Laverda 750 SFC

Laverda 750 SFC 1970s Italian sports bike

The Laverda 750 SFC was a production racer. Originally conceived to compete in endurance races, it went on to be a shining light on the roads as well. The 'C' in its name stood for competizione. While we are at it, the 'F' stood for freni, Italian for brakes. That referenced the improved drum sets, with which the SFC came equipped. Ceriani suspension sealed the roadholding deal - telescopic forks at the front and twin shocks at the rear. Always a good sign, the SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race - at Montjuic Park, Spain. The bike's bright orange paintwork was a cinch to spot, even at night - for both spectators and pit crew alike!

On the road, too, the SFC was a scintillating sight. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. A certain commitment was required of the rider - since they were far from 'ergonomically correct'. Low clip-on handlebars - and rear-set footrests - meant relaxation took a back seat to a racing crouch. And it was a single back seat, at that! At least the SFC's smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort - keeping the worst of the wind off. And - certainly in handling terms - the SFC was eminently user-friendly.

Potentially, SFC riders needed all the handling help they could get. The bike's parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons - fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed was 125mph. An injudicious twist of the the SFC's throttle, then, and a race-style posture may well have proved welcome. Better a little discomfort than finding yourself lying upside down. The SFC weighed in at just 454lb - but that is a lot to pull out of a ditch! So, the Laverda 750 SFC was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling - and the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

Aston-Martin DBR9

Aston-Martin DBR9 2000s GT race car

Hitting the grid in '05, Aston Martin's DBR9 was the racing version of their DB9 roadster. Saying that, 20 DBR9s were sold privately. So, technically, it was a race/road hybrid. Though, whether you should do the shopping in a car that won the GT1 Sebring 12 Hours race, is a moot point. To be fair, it would get done very quickly - leaving you with more time to do good deeds for the rest of the day!

It is not hard to see why the DBR9 won at Sebring - a racetrack in Florida, USA. The fact that its engine churned out 600bhp had a lot to do with it. The power was fed through a 6-speed sequential gearbox - conveniently located on the rear axle. Cutting edge carbon brakes were duly installed - and not as an afterthought!

Light weight was key to the DBR9's success. Just 2,425lbs needed to keep contact with the tarmac. Contrast that with the DB9 road-going equivalent - which weighed in at a comparatively lardy 3,770lb. Much of the reduction was down to the competition car's body panels - fashioned from carbon-fibre composite. Aston Martin Racing designed the panels - with top-flight aerodynamics in mind. An aluminium chassis also shed weight. Aptly, the DBR9's Sebring win was on its first outing. For spectators of a certain age, it conjured up memories of Le Mans, '59. That was the scene of another famous victory for the great British brand. So, Aston Martin race fans had been patient a long time. But they say great things come to those who wait. Those words were never so true as in the streamlined form of the DBR9!

Dresda Triton

Dresda Triton 1960s British classic motorcycle

It has doubtless been discussed - in refreshment rooms around the world - which is the greatest café racer ever made. Dave Degens could be forgiven for making the case for the Dresda Triton. His company - Dresda Autos - was based in west London. As well as a race engineer, Degens was a rider of high repute. It followed, then, that he would be on the lookout for high-performance tips and techniques. A logical way to go, in that regard, would be to take a well-sorted motor - and install it in an equally well-sorted chassis. Which is exactly what Degens did. Indeed, since the mid-'50s, two-wheeled tech-heads had been bolting Triumph engines into Norton frames. The hybrid fruits of their labour were dubbed Tritons. Triumph's powerplants were the most potent around, at the time. And Norton's Featherbed frame rewrote the rulebook when it came to firm, but flexible geometry.

In the mid-'60s, Triumph's parallel-twin engine layout was cutting edge. The 650 unit was kicking out 50bhp - at 6,500rpm. Top speed was 120mph. Do the café racer math - and that exceeded 'ton-up boy' requirements by 20%! And all from an air-cooled four-valve twin. But - as Dave Degens knew only too well - horsepower is only half the equation. Handling, too, needs to be factored in. Cometh the hour, cometh the Featherbed! Norton's steel twin-cradle frame had excelled on both road and track. Norton's TT rivals could vouch for that! Put it all together - and Triumph engine, plus Norton frame - equalled fast and fluid motorcyling.

By the end of the Sixties, the Triton 'brand' had gone beyond its geeky beginnings. The dream ticket - courtesy of Triumph and Norton - now ate a substantial slice of the Brit bike pie. But, 'mass-production' for the Triton held a sting in its tail. Downmarket, if not dodgy deals increased - both in parts and build quality. Of course, Dresda Autos - with Dave Degens at the helm - never lowered its standards. Even now - decades later - they provide bespoke bikes to discerning buyers. A legend in the specialist motorcycle world, then, the Dresda Triton took on - and beat - all comers!

