FN Four

FN Four vintage motorcycle

It may not have been known at the time, but the FN Four signalled a seismic shift in biking. After all, there cannot have been many breakthroughs to match the introduction of the inline-four. Belgium was the birthplace of that landmark engine layout. And FN was the much-to-be-congratulated manufacturer.

The first FN Four hit the highway in 1911. It produced 4bhp. From 491cc. At the time, such figures described state of the art technology. Top speed for the FN Four was 40mph. Not too shabby - for an 8-valve inlet-over-exhaust configuration. It rather went without saying that it was air-cooled!

The FN Four was light - tipping the scales at just 165lb dry. Not only its motor - but its chassis, too - was avant-garde. It featured a rudimentary form of telescopic forks. And FN added a new-fangled 'clutch' - and 2-speed gearbox - to the Four's slick set of tricks. A solid shaft-drive set-up output the power. So, who designed this visionary vintage machine? You will not hear the name Paul Kelekom shouted from motorcycling's rooftops ... at least, not very often. But, you should - for it was he who fashioned the FN Four. And, in so doing, he kick-started a craze for fast, four-cylinder two-wheelers. Last time I looked, the fad was still alive and kicking!

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz 1950s American classic car

The Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was one outrageous roadster. Launched in '59, it looked like a Saturn space-rocket. Certainly, you could have seen it coming from a mile away. Not that it would have arrived as quickly as a rocket - its top speed being 115mph. It would have helped, too, had said mile been a smooth stretch of freeway. The Biarritz's springy suspension might have got the jitters, otherwise. But - given the right road - the Biarritz was a car like no other. The epitome of OTT styling, it took Fifties sci-fi mania to another level. Rear fins had never been higher - up to a skyscraper-like 42″. Jutting out of them was a ray-gun of indicators and brake-lights. And - were they tail-lights or after-burners? A cosmetic rear grille inspired further flights of spaced-out fancy.

Powering the plot was a 6.3-litre V8. It made a more than respectable 345bhp. Much of that, though, was soaked up by the Biarritz's two-ton weight problem. It did not do the fuel economy any favours, either. A measly 8mpg were available. There again, petrol in '50s America was cheap as chips. Holding it all together was a perimeter frame chassis. Drum brakes were fitted all round. Not exactly space-age, technically. But, then, that had been sorted by the design department!

The Biarritz was off-the-clock comfortable. Zero-gravity, you might say! That was due, mainly, to its super-soft suspension settings. All six seats were power-adjustable. The boot-lid opened electrically. Headlight-dipping was automatic. Of course, there was power-steering. The hood and windows were also electrically-operated. Transmission was via a 3-speed auto. The car was named after a mythical city, made out of gold - and a sophisticated French seaside resort. Cadillac's Eldorado Biarritz was everything you would expect from a machine so dubbed. Oh - space-walks were an extra!

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 1990s Japanese superbike

The Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 was one serious superbike. 176mph flat-out testified to that. Its 1,052cc, 16-valve, in-line four engine produced 145bhp. It needed to - the ZZ-R weighed in at a portly 603lb, wet. From 1990 to '95, the ZZ-R was the world's fastest production motorcycle - succeeding Kawasaki's ZX-10, in that regard. It took the Super Blackbird to restore Honda to the top of the speed heap.

The high-grade performance stats were due, in no small part, to 'ram-air' technology. The faster the ZZ-R travelled, the more air was forced through its ducted fairing, to the motor. More air meant more combustion - which, in turn, meant more power. If it was not an exponential increase - it sure as heck felt like it!

For all of its brain-warp acceleration, the ZZ-R was a forgiving beast, at heart. Sold as a sports-tourer, its chassis came supremely well-equipped. Both frame and suspension were solid, yet flexible. With the right settings dialled in, the ZZ-R was as safe as your riding skills. That a bike as explosive as the ZZ-R1100 could be considered an all-rounder said it all about Kawasaki engineering!

BMW R60/2

BMW R60/2 1960s German classic motorcycle

The '60' in R60/2 referenced the bike's 600cc engine capacity. BMW released it in 1960. It proved to be a popular addition to BMW's roster of rugged, reliable machines. The R60/2 was no athlete. Well, in fact, it was - but its athleticism was of the long-distance kind. Heavy steering - and soft suspension - rendered the R60/2 far from flickable. Point it at some far-flung destination, however - and you'd be there soon enough. Stability-wise, having a side-car attached helped. The R60/2 adapted well to three wheels. That was good - because, for many families, at the time, the motorcycle was often the sole form of transport.

