Laverda 750 SFC

Laverda 750 SFC 1970s Italian classic sports motorbike

The Laverda 750 SFC was a 'production racer' of the old school. It was conceived to compete in endurance races. Hence, the 'C' in its name ... for competizione. The 'F' stood for freni - or brakes - due to its improved drums, in that department. Both sets were hooked up to Ceriani suspension - telescopic forks at the front, and twin shocks to the rear. The SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race - at Montjuic Park. Its specially-designed bright orange paintwork was a snip to spot - even at night - for both pit crew and spectators alike.

The SFC's road-going activity was somewhat in the shade of its racing endeavours. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. Many of them were to see road, as well as race use. They were not the most 'ergonomically correct' of roadsters. Low clip-on 'bars and rear-set footrests meant relaxation took a back seat - to a racing crouch. And a single back seat, at that. At least, the SFC's smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort. Though, handling-wise, too, the bike was eminently user-friendly.

And to be fair, riders needed to be kept on their toes. The SFC's parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons. They were fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed for the SFC was 125mph. So, an incautious twist of the throttle - and a race-style posture may have proved more than welcome. Rather sore limbs - than a lovely Laverda, in an unlovely ditch! Even if the bike did weigh in at a not-too-hefty 454lb. The Laverda 750 SFC, then, was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling with the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

Aston Martin DBR9

Aston Martin DBR9 2000s GT racing car

First seen in 2005, the Aston Martin DBR9 was the racing version of the DB9 roadster. Saying that, 20 DBR9s were sold privately - so, technically, it was a race/road hybrid. Though, quite how you would do the shopping in a car that took the GT1 Sebring 12 Hours laurels, is anyone's guess. Very quickly, no doubt!

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

Light weight was a key part of the DBR9's success. Just 2,425lbs needed to be kept in touch with the tarmac. Contrast that with the DB9 - which weighed in at a 'lardy' 3,770lb. Much of the reduction was down to the competition car's carbon-fibre composite body panels. Of course, Aston Martin Racing had designed those panels with aerodynamics at the top of their wish list. An aluminium chassis also helped when it came to scales time. The Sebring win was on the DBR9's maiden outing. For some, it must have conjured up memories of Le Mans, '59 - another famous victory for the great British brand. Aston Martin's race fans had been patient a long time. But - in the streamlined form of the DBR9 - great things came to those who wait!

Dresda Triton

Dresda Triton 1960s British classic motorcycle

It has no doubt been argued - in refreshment rooms around the world - that the Dresda Triton is the best café racer ever made. Dave Degens would probably agree. His company - Dresda Autos - was based in west London. As well as being a highly-regarded engineer, Degens was a race rider of repute. It followed, then, that he would be on the lookout for 'go faster' tips and techniques. A logical way to go, in that regard, would have been to take a well-sorted engine - and install it in an equally well-sorted chassis. And indeed - since the mid-'50s - certain two-wheeled tech-heads had been doing just that. Specifically, they had been syncing up Triumph motors with Norton frames. Hence, Triton! Triumph engines were patently the most potent powerplants around ... certainly, in Britain, at any rate. And Norton's 'Featherbed' had rewritten the rulebook when it came to firm, but flexible frame geometry.

Triumph's mid-'60s parallel twin engine was pukka, to put it mildly. The 650 unit was kicking out 50bhp - at 6,500rpm. It paved the way for a top speed of some 120mph. That exceeded 'ton-up boy' requirements by 20%! And from an air-cooled four-valve twin! But - as Dave Degens knew - when it comes to speed, horsepower is only half the equation. Handling, too, needs to be factored in. Enter the Featherbed! Norton's steel twin-cradle frame had excelled on both road and track. Norton's TT rivals, for example, knew all about it! So, Triumph engine, plus Norton frame, equalled high-performance motorcycling.

By the end of the Sixties, the Triton 'brand' had expanded beyond its geeky beginnings. The dream team duopoly - Triumph and Norton - had garnered a substantial share of the 'Brit bike' market. But, 'mass production' brought a sting to the Triton's tail. Down-market - if not dodgy - deals increased, both in parts and the way they were put together. Of course, Dresda Autos - with Dave Degens at the helm - never lowered their standards. For decades to come, they continued to provide bespoke bikes to discerning buyers. A genuine legend in the specialist motorcycle world, the Dresda Triton took on - and beat - all comers. Brit bikes ruled ... for a while, at least!

