FN Four

FN Four

In terms of breakthroughs in the history of motorcycling, there cannot be many to rival the first inline-four engine. Belgium was the birthplace of this landmark layout. FN was the much-to-be-thanked manufacturer.

The FN Four first hit the highway in 1911. It produced 4bhp. That, from a 491 cc capacity. At the time, such figures described state-of-the-art technology. Top speed for the FN Four was 40mph. Not bad - for an 8-valve inlet-over-exhaust set-up. Oh, it was air-cooled.

The FN Four was light - tipping the scales at 165lb dry. Not only the motor, but the chassis, too, was avant-garde. It featured an early form of telescopic forks. A new-fangled clutch - and 2-speed 'box - only added to the FN Four's slick box of tricks. Solid shaft-drive output the power. Who, then, designed this visionary vintage? You will not hear the name Paul Kelekom shouted from motorcycling's rooftops. But, you should - for it was he who fashioned the FN Four. In so doing, he kick-started a craze for fast, four-cylinder motorbikes. It is still going pretty strong today!

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz

The Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz has to be one of the most outrageous-looking roadsters ever built. Looking for all the world like a Saturn space-rocket, you would have seen it coming from a mile off. Not that it would have arrived quite as quickly as a rocket ... though it did have a top speed of 115mph. It would have helped had that mile been a super-smooth stretch of American highway - since anything else might have turned the Biarritz's soft suspension to the proverbial jelly! But given the right road, the Biarritz was a car like no other. The epitome of OTT styling, it took '50s sci-fi mania to another level. Rear fins had never been higher - reaching a Mount Everest-like 42″. Jutting out from them were indicators and brake-lights resembling a ray-gun. The tail-lights could have doubled up as after-burners! The rear grille was cosmetic - but furthered the impression of forward thrust.

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 two-ton weight of the Biarritz. It did not help with fuel economy, either. A mere 8mpg was the order of the Biarritz day. Not a lot - but then, petrol in Fifties America was pretty cheap. Holding it together was a perimeter frame chassis. Drum brakes were fitted all round. Not exactly space-age ... but, then, that had been dealt with by the design department!

The Biarritz was nothing if not comfortable. Mainly, that was down to its 'eiderdown' suspension. Each of the six seats, though, was power-adjustable. The boot opened electrically. Headlight-dipping was automatic. Naturally, it had power-steering. The hood and windows, too, were electrically-operated. Transmission was via a 3-speed auto. Named after a mythical city, made out of gold - and a sophisticated French seaside resort - the Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz was everything you would expect from a car so dubbed.

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100

Kawasaki ZZ-R1100

The Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 was a serious superbike - with a top speed of 176mph. Its 1,052cc, 16-valve, in-line four engine produced 145bhp. It weighed in at 603lb, wet. From '90 to '95, the ZZ-R was the world's fastest production motorcycle - succeeding Kawasaki's ZX-10. It took Honda's Super Blackbird finally to topple the Kawasaki marque.

Those more than impressive performance figures were due, in no small part, to 'ram-air' technology. The faster the ZZ-R travelled, the more air was forced - via a duct - from its fairing, through to the motor. More air meant more power. Light the blue touch-paper - and stand well back!

For speed merchants, and non-speed merchants alike, the ZZ-R was a forgiving beast. Sold as a sports-tourer, it was well-equipped, frame- and suspension-wise. The ZZ-R handled with aplomb - and was well up to anything the average rider could throw at it. In visual terms, though not a 'stunner', the ZZ-R was a nice-looking bike. It sported sweetly-angled plastic panels - and a free-flowing design, in general. That a bike with power stats like the Kawasaki ZZ-R1100 could even be considered an 'all-rounder' was great testament to Japanese engineering.

BMW R60/2

BMW R60/2

The '60' in BMW R60/2 refers to the 600cc engine capacity. Coincidentally, the bike was released in 1960. It proved to be a popular addition to BMW's roster of rugged, reliable machines. The R60/2 was no athlete ... well, actually it was, but its athleticism was definitely of the long-distance kind. Heavy steering - and soft suspension - meant the bike was far from 'flickable'. But, point it at some far-flung destination, and it would get there - or die trying! Should there have been a side-car attached, so much the better, stability-wise. The R60/2 adapted well to three wheels - at a time when the motorcycle was often the sole form of family transport.

