Honda RA302

Honda RA302

The Honda RA302 was a while in the making. The Japanese giant had arrived in F1 in '64. It came equipped with its transversely-mounted V12 motor. A complex masterpiece of engineering, the V12 was the talk of the GP paddock. Honda took almost two seasons to make it to the top step of the podium. Their first win came in Mexico - in the last race of the 1.5-litre era. If Honda thought that was job done, they were wrong. In '66 and '67, results were distinctly lacklustre. At the time, all of the engines were overweight - certainly by today's standards, at least. Honda's exotic powerplant, though, tipped the scales at 100lb more than its rivals. Not what you want in F1!

Thankfully for Honda, John Surtees was at hand. By the start of the '68 season, he had helped develop the RA301 car. It was tidier of design than its predecessor. It was also more powerful. Surtees was assured that a lightweight V12 was on the way. Which was when head honcho Soichiro Honda threw a serious-sized spanner in the works. First and foremost, his sights were set on selling N600 saloon cars. They were still air-cooled. Nor did Honda-san overlook his motorcycle division. The bikes, too, were powered by air-cooled engines. For Mr Honda, bread and butter business trumped motorsport activity. He ordered his race department to come up with an air-cooled alternative. The lightweight V12 Surtees had been promised was put on the back-burner.

In due course, Soichiro Honda got his air-cooled race-car. Parked in the Silverstone paddock, the Honda RA302 looked a dream. Light and compact, its 120° V8 sat snugly at the back of a monocoque chassis. It was duly fired up - with Innes Ireland at the wheel. The erstwhile Lotus legend was now a journalist. He was about to take the RA302 out for its first test-drive. When he returned to the paddock, it was not with good news. Handling-wise, the RA302 was all over the shop. That did not improve Surtees' mood - which was already testy. He had not even known the car was coming. Never mind that it had been entered in the French GP! He flatly declined to have anything to do with the underdeveloped car. Honda France stepped into the breach. Jo Schlesser - looking to move up from F2 to F1 - would do the driving at Rouens. Come race-day, and the weather was dreadful! Schlesser and the RA302 started towards the back of the grid. Surtees, meanwhile - still in the RA301 - was soon vying for the lead. On only the second lap, Schlesser's air-cooled engine cut out. The RA302 careened into a bank, and caught fire. Tragically, the French ace died in the blaze. Later that year - at Monza, Italy - Surtees did finally drive the recalcitrant car. But, it was to no avail. At the end of the '68 season, Honda withdrew from racing. Perhaps chastened by their experience with the RA302, they did not return until the '80s.

Tyrell P34

Tyrell P34

To describe the Tyrell P34 as 'radical' would be understatement. After all, six-wheeled cars are not exactly two a penny! A few other F1 constructors did, however, follow suit - so Tyrell cannot have been that far out on a limb. Derek Gardner designed the car. His primary aim was to reduce frontal area. Four 10″ front wheels helped do just that. The result was more than merely improved aerodynamics - deeply desirable though that was. Grip, too, was substantially upped ... especially on corner turn-in. The four front wheels took traction to another level. In terms of physical form, the P34 may have been questionable. In terms of function, though, it fared much better.

The 'P' in P34 stood for Project. It was - to begin with, at least - a development car. Team boss Ken Tyrell had doubts that it would make it from test-bed to race-track. But when the prototype was put through its paces, it was formidably quick. Quick enough, in fact, to give the current car - the Tyrell 007 - a run for its money. Ken Tyrell's doubts disappeared. A full-on racer was duly green-lighted.

