was all he knew. Anyway - the Costin Amigo story was richer than that of many cars that sold a thousand times more. Not that the bank manager would have seen it that way!

Ford Escort RS

Ford Escort RS 1970s British classic sports car

For many motorists, the Ford Escort RS was a must-have. Especially when sporting 'go faster' stripes, it ticked all the right boy racer boxes. RWD - plus light bodywork - were just the ticket ... sometimes literally! Starring in Seventies TV show The Professionals bolstered the Escort's hard-hitting image. As well as doing its sales figures no harm at all!

The RS, though, was more than a rocketship roadster. It doubled up as a top-flight rally car. The Mexico model marked Ford's win in the London to Mexico Rally. The smaller RS1800 version was still ultra-competitive. With its twin-cam motor - and all round disc brakes - many an owner took to the stages. On the road, too, it did not disappoint. An X-Pack of optional extras saw to that. Between its nose and the tarmac, the RS2000 sported a 'droopsnoot' - a polyurethane spoiler/air dam. It cut drag, according to Ford.

Technologically, then, the Escort impressed. Certainly, its suspension was on solid ground. A set of MacPherson struts sorted the front. A live axle - on leaf springs - looked after the rear. The Escort's monocoque steel shell could be strengthened. Its in-line four engine produced 86bhp. Top speed was 103mph. Later versions upped both stats. The gearbox was 4-speed manual. As '70s interiors went, the Escort's was slick. An array of dials, bucket seats and a sports steering-wheel all helped with harum-scarum high-speed shenanigans. Which - if you bought a Ford Escort RS - was usually what you wanted!

Daimler SP250 Dart

Daimler SP250 Dart 1950s British classic sports car

When first seen - at the '59 NY Motor Show - the Daimler Dart was derided as an ugly duckling. The consensus was that the fins looked dated, the headlamps bug-eyed - and the grille a bit ... well, fishy! Over time, though, qualms over the SP250's styling subsided. Daimler was on a downswing in the late Fifties. New management sought to remedy that - by emulating Jaguar, Triumph and MG. Daimler, too, would produce a sports car for the American market. The potential problem was that Daimler lacked experience with sports cars. Indeed, the Dart was the only one the marque made. To get the ball rolling, it used the chassis and suspension set-up from the Triumph TR3. After that, Daimler turned to the bodywork. Which is when things started to go awry. The glassfibre shell Daimler designed seemed fine. Until the going got a bit rough - at which point the doors were liable to fly open! The writing was on the wall for the Dart as early as 1960. Jaguar then took over the SP250 project. Sir William Lyons was the new CEO. As well as being a top-flight manager, he was a stylist of high repute. Sadly, Lyons and the Dart did not see eye to eye. Its 'unwieldy' form upset his sensibilities. One of the two had to go. It would not be Lyons.

Prior to the Jaguar takeover, Edward Turner was managing director at Daimler. Before that, he had worked at Triumph - in its motorcycle division. His engine design work there had achieved widespread acclaim. Indeed, in the bike world, he was legendary. Some of that had rubbed off on the Dart. Indeed - courtesy of Turner - its motor was pretty much flawless. Torquey but smooth, it catapulted the lightweight Dart to a top speed of 125mph. 0-60 took 9.5s. The engine's hemispherical combustion chambers - and twin SU carburettors - were key to its performance. Plus, the SP250 returned a respectable 25mpg. Best of both worlds, basically. Brakes-wise, a full set of Dunlop discs were fitted.

In a bid to drive up US sales, attempts were made to upgrade the Dart. It was given a stiffer chassis and bumpers - as well as a few more creature comforts than it had previously provided. From a marketing perspective, the SP250 was pitched between the cheaper Triumph TR and MGs - and the more expensive Jaguar XK150. 2,644 SP250s were built. Production ceased in '64. The ugly duckling never did morph into a graceful swan. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder - and Daimler Dart fans loved it all the same!

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII 1960s British classic sports car

The Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII is a seriously iconic British sports car. One of the legendary 'big Healeys', it was made in the Midlands, England. Bodies were built by Jensen - in West Bromwich. Final assembly took place in MG's Abingdon factory. First of the breed was the Healey 100. It recycled the 4-cylinder engine from the Austin Atlantic. But it was when a 6-pot motor was lowered into the 3000 model, that the Healey range really sprang into life.

