Ford Escort RS

Ford Escort RS 1970s British classic sports car

For many motorists, the Ford Escort RS was a must-have. Especially when sporting 'go faster' stripes, it ticked all the right boy racer boxes. RWD - plus light bodywork - were just the ticket ... sometimes literally! Starring in Seventies TV show The Professionals bolstered the Escort's hard-hitting image. As well as doing its sales figures no harm at all!

The RS, though, was more than a rocketship roadster. It doubled up as a top-flight rally car. The Mexico model marked Ford's win in the London to Mexico Rally. The smaller RS1800 version was still ultra-competitive. With its twin-cam motor - and all round disc brakes - many an owner took to the stages. On the road, too, it did not disappoint. An X-Pack of optional extras saw to that. Between its nose and the tarmac, the RS2000 sported a 'droopsnoot' - a polyurethane spoiler/air dam. It cut drag, according to Ford.

Technologically, then, the Escort impressed. Certainly, its suspension was on solid ground. A set of MacPherson struts sorted the front. A live axle - on leaf springs - looked after the rear. The Escort's monocoque steel shell could be strengthened. Its in-line four engine produced 86bhp. Top speed was 103mph. Later versions upped both stats. The gearbox was 4-speed manual. As '70s interiors went, the Escort's was slick. An array of dials, bucket seats and a sports steering-wheel all helped with harum-scarum high-speed shenanigans. Which - if you bought a Ford Escort RS - was usually what you wanted!

Daimler SP250 Dart

Daimler SP250 Dart 1950s British classic sports car

When first seen - at the '59 NY Motor Show - the Daimler Dart was derided as an ugly duckling. The consensus was that the fins looked dated, the headlamps bug-eyed - and the grille a bit ... well, fishy! Over time, though, qualms over the SP250's styling subsided. Daimler was on a downswing in the late Fifties. New management sought to remedy that - by emulating Jaguar, Triumph and MG. Daimler, too, would produce a sports car for the American market. The potential problem was that Daimler lacked experience with sports cars. Indeed, the Dart was the only one the marque made. To get the ball rolling, it used the chassis and suspension set-up from the Triumph TR3. After that, Daimler turned to the bodywork. Which is when things started to go awry. The glassfibre shell Daimler designed seemed fine. Until the going got a bit rough - at which point the doors were liable to fly open! The writing was on the wall for the Dart as early as 1960. Jaguar then took over the SP250 project. Sir William Lyons was the new CEO. As well as being a top-flight manager, he was a stylist of high repute. Sadly, Lyons and the Dart did not see eye to eye. Its 'unwieldy' form upset his sensibilities. One of the two had to go. It would not be Lyons.

Prior to the Jaguar takeover, Edward Turner was managing director at Daimler. Before that, he had worked at Triumph - in its motorcycle division. His engine design work there had achieved widespread acclaim. Indeed, in the bike world, he was legendary. Some of that had rubbed off on the Dart. Indeed - courtesy of Turner - its motor was pretty much flawless. Torquey but smooth, it catapulted the lightweight Dart to a top speed of 125mph. 0-60 took 9.5s. The engine's hemispherical combustion chambers - and twin SU carburettors - were key to its performance. Plus, the SP250 returned a respectable 25mpg. Best of both worlds, basically. Brakes-wise, a full set of Dunlop discs were fitted.

In a bid to drive up US sales, attempts were made to upgrade the Dart. It was given a stiffer chassis and bumpers - as well as a few more creature comforts than it had previously provided. From a marketing perspective, the SP250 was pitched between the cheaper Triumph TR and MGs - and the more expensive Jaguar XK150. 2,644 SP250s were built. Production ceased in '64. The ugly duckling never did morph into a graceful swan. But, beauty is in the eye of the beholder - and Daimler Dart fans loved it all the same!

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII 1960s British classic sports car

The Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII is a seriously iconic British sports car. One of the legendary 'big Healeys', it was built in the Midlands, England. Bodies were built by Jensen - based in West Bromwich. Final assembly took place in MG's Abingdon factory. First of the breed was the Healey 100. It recycled the 4-cylinder engine from the Austin Atlantic. But it was when a 6-pot motor was lowered into the 3000 model, that the Healey range really sprang into life.