The P34 took to the F1 grid in '76. By season's end, the car had fully justified Ken Tyrell's faith in it. In the constructors' championship, only Ferrari and McLaren bested it. When it came to the drivers' title, Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler placed third and fourth respectively. Scheckter took pole, then won in Sweden - with Depailler not far behind. Indeed, there would be several second-place finishes. Two fastest laps had been bagged - Scheckter's in Germany, Depailler's in Canada. Things were looking good for '77. Ronnie Peterson replaced Scheckter. Sadly, though, P34 momentum was not maintained. Tyrell lagged behind in development. And tyre supplier Goodyear had issues. It was facing competition from Michelin - who were hot on their technical heels. The P34's one-off tyre requirements were a drain on Goodyear resources. It became clear that the end was nigh for the P34. Subsequently, both March and Williams toyed with six-wheelers. Transmission issues, though, stymied them. In due course, six-wheeled set-ups were banned. During its brief time in the F1 sun, however, the Tyrell P34 pushed the envelope in the most entertaining of ways.

Honda RC166

Honda RC166

6-cylinder bikes are a rarity on the road. Even more so at the racetrack. Motorcycles like nothing more than straight lines. To the motorbike mindset, corners are burdensome things - involving the manipulation of mass. And, the more mass there is, the less keen on cornering the bike becomes. More cylinders mean more mass - which means more 'meandering' through the twisty bits. According to the laws of physics, as normally applied, that is. The Honda RC166, however, had other ideas. Having half a dozen cylinders slung across its meagre frame did not phase it an iota. Numerous race wins - and, indeed, world championships - were clear testament to that.

The writing was on the wall back in '59. That was the year in which the Japanese arrived at the Isle of Man TT road races. As it turned out, the '59 season brought Honda only modest success. Subsequent visits to the 'Island', though, saw them decimate all-comers. The Sixties were a heyday for Honda. In '66, Mike Hailwood won 10 out of 12 GPs - on the 250 RC166. On top of that, he took the 350 title - on a bored-out 297cc bike. The following year, he did the same again!

Given that it was supporting a 'six-pack', the RC166 was remarkably slim. Certainly, its fuel-tank was vintage-style slender. À propos of its petite proportions, the RC166 had been designed with 'flickability' in mind. And, a dry weight of just 264lb did that no harm at all. Along with squat dimensions, the RC166 brought raw power to the table. 24 small valves - 4 per cylinder - helped create 18,000rpm. 60bhp was the highly desirable result. Combined with its skinny physique, that was more than enough to get the job done. Especially, with a rider like Mike Hailwood in the saddle! To motorsport's cognoscenti, the exhaust note from the bike's 'six-pot' engine was close to symphonic! For many a fan, shots of 'Mike the Bike' Hailwood straddling an RC166 - on his way to yet another GP win - are as good as it gets. Hurrah for Honda ... bike racing had moved up a gear!

Vauxhall Cresta

Vauxhall Cresta

The Vauxhall Cresta appeared in '57. At the time, Vauxhall - a mainstay of British car manufacturing - was under the aegis of GM, in Detroit. Unsurprisingly, the new Cresta PA picked up several US styling motifs. The rear fins, for example, were pure Americana ... suitably reined in for British tastes, of course! Likewise, the PA's wraparound windscreen clearly originated on the other side of the 'pond'. Stateside-style two-tone paint - and whitewall tyres - were optional extras. The Cresta was Vauxhall's answer to the Ford Zodiac. It was there in every larger-than-life line of the British-made car. The PA's cabin continued the 'Britmobile' theme. Bench seats, white steering wheel, and column shift all came courtesy of the American Dream.

Mechanically, the Cresta harked back to the E Series. Its pushrod straight-six engine produced 78bhp. That gave it a top speed of 90mph. Capacity was 2,262cc. Power was delivered in relaxed fashion. The gearbox was a 3-speed synchromesh set-up. Soft suspension was via a leaf-spring rear axle, wishbones and coil springs. Many of these components derived from the Vauxhall Velox - the Cresta's less sophisticated predecessor.