The 3000 MkI arrived in '59. In design terms, it was not too different from what had gone before. It was a sizeable, stylish 2-seater. The game-changer was beneath the bonnet. The six-cylinder engine kicked out 124bhp. Top speed was 114mph. To cope with the extra horsepower, robust front disc brakes had been fitted. Come the 3000 MkII version, and output had been upped to 132bhp. That was largely courtesy of triple SU carburettors. '64's MkIII racheted up power still further - to 148bhp. The speed-needle now flickered at over 120mph. At that point, the motorsport world sat up and took notice. Before long, the Healey roadster had morphed into a works rally car ... and a highly competitive one, at that.

Visually, the 3000 was notably low-slung. Whilst that certainly looked cool, it did not help the car's rallying cause. On the stages, ground clearance could be suspect. As automotive design, though, the MkIII was a triumph ... as it were! Its dramatic grille - and subtly sloping lines - were a joy to behold. Its wire wheels were web-like works of art. The curved windscreen - and neatly-folding hood - were stylish embellishments. The 3000's rear-end was as shapely as it gets. Distinctly British though it was, the MkIII was built primarily for the American market. Ironically, it was strict Stateside safety regulations that brought about its demise. Production stopped in '67. By then, though, the Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII was woven into the fabric of moody, muscular sports cars. Wonder if Marlon Brando ever drove one!

Triumph Daytona 650

Triumph Daytona 650 2000s British sports bike

When you name a bike after one of the world's greatest racetracks, it had better be good. If not, you risk a copious amount of egg on your face! No worries for Triumph, though, in that department. The Daytona 650 had a top speed of 160mph. And weighed in at just 363lb dry. Either in a straight line or through corners, then, performance was never going to be an issue.

For all that, the Daytona's in-line four engine made a modest 110bhp. The power was unleashed, though, with blistering efficiency. Revs peaked at 12,750rpm - courtesy of 16 watercooled valves. Anyway, a wise man knows not to equate strength with size. The Daytona 600 was not as big as some of its superbike rivals - but it packed a potent punch, notwithstanding!

Looks-wise, the Daytona was drop-dead dynamic. Taking in every twist and turn of its bodywork took time. What could have been a jumbled mess was, instead, an intricate interplay of curves and scallops. There is a 3-D depth to the Daytona's design. So, superior styling - plus tip-top technology - made Triumph's Daytona 650 a track day dream come true!

GM Firebird XP-21

GM Firebird XP-21 1960s American classic concept car

GM's mythical Motorama show spawned many an unusual exhibit. An orgy of automotive exoticism, visitors expected the radical and bizarre. Though whether any of them were prepared for what was served up to them in '54 is debatable. GM's Firebird XP-21 took prototypical outlandishness to a stratospheric level. First off, was it a car or a plane? It appeared to have elements of both. Since it did not fly, presumably that made it a car. But, it did not look like a car - at least, not in any conventional sense. The answer, of course, was that it was a concept car - one which pushed the believability limits, both visually and technically.

The Firebird's space-age looks were drawn by Harley Earl. He was GM's legendary head of design, at the time. From its projectile-style nose - to rear-mounted fin - the Firebird came with dynamism built-in. Its gas-turbine-engine made 370bhp. Sadly, its top speed stat was never established. Perhaps that was for the best. It was a 'dream car', after all. Could it have kept pace with the Douglas Skyray - the aircraft 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 the thumbs up - impressed, as he was, by its straight-line stability.

GM's Firebird was America's first gas-turbine 'car'. Over time, a few other marques followed suit. The XP-21's '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. When the time came, drum brakes and wing-flaps slowed the plot down. The XP-21 was the first of a trio of Firebirds. '55 saw the Firebird II - a 4-seater affair. In '58 came the Firebird III - this time a 2-seater. By that stage, the car was in road mode - a test-bed for cutting edge components. If there was any doubt about GM's commitment to the future, the Firebird XP-21 blew it well and truly into the weeds!