The 3000 MkI arrived in '59. In design terms, it was not too different from what had gone before. It was a sizeable, stylish 2-seater. The game-changer was beneath the bonnet. The six-cylinder engine kicked out 124bhp. Top speed was 114mph. To cope with the extra horsepower, robust front disc brakes had been fitted. Come the 3000 MkII version, and output had been upped to 132bhp. That was largely courtesy of triple SU carburettors. '64's MkIII racheted up power still further - to 148bhp. The speed-needle now flickered at over 120mph. At that point, the motorsport world sat up and took notice. Before long, the Healey roadster had morphed into a works rally car ... and a highly competitive one, at that.

Visually, the 3000 was notably low-slung. Whilst that certainly looked cool, it did not help the car's rallying cause. On the stages, ground clearance could be suspect. As automotive design, though, the MkIII was a triumph ... as it were! Its dramatic grille - and subtly sloping lines - were a joy to behold. Its wire wheels were web-like works of art. The curved windscreen - and neatly-folding hood - were stylish embellishments. The 3000's rear-end was as shapely as it gets. Distinctly British though it was, the MkIII was built primarily for the American market. Ironically, it was strict Stateside safety regulations that brought about its demise. Production stopped in '67. By then, though, the Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII was woven into the fabric of moody, muscular sports cars. Wonder if Marlon Brando ever drove one!

Triumph Daytona 650

Triumph Daytona 650 2000s British sports bike

When you name a bike after one of the world's greatest racetracks, it had better be good. If not, you risk a copious amount of egg on your face! No worries for Triumph, though, in that department. The Daytona 650 had a top speed of 160mph. And weighed in at just 363lb dry. Either in a straight line or through corners, then, performance was never going to be an issue.

For all that, the Daytona's in-line four engine made a modest 110bhp. The power was unleashed, though, with blistering efficiency. Revs peaked at 12,750rpm - courtesy of 16 watercooled valves. Anyway, a wise man knows not to equate strength with size. The Daytona 600 was not as big as some of its superbike rivals - but it packed a potent punch, notwithstanding!

Looks-wise, the Daytona was drop-dead dynamic. Taking in every twist and turn of its bodywork took time. What could have been a jumbled mess was, instead, an intricate interplay of curves and scallops. There is a 3-D depth to the Daytona's design. So, superior styling - plus tip-top technology - made Triumph's Daytona 650 a track day dream come true!

GM Firebird XP-21

GM Firebird XP-21 1960s American classic concept car

GM's mythical Motorama show spawned many an unusual exhibit. An orgy of automotive exoticism, visitors expected the radical and bizarre. Though whether any of them were prepared for what was served up to them in '54 is debatable. GM's Firebird XP-21 took prototypical outlandishness to a stratospheric level. First off, was it a car or a plane? It appeared to have elements of both. Since it did not fly, presumably that made it a car. But, it did not look like a car - at least, not in any conventional sense. The answer, of course, was that it was a concept car - one which pushed the believability limits, both visually and technically.

The Firebird's space-age looks were drawn by Harley Earl. He was GM's legendary head of design, at the time. From its projectile-style nose - to rear-mounted fin - the Firebird came with dynamism built-in. Its gas-turbine-engine made 370bhp. Sadly, its top speed stat was never established. Perhaps that was for the best. It was a 'dream car', after all. Could it have kept pace with the Douglas Skyray - the aircraft on which it was modelled? Probably not ... though its aviation-style cockpit suggested otherwise! Mauri Rose was the Firebird's fearless test-driver. He gave the XP-21 the thumbs up - impressed, as he was, by its straight-line stability.

GM's Firebird was America's first gas-turbine 'car'. Over time, a few other marques followed suit. The XP-21's 'Whirlfire Turbo-Power' turbine revved to 13,300rpm. The 'gasifier' that turned it spun at nearly twice that speed. Heat from the exhaust reached 677°C. When the time came, drum brakes and wing-flaps slowed the plot down. The XP-21 was the first of a trio of Firebirds. '55 saw the Firebird II - a 4-seater affair. In '58 came the Firebird III - this time a 2-seater. By that stage, the car was in road mode - a test-bed for cutting edge components. If there was any doubt about GM's commitment to the future, the Firebird XP-21 blew it well and truly into the weeds!

Oldsmobile Golden Rocket

Oldsmobile Golden Rocket 1950s American classic concept car

In the mid-Fifties, Oldsmobile's brand-image looked decidedly dowdy. The Golden Rocket was intended to change that. As a 'dream car' concept, it was never destined for the open road. Its purpose was to fire up Oldsmobile's creative energies again. A missile on wheels, the Golden Rocket's mission was to blaze a trail for Oldsmobile roadsters to come. To that end, it featured in the '56 Motorama. It toured the US as part of GM's state of the art automotive show. Fast-forward a year and a half - to '58 - and the Golden Rocket could be seen tripping the light fantastic in France. The car was a must-see exhibit at the Paris Motor Show, that year.