In '59, the Cresta got a face-lift. Its three-piece rear screen became one-piece. Up front, the 'egg-crate' grille was revised. Coachbuilders Friary built an estate car version. The Queen gave it her personal seal of royal approval ... she drove one for years. 1960 brought further Cresta updates. Its motor was taken out to 2.6 litres. That upped output to 96bhp. The PA was given larger wheels and fins. The gearbox was now a two-pedal Hydramatic auto. Or, alternatively, a dual overdrive manual. Front disc brakes were servo-assisted. British motorists clearly liked the improvements ... the PA sold well, right up to '62. By then, though, its fins - state-of-the-art in the '50s - looked a tad past their sell-by date. Its production run over, the Vauxhall Cresta was put out to well-earned pasture ... in beautiful British sunshine!

Daimler Majestic Major

Daimler Majestic Major

The Daimler Majestic Major may not appear to have much of the 'performance car' about it. But - at least by the standards of its day - it definitely did. Notwithstanding large dimensions - and a separate chassis - it could run with the best of them. And, it had manoeuvrability to match. Top whack was 122mph. Enough for it to glide with ease past many a sports car. Come the corners - and things were no different. Power steering saw to that. Key to the Majestic Major's speed was a 4.7-litre hemi-head V8. 0-60mph turned up in 9.7s. Impressive acceleration for a car of its bulk. Transmission was via a 3-speed auto.

Few cars cruised the highways and byways of Britain like the Majestic Major. Of course - it being a Daimler - elegance came as standard. The cabin was all one would expect from a car of its pedigree. Leather pews - and a wooden dash - made it home from stately home. Seating arrangements were suitably spacious. The car's black hole of a boot could store every golf club in the catalogue! The limousine version - the DR45 - was tailor-made for the carriage trade. Funeral parlours were especially fond of it. And yet - for all of its upper-crust charms - the Majestic Major had a trace of the common touch. It was drawn by the same designer as the FX4 taxi-cab!

Just 1,180 saloon car versions of the Majestic Major were built. 864 limousines were added to that tally. During its run, Daimler was taken over by Jaguar. At one point, the Daimler engine was ear-marked for a new model of Jaguar's flagship MkX. Sadly, that V8 prototype motor never saw the light of day. It was way quicker than Jaguar's current offering. Too much so, in fact, for the top brass to countenance! The Daimler Majestic Major combined edge-of-your-seat speed with rarefied styling. As such, it was a souped-up steed for that devil-may-care aristocrat in all of us.

Renault Sport Spider

Renault Sport Spider

The Renault Sport Spider was focused. It was built with just two objectives - to go like stink in a straight line, and through corners with the minimum of fuss. Both of these it achieved. Top speed was 134mph. Roll was near to non-existent. A mere 1,740lb tried to rein in the Spider's free-revving spirit. Four cylinders were all that were needed to counteract that. Output was 150bhp. The Spider was unburdened, too, by the weight of expectation. Renault never intended that it sell by the shedload. Rather, it was an exercise in optimally combining power and aesthetics. Defiantly impractical, there was no way the Spider would ever reach a mass audience. With that in mind, the Renault Sport design team swung into action. Patrick Le Quément led the way. When the creative dust had settled, what emerged was automotive minimalism at another level. No roof, no windscreen, no side-windows. Exposure to the elements as an art form. There was, however, a wind-deflector - and a roll-bar!

It was a given that the Spider would take to the track. Renault Sport helped set up a dedicated race series for it. Competition cars were boosted - by 25bhp. Spider racing was fast and frenetic - featuring many a top driver. Motorsport fans turned out in droves. Renault were understandably cock-a-hoop. The number of Spiders exiting their Alpine facility - in Dieppe - was relatively small. The 'buzz' they were creating, though, was anything but!

The Spider's chassis was aluminium. That meant light weight - plus, high rigidity. It was suspended by rose-jointed double wishbones. Outsize vented disc brakes came courtesy of the Renault Alpine A610. The Renault Clio Williams supplied the Spider's two-litre engine. 62mph arrived in 6.9s. So, the Renault Sport Spider was about the quintessential driving experience - and not a lot else. A later version did sport a windscreen and wiper. Sorted!

