Ford Escort RS

Ford Escort RS 1970s British classic car

In the Seventies, the Ford Escort was an automotive must-have. Especially when kitted out in 'go faster' stripes, the RS ticked all the right boxes. With RWD - and a light body - the Escort was a boy racer's dream come true. Cameo rôles in TV show The Professionals bolstered the car's hard-hitting image. They did its sales figures no harm, either.

The RS was a top rally car. Indeed, the 'Mexico' model marked Ford's win in the London to Mexico Rally. The RS 1800 was built to compete. Complete with twin-cam motor - and all round disc brakes - many an owner took to the stages. On the road, too, the Ford Escort flew. 'X-Pack' optional extras saw to that. The nose of the RS 2000 sported a 'droopsnoot' ... a polyurethane strip, reputed to cut drag.

Technically, then, the Escort impressed. Suspension-wise, it was on solid ground. A set of MacPherson struts sorted the front. A live axle - on leaf springs - took care of the rear. The RS' monocoque steel shell could be strengthened. Its in-line four engine produced 86bhp. That made it good for 103mph. Later versions upped both numbers. Transmission was 4-speed manual. The Escort interior was slick. A goodly array of instruments, bucket seats, and a sports steering-wheel all helped with high-speed shenanigans. Which - to a large degree - was what the Ford Escort RS was about. A 'good-time Charlie' of a car, if ever there was one!

Daimler SP250 Dart

Daimler SP250 Dart 1960s British classic sports car

At the time of its release - in '59 - the Daimler SP250 Dart was dismissed as an ugly duckling. In time, though, qualms over its styling deficiencies subsided. Daimler was on a downturn in the late '50s. New management sought to remedy that by emulating Jaguar, Triumph and MG. They, too, would produce a sports car for the American market. Trouble was that Daimler had relatively little experience with sports cars. The chassis and suspension set-up from the Triumph TR3 served as a useful tempate. After that, Daimler turned to the bodywork. Which is when things started to go awry. The glassfibre shell Daimler had designed was fine. What was not fine was that the doors were liable to fly open when the going got rough. Nor did the Dart's looks come riding to the rescue. The consensus was that the fins looked dated, the headlamps bug-eyed - and the grille like it would be more at home on a marine mammal! The writing was on the wall for the Dart as early as 1960 - at which point, Jaguar took over the reins. Sir William Lyons was the new head honcho. As well as being a top-flight manager, he was a stylist of high repute. Lyons and the Dart did not see eye to eye. Its unwieldy form upset his design sensibilities. One of them was going to have to go ... and it would not be Lyons!

Prior to the Jaguar takeover, Edward Turner had been managing director at Daimler. Before that, he had worked at Triumph - in its motorcycle division. His engine design work there had achieved widespread recognition. Indeed, in the bike world, he was something of a legend. Some of that found its way into the Dart. The motor was pretty much flawless. Combining smoothness and torque, Turner's engine shot the lightweight Dart to a top speed of 125mph. 0-60 took 9.5s. Hemispherical combustion chambers - and twin SU carburettors - were key. The Dart returned a respectable 25mpg. A full set of Dunlop discs were fitted.

Attempts were made to upgrade the Dart with a stiffer chassis and bumpers - and a few more creature comforts. In the end, it slotted in between the cheaper Triumph TR and MGs - and the more expensive Jaguar XK150. 2,644 SP250s were built. Production of the Daimler Dart ceased in '64.

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII

Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII 1960s British classic sports car

The Austin-Healey 3000 MkIII is among the most iconic British cars of all time. One of the legendary 'big Healeys', it was built in the Midlands, England. Bodies were built by Jensen - in West Bromwich. Final assembly took place in the MG factory - at Abingdon. First of the breed was the Healey 100 - which used the 4-cylinder engine from the Austin Atlantic. But, it was when a 6-pot motor was lowered into the 3000 version, that the Healey range really sprang into life.

The 3000 MkI arrived in '59. Looks-wise - as a sizeable, stylish 2-seater - it was not vastly different from what had gone before. But, it was what had occurred beneath the bonnet that changed the game. The 'six' kicked out 124bhp. Top speed was 114mph. To cope with all that, robust front disc brakes had been fitted. Come the the 3000 MkII - and output had been upped to 132bhp. That was largely courtesy of triple SU carburettors. '64's MkIII model racheted power up yet further - to 148bhp. The needle now flickered at over 120mph. Suddenly, the motorsport world sat up and took note. Before long, the Healey had been turned into a works rally car - and a competitive one, at that.

Styling-wise, the 3000 was definitively low-slung. Whilst that certainly looked cool, it did not help the car's rallying cause. On the stages, ground clearance was suspect. In design terms, though, the 3000 was a triumph. The dramatic grille - and subtly sloping lines - were a joy to behold. Wire wheels were a web-like work of art. The curved windscreen - and neatly-folding hood - were gentle embellishments. The 3000's rear-end was nothing if not shapely. Distinctly British though it was, the car was built primarily for the American market. Ironically, it was Stateside safety regulations which caused its demise. Production stopped in '67. By then, though, the 3000 was well and truly woven into the fabric of moody, muscular sports cars. With a bit of finesse thrown in for good measure!

