Aston Martin Lagonda

Aston Martin Lagonda 1970s British classic car

There was little doubt which car was the star of the '76 Earls Court Show. The Aston Martin Lagonda fired up a furore of excitement around its stand. 170 orders were placed, there and then. Aston - still reeling from recent travails - were on cloud nine. Then the problems set in! The Lagonda sported futuristic looks - designed by William Towns. His cutting edge styling included not just the exterior lines, but the cabin area, too. A digital dash - and touch-sensitive controls - seemed straight out of Star Trek. But, this was '70s Britain - not '90s Silicon Valley. Technical gremlins surfaced from the get-go. As a result, the Lagonda's launch was delayed three years. By the time it was finally released, its price tag had risen to £32,000. Aston thanked their lucky stars that it was still in demand!

In terms of traditional engineering, the Lagonda was fine. Its chassis was an updated version of a tried and tested set-up. Suspension, too, had been seen before. Following a few tweaks to sort an increase in weight, ride and handling were spot-on. Press reviews were upbeat. The Lagonda's engine, especially, was praised. Its 5.3-litre V8 - with quad-cam layout - made 340bhp. Top speed was 140mph. That was impressive - for a saloon car weighing nearly two tons. Transmission was 3-speed auto.

Ultimately, the Lagonda was all about leisure. Avant-garde though it was, it also harked back to a more luxurious past. On its launch, then - in '79 - Lord and Lady Tavistock were first in line. Air conditioning - and electric seats - came as standard. Coachbuilders Tickford turned out three stretched Lagondas - complete with colour TVs. But, for all of its state of the art buzz - and genteel pretensions - the Lagonda did not sell well. By the end of its run - in 1990 - a scant 645 cars had been built. It had signally failed to back up the hype - commercially-speaking, anyway. The high-tech teething troubles had not helped. In that regard, however, it paved the way for cars to come. At the time, though, Aston Martin's Lagonda bit off more of the future than it could comfortably chew!

Citroën Light 15

Citroen Light 15 1930s French classic sports car

Not many cars can claim to have changed the face of motoring. One that can is the Citroën Light 15. Its unique selling point was front wheel drive - or traction-avant, in its native tongue. And its innovative engineering did not stop there. The Light 15's 3-speed gearbox sat in its nose - fore of the engine. Power passed to the torsion-bar-suspended front wheels via CV-jointed shafts. Said transmission system was decidedly avant-garde in '34 - when the Light 15 was released. In road-holding terms, it was a revelation. The only downside to FWD was that it made the steering a tad heavy. A subscription to the local gym, though, soon sorted that out!

There was to be a tragic twist, though, to the Light 15 tale. Its cutting edge features meant Citroën's development costs spiralled. The resulting stress contributed to the early death of André Citroën - the firm's founder. Sadly, he died without a sou to his name. At least his company was bailed out - by tyre maestro Michelin. As a result, the Light 15 stayed in production for years to come. In time, it became a best-seller for Citroën. Not that that benefitted poor André much. It was also highly influential. For example, the Light 15's FWD - and, thus, improved handling - made it a big hit with the French police. Ironically, it was just as popular with less law-abiding citizens - and for precisely the same reasons. Cops 'n' Robbers had never been so much fun! Thanks to its 1.9-litre overhead-valve motor, the Light 15 had a top speed of 75mph. Hair-raising chases duly ensued. But - thanks to the Light 15's independent torsion-bar springing - they were bounce-free. Well, almost!

The Light 15, then, was a benchmark car. It was not until '55, however - and the advent of the DS - that Citroën let it slip into well-earned retirement. After all, the Light 15 had done much to pave the way for its successor. In particular, it had pioneered the hydro-pneumatic self-levelling suspension set-up for which the DS would be celebrated. Styling-wise, the Light 15 did not change much over the years. Fine examples can still be seen on French roads today - a clear indication of its high build quality. The French have a saying, which translates to 'The more things change, the more they stay the same'. The Light 15 was a case in point. The rate of change has sky-rocketed recently. So, it is easy to forget that machines like the Citroën Light 15 have long been pushing the technological envelope!

