Riley 2.5 Walter Köng Saloon

Riley 2.5 Walter Kong Saloon 1940s British classic concept car

Walter Köng's Riley 2.5 Saloon was unique. It had to have been - it was a solo effort! Well, aside from the engine, anyway. All other aspects were overseen by Walter Köng. No wonder it took him 5,000 man-hours - or two years - to complete!

Köng was Swiss. In '45 - with the war only just over - not a great deal was happening in his native land. Switzerland's key industries - textiles and clock-making - were having a tough time of it. Köng was well-versed in all things automotive. He had worked at Italy's Sala - as well as French firm Gallee. Not to mention Chrysler and Packard. Since manufacturing was still in a state of flux, Köng decided to take things into his own hands - literally. He would build his own car!

Köng's inspiration came in the form of aircraft - specifically, fighter planes. After all, he had probably observed a few in recent times. The design brief Köng set himself was radical - at least, for someone who was going to be putting his plans into practice himself. Bodywork was to be all-aluminium. The roof would be a two-panel, removable affair. Pontiac and Ford had already pioneered that set-up. What they had not pioneered were mahogany bumpers. They came courtesy of Köng. The time arrived when all the car needed was an engine. A Riley 2.5 was sourced and installed. Sadly - after so much effort - Köng's vision was not to be a lucrative one. His work was exhibited at the '49 Geneva Motor Show. But, while the car generated a good deal of interest, there were no sales. The annals of motoring history, though, are another matter entirely. Walter Köng was a king of bespoke car-builders. His Riley 2.5 Saloon was proof positive of that.

Bimota SB2

Bimota SB2 1970s Italian classic sports bike

'SB' stood for Suzuki/Bimota. It codified Bimota's standard practice of incorporating proprietary engines into its own bespoke chassis. In the case of the SB2, power was provided by the Suzuki GS750. The 8-valve inline-four-cylinder unit peaked at 68bhp. That gave a top speed of 130mph. Credit was also due to the SB2's slippery lines - as well as a dry weight of just 440lb.

The main man behind the SB2 was Bimota co-founder Massimo Tamburini. Legendary engineer that he was, he had previously designed chassis for 250 and 350cc world championship-winning bikes. In '77, his technical brilliance was poured into the new Bimota. It was a gimme, then, that the SB2 would handle as well as it went. Ceriani telescopic forks - and a first-of-its-kind rear monoshock - were duly hitched to a tubular steel space-frame. The monoshock alone distanced the SB2 from its rivals - in every sense of the verb!

First and foremost, though, a Bimota exudes style. The SB2 certainly ran true to form, in that regard. Its bodywork wrote the book on 'swoopy'. The stylish tank protector/seat was a self-supporting one-piece. That subframe-saving innovation - like the rising-rate rear shock - was subsequently seen on mass-produced machines. So, the consummate special-builders - from Rimini, Italy - had done what they did best. In the form of the SB2, Bimota had dreamed up a beguiling mix of dynamite design, and top-drawer technology. Again!

Fiat 8V

Fiat 8V 1950s Italian classic sports car

Had the Fiat 8V been produced in the US - rather than Italy - it would have been dubbed the Fiat V8. The engine in question was a 2-litre 70° V8. Once put through its paces, Fiat's powers that be declared themselves well-pleased with the result.

The 8V was released in '52. At the beginning of the Fifties, the upper echelons at Fiat were in disarray. Rumours spread that chicanery and sharp practice were rife. It was a good time, then - for those made of the 'right stuff' - to climb the corporate ladder. Young Dante Giacosa - Fiat's head of testing - saw the 8V as a chance to impress. Indeed, his superiors had advised him the new car needed to deliver.

The 8V was conceived as a luxury sedan. So impressive, though, was its V8 motor, that thoughts soon turned to the sports car market. Initially, the 8V served up 105bhp. That was subsequently upped to 115bhp. And, it finally maxed out at 127bhp. Top speed was a more than handy 190km/h. That set you back 2,850,000 lire. Value was added by all-round independent suspension - a first for Fiat. The original intent had been to lengthen the Fiat 1400's chassis. Then, clothe it in Pininfarina's sumptuous 'fabrics'. But, excess weight put the kibosh on that plan. Into the design breach stepped Fiat's own Fabio Rapi. It was his bodywork which bewitched visitors to '52's Geneva Motor Show. After the brouhaha had abated, just 114 8Vs would be built. By '54 - a mere two years after its launch - the game was up for the 8V coupé. A bit of a damp squib, then? In a way - but, during its brief lifespan, the 8V returned Fiat to the sports car fold. The illustrious Italian company was back on track ... manufacturing classy, fast and agile automobiles.