Triumph Daytona 650

Triumph Daytona 650 British sports motorbike

When you name your bike after one of the most legendary of race-tracks, it had better deliver! Not a problem for the Triumph Daytona 650. It had a top speed of 160mph. And weighed in at just 363lb dry. Performance - whether in a straight line, or through corners - was never going to be an issue.

That said, the Daytona's in-line four engine made a modest 110bhp. The power was unleashed, though, with blistering efficiency. Revs peaked at 12,750rpm. That came courtesy of 16 watercooled valves. A wise man knows never to confuse power with size. The Daytona 600 was not as big as some of its speed merchant rivals ... but it packed a pretty potent punch, nonetheless!

Daytona design was drop-dead dynamic. Taking in all the twists and turns of its bodywork is a time-consuming business. What may have ended up a jumbled mess, was fashioned into an intricate interplay of curves and scallops. There is a 3-D depth to the Daytona. Superior styling - plus tip-top technology - made the Triumph Daytona 650 a sports motorbike dream.

GM Firebird XP-21

GM Firebird XP-21 1960s American concept car

GM's mythical 'Motorama' show spawned many an unusual exhibit. An orgy of exoticism, visitors expected the radical and bizarre. Whether they were quite prepared for what GM served up to them in '54 is debatable. The Firebird XP-21 took automotive outlandishness to another level! For starters, was it a car or a plane? Well, it did not fly, so presumably that made it was a car. But, it did not look like one - at least, not in any conventional sense. What it was, of course, was a 'concept' car ... one which pushed the limits, visually and technically.

The Firebird's space-age looks were drawn by the legendary Harley Earl. He was GM's head of design, at the time. From its projectile-style nose - to rear-mounted fin - the Firebird had dynamism written all over it. Its gas-turbine-engine made 370bhp ... though its top speed stat is not known. It was just a 'dream car', after all. Could it have kept pace with the Douglas Skyray - the plane 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 a big thumbs-up. Straight-line stability, he reported, was more than impressive.

The XP-21 was America's first gas-turbine car. As such, it set a trend that other marques followed. The '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. Drum brakes and 'wing-flaps' slowed the car down. The XP-21 was the first of a trio of Firebirds. '55 saw the birth of the Firebird II - a 4-seater affair. In '58 came the 2-seater Firebird III. By that stage, the car had entered road mode - and was a test-bed for cutting edge components. The Firebird XP-21, then, was proof positive of GM's commitment to the future.

Oldsmobile Golden Rocket

Oldsmobile Golden Rocket 1950s American concept car

In the mid-'50s, Oldsmobile's image looked decidedly dowdy. The 'Golden Rocket' was about to do something about that. Ultimately, it was just a 'dream car' concept. A missile on wheels, visually,the Golden Rocket was never destined for the open road. It blazed a trail at the '56 'Motorama', nonetheless. The Golden Rocket toured the US as part of GM's state-of-the-art show. Fast-forward a year and a half - and it was 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 went ballistic - literally. Space-age design was all the rage at the time - and GM had really gone to town. In profile, it was as much like a projectile as a car. With its chromium nose - and 'bullets' back-end - the Golden Rocket made a startling statement of intent. The subtly-styled 'shark fins' - rising at the rear - only added to the suspense.

Inside, too, the Golden Rocket impressed. When one of its doors was opened, things automatically swung into action. First off, the roof-panel pivoted up. At the same time, the seats rose 3″ - and swivelled invitingly! The position of the minimalist steering-wheel was adjustable. The Golden Rocket, then, was more than a mere showcase ... it was a technical test-bed, too. This was a heady time to be a GM designer. The automotive future seemed up for grabs. With an iconic V8 engine, the Golden Rocket was not completely divorced from the past. But, its mission was to innovate. In that respect, it was a breath of fresh air in Detroit. Garbed in glittering gilded plastic, the Oldsmobile Golden Rocket promised a brave new motoring world.

Chrysler Turboflite

Chrysler Turboflite 1960s American concept car

The Chrysler Turboflite had 'radical' written all over it. The goal was to put a gas-turbine-powered car in the showrooms of America. The set-up had been seen before - in land speed record cars. Chrysler wanted to make it available to Everyman ... albeit detuned a tad! The company had already done its R&D. As far back as '54, it put a gas-turbine in a Plymouth. The car was driven from NY to LA - by Head of Research George Huebner. 50 or so variations on the theme were built. Not to mention, numerous new motors. In '61, the test schedule was complete. Chrysler were ready to unveil their latest gas-turbine-powered creation. They dubbed it the 'Turboflite'.

Maury Baldwin styled the new dream car. Restrained, it was not! Most notably - and that was saying something - it came equipped with an aerofoil. Not just any old aerofoil, mind! But one that pivoted, to help with braking. At the front, the open wheels and pointed nose smacked of street-rods. Lashings of chrome set them off to a tee. And, the Turboflite's interior was similarly striking. Space-age seats looked suitably enticing. Electro-luminescent lighting added more laid-back luxury. Even accessing the cabin was fun. Opening either door automatically raised the cockpit canopy.