Riley RM

Riley RM 1950s British classic sports car

By the time the RM series was launched - in '45 - Riley's glory days seemed gone. Dating back to 1898, the firm had produced a steady stream of successful saloon and sports cars, throughout the '20s and most of the '30s. At race circuits, too, Rileys met with much success. Sales had been consistently impressive. By the late Thirties, though, financial fissures were forming. As a result, '38 saw Nuffield take over the Riley reins. It worked. Before long, there was a resurgence of interest from investors. And, the post-war launch of the RM series saw Riley right back on track.

The RMA and RMB models were stylish saloons. Timber frames were wrapped in swooping steel bodywork. Topping it all off was a woven removable roof. Both A and B were fitted with Riley's high-cam inline-four engine. The A was good for 75mph. The B took that out to 95mph. Riley's motor had the longest stroke of any post-war British production car. As you would expect, then, torque came by the barrelful. Again, both A and B featured torsion-bar independent front suspension. So, good handling was also a given.

The most glamorous member of the RM club was the C. Since it was a tilt at the American market, it came with column gear-change. Well, it was only polite! Other notable updates were a fold-flat screen and lower bonnet-line. The RMC was pure roadster - to wit, an open 3-seater, with cutaway doors. In due course, the RMD appeared - as a 4-seater drop-head. It reverted to a more traditional body than the C. Completing the series were the RME and RMF. Improvements included hydraulic brakes, a hypoid back-axle and larger rear windows. In '54, Riley revisited the E version. It received the honour of the final RM makeover. Its running boards were removed - and headlight pods streamlined. A set of rear wheel spats was grafted on. By this point, though, Riley were clutching at straws, commercially. Revered as it had been, the brand-name was now in decline. There would be one final throw of the Riley dice - in the form of the Pathfinder. But - according to critics - its four-cylinder motor was about all it had going for it. Back in the day, however, Riley combined British panache with sporting prowess. The RM series had made that abundantly clear!

DeLorean DMC-12

DeLorean DMC-12 1980s British sports car

On the design board at least, the DeLorean DMC-12 ticked all the right boxes. Namely, a V6 motor by Peugeot/Renault, a chassis by Lotus and bodywork design by Giugiaro. For a roadster, it does not get much better than that. To say the least, it was a highly desirable blend of styling and functionality. But, of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And - in the case of the DMC-12 - the automotive ingredients simply did not mix. In terms of weight distribution, it did not help that the DMC was rear-engined. For all of its expertise, Lotus struggled to optimise handling. And, if they could not do it, no one could. In a straight line, however, things were spot-on. A top speed of 130mph testified to that. Another suspect part of the DMC package was its 'gull-wing' doors. Sure, they looked great. But, for $25,000, you expected them to be watertight ... whatever the weather! Deficiencies, though, in DMC's door department meant that was not always the way. Plus - from an emergency services point of view - prising gull-wing doors apart could be a problem. It was not long, then, before the first cracks in the DeLorean plans appeared.

It had all started so swimmingly. John Z DeLorean was something of a whizz-kid, during his time at GM. He conceived the DMC-12 as a player in the realm of upmarket supercars. To make that happen, he would need to source serious funding. The UK looked like his best bet. He was strongly encouraged to start up in Northern Ireland - by the British government, no less. The region badly needed a boost. DeLorean seemed like the ideal man. There was no stinting on incentives. Grants and loans totalled £80m - in early '80s money.