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM 1960s Italian classic car

'Dream cars' are offbeat design prototypes. Typically, they are displayed at motor shows. In much the same way as couturiers go out on a limb to wow fashionistas, so coachbuilders try to break out a 'buzz' around what will shortly be showroom products. The raison d'être, then, of dream cars, is to make an exhibition of themselves!

A past master of such creative artifice was Battista 'Pinin' Farina. He set up shop in Turin, Italy, in 1930. Pininfarina - his automotive design studio - would become world-famous. In 1946, Alfa Romeo presented Pinin and his team with a template. A 3,000cc, 246bhp template. Alfa - based in Milan - had built a half dozen cars, just for experimental purposes. Pininfarina were briefed to go the 'Superflow' route. Aerodynamics would be key.

The driving force behind the CM was the US. American motorists had gone gaga over the space-age - the Sixties space-age, that is. The Ford Mystere had had a lot to do with it. Its roof consisted of a transparent plastic bubble. To American drivers, it must have conjured up images of lunar landing craft, and the like. Alfa were minded to cash in on the fad - with Pininfarina's assistance. For their first version of the new car, the design gurus had introduced fins to the rear wings. The aim was to help high-speed stability ... though it did no harm that they looked Saturn 5 cool, too! The roof emulated the aforementioned Mystere - being similarly see-through. Mirroring the roof, the headlights were surmounted by transparent streamlined covers. Sadly, that was not sufficient for gizmo-addicted Statesiders. As a result, Alfa were forced to do a U-turn - and readdress the European market. Pininfarina's brief was altered accordingly. The Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 CM thus straddled the transatlantic divide. That it did so practically - as well as elegantly - was due to the distinguished design skills of Pininfarina.

B Engineering Edonis

B Engineering Edonis 2000s Italian supercar

Maybe, the best asset a car can have is to be 'made in Modena'! Certainly, that particular part of Italy is now synonymous with the supercar. And, while B Engineering may not have quite the same cachet as, say, Ferrari - it could still hold its own, even in such high-calibre company. B Engineering began as an offshoot of Bugatti - when the latter went bust, in '95. A small group of ex-Bugatti staffers banded together to create their own take on a supercar. A one-off, one-of-a-kind supercar, at that!

'Edonis' is Greek for pleasure. In the case of a supercar, the kind of pleasure that only 720bhp can generate! It came courtesy of a twin-turbocharged V12 engine. Top speed was 223mph. As a result, the Edonis broke the lap record at the Nardo racetrack. Clearly, every component was in sync with the car's colossal power output. Project director Nicola Materazzi led a crack team of engineers. Between them, they had worked for all of the top supercar marques. Just 21 examples of the Edonis were made. The figure referenced the oncoming 21st century!

B Engineering's links with Bugatti stayed strong. Indeed, the owner of the new firm - Jean-Marc Borel - had been Bugatti's vice chairman. 21 carbon-fibre tubs - originally earmarked for the Bugatti EB110 - were now used for the Edonis. And, the latter's 3.7-litre motor was a development of that to be found in the EB110. It was hooked up to a 6-speed manual 'box. The Edonis cost a cool £450,000. From a manufacturer without a proven pedigree. Those in the know, though, did not baulk at the price. Some of the crème de la crème of the supercar industry had stepped up to the plate. For the B Engineering Edonis, quality was never going to be an issue!

Kawasaki H1

Kawasaki H1 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

Kawasaki did not build its first bike - a 125cc two-stroke - until 1960. From the get-go, though, it was synonymous with high-performance, devil-may-care machines. Bikes like the Kawasaki H1, for instance. It officially hit the streets at the tail-end of the Sixties. But, it is one of those mythical machines which make lovers of Seventies superbikes come over all misty-eyed. For, it was in that decade that the H1 was most ridden - usually, hell for leather - along the highways and byways. And, if the H1's handling was a bit 'imprecise' - which it was - hey, that only added to the fun!

