BMW 507

BMW 507 1950s German classic sports car

The BMW 507 was styled by Albrecht von Goertz. He was a German aristocrat - who owned an American industrial design agency. Goertz took the big box-section chassis of the BMW saloon car, and shortened it. He ended up with a taut and tidy 2-seater. The 507 was an unabashed attempt to crack the American glamour market. Post-war, BMW had watched their brand-image slide into mediocrity. It was high time the great German manufacturer raised its profile again. Hopefully, the 507 would be the car to do it. It was not to be. Just 253 BMW 507s were built. Both technically and aesthetically, the 507 was impeccably packaged. It did not sell well, though. Haute couture on wheels, the 507 took refinement to another level. But, that cost too much to produce. With the Second World War not long gone, it simply was not affordable, for most motorists.

The 507 was not a 'driver's car'. It had none of the addictive challenges of some machines ... the overcoming of which are proof positive of advanced piloting skills. The 507 got its inevitably well-heeled occupants from A to B with a minimum of fuss. Not that it could not push on, if required. Should one have been a tad late for the opera, a quick boot - or brogue - on the pedal, was all that was needed to make up the time. The 3-litre V8 engine gave 160bhp. That translated to 140mph ... more than enough to catch curtain-up! 0-60 came up in 9s. The soundtrack from the twin rear pipes was music to the ears! At speed, the 507 was unflustered. Front and rear torsion-bar suspension saw to that. A relaxed ride at all times was the order of the 507 day.

Of course, when it comes to design, it is the little things which count. And 507 detailing was second to none. Heat-extracting vents were a cross-hatched delight. And set off by the BMW badge. The vents' inter-locking lines were matched by the 'kidney' grille - a stylish revamp of a traditional BMW theme. The 507's front-end was shark-like - thanks to its beautiful, protruding nose. The long, flowing bonnet-line - and cute stub-tail - complemented each other perfectly. The 507 stayed in production for four short years. That was never, however, what the 507 was really about. Consummately-crafted, it took the motor-car into the realms of fine art. The 507 cost BMW more than it recouped. But then, what price do you put on perfection?

Harley-Davidson Sportster

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1950s American classic motorcycle

The Harley-Davidson Sportster first hit American highways in '57. Since then, it has given many a rider a first taste of the Harley lifestyle. By '62, the Sportster was serving up 55bhp - at just 5,000rpm. That was thanks to its iconic V-twin engine layout. The motor's stroke was a tall 96.8mm. Top speed for the Sportster in the early '60s was 110mph. Prior to that, British-made bikes had been the only way to go - at any real speed, anyway. The Sportster changed all that!

The XLCH model weighed in at 485lb. That was light enough for a skilled rider to cruise through corners with relative ease. While hardly the 'sportiest' of two-wheeled machines by today's standards, back in the Sixties it was a lithe and agile ride.

The Sportster's small, but perfectly-formed fuel-tank was the focal point of a pleasingly uncluttered design. Complementing it were a diminutive headlamp and low-set 'bars - as compared with many a Harley-Davidson to come, at any rate! A single seat - and slender fenders - were in keeping with the Sportster's minimalistic styling aproach. In marketing terms, the Harley-Davidson Sportster has long been the bedrock of this most prestigious of motorcycle marques. And long may it continue to be so, many an afficionado would say!


MGB 1970s British classic sports car

Footballer George Best owned an MGB. A man synonymous with both Sixties and Seventies style, he no doubt took the odd Miss World or two out for a spin in it. He would have needed to be careful, however, with his glamorous passengers - the MGB's handling was no match for Best's dynamic dribbles! Suspension and steering parts - as well as its live axle - were stock BMC items. They were nothing to write home about, in manoeuvrability terms. In a straight line, though, things were much improved. Top speed for the MGB was a creditable 106mph. Best - and his busty companions - would have felt the breeze blowing through their Vidal Sassoon-styled locks. At one point, more than 50,000 MGBs per annum were passing through the Abingdon factory gates. Add another nought to that figure, and you have total sales for the MGB. More than half a million were shifted - between '62 and '80. Numbers like that make it one of the most successful sports cars ever built!

It is safe to say that the MGB's sales figures were mainly due to its lithe good looks. Technically, it was no great shakes. Nonetheless, it was an improvement on its predecessor - the MGA. The latter's hefty separate chassis had been ditched - in favour of a lighter unit-construction item. And while it was no performance car, the MGB scored well in torque terms. There was 110lb/ft of the stuff - at just 3,000rpm.