DeLorean's dream lasted just two years. In 1980, the sky was the limit. By '82, things had crashed back to earth. Improprieties were alleged. Indeed, DeLorean was arrested - on drug trafficking charges. Though he was subsequently cleared, it was not the best by way of PR! The whole sorry episode was the stuff of history - political, as well as automotive. Nine O'Clock News sagas did not get any more gripping! John DeLorean had certainly made his mark on the world. As for his car, it had fallen short of expectations - dismally short. In different circumstances, though, the DeLorean DMC-12 could now be considered a classic supercar ... of the sort its creator so desperately craved!

Yamaha YR5

Yamaha YR5 1970s Japanese classic motorbike

The YR5 is a small, but perfectly-formed 'Jap classic'. Torakusu Yamaha founded Nippon Gakki in 1897. The firm went on to become one of the world's biggest makers of musical instruments. In '55, it branched out into motorbikes. Some might say they made sweeter music than Yamaha's previous products! The company logo - a tuning fork - has appeared on the tanks of millions of bikes since. Certainly sweet music to a salesperson's ears! One of the best-sellers was the YR5.

The 'big four' Japanese bike manufacturers introduced precision-engineering hitherto unseen in the industry. Indeed, Torakusu Yamaha had trained to be a clock-maker, prior to starting up Nippon Gakki. The first Yamahas were built with machinery previously used to forge aircraft propellers. Now, that is the kind of component that needs to be got right!

The YR5 was a supreme example of early Japanese bike building. It reached a top speed of 95mph - from only 350cc. Engine layout was reed-valve 2-stroke. In tandem with that, the YR5 weighed just 330lb wet. Acceleration was fierce - right up to 7,000rpm. Traditionally, there has been a trade-off between 'stroker' speed and reliability. The former tended to come at the expense of the latter. Yamaha's 2-strokes, though, gained a reputation for robustness - relatively so, at any rate. The YR5's handling and braking were equally solid. Design-wise, neat and tidy styling set off pristine paintwork. As you would expect, then - with a competitive price-tag attached - the Yamaha YR5 sold by the shedload!

Ford Sierra Cosworth

Ford Sierra Cosworth 1980s European sports car

The Ford Sierra Cosworth was a performance car for the people. For a start, it was a snip at just £16,000. For that, you got supercar speed and stability - plus, practicality. Ford passed their Sierra shell to tuners Cosworth - based in Northampton, England. And the 'Cossie' was born! Cosworth installed a two-litre twin overhead-camshaft turbo engine. The production car was an 'homologation special' - a certain number needing to be built to allow it to compete in races and rallies. So, such cars are limited-edition by their very nature. Ford's Special Vehicle Engineering department was asked to come up with a competitive Group A car. There were several key components on the SVE's spec-list. Toward the top were a close-ratio 5-speed gearbox, a limited-slip diff and power steering. As well as ABS, anti-roll bars and firmed-up suspension. 4-piston disc brakes were attached to wide alloy wheels.

The Cosworth's body was modified Ford Sierra. Updates included widened wheel arches - and a 'whale-tail' rear spoiler. While the latter increased downforce, it compromised aerodynamics. And was not ideal in cross-winds! Still, if you bought a Cossie to make a statement - and you probably did - the rear aerofoil was spot-on. 'Spirited' drivers praised planted handling - along with fearsome acceleration. Top speed was 149mph.

Of course, the Cossie was a magnet for thieves and joy-riders. Insurance costs sky-rocketed. In time, the tearaways moved on to pastures new. Once rid of its hooligan 'rep', the Cosworth transitioned into performance car respectability. The Sierra Sapphire and 1990's 4x4 version duly followed. A further 16bhp would be coaxed out of the Cossie's 16-valve cylinder-head. In racing, rallying and roadster modes, then, the Ford Sierra Cosworth delivered the goods. Well, not literally!