Honda NSX

Honda NSX 1990s Japanese supercar

For a car maker seeking feedback in the late Eighties, Ayrton Senna was probably first on your wish list! In '89 - with the NSX in the pipeline - that was the enviable position in which Honda found itself. As luck would have it, Senna was in Japan, at the time. Honda wondered whether he would like to take the NSX prototype for a spin? What could the world's finest F1 driver do, but accept! On returning the NSX to its technicians, Senna declared it impressive - but delicate. That could be remedied. In short order, Honda had made the car half as strong again.

A new NSX bagged you £5 change from £60K - which you, of course, used to tip Ayrton Senna! As supercars go, sixty grand was cheap. Assuming you considered the NSX a supercar, of course. Not everyone did - among them, some with pronounced European tastes. But - if you could stand a few withering looks from more 'discerning' drivers - the NSX gave you plenty of sports car bang for your bucks. Or indeed, yen. For a start, a top speed of 168mph was not to be sniffed at. It came courtesy of Honda's VTEC V6. Said engine was fixed to the first all-aluminium chassis and suspension set-up installed in a production car. The result was fast acceleration - plus, firm but finely-tuned handling. Especially when Honda's Servotronic steering system was added to the mix.

The design of the NSX was inspired by the F16 fighter plane. Good aerodynamics, then, were a gimme! With so much going for it, it is no surprise Honda held a special place in its heart for the NSX. Only their best engineers were allowed anywhere near it. Okay - so Honda did not have quite the cachet of supercars' past masters. That said, the NSX still had plenty to offer less picky connoisseurs ... particularly ones who liked a bargain!

Honda NR750

Honda NR750 1990s Japanese superbike

Few road-going superbikes are quite so race-bred as the Honda NR750. It was a direct descendant of Honda's NR500 GP bike. The NR roadster was released in '92. That was a decade or so on from when the four-stroke racer had been slugging it out with Suzuki and Yamaha 'strokers'. Well, trying to, at any rate. The plucky Honda was always disadvantaged against its free-revving two-stroke rivals. As a result, Honda's NR500 race bike was retired in '81.

The feature for which the NR is famous is its oval pistons. To be pedantic, they were not actually oval. They were lozenge-shaped. The 'ovoid' pistons, then, were the NR's most clear-cut connection with its racing ancestry. Ultimatey - whatever precise form they took - they worked. The NR delivered 125bhp - at 14,000 rpm. Top speed was 160mph. That was notwithstanding the NR's weight - a tubby 489lb. While the NR's performance was impressive - it was not earth-shattering. Honda had done its best to pull a V8 rabbit out of a V4 hat. Effectively, to double it up. With that in mind, the NR's V4 engine was fitted with eight fuel injectors and titanium conrods. Four camshafts depressed thirty-two lightweight valves. Sadly, though, the modifications did not equate to twice the speed!

The NR's styling was almost as adventurous as its engineering. Its screen was titanium-coated, for instance. That was backed up by a brilliant finish - in every sense of the word. The paintwork and polished aluminium frame were particularly lustrous. The bike's build quality was equally dazzling. In every department, then, the NR delivered. Above all, it oozed charisma - mainly on account of its unique engine configuration. Bikes like the NR tend not to clock up too many owners. And not just because of high price tags and running costs. Such a machine grants access to motorcycling's inner sanctum. Arguably - more than any other roadster - the Honda NR750 mixed visual and technical exoticism. Put simply - glamour was never an issue!

TVR Sagaris

TVR Sagaris 2000s British sports car

If you bought a TVR Sagaris new, you got a fiver change from £50K. It did not, though, come with any airs and graces attached. Built in Blackpool - on England's NW coast - the Sagaris delivered no-frills performance - and plenty of it. No-frills, yes - but not no-thrills. A top speed of 175mph made sure of that.

A swift glance at the Sagaris spoke volumes. The transparent rear wing could not have been clearer ... in terms of the car's intent, that is. If you were still in doubt, an array of bonnet vents gave the game away. Does a road car need to breathe that deeply? Nikolai Smolenski - TVR's new owner - obviously thought so. He was a young Russian oligarch - and was taking no chances. In the past, TVR had caught flak over build quality. To be fair, as a small manufacturer of exotic machinery, it was always a risk. Smolenski, then, opted to up the ante, reliability-wise. How much he succeeded is a moot point. Anyway, a sturdy roll-cage was duly installed - which took care of over-zealous pedal-prodders, at least!

Certainly, the Sagaris' straight-six engine called for care. The all-aluminium unit was deceptively pretty. On top of a 406bhp output, it turned over 349lb/ft of torque. As a result, the Sagaris rocketed from 0-60 in 3.7s. 0-100 took just 8.1s. Figures like that mean precision engineering. With a bit of Northern grit thrown in, of course. After all, sports car development is no bowl of cherries! But, while the TVR Sagaris did not stand on ceremony, it was bespoke - not basic!