Honda NSX

Honda NSX 1990s Japanese supercar

If you were a car manufacturer, seeking feedback, there would not have been many respondents you would have preferred to Ayrton Senna. Actually, there probably would not have been any! That was the enviable position in which Honda found themselves, in '89. While in Japan, at the time, Senna was politely asked whether he would mind taking the NSX prototype for a spin. What could the world's finest F1 driver do - but politely accept? On returning the NSX to the technicians, Senna declared it impressive - but a tad delicate. In short order, that was remedied. The car was made half as strong again!

Buying an NSX new bagged you a fiver change from £60K. Which you would, naturally, have passed on to Ayrton - as a tip. As supercars go, sixty grand was pretty cheap. If you considered the NSX to be a supercar, that is. Not everyone did - among them, those with, ahem, pronounced European tastes. But, if you could withstand withering looks from more 'discerning' drivers, the NSX gave you loads of bang for your bucks - or, indeed, pounds. A top speed of 168mph was not to be sniffed at. It came courtesy of a VTEC V6. The motor was bolted to the first all-aluminium chassis and suspension, in a production car. There was only going to be one result. Forceful, but finely-tuned handling. Especially, when Honda had added Servotronic steering to the mix.

The NSX's designers were inspired by the F16 fighter plane. Good aerodynamics, then, were a given! With so much going for it, it is no surprise that Honda held a special place in its heart for the NSX. Only their best engineers were allowed near it. Okay - so it did not have quite the pedigree of the Supercar's past masters. But, the Honda NSX still had plenty to offer less picky connoisseurs ... with knobs on!

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. A decade or so previously, the four-stroke racer had been slugging it out with Suzuki and Yamaha two-strokes. Well, trying to, anyway! Always disadvantaged - due to its engine layout - the NR500 was 'discontinued' in '81.

The feature for which the NR will be forever remembered was its 'oval' pistons. Technically, they were not oval. Rather, they were lozenge-shaped. These ovoid pistons, at any rate, were the NR's most clear-cut connection with its racing ancestor. Whatever their form, they obviously worked. The NR delivered 125bhp - at 14,000 rpm. Top speed was 160mph. That was notwithstanding the NR's weight - a tubby 489lb. Ultimately, however - while the performance was impressive - it was not earth-shattering. Honda had done its best to conjure up a V8 - out of a V4! Effectively, to double it up. The NR's V4 engine was fitted with eight fuel injectors and titanium conrods. Four camshafts depressed thirty-two lightweight valves. Sadly, all that did not equate to twice the speed of a standard V4!

The NR's styling was on a par with its engineering. It had a titanium-coated screen, for starters. That was backed up by a brilliant finish - particularly, the paintwork and polished aluminium frame. Build quality was what you would expect from a one-of-a-kind superbike. In every department, the NR delivered. Above all, though, it came with charisma - by the crateful. Bikes like the NR tend not to have too many owners. And not just because of exorbitant price-tags and running costs. Such machines grant access to motorcycling's inner sanctum. Perhaps - more than any other road-bike - the Honda NR750 combined visual and technological exoticism. 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 was not a car which stood on ceremony. Built in Blackpool - on England's NW coast - the Sagaris delivered no frills performance, in spades. No frills - not no thrills. A top speed of 175mph - from 406bhp - made sure of that!

A cursory glance at the Sagaris was enough to get the idea. A transparent rear wing was clue enough. An array of bonnet vents gave the game away. Surely, no car needs to breathe that deeply. Nikolai Smolenski - young Russian oligarch - was taking no chances. In the past, TVR had caught flak, regarding build quality. As a small manufacturer of exotic automobiles, that was always likely to be an issue. So, new owner Smolenski opted to up the ante, reliability-wise. To what extent he succeeded is a moot point. At any rate, a sturdy roll-cage was still installed - for over-zealous pedal-prodders, if nothing else!

Certainly, the Sagaris' straight-six-cylinder engine called for care. On top of its huge power output, the all-aluminium unit turned over 349 lb/ft of torque. As a result, the Sagaris rocketed from 0-60 in 3.7s. 0-100 took 8.1s. Figures like that bespeak precision engineering. It may well have benefited from a bit of Northern grit. After all, sports car development is no walk in the park. Saying that, the TVR Sagaris was always bespoke - never basic!