BMW M1

BMW M1

The BMW M1 was race-based to its core. It was conceived - by BMW Motorsport - as a response to the Porsche 935. The BMW CSL was now past its sell-by date - and struggling to compete with the Porsche. That was in the Group 5 Silhouette series. Lest race circuit woes impact on road-car sales, it was imperative that the shortfall be remedied asap. Enter the M1! And, its M88 straight-six motor. The M1 was the first roadster to be fitted with this race-bred powerplant. The cast-iron bottom-end was sourced from the BMW parts bin. In every other respect, it was state-of-the-art. The engine's 24-valve twin-cam head was chain-driven. The crankshaft was fashioned from forged-steel. The M88 had longer conrods - and a race-derived dry sump. It was fed by Kugelfischer-Bosch indirect injection. The net result was that the M1 sped to a top speed of 161mph. BMW were back on track!

The reason the M1 so closely resembled its racing counterpart was Group 5 homologation. It required that 400 road-going equivalents be built before the M1 be allowed to compete. Unfortunately for BMW, by the time the M1 was ready to go racing, the homologation rules had changed. It was now stipulated that 400 cars must already have been sold. That threw a giant-sized spanner in the BMW works. By the time the German firm had complied with the new rules - in '81 - the M1 was no longer competitive. At the racetracks, that is. On the road, it was more than a match for most of its rivals. A tubular steel chassis - mid-engined, to boot - provided near-perfect handling. The ride was comfort incarnate. Initially, Lamborghini had been asked to design the chassis. Mounting financial problems at the Italian marque, though, meant BMW had to grasp the reins back. A 5-speed ZF trans-axle transferred 277bhp to the tarmac. Massive vented disc brakes retarded the M1 plot with aplomb.

The M1 was drawn by Italdesign. Saying that, a substantial debt was owed to Paul Bracq's 'BMW Turbo' prototype. The M1 was a model of classic supercar styling. It was built in Italy, as well as Germany. It may be said to have embodied the best of both. For all that, a mere 450 M1s were manufactured. The harshest of critics might deem it a failure. After all, it never did scorch round racetracks, in the way intended. The BMW M1, though, was about as good an all-rounder as a road-car gets ... which must surely smack more of success than failure!

Rover P5

Rover P5

The Rover P5 was transport par excellence. For years, it moved the great and the good. Government ministers - and top civil servants - parked themselves and their briefcases on its sumptuous seats. Security staff - at Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace - would have detected the purr of its engine a mile away. On grand occasions, then, the presence of a P5 or two was a given.

The P5 was impeccably drafted by David Bache. Its exterior was the pinnacle in saloon car sophistication. Sober lines and hues exuded gravitas. The interior, too, bespoke quality. The materials used said it all. The P5's dash was fashioned from African cherry wood. Its carpet was Wilton. There was almost a glut of luxury leather ... but not quite, of course! The P5 was a baronial mansion on wheels. The pliancy of its ride mirrored the subtlety of its styling. That was largely because the Rover P4's separate chassis was now history. The P5 was so-named because it was 'post-war design number 5'.

Seemingly, the Rover P5 was the quintessence of 'Englishness'. Ironically - from '67 onward, at least - America lay just beneath the surface. A 3.5-litre Buick engine had been installed. It brought some much-needed 'poke' to the P5 package. Previously, it had been powered by a 3-litre motor. The Buick V8 made 185bhp. P5 top speed increased to 110mph. Rover purchased the powerplant from GM. They got it at a knock-down price - when it became surplus to GM requirements. Now, not only could it ferry the crème de la crème to their soirées - it could get them there on time! Transmission of this American-sourced speed was via a 3-speed auto. Should any problems occur en route, Rover provided a toolkit. It was discreetly tucked away in the dashboard. Not that the P5's passengers would have had a clue what to do with it! Many of the key decisions of our times could not have been made without the Rover P5. And for that, we must all be thankful ... I think!