MV Agusta 850SS Monza

MV Agusta 850SS Monza 1970s Italian classic sports bike

Bikes named after racetracks need to be fast! In the case of the MV Agusta 850SS Monza, it was. Top speed was 145mph. That was quick for a road bike, in '77. Mind you, it did weigh in at only 429lb. Naturally, the engine had a lot to do with it, too. The Monza's cylinders were wider than its MV America predecessor. As a result, capacity was increased to 837cc. The compression ratio had also been raised. Plus, a Marelli distributor - and hotter cams - had been added. All in, power had risen to 85bhp - at 8,750rpm. Previously, the 750S America - built predominantly for the US market - had upped the ante from the 750 Sport. Now, the Monza had trumped them both.

In styling terms, the new MV was equally upbeat. It had 'café racer' written all over it. Low-set 'bars - and a humped-back seat - referenced MV's GP bikes. Not only had the great Italian marque won 17 top-flight titles - it won them on the spin. Now, that is domination! Sadly - for MV Agusta, at any rate - the advent of the Jap 2-stroke motor had put the mockers on it. Design-wise, the Monza's red and silver livery further enhanced its race-based brief.

Key to that brief was Arturo Magni. He was MV's chief engineer. Reporting to him were mechanics from MV's former 4-stroke race team. Taking MV's already cutting edge technology, Magni meted out still more modifications to the Monza. Among them were a free-flowing exhaust, a chain-driven conversion from the standard shaft-drive and a bigger-bore kit. In turn, Magni's twin-loop frame firmed everything up. Under Arturo's tutelage, top speed and acceleration had both improved. Handling, too, was a beneficiary - since power delivery was smoothed out. The MV Agusta 850SS Monza was an impressive motorcycle with factory settings. Magni's magic mods made it yet better!

Maserati MC12

Maserati MC12 2000s Italian supercar

The Maserati MC12 cost £515K. 50 were sold - twice as many as were needed to let the competition version race in the FIA GT World Championship. For your half a million quid, you got a Ferrari Enzo, into the bargain. Well, sort of! Much of the MC12 was based on the Enzo - as a by-product of the Ferrari Maserati Group partnership. Replication ran to the carbon monocoque, V12 engine, steering wheel and windscreen. The MC12's 6-litre motor was detuned a tad from that of the Enzo - but still managed to provide a cool 622bhp, at 7,500rpm. Top speed was 205mph. 0-60 took 3.8s.

Remarkably, the MC12 took a mere twelve months to make. Maserati's engineers were, of course, aided by the Ferrari Enzo factor. Even so, to take a top-grade supercar from drawing board to production line in a year was impressive, to say the least. Design duties fell to Frank Stephenson. He had previously masterminded the Mini Cooper. In terms of the MC12's aerodynamic package, a quick glance told you all you needed to know. Seriously slippery was understatement!

The MC12's white and blue paint mirrored Maserati's 'Birdcage' racers. The Tipo 60/61 machines had competed in sports car events in the early Sixties. The racing theme continued inside. Lightweight carbon-fibre was used for the MC12's cabin - including the fully-harnessed seats. Practical problems arose from the rear window - or lack of it! A quick removal of the targa top, though, soon sorted the shortcoming. Other than that rear visibility 'glitch', the MC12 was reasonably user-friendly. Sequential gear-changing was straightforward, steering nimble and the ride smooth. The sole issue, then, for owners, was sourcing spare parts. Best way around it was buying a Ferrari Enzo as back-up. Or - better still - two MC12s. Maserati probably preferred the latter option!

Harley-Davidson XLCR

Harley-Davidson XLCR 1970s American classic motorbike

Marketing-wise, Harley-Davidson's XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool, nor - in typical Harley fashion - a laid-back cruiser. More than anything - as far as categories went - it was classic café racer. In the Seventies, though, performance was key. That was, after all, the decade of the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete with them. While its pushrod V-twin engine packed plenty of torque, it was some way off its Oriental rivals at the top-end of the rev range. On the other hand - dramatic though it looked in its jet-black livery - it did not have enough 'attitude' chops to keep Harley die-hards happy. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were sold.

Willie G Davidson - Harley's head of design - had fulfilled his brief. For sure, the XLCR looked the business. From its flat-handlebars fairing - via an elongated tank - to the racy seat/tail unit, the XLCR's lines were in all the right places. Certainly, the swoopy siamese exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the XLCR's speed stats did not stack up as neatly as its styling cues. A peak power output of 61bhp - at 6,200rpm - did not set any alarm-bells ringing. A top speed of 115mph was average - and no more. Suffice to say, then, that boy racers - of whom there were a lot in the late '70s - were underwhelmed.

Harley's sales brochures, however, took a different tack. They pointed to the fact that the XLCR's performance was a marked improvement on what had gone before. Up to a point, they were right. But then, the same could be said of Harley's new Sportster. In white knuckle terms, the XLCR did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. And - crucially for a Harley - the Sportster scored more 'sit up and scowl!' points. Harley-Davidson was right to try to tap a new trend. But - for two-wheeled speed merchants - the XLCR Cafe Racer simply could not cut the cappuccino!