The R60/2's stamina was provided by a 'boxer' flat-twin. Though not, frankly, the most finely-tuned of engines, it was, nonetheless, strong and relatively smooth. That was seen to by its simple, reciprocal layout - the two pistons 'punching' steadily in and out. The power that produced was well-documented. In the '30s, Ernst Henne had set speed records on streamlined, supercharged BMWs. Schorsch Meier was the first foreign rider to win an Isle of Man TT. That was the '39 Senior - aboard a half-litre boxer BMW. And - in '56 - Walter Zeller was runner-up in the 500cc world championship. BMW's forte, though, was side-car racing. Between '54 and '74, they notched up 19 out of 21 world championships, in the category.

Top whack for the roadster R60/2 was 87mph. That, from a mere 26bhp. Weight, though, had been pared down to just 430lb. So, the shaft drive set-up was still able to deliver a reasonable return of speed. Leading-link Earles forks oozed comfort. And, the R60/2 was pleasantly enough styled - in a 'solid' sort of a way. If you craved a machine, then, to set your pulse racing, the R60/2 probably would not have been it. If, though, travelling the world without missing a beat was what was needed ... well, BMW had built the bike for you!

Panhard 24CT

Panhard 24CT 1960s French classic car

The 24 Series would be Panhard's last hurrah. The first of them hit the showrooms in '63. Founded in 1889, the French firm was floundering. It was now pitched against more state of the art cars from Peugeot, Citroën and Renault. Not even the iconic 24CT could save Panhard. It fought the financial odds, though, with all the Gallic gusto it could muster. And the 24CT had plenty to offer, in marketing terms. Not least, its aerodynamic bodywork. Large windows - supported by finely-wrought pillars - provided excellent visibility. Cowled-in headlights lit up the road, with aplomb. For all its feisty resistance, though, in the end, the automotive giant that was Citroën gobbled up little Panhard.

The 24CT's flat-twin motor made only 60bhp. Capacity was just 845cc. That was still enough, however, to give a top-spec speed of 100mph. That was with the Tigre engine option - complete with its twin-choke carb. The CT's svelte shape certainly helped, too. The standard Panhard lump provided 10bhp less. At low revs, the 24CT did not pull up any trees. Torque was reduced - and the flat-twin motor ran rough. As revs picked up, though, things 24CT settled down nicely. Transmission was via a 4-speed floor-shift. From '65 onward, disc brakes were fitted all round. Handling was more than adequate - and all the better for front-wheel drive.

The 24CT's roots were in the Panhard Dyna. The latter was styled by Grégoire - in the Forties. The Panhard PL17, also, brought good looks and innovation to the car design table. The 24 Series sold reasonably well - given their high price tags. In all, 23,245 cars were built. Citroën took Panhard over in '65 - and did its utmost to make the 24 Series a success. A car as elegant as the 24CT, though, is never cheap to make. And that, ultimately, proved to be its Achilles' heel. In '67, Citroën accepted that Panhard's Paris factory could be put to more profitable use building its own brand's cars. One of motoring's great pioneers had reached the end of the road. The Panhard 24CT, though, was an entirely fitting finale!

Lamborghini Diablo

Lamborghini Diablo 1990s Italian supercar

The Lamborghini Diablo had to top the Countach - its wedge-shaped predecessor. To do so, it would need to be pretty special. Hence the fact that Marcello Gandini was given the design brief. He fulfilled it to perfection. All the way from the inlaid headlights, to the four-barrelled exhausts. The Diablo roared classic Italian supercar from the moment Gandini picked up his pen. It was Lamborghini's mid-engined riposte to the Ferrari F40 - and the Diablo had all the allure of that Italian masterpiece. Materials used were state of the art. The Diablo was fitted with a strengthened carbon-fibre chassis. That was clad in aluminium and composite-plastic body panels. Lamborghini spent a cool £50m on development. Diablo is Spanish for 'Devil' - and there was a heck of a lot of detail to be paid for!

But, there was even more to the Diablo than stunning styling. For a roadster, its performance was off the graph. A 5.7-litre V12 maxed out at 492bhp. Top speed was a gargantuan 202mph. Indeed, the Diablo was the first production Lamborghini to attain that mythical figure. Torque measured a colossal 428lb-ft. From the Countach, Lamborghini had taken what was already an incredible engine - and improved it. Bigger - and tidier of design - it now came catalysed and fuel-injected. The Diablo hit 100mph in second gear alone.

They say the devil has all the best tunes. Their were to be several variations on the Diablo theme. SV, SV-R, Roadster and VT versions duly appeared. There were both 2- and 4-wheel drive models to choose from. The biggest beast of all was the limited-edition Diablo SE30. It topped out at 210mph. 0-60 came up in 4.2s. But - for all the Diablo's power - comfort was not compromised. Ergonomics were expertly-crafted. Adjustable suspension was but an arm's length away. Interior trim was impeccable. The sole flaw - if it can be considered so in a supercar - was a lack of luggage-room. But, when the choice was between storage space - and a more voluptuous V12 - most buyers did not hesitate. End of the day, the Diablo was not built to lug stuff about. Lamborghini were testing the limits of design and science!