Lancia Delta HF Integrale

Lancia Delta HF Integrale 1980s Italian sports car

It would be difficult to overstate the iconicism of the Lancia Delta HF Integrale. It swept all comers aside - on the road, and in competition. In the year and a half following its launch - in 1987 - the Delta Integrale won 14 World Championship rallies. Driver Miki Biasion took full advantage - garnering two world titles.

The Integrale's original 8-valve cylinder head motor made 185bhp. In '89, it was replaced by a 16-valve head. Power increased to 200bhp. The new model totted up 13 top-flight rally wins. Juha Kankunnen took the '91 drivers' title. In time, the fruits of such success trickled down. The road-going Integrale's finely-tuned 4-wheel-drive set-up gave good handling, in all conditions. Combine that with a 2-litre turbo-charged engine - and you had a perfect blend of speed and precision. As a hatchback, practicality was a given. But there were little luxuries, too. Like Recaro seats, electric front windows, and a cute instrument panel. It all added up to an impressively 'integrated' package.

Wide wheel-arches and fat tyres presented a splayed and purposeful muscularity of form. The styling was not 'boxy' - but minimalist! As all-rounders go, then, few cars have held a candle to the Lancia Delta HF Integrale!

Ducati 250 Desmo

Ducati 250 Desmo 1970s Italian classic motorbike

The Ducati 250 Desmo was a nailed down design classic! Ducati began in Bologna, in 1926 - producing electrical parts. There is a certain irony in that - insomuch as Italian machines have usually been more noted for aesthetic perfection than precision practicality.

Ducati's signature 'desmodromic' system saw engine valves closed by cams, rather than springs. The intent was to give finer, more direct control over valve operation ... which it did! For a brand so synonymous with styling, this was, for sure, a technical feather in Ducati's cap. The smallest - or most petite - of the 'Desmo Ducatis' was the 250. Of reduced capacity, it may have been - but, like its bigger siblings - the 250 was still blessed with a good turn of speed. Top speed was just short of the totemic 'ton'. Agility-wise, too, the 250 had a lot going for it. Weighing in at less than 300lb - and with finely-tuned suspension - its rubber side stayed resolutely glued to the tarmac. Nonetheless, clip-on 'bars, rear-set footrests, and a solo seat combined to coax riders to find the limits of such adhesion!

The 250 Desmo was styled by Leo Tartarini. Eschewing extravagance, he drew the 250 with simple, straightforward lines. The bike had dynamism built-in - by dint of its 'racy' parts list. All in all, the 250 was as strong visually, as it was technically. Certainly, its desmodromic valve-gear took pride of place - in innovation terms, at least. But, the Ducati 250 Desmo possessed poise and purpose belying its size. An impressive all-round package, this diminutive Ducati was much more than mere show.

Lamborghini Murciélago

Lamborghini Murcielago 2000s Italian supercar

The Lamborghini Murciélago was styled by Belgian Luc Donckerwolke. He was head of design at Audi - who had been taken over by Lamborghini, in '98. Traditionally, Italian styling houses had been recruited by Lamborghini. And indeed, Bertone had been briefed to draft the new car. Their mock-up was ready to go into production. But at the last, that project was canned ... and the design reins passed to Donckerwolke.

The Murciélago was launched with no lack of fanfare. Mount Etna - in Sicily - provided a fittingly explosive backdrop for the new supercar. The accompanying son et lumière show was equally spectacular ... including, as it did, a volcanic eruption. A virtual eruption, that is!

Donckerwolke decked the car out in razor-sharp lines. Bodywork was carbon-fibre and steel. Beneath, the chassis was fashioned from high-tensile tubing. A low drag coefficient was a gimme - given the car's shape. Top speed was 205mph. 0-60 arrived in just 3.85s. Steady torque delivery - and electronic engine management - rendered the car relatively tractable. Suspension and brakes were, of course, state of the art. Lamborghini's decision to give the design gig to Donckerwolke had paid off. The Belgian had delivered in spades. The Murciélago overflowed with Italianate exuberance and panache ... and then some!

Porsche 356

Porsche 356 1940s German classic sports car

The Porsche 356 was the beginning of a design dynasty. Ferdinand Porsche had opened his studio in 1931. It was another 15 years, though, before the first production car was sold under the Porsche brand-name. It was no coincidence that the 356 was similar to the VW Beetle. Ferdinand Porsche had, after all, previously penned that utilitarian classic, too - for the German government. The 356's compact, rounded shape endeared it to those with an eye for understated charm. Indeed, it was the small - but perfectly-formed - 356 which cemented Porsche's reputation, in the '50s. Right up to '65, in fact - when the Porsche 911 series took over centre stage.

For the first four years, the 956 was manufactured in Austria. It was fitted with a flat-four push-rod engine. Rear-mounted - and topped off with a cute grille - the air-cooled motor kept time in pleasingly pulsing fashion. With a capacity of just 1,100cc, it made a mere 40bhp. Top speed was 87mph. Suspension was via trailing-link up front - and high-pivot swing axle at the rear. There was a 4-speed gearbox. Certainly, the 356's split windscreen was a sweet design flourish.

The Porsche 356A model - released in Germany, in '55 - was less rotund than the original. It came with a curved, one-piece screen. Front suspension, and steering had been revised. A bigger 1,600cc engine had been installed. B and C versions continued to uprate the 356 technical spec. There would be Roadsters, a Karmann coupé, and the Super 75 and Super 90. As well as 356 Carreras. After the 911 had taken over the Porsche reins, the 912 still had a foot in both camps. It was powered by a 356 engine - beneath a 911 body shell. In Porsche legacy terms, then, the 356 could not have been more pivotal!

VW Beetle

VW Beetle 1950s German classic car

21,000,000 VW Beetles were built. That makes it the most popular car ever to turn a wheel! To this day, the 'V-Dub' commands cult status. Providing plenty of scope for engine-tweaking and customisation, the Beetle is a treasure-trove of creative possibilities. But if all you required from a car was reliability, the Beetle was still the car for you. The designer of this paragon of automotive virtue was Dr Ferdinand Porsche. It was born out of Hitler's call for a motor-car for the masses. Not many Beetles were built before the war ... but after it, the floodgates opened. To begin with, things Beetle were pretty basic. It came with a non-synchromesh gearbox, cable brakes - and little by way of ornamentation. But with hostilities over, the US started to catch the V-Dub bug. It made the perfect second car - dependable, practical and economical. In short order, thoughts were turning to its 'development' opportunities. Heck, the Beetle's formidable traction even made it a great beach buggy!

But not even its most ardent fan would claim the Beetle as a performance car. With capacity peaking at 1,584cc - and power at 50bhp - the Beetle was never going to break land speed records! It maxed out at 84mph. The air-cooled motor, though, kept a rock-steady beat. And while no oil painting, the Beetle was not without visual allure. Indeed, the Kharmann Ghia version was actually quite pretty. And the split-rear-screen model, of the early '50s, was positively voguish.

Come the Sixties, however, and buyers began demanding a more modern driving experience. VW responded with 1,300- and 1,500cc units - replacing the time-served 1,100. Beetles were now fitted with an all-synchromesh 'box, disc brakes, and semi-automatic transmission. Production was based at the Wolfsburg factory - in Lower Saxony. Not even in his wildest dreams could the Führer have forecast the heights to which his utilitarian little automobile would soar. The second most popular car of all time is Henry Ford's 'Model T'. It clocked up 15,000,000 sales. It was in the early '70s that the VW Beetle outstripped the Ford Model T's tally. Probably because it came in colours other than black!