The BMW's 'boxer' flat-twin engine was the power behind such 'marathon' feats. Though not the most finely-tuned of layouts, it was strong and smooth, along with its stamina. That had been well-verified competitively. In the '30s, Ernst Henne had set speed records on streamlined, supercharged 'boxer' BMWs. Schorsch Meier was the first foreign rider to win an Isle of Man TT ... the '39 Senior, aboard a half-litre BMW. In '56, Walter Zeller was runner-up in the 500cc world championship. BMW's forte, however, was side-car racing. Between '54 and '74, they notched up 19 out of 21 world championships, in the 3-wheeled category.

The R60/2's top speed was 87mph. That, from a mere 26bhp. German engineers, though, had pared down weight to just 430lb. So, the shaft drive still gave a reasonable output return. Leading-link Earles forks improved comfort. The R60/2 was pleasantly styled - in a 'solid' sort of a way. So, while not, perhaps, a bike to set the world alight, the BMW R60/2 would travel the length and breadth of it without missing a beat!

Panhard 24CT

Panhard 24CT

Panhard's last hurrah was the '24' Series - which hit the showrooms in '63. Founded back in 1889, the French firm was now floundering - pitched against more conventional products from Peugeot, Citroën and Renault. Sadly, even the iconic 24CT could not save Panhard. The car fought against the financial odds, though, with all the Gallic gusto it could muster. Its aerodynamic bodywork saw it flying into the French marketing fray. The car's large windows - supported by finely-wrought pillars - provided excellent visibility. And the CT's cowled-in headlights pierced through darkness, with aplomb. The automotive giant that was Citroën, though, would gobble up little Panhard, in the end.

The 24CT's flat-twin engine made but 60bhp. Capacity was just 845cc. That was still enough, however, to give a top speed of 100mph. No doubt, the CT's svelte shape helped, too. That was aligned with the highest-spec 'Tigre' engine option - complete with its twin-choke carb. The standard lump provided 10bhp less. At lowish revs, the 24CT failed to impress. 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. Retardation-wise - from '65 onwards - disc brakes were fitted all round. Handling was fine - and all the better for front-wheel drive.

The 24CT's roots were in the Panhard Dyna. That car had been designed by Grégoire - in the 1940s. Panhard's PL17, too, brought good looks and innovation to the automotive table. The 24 Series itself sold well enough ... 23,245 cars being built. Citroën took Panhard over in '65 - and did its best to make the 24 Series a success. But, a car as elegant as the 24CT is never cheap to make. 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 a more than fitting finale.

Lamborghini Diablo

Lamborghini Diablo

The goal for the Lamborghini Diablo was to top the Countach - its immediate predecessor. To do so it would need to be pretty special. Hence the fact that Marcello Gandini was entrusted with the styling. He fulfilled his design brief to perfection. From the projector headlights - inlaid into the car's cute snub-nose - to the four-barrelled exhausts at the back, the Diablo screamed classic Italian supercar. Lamborghini's answer to the Ferrari F40, the Diablo had all the allure of that automotive masterpiece. Diablo materials were state-of-the-art ... a carbon-fibre-strengthened chassis, clad in aluminium and composite-plastic body panels. Chrysler spent a cool £50m on Diablo development.

But, there was more to the Diablo than a stunning shape. For a roadster, performance was off the clocks. The 5.7-litre V12 maxed out at 492bhp. Top speed was a gargantuan 202mph. That made it the first production Lamborghini to attain that mythical figure. Diablo is Spanish for 'Devil' ... and the Diablo was nothing if not tempting! Torque was colossal - 428lb-ft of the stuff. Lamborghini had taken the incredible Countach engine - and improved it. Bigger and tidier, it was now catalysed and sequentially fuel-injected. The Diablo hit 100mph in second gear.

They say the devil has all the best tunes ... and 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 an arm's length away. Interior trim was impeccable. The sole flaw was a lack of luggage-room. But, when the choice is between storage space - and a voluptuous V12 - most drivers would not take too long to make up your minds. After all, Lamborghini did not build the Diablo to lug stuff about. They built it to push the boundaries of design and science.