The H1 had a power output of 60bhp - courtesy of a three-cylinder engine. The 500cc 'stroker' screamed all the way to a top speed of 120mph. It did so in a way that brought tears to the eyes of those brought up on a strictly 'Brit bike' diet. Heck, the sound it made was better than 'Bill Haley & His Comets'! The H1's meagre weight of 383lb certainly helped with its blistering acceleration. Revs peaked at 7,500rpm ... with a noticeable surge as they entered the power band.

Ironically, Kawasaki's first forays into motorcycle manufacture were influenced by BSA. By now, though, the Japanese giant had forged its own style. Middleweight though it was, the H1 passed muster among the big Seventies 'muscle bikes'. Naked aggression more than made up for diminutive dimensions. The Kawasaki H1 stirred '70s bodies and souls in equal measure!

Honda CB77

Honda CB77 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

Honda began life in Hamamatsu, Japan. In a wooden shed! So, similar beginnings to Harley-Davidson - in Milwaukee, USA. Of course - like Harley - what Soichiro Honda's company went on to achieve is the stuff of motorcycling legend. Not surprising, really. That small wooden shed was home to the 'Honda Technical Research Institute'. That was more than a title ... it was a mission statement!

It took three years for Honda to produce a proprietary machine. After that, though, there was no stopping them. That first 98cc Honda was dubbed the 'Dream' - pretty apt, given what the future held in store for the firm. Sales of the Dream - and others - were sound. That set the scene for the two bikes which would throw open the doors of the two-wheeled world to Honda - the CB72 and CB77. It was in '63 that the larger of the two - the 305cc CB77 - changed the face of biking. It came well-equipped for the task. The CB77 was locked in combat with the 'Brit bikes' of the early Sixties. It did not quite clock up the 'ton' - but with a top speed of 95mph, it came pretty close. And how it got there was equally impressive. The CB77's parallel twin engine revved out to 9,000rpm. The whole bike weighed in at just 350lb dry. Enough said!

Several factors gave the CB77 the edge over similarly-sized Brit bikes. Its well-designed engine was key. A 180° crankshaft allowed the two pistons to move up and down alternately - balancing each other out. The motor was secured by a tubular steel frame. To that were attached telescopic front forks - and twin rear shocks. Both wheels came with a set of sure-stopping drum brakes. The result was that the CB77 accelerated smoothly, handled well, and pulled up in short order. In other words, it was a classic all-rounder. On top of that, it was oil-tight and reliable ... something which could not be said of every British-made bike on the road! No wonder, then, that it was sold as the 'Super Hawk' in the States. The CB77 was Honda's first crack at a sports bike. Suffice to say, it would have its successors!

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750

Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 1960s British classic motorcycle

The Royal Enfield marque may not be as celebrated as some of its 'Brit Bike' brethren. The company logo, though, adorned a long line-up of sturdy, but stylish motorcycles. A prime example was the Interceptor 750.

Power output for the Interceptor 750 was 53bhp. Revs rose smoothly to 6,000rpm. Those stats would no doubt have impressed American buyers - at whom the 750cc capacity had, in large part, been targeted. In truth, the excellence of the engine made up for 'deficiencies' in other departments. The front brake, for example, was not the strongest ... and the forks could have been firmer.

In time, Royal Enfield suffered a financial meltdown. Sadly, it was one from which it never recovered. The Interceptor range had been in production throughout the Sixties. While it might not have been at the forefront of Harold Wilson's 'white heat of technology', the Royal Enfield Interceptor 750 nonetheless showcased some of the best of British innovation, in that dynamic decade. The rights to Royal Enfield were subsequently licensed to India - and the marque became part of the 'retro revival' marketing boom. The Royal Enfield brand now has the kudos of being the longest-surviving motorbike manufacturer. Long may that continue!

NSU Supermax

NSU Supermax 1950s German classic motorcycle

NSU started out making bicycles. It built its first motorcycle in 1901. The German firm went on to release a steady stream of successful bikes - right up until the early Sixties. On both road and track, NSU were at the forefront of motorbike design and development. As such, they deserve their place in two-wheeled history every bit as much as their illustrious compatriots, BMW. Well, almost as much, anyway!