When it came to its shape, the Golden Rocket's stylists went ballistic - literally! Space-age design was all the rage at the time. Oldsmobile went to town with it. In profile, it was more like a projectile than a car. With its chromium nose - and 'bullets' back-end - the Golden Rocket was a startling statement of intent. A set of 'shark fins' only added to the suspense!

Inside, too, the Golden Rocket stood out. When a door was opened, it triggered an automatic response. The roof-panel pivoted up. Simultaneously, the seats rose 3″ - and swivelled invitingly. The steering-wheel's position was adjustable. The Golden Rocket, then, was more than a mere showcase - it was a technical test-bed. This was a heady time to be an automotive designer. The future seemed up for grabs - with anything possible. Saying that - with its venerable V8 engine - the Golden Rocket was not entirely divorced from the past. But - on the whole - the idea was to innovate. In that regard, it was like a breath of fresh air in Detroit. Garbed in shimmering plastic, the Oldsmobile Golden Rocket promised a brave new motoring world!

Chrysler Turboflite

Chrysler Turboflite 1960s American classic concept car

The Turboflite had radical written all over it. Chrysler's goal was to put a gas-turbine-powered car in the showrooms of America. Certainly, the system had been seen before - in land speed record cars! Chrysler wanted to make it widely available. Albeit, detuned a tad! The R&D work was already done. In '54, Chrysler installed a gas-turbine engine in a Plymouth. The car was driven from NY to LA - by Head of Research George Huebner. 50 or so variations on the Plymouth theme had been built. Not to mention, numerous new motors. In '61, the test schedule was complete. Chrysler unveiled its latest gas-turbine creation. It was dubbed the Turboflite.

Maury Baldwin designed the new dream car. He did not pull any stylistic punches. Most notably - and that was saying something - it was fitted with an aerofoil. Not just any old aerofoil, though. This one pivoted - to help with braking. At the front, open wheels and a pointy nose smacked of street-rods. Baldwin had not held back on the chrome. The Turboflite's interior was similarly striking. Space-age seats looked suitably enticing. Electro-luminescent lighting added a relaxed ambience. Even climbing into the cabin was fun. Opening the doors automatically raised the cockpit canopy, for ease of access.

The Turboflite's gas-turbine motor was code-named CR2A. Chrysler claimed it weighed half as much as their standard V8. After all, it was made up of just 60 - rather than 300 - moving parts. Chrysler knew it worked. A Dodge truck put it through its paces, prior to the Turboflite's launch. Ghia were recruited to coachbuild the car. The Italian masters were given the most exacting of briefs. Chrysler were serious about this one - so, every last detail mattered. In due course, Ghia built bodies for the Chrysler Turbine - the production version of the Turboflite prototype. But while it was ultimately, then, a means to an end, the Chrysler Turboflite's exuberance made it more than a mere staging-post!

Ford Mustang 1

Ford Mustang 1 1960s American classic concept car

Lee Iacocca is an automotive legend! As soon as he set eyes on the Ford Mustang 1 prototype, he knew it could become an American icon. That was at Watkins Glen racetrack - in October '62. Dan Gurney and Stirling Moss were driving the Mustang 1 that day. It wowed the crowd as a whole - not just Iacocca! The young Ford product planner saw potential written all over it. His only concern was that it may be too extreme for the mainstream motorist. He resolved to tone down the car's shape a tad. But - that he had seen the future of Ford - he was in no doubt.

The Mustang 1 Iacocca witnessed at Watkins Glen, then, was never going to be the one which rolled onto the roads of America. The roadster's bodywork - by Troutman and Barnes - was a low, flat slab of aluminium. Good aerodynamics were a given. Cutting edge retractable headlights smoothed the flow of the car's nose. A stylish rollover bar was perfectly in tune with its hair-raising heritage. Two huge air intakes were a clear pointer to the race-bred beast within!