The Turboflite's gas-turbine engine was code-named CR2A. Chrysler claimed it weighed half as much as their standard V8. After all, it comprised just 60, rather than 300 moving parts. Chrysler knew it worked okay. A Dodge truck had comprehensively tested it, prior to the Turboflite's d├ębut. 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 time, Ghia built bodies for the Chrysler Turbine - the production version of the Turboflite prototype. But, while it was a means to an end, its exuberance of style - visual and technical - made the Chrysler Turboflite more than a mere staging-post.

Ford Mustang 1

Ford Mustang 1 1960s American concept car

As far as automotive legends go, they do not come much bigger than Lee Iacocca! He it was who saw the clout in a car which would go on to become an American icon. The Ford Mustang 1 prototype first appeared at Watkins Glen racetrack - in October '62. Dan Gurney and Stirling Moss were driving. It wowed the crowd - which included Iacocca! The young Ford product planner saw potential written all over the Mustang 1. His only concern was that it might be too extreme for the mainstream motorist. He resolved to tone down the car's shape a tad, for starters. But, that he had glimpsed the future of Ford, he was in no doubt.

The Mustang 1 Iacocca witnessed at Watkins Glen was always going to be different from that which rolled onto the roads of America. The new car's body - 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 race-bred surrounds. Below it, two huge air intakes were a clear pointer to the beast that lay within!

The Mustang 1's engine was German in origin. The V4 motor was sourced from the Ford Taunus 12M. Its position was moved back - to power the Mustang 1's rear wheels. 109bhp was on tap. That gave a top speed of 115mph. Capacity was 1,498cc - or 91ci. A 4-speed 'box kept things civilised. So, while it may not have been in the same league as the P-51 fighter plane - after which it was named - the Mustang still moved along at a fair old clip! Suspension was by wishbone and coil spring. Front disc brakes were a welcome feature. Steering-wheel and pedals were fully-adjustable. It would be hard to overstate the impact that the Mustang 1 made! Iacocca was Italian-American - and his car's lines were styled with fitting finesse. Two prototypes were built. In time, Ford Mustang production cars would be some of the most coveted machines in the history of motoring!

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 put it mildly. 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, was the Excalibur J sports-racer. It first appeared in '52. But, Stevens really hit the jackpot - at least in terms of publicity - with the Excalibur SS concept car. Unveiled in '63, it fitted in perfectly with the increasingly popular 'retro' design trend. When 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. Everybody else thought it was great!

Concept complete, Stevens' next step was to render the SS road-ready. A Chevrolet Corvette motor was 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 forged from glassfibre! Stevens' two sons were tasked with marketing the SS. Roadster and Phaeton versions were available. Peak power was 300bhp. That gave a top speed of 140mph. 359 Excaliburs were built. Brooks Stevens' SS was never going to be to everyone's taste. But surely even the most picky of vintage freaks can find something to like about it? Perhaps not!

ATS Tipo 100

ATS Tipo 100 1960s Italian classic F1 car

In development terms, few cars can match the ATS Tipo 100 for intrigue. In '61, Ferrari's race division was riding high. As F1's new 1.5-litre era dawned, prospects for the prancing horse marque looked rosy. The fire-engine red, shark-nosed Ferraris ruled the F1 roost. Enzo Ferrari - founder of the firm - was, no doubt, a happy man. Not so, though, some of his employees. At the end of the '61 season, Enzo fell out with his top engineers. As a result, they picked up their spanners and left.

Ring-leader of these motor racing dissidents was Carlo Chiti. Rotund of frame - and temperamental by nature - many considered him a design genius. He was also thought of as a thoroughly good egg! Chiti took his troop of disgruntled technicians to Sasso Marconi - near Bologna. Before long, he had set up a factory and foundry. Chiti had financial clout - courtesy of a trio of industrialists. He was a man on a motor racing mission. After the mass walk-out from Modena, Ferrari now had a rival. Specifically, ATS - Automobili Turismo Sport. There was a new race team on the Bologna block. And Carlo Chiti was in charge.

The V8-powered Tipo 100 debuted at the '63 Belgian GP - at Spa Francorchamps. It created a stir from the start. In a nice piece of PR, ATS purposely parked their transporter away from the paddock. When the two Tipo 100s hit the grid, the buzz was electric! The build-up, though, was not backed up on the track. The cars were far from well-sorted. Indeed, their chassis had had to be sawn and re-welded - to change the engines! Bear in mind, these were no amateurs. They were ex-Ferrari race engineers. High-calibre drivers had been recruited to the ATS cause. Namely, Phil Hill - a former world champion - and Giancarlo Bhagetti, winner of the '61 French GP. However - to ATS' chagrin - even their combined talents could not save the Tipo 100 from under-achieving. Through '63 - and the following two seasons - results ranged from disappointing to dire! In time, the ATS project petered out. Its gallant challenge to the might of Ferrari failed. Chiti - and his renegade team - had displayed courage and integrity. Ultimately, ATS - and the Tipo 100 - just ran out of steam.