But it was in the styling department that the MGB shone. Its seductively low lines were drawn with stunning simplicity. The MGB was aerodynamic, by default. Were it not for its small-scale four-cylinder engine, clearly it could have gone a lot quicker. In sports car terms, 95bhp was sufficient - but no more than that. With that caveat, as an all-round package the MGB could certainly be said to have embodied 'the best of British'!


BRM H16 1960s classic F1 car

The BRM H16 was not the most successful F1 car ever built - but it was one of the most unusual. And while points are not awarded to the most interesting machines, without them motorsport would be the poorer. For example, one way to produce a 3.0-litre V16 - conforming to the new F1 size limit - might be to link two 1.5-litre V8s? That is precisely what Tony Rudd - BRM's engine designer - chose to do. It was a logical step. BRM - British Racing Motors - already had said V8s at its disposal. All Rudd had to do was shorten them down a tad, place one on top of the other, and hook them up. He was not, however, in a position to sort the engine's inherent excessive weight. That would be a problem!

Rudd's inspiration for his V16 was Napier Dagger's H24 aero engine. Rudd reckoned it was good for 600bhp, fully developed. Later, he would say he wished he had gone down the 12-cylinder route instead. But at the time, 16 cylinders seemed like the way to go. Gremlins got in from the get-go. Vibrations would be ironed out in one part of the engine ... only to pop up in another! The H16 did not make it onto the grid until the end of the '66 season. For '67, reliability was improved. Unfortunately, that came at the expense of power!

The BRM's P83 chassis did not help. Like the H16 engine, it was heavy. The 115 'lightweight' chassis replaced it - but even that was substantially heavier than its rivals. Jackie Stewart was a BRM driver, at the time. He was not exactly gushing with praise for the H16 car. Its performance limit was too easy to find, he said. That made it hard for a driver to shine - even one of his calibre. The exceptions were tracks like Spa Francorchamps and the Nürburgring - or some equally challenging circuit. For all that, the H16 did win a GP - though it needed Lotus' help to do it. In '66 - while awaiting delivery of the Ford DFV motor - Colin Chapman hired the H16 engine to power the Lotus Type 43. Ironic, really, given Chapman's obsession with weight-saving. Heavy as its H16 motor was, Jim Clark eased the Type 43 to F1 victory - at Watkins Glen, USA. And in '67, for all his dislike of the H16 car, Jackie Stewart placed it second at Spa. That, though, was pretty much it. A real racing oddity, the BRM H16 must have been great fun to watch ... if not quite as much to drive!


Gordon-Keeble 1960s British classic car

The Gordon-Keeble was named after company founders John Gordon and Jim Keeble. Sales-wise, it significantly under-achieved. An American V8 engine, along with a British chassis and Italian styling, should have been a viable combination. The Gordon-Keeble went into production in '64. By the following year, only 80 had been built. By '67 - the end of its run - that figure had risen to 99. Still paltry! Not for the last time, root problems were parts supply and under-funding.

The Gordon-Keeble's V8 came courtesy of the Chevrolet Corvette. It produced 300bhp. The Gordon-Keeble's top speed was 135mph. It hit 70 in first gear. The more than impressive stats were in large part due to a lightweight glass-fibre body. It was designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro. He was 21 when he penned the Gordon-Keeble's subtle lines. Already, he was lead stylist at Bertone. Later, he would join Ghia. By the late '60s, Giugiaro had launched his own studio. For Gordon-Keeble to attract such talent was a huge feather in their cap. The judiciously-slanted headlamps were just one of the features Giugiaro drafted. Beneath his body was a square-section space-frame chassis. It incorporated a DeDion rear axle. Lashings of torque were delivered to it by a 4-speed 'box.

Gordon-Keeble's factory was on the site of an airport - near Southampton, England. Maybe, some of that aeronautical ambience rubbed off on the car. Certainly, its dashboard looked like it would be equally at home in a jet-plane - comprised, as it was, of a multitude of toggle switches. In pride of place on the factory façade was a small sign, which said a great deal. 'The car built to aircraft standards'. Sadly - in terms of automotive success stories - the Gordon-Keeble was one of those that got away!