The Mustang 1's motor was German in origin. The V4 was sourced from the Ford Taunus 12M. It was moved back in the chassis - the better to power the rear wheels. 109bhp was on tap - giving a top speed of 115mph. So, while it may not have been in the same league as the P-51 fighter plane - after which it was named - the Mustang 1 still shifted at a fair old clip. A 4-speed gearbox kept things civilised. Capacity was 1,498cc - or 91ci, in old money. Suspension was by wishbone and coil spring. Front disc brakes were a more than welcome feature. Steering-wheel and pedals were fully-adjustable. It would be hard to overstate the impact the Mustang 1 made. Iacocca was Italian-American. In styling terms, the lines of his car saluted the land of his forebears. Two 'dream cars' were duly constructed. In time, Ford Mustang muscle cars did full justice to the Mustang 1 concept. They would, of course, become some of the most coveted machines in the history of motoring. Lee Iacocca made his mark all right!

Excalibur SS

Excalibur SS 1960s American classic sports car

The Excalibur SS was styled by Brooks Stevens - one of the great industrial designers. Stevens was prolific, to say the least. In the course of his 61 years in the profession, he amassed 550 clients - and thousands of designs. Thankfully for gearheads, some of them were for cars. Probably the best-known was the Jeep Jeepster ... the first cool 4x4!

Arguably even cooler than the Jeep was the Excalibur J sports-racer. It first appeared in '52. But, Stevens really hit the jackpot - at least in publicity terms - with the Excalibur SS concept car. Unveiled in '63, it catered to the increasingly popular trend for all things 'retro'. The SS wowed the NY Auto Show. Stevens was inundated with orders. With its Studebaker Lark chassis - and supercharged V8 engine - the SS was an intriguing mix of old and new. Dyed-in-the-wool vintage fans did not like it. Everyone else loved it!

Concept car complete, Stevens' next step was to render the SS roadworthy. A Chevrolet Corvette engine was duly inserted into the rear of a modified chassis. In true vintage style, there were flexible metal exhaust pipes and an aluminium radiator shell. The retro body panels were, in fact, glassfibre. Stevens' two sons were tasked with marketing the SS. Roadster and Phaeton models were available. Peak power was 300bhp. Top speed was 140mph. To be fair, the Excalibur SS was never going to satisfy every taste. Just 359 cars were built. But surely - even the most fastidious vintage car aficionado can find something to like about it? Oh, well - perhaps not!

ATS Tipo 100

ATS Tipo 100 1960s Italian classic F1 car

Few F1 cars can top the ATS Tipo 100 for eyebrow-raising intrigue. In '61, Ferrari's race division was riding high. As F1's new 1.5-litre era dawned, prospects for the Italian marque looked rosy. The fire-engine red, shark-nosed Ferraris ruled the F1 roost. Enzo Ferrari - founder of the firm - was, doubtless, very happy. Not so, some of his employees. At the end of the '61 season, Enzo fell out with his top engineers. The outcome was that they picked up their spanners and left.

Ring-leader of the Ferrari rebels was Carlo Chiti. Rotund of build - and temperamental by nature - he was widely considered a design genius. He was also thought to be a thoroughly good egg. Chiti led his troop of dissident technicians to Sasso Marconi - near Bologna. In no time, he had set up his own factory/foundry. He had financial clout - courtesy of a trio of industrialists. Chiti was a man on a motor racing mission. Following the mass walk-out from Modena, Ferrari found they had a rival. Namely, ATS - or, Automobili Turismo Sport. There was now a new team on the Bologna block. And Carlo Chiti was the man in charge.

The V8-powered ATS Tipo 100 debuted at the '63 Belgian GP. It created quite a stir at Spa Francorchamps. In a piece of PR many a more modern team would be proud of, the ATS transporter was parked away from the paddock. F1 aficionados could talk of nothing else. When the Tipo 100s were revealed, the buzz was electric. Come the green light, however, the build-up was not backed up on the track. From the mechanics' perspective, the cars were far from ideal. To wit, their chassis had to be sawn, then re-welded - just to change the engines. Not really what an ex-Ferrari race engineer was used to! Certainly, two high-calibre drivers had been recruited to the ATS cause. Phil Hill was a former world champion. And Giancarlo Bhagetti had won the '61 French GP. As it turned out, though, even their combined talents could not stop the Tipo 100 under-achieving. Through '63 - and the following two seasons - results ranged from disappointing to dire. Over time, the ATS project petered out. Its gallant challenge to the force of Ferrari failed. Nonetheless, Chiti - and his renegade team - displayed courage and integrity. In the end, though, the small-scale ATS team - and the Tipo 100 - simply ran out of steam!