Actually, NSU began by knocking out knitting machines. Only then, did they branch out into bicycles. Cars, too, would subsequently be added to their manufacturing arsenal. NSU hit pay dirt when, in '29, they recruited Walter Moore - who had also worked at Norton. He helped shape NSU's first bike to be fitted with an overhead-camshaft engine. The result was not entirely dissimilar to the Norton CS1. That prompted wags at the British firm to opine that NSU was short for 'Norton Spares Used'! Ignoring such ribaldry, NSU pressed on regardless. By the time of the Second World War, they had become one of the world's biggest bike manufacturers.

Probably, NSU's finest hour came in the form of the 250cc 'Supermax'. First launched in '55, it lived up to its billing. The Supermax did pretty much everything well - or better! Acceleration and braking were equally impressive. Handling-wise, too, it was bang on the money. The bike's exceptional performance stemmed from a combination of its single-overhead-cam motor, pressed-steel frame, and leading-link forks. The Supermax sailed to a top speed of 75mph. Such excellence, though, came with a high price-tag attached. Sadly for NSU, not enough motorcyclists were prepared to pay it. So, the '60s would see in a switch to car production. But not before NSU had sealed themselves into the annals of bike racing. In '53, Werner Haas won both the 125 and 250cc World Championships for NSU. He was the first German to achieve such feats. In '54, Haas took the 250 title again. Indeed, '55 saw NSU take the 250 crown for the third time in as many years. For sure, then, BMW always had a rival. NSU, too, produced a panoply of prestigious motorcycles, over the years. And none more so than the sublime 250 Supermax!

Panther M100

Panther M100 1930s British classic motorcycle

A mere glance at the Panther M100 is enough to reveal its most striking asset. Seldom can a motorcycle engine have been quite as 'skewed' in its design as that of the M100. Its 'Sloper' motor did just that. It was tilted forward some 45°. If there was any concern about that interfering with oil circulation, it was unjustified. The M100 was nothing if not reliable.

The long stroke (100mm) of the 598cc Sloper served up an abundance of torque. That was handy - as many an M100 was pressed into side-car duty. As often as not, that came in the form of a 'Watsonian' single-seater. And if you were the one wedged snugly into the 'chair', the M100's top speed of 68mph was probably quite quick enough!

Panther were based in Cleckheaton, Yorkshire, England. No surprise, then, that their products were solid, rugged and dependable. Panther started out as Phelon and Moore (P&M). The first Sloper-equipped bike appeared in 1904. Others were to follow. The single-cylinder push-rod powerplant came complete with two air-cooled overhead valves. The dramatically-inclined unit was - and is - guaranteed to draw a crowd, among connoisseurs of classic motorcycles. The way in which the Panther's exhausts swooped down from the steeply-banked ports bordered on the exotic. And that from a motorcycle born and bred in Yorkshire - not a county traditionally associated with exoticism. This was at a time when a motorcycle and side-car were standard family transport. Above all else, then, the Panther M100 needed to get from A to B - and back again - with the minimum of fuss. That it accomplished ... and in style, too!

AJS Model 30

AJS Model 30 1950s British classic motorcycle

The Model 30 was released in '56. AJS was founded at the beginning of the century, by 'Albert John Stevens' - in Wolverhampton, England. Its factory gates would shut for the final time, in the late Sixties. In the intervening 60 or so years, AJS went through several changes of ownership. In '31, AJS was subsumed into London's Matchless. As a result, the AJS Model 30 ended up being the self-same machine as the Matchless G11 - save for the company livery and exhaust set-up. Matchless were keen to keep AJS devotees onside - so, the 'two' bikes were twinned. Seven years later, and the hybrid marque merged into AMC (Associated Motor Cycles). Then - in '67 - AMC were taken over by Norton Villiers. By then, some of the AJS machines were being fitted with Norton parts.

At the racetrack, things were much more straightforward. In 1914, AJS took the Junior TT title. And yet finer feats were to follow. AJS made history by winning the first 500cc world championship, in '49 - Les Graham piloting a 'Porcupine' twin to the title. Arguably the most iconic of the AJS competition bikes, though, was the 'Boy Racer' - the single-cylinder 350cc 7R. It first appeared in '48. The 7R's motor was subsequently uprated to 500cc - to power the Matchless G50.

The Model 30 roadster's 593cc engine powered it to a respectable top speed of 95mph. The bike handled well, into the bargain - and was comfortable, reliable and economical. In short, the Model 30 was a paragon of virtue! No surprise, then, that a company of the calibre of AJS was the source of its excellence.