MV Agusta 850SS Monza

MV Agusta 850SS Monza 1970s Italian classic motorbike

If you name a bike after a racetrack, it had better be fast! In the case of the MV Agusta Monza, it was. Top speed was 145mph. That was good going, in '77 - when the Monza was released. And that from a bike weighing a portly 429lb. Of course, the engine had a lot to do with it. Its bore was wider than its MV America predecessor. That took it up to 837cc. The compression ratio had been raised. A Marelli distributor - and hotter cams - had been added. Power had risen to 85bhp - at 8,750rpm. The 750S America - built for the US market - had upped the ante from the 750 Sport. In turn, the Monza had trumped them both.

Styling-wise, the new MV was equally upbeat. It had 'café racer' written all over it. Low-set 'bars - and a humped-back seat - recalled MV's GP bikes. Right up until recently, the Italian firm had won 17 top-flight titles - on the spin! Sadly - for MV, at least - the advent of the Japanese 2-stroke motor had put the mockers on world domination. The Monza's red and silver livery further enhanced its race-based design 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 - before the 'stroker' invasion! Magni meted out modifications to the Monza. Among them were a more free-flowing exhaust, a chain-drive conversion (from the standard shaft-drive) - and an even bigger-bore kit. Magni's twin-loop frame firmed it all up. Top speed and acceleration both improved. Handling, too, benefited - as power delivery was smoothed out. The MV Agusta Monza was impressive with factory settings. Magni's magic mods only made it an even finer motorbike than it already was!

Maserati MC12

Maserati MC12 Italian supercar

The Maserati MC12 cost £515K to buy. Just 50 were sold - 25 more than were required to allow the competition version to race in the FIA GT world championship. For your half a million quid, though, you got a Ferrari Enzo, too. 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, the V12 engine - and the 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 was 3.8s.

Remarkably, the MC12 took a mere twelve months to make. Maserati's engineers were, of course, aided by the Enzo factor. Even so, to take a top-grade supercar from drawing board to production line in a year, was highly impressive. A glance alone tells you all you need to know about the aerodynamics of the MC12. It was seriously slippery! Design duties fell to Frank Stephenson. He had previously masterminded the Mini Cooper.

The MC12's white and blue paintwork referenced the Maserati 'Birdcage' racers - from the early Sixties. The racing theme continued inside. Lots of lightweight carbon-fibre was used for the contents of the cabin - including the fully-harnessed seats. One practical problem came in the form of the rear window - or lack of it! A quick removal of the targa top, though, soon sorted the shortcoming. Other than that visibility 'glitch', the MC12 was reasonably user-friendly - certainly, as far as supercars go, at any rate. Sequential gear-changing was straightforward, steering nimble, and the ride smooth. Probably, the sole problem, then, for an owner, was sourcing spare parts. Best way around that would have been to buy a Ferrari Enzo - as back-up. Or - better still, from Maserati's viewpoint - two MC12s!

Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer

Harley-Davidson XLCR Cafe Racer 1970s American classic motorbike

From a commercial success standpoint, the Harley-Davidson XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool - nor a laid-back cruiser. In the late Seventies, performance was key - as exemplified by the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete, any time soon - not with a pushrod V-twin engine, at any rate. And - though it looked menacing, in its jet-black livery - it did not have enough 'attitude' chops to keep Harley die-hards sweet. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were built.

Willie G Davidson - Harley's head of design - had done his utmost. The XLCR looked the real deal. From its flat-'bars fairing - via an elongated tank - to the racy seat/tail unit, the Cafe Racer's lines were in all the right places. The swoopy 'siamese' exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the stats did not stack up as neatly as the styling cues. A top speed of 115mph was only average ... though Harley's marketing materials begged to differ! And, a peak power output of 61bhp - at 6,200rpm - was not exactly explosive, either.

To be fair, the Harley sales brochures were right - up to a point. The XLCR's performance was a marked improvement on Harley's standard fare. But then, so was the new Sportster's. In terms of white knuckles, the Cafe Racer did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. And, the Sportster scored more 'sit up and scowl' points! Harley-Davidson were right to try to tap a new trend. But - for two-wheeled speed merchants - the XLCR Cafe Racer could not cut the cappuccino!