Suzuki T20 Super Six

Suzuki T20 Super Six

For Suzuki, bikes like the T20 Super Six were a long time in the making. Originally, silk was the route to success for the Japanese company. Specifically, silk looms. In 1909, Michio Suzuki founded a firm to produce said items. It was not until '54 that Suzuki became ... well, Suzuki! For, it was in that year that its first bike was built - the 90cc 'Colleda'. It was taken straight to the Mount Fuji hill-climb - where it saw off all-comers. Motorcycles were never the same again.

Fast forward to '66. That was not only the year in which England won the World Cup ... but the one in which Suzuki served up the T20 Super Six. That was the bike which saw Suzuki go global. It was named the 'Super Six' after its 6-speed gearbox. But, the innovative engineering did not stop there. The bike's 2-stroke engine featured the 'Posi-Force' lubrication system. And, holding that engine securely in situ was Suzuki's first twin-cradle frame. That - as well as a dry weight of just 304lb - meant the T20 handled with aplomb. Add to that a top speed of 95mph - and the ingredients were there for a tasty two-wheeled dish. Bikers gobbled it up with relish. The Super Six was a success, sales-wise.

The T20 was a good-looking bike. A combination of lustrous paint and gleaming chrome made for a fetching finish. It was festooned with neat design flourishes. Its front-end - in particular - was drafted with panache. An intricately-spoked wheel, finely-crafted forks, and elegantly raised 'bars ... the T20 abounded with delightful detail. On a technical tip, its parallel-twin motor made 29bhp. Not a humongous number - but it arrived with a seamless fluidity belying its size. A landmark machine, then, from one of the great motorcycle marques. The Suzuki T20 Super Six mixed speed with style, to impressive effect.

Triumph Roadster

Triumph Roadster

The Triumph Roadster was a direct challenge to the Jaguar SS100. In '44, Sir John Black - owner of Standard - took over Triumph. He was keen to throw down the gauntlet to Jaguar. Over the years, Black had sold many an engine, gearbox and chassis to the automotive giant. Indeed, having Standard as a supplier had played a rôle in Sir William Lyons building Jaguar into the marque that it became. So, there was more than a hint of table-turning when Black suggested to Lyons that he take over Jaguar - as well as Triumph! Lyons was having none of it. Black retreated to lick his wounds - and scour his Standard components catalogue. A vision of a new Triumph was taking shape in his mind.

Standard knew their stuff. In the Second World War, they engineered aircraft. To power his new Triumph 'Roadster', Black co-opted the Standard 14 engine - along with its gearbox. It had already been modded - by Harry Weslake - using an overhead-valve configuration. Measuring 1,776cc, it had also served time on the 1.5-litre Jaguar SS. More Standard parts were sourced for the suspension. Up front, the transverse-leaf independent set-up of the Flying Standard Series was used. At the rear, a Standard Fourteen back-axle did the suspending honours. Not everything on the new car harked back to the Standard past, though. There was a brand-new ladder-frame chassis - made from 3½″ round-section tubing. Roadster bodywork was aluminium. It was hung on a timber frame ... there being a shortage of steel, in the wake of the War.

Looks-wise, the Jaguar SS100 served as template for the new Triumph. Pre-war, it was a byword for style and sophistication. Frank Callaby drew a Triumph variant on the Jaguar theme. He was inspired by the SS100's huge headlamps - and the languorous curves of its wings. For his part, John Black was adamant that a dickey-seat be fitted. The 3-plus-2 cabin was unique amongst post-war cabriolets. In '48, the Roadster had a bigger engine installed. Power increased by 3bhp. And, the new model was 36kg lighter. As a result, 0-60mph turned up in 27.9s. The re-vamped motor was a Vanguard 'wet-liner'. It was linked with a 3-speed 'box. The two versions of the Roadster - 1800 and 2000 - had a combined sales tally of 4,501. Hardly earth-shattering! So, Sir John Black's dream of supplanting Jaguar had not materialised. Never will the Triumph Roadster be spoken of in the same hushed tones as the Jaguar SS100. For all that, it was an attractive addition to the British sports car roster.