Plymouth Prowler

Plymouth Prowler 1990s American sports car

The Plymouth Prowler was a hot rod for the new millennium. Tom Gale was head of design at Chrysler - Plymouth's parent company. He had long been a hot rod aficionado - and was especially enamoured of those made in the 1930s. Gale picked up his pen - and drew a modern variant on the classic theme. Fast forward to Chrysler's stand at the '93 Detroit Auto Show. Gale's sketch had been turned into 'dream car' reality. The public's response was favourable, to say the least. Chrysler's top brass immediately saw an opportunity to reinvigorate the Plymouth brand. They reckoned hot rod culture was deeply embedded in the American psyche. Lots of folk would love to own one - but did not have the time or know-how to build it. Why not build it for them? Feasibility studies duly completed, the Prowler project was given the green light.

According to Chrysler, customers were getting the best of both worlds. The Prowler provided the practical benefits of modern technology - as well as retro-style good looks. Whopping 20″ rear wheels were wrapped in 295-section rubber. The front wheels were 17″. The nose of the car was iconic hot rod - high cheek-bones, jutting jawline, and a slimline grille. Only the bumpers on some models gave the chronological game away. They were a plastic concession to modern-day safety legislation. Consummately-crafted suspension components were in plain view. Bodywork was steel and aluminium.

The Prowler was powered by the Chrysler Vision V6. The 3.5-litre engine produced an impressive 218bhp. Purists would probably have preferred it to have been a V8 - but you cannot please everyone. Top speed was 125mph. 0-60 was reached in 7.7s. Acceleration was assisted by light weight - just 2,900lb of it. 11,702 Plymouth Prowlers were sold - in a five-year run. Chrysler were proved right ... the hot rod was still an integral part of the American Dream!

TVR Griffith

TVR Griffith 1990s British sports car

The seaside town of Blackpool, England, is famous for its Illuminations. Similarly, TVR - the sports car manufacturer, based in the resort - lit up the motoring world. It did so, not with a dazzling display of neon lights - but with the gorgeous Griffith. The new TVR heralded a return to raw V8 power. The TVR brand itself did not need rejuvenating - but the Nineties sports car market did. The Griffith played a pivotal part in that. In five-litre form, the Griffith 500 produced 345bhp. That gave a top speed of 163mph. 0-60 arrived in a tad over 4s. Such fierce acceleration reflected plenty of mid-range poke - as well as gargantuan low-down grunt. The Griffith was inspired by the TVR Tuscan - a pure-bred, blood-and-guts racer. The latter had first appeared in the late Eighties. The iconic TVR Tuscans tore strips out of each other, in a one-make race series. Even TVR chairman Peter Wheeler dived headlong into the high-speed fray. He battled it out with the best of them, in his own racing Tuscan. A fresh take on the company car, as it were!

Design-wise, the Griffith came with a full complement of curves and subtle touches. Most notably, the air ducts - on the bonnet and doors - were cutting edge cute. The interior, too, was impeccably styled. Copious amounts of leather and wood were inlaid with aluminium. Not surprisingly - with all its technical and aesthetic assets - the Griffith sold well.

With its RWD system maxed-out, the Griffith's exhaust note was ear-splitting. With hood down - and revs up - British sports car drivers had never had it so good. The Griffith prototype debuted at 1990's Birmingham NEC Show. To say it wowed onlookers would be understatement. Automotive folklore has it that 350 deposits were stumped up that same day. Which translated to an order every eight minutes! The first production cars swanned into showrooms in '92. The Griffith was designed, developed and built almost exclusively by TVR. Given its relatively small operating scale, that was an astonishing feat. TVR went one step further, though. At £24,802 new, it even managed to keep the Griffith competitively priced!

Caterham 21

Caterham 21 1990s British sports car

The Caterham 21 debuted at the Birmingham Motor Show - in '94. It marked 21 years of Caterham Seven production. Design niggles delayed the launch of the new car for two years. The 21's enhanced equipment levels posed an engineering challenge to Caterham. Respected in the industry though it was, Caterham had not hitherto taken on a car of such complexity. The 21 prototype dazzled show-goers - clad, as it was, in silver-polished aluminium. The production car's finish would be a little more prosaic - standard paint on glass-fibre. The aluminium job, however, could still be had as an extra. The prototype was fitted with a Vauxhall JPE engine. Production models had Rover K-series 1.6-litre motors. There was also a 21 with a VHP - Very High Performance - version of the MGF 1.8-litre mill.

