Honda RC30

Honda RC30 1980s Japanese superbike

The Honda VFR750R RC30 out-race-repped all its roadgoing rivals. Certainly, in visual terms, there was little to distinguish it from the RVF 750 race bike, on which it was based. Technically, too, it was similar. On the face of it, the component which differed most was the roadster's exhaust … compared, at any rate, with the racer's light, free-flowing set-up.

Of course, other parts, too, were not on a par with the race bike. The roadster's V4 engine was never going to be tuned to the degree of its competitive sibling. Notwithstanding, it still output 112bhp - at 11,000rpm. That gave a top speed of 153mph. More than enough for most mere mortals. Though optimal tuning of the high-grade suspension system helped. Not that it was easily achieved!

American rider Fred Merkel took two consecutive WSB titles on the RC30 racer - in '88 and '89. Briton Carl Fogarty did the same in motorcycling's Formula One series. Endurance racing, likewise, was meat and drink to the RVF 750. After all - so far as Honda were concerned - the RC30 was first and foremost a race bike. But - with its low-slung front end, aluminium twin-spar frame, and single-sided swingarm - the road bike had benefited hugely from the care lavished on the racer. The VFR750R, then, was in a league of its own. Honda's commitment to the project had paid dual dividends. On both road and track, the RC30 reigned supreme!

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB 1960s Italian classic sports car

The Ferrari 250 GT was the base model for the most expensive car ever - that being the GTO, when sold at auction for silly money. It is easy to see where the GTO got it from. In the case of the Berlinetta, bodywork was by Scaglietti. He styled the 250 GT-based competition cars - and their sports siblings. The 'short wheelbase' SWB Berlinetta fell within his remit. Pininfarina helped sort less race-oriented versions of the 250 GT - like the long-wheelbase LWB, for example! Boano, too, had been on the design team.

The Berlinetta was launched in '61. It was not just its styling that was crème de la crème. Its 3.0-litre V12 motor also came hand-crafted. Gioacchino Colombo was an industrial designer at 14. When most young men his age were sticking pictures of cars to their bedroom walls! Suffice it to say he was a prodigy. For 'homework', he designed a supercharger … as you do! When finished, he showed it to Alfa Romeo - who must have marked it A+. At any rate, he was offered a job at Alfa. Several engines later, he was approached by a certain Enzo Ferrari. The maestro was managing Alfa's racing department, at the time. Colombo was by then aged 34.

When Ferrari set up his own car company, Colombo was one of his first hires. The engineman arrived in Modena in '45. Whereupon, he added his own design input to the 250 GT project. With such a wealth of top-drawer talent devoted to it, then, it is little wonder that the GT soared to the heights it did. Scaglietti's Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta was as iconic as a car gets … well, apart from the 250 GTO, of course!

Kawasaki Z1100R

Kawasaki Z1100R 1980s Japanese sports bike

For many motorcyclists, Kawasaki's big Z bikes have long been special. No bike summed that up more than the Z1100R. No flimflam or finery - just straightforward, sit-up-and-beg solidity. High 'bars, stepped-down seat, and anatomically-correct footrests. In short, a normal riding position.

But if that suggested staidness, it should not have. There was little that was solemn and sober about the 1100R. It had, after all, been inspired by Eddie Lawson's US Superbike racer. He won consecutive titles in the early '80s. Hopefully - from Kawasaki's point of view - the spirit of the racer was imbued in the roadster. 1100R riders certainly felt like Eddie Lawson! And, a top speed of over 140mph was more than enough for most lesser mortals. Especially, if the high-speed wobble kicked in … due to its 'bikini' fairing. The R's 1,089cc engine mustered 114bhp. Not to be messed with! Thankfully, the bike was blessed with good handling. In large part, that was down to its squat dimensions - and Kayaba remote-reservoir rear shocks.

Albeit in a no-nonsense way, the 1100R was still a stylish motorcycle. Few paintjobs are as emotive as the Kawasaki 'green meanie'. And, if green bikes are considered unlucky by some, owners of spanking-new 1100Rs were obviously prepared to take a chance. Though other colours were available! They would have said that with the 1100R you got the best of both worlds. Released in '84, the bike straddled two divides - 'classic' and 'race-rep'. Fans would say that with a 'big Z' you got the lot. Comfortable ergonomics - plus searing speed, as and when required. In the case of the Kawasaki Z1100R, it is rather hard to argue with that!

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale 1960s Italian classic sports car

Franco Scaglione – driving force behind the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale - was an engineering whizz-kid from an early age. Mix that in with his precocious design sensibilities - and mechanical marvels seemed only a matter of time. Mind-blowing cars, say!

Engineering, then, was an academic cakewalk for Scaglione. He was a natural. In due course, he gravitated to advanced learning. Then, the Second World War kicked in. Scaglione's studies – which had started so swimmingly - were thrown into disarray. When he found himself a civilian again - in '46 - he was 29. His dream of being an engineer in shreds, Scaglione scouted about for alternative employment.

The Fiat Abarth was Scaglione's