When the 21 did hit the road, it was to great acclaim. Aerodynamics were especially well-sorted. A top speed of 131mph spoke to that. Chassis-wise, the 21 was similar to the 7. The new car thus inherited the impressive handling characteristics of its predecessor. An important way, though, in which the two cars differed, was in terms of practicality. The 7 - while amongst the most exhilarating four-wheelers ever built - was not exactly user-friendly. It was geared pretty much entirely toward the 'pure driving experience'. The 21, though, came with much more in the 'all mod cons' column. So, as an all-round motoring package, it was streets ahead of the Seven.

Caterham passed the 21's styling brief to Iain Robertson. He doubled up as a journalist. Robertson was inspired by the race-bred lines of the Lotus Eleven. The 21's interior was equally well-crafted. Though the cockpit was narrow, wide sills kept it the right side of cramped. Visually, the vertical strip of switches was a deft touch. Caterham limited producton to 200 cars per year. That kept it from biting off more than it could chew. And, of course, there was always the Lotus legacy to consider. The Norfolk marque was the progenitor of the Caterham line. For sure, the 7 had done Lotus proud. The 21, then, upped the number of its talented offspring!

Citroën SM

Citroen SM 1970s French classic car

The SM was almost as much Maserati as it was Citroën. The late Sixties saw the French manufacturer also at the helm of the iconic Italian carmaker. Indeed, the SM was the first showpiece from the new automotive 'double act'. And, it was a best of both worlds scenario. Citroën's slick, slippery shape was mated with Maserati's expert engine know-how. The nose - with its panoply of lights - was deftly faired in behind a slender strip of glass. At the back, a sweetly-styled hatchback sloped gently down to the rear light cluster. Between the two were some of the most eye-catching lines ever to grace a Grand Tourer. Indeed - for budding designers - the SM's window geometry alone warrented close scrutiny!

Power was provided by a scaled-down version of Maserati's four-cam V8. The resulting V6 had a capacity of 2.7 litres. There was a good reason for such precision. French tax rules hammered engines over 2.8 litres. The 'micro' Maser motor delivered 170bhp. That still made it good for 140mph. In keeping with Citroën tradition, the SM was FWD. To enable that, the gearbox/transaxle sat fore of the front-mounted motor. Citroën's self-levelling hydro-pneumatic suspension saw power to road, in safe and seamless style. Ultimately, that was the SM's trump card. The union of French and Italian technical excellence meant the ride stayed serenely smooth - whatever the speed. And - when it came to the latter - Maserati had made sure there was plenty of it!

Classic car though it now is, in its day, the SM felt futuristic. The switches and dials on its expansive dash were impeccably avant-garde. And, the single-spoke steering-wheel would have worked in a lunar landing module! Exterior lines, too, were ahead of the game. The SM's launch-date, though, proved to be its undoing. Released in 1970, it was just in time for the '73 oil crisis! With a lowish 18mpg fuel economy, the SM was dead in the water from that point on. Which was doubly sad - because, until then, SM business had been brisk. French drivers had gorged on the first luxury GT car since the Facel Vega Facel II. Citroën did what they could to stem the tide, sales-wise. Subsequently, an SM model was offered with a 3-litre injected engine. Plus, optional auto transmission. All that incurred an upwardly-revised price tag, of course. If Citroën hoped those with deep pockets would save the day, it was not to be. When the plug was finally pulled - in '75 - just shy of 13,000 SMs had been sold. Not great - for one of the world's leading manufacturers. Shame, really - since, for a few short years, the Citroën SM showcased European collaboration at its best. An exquisite mix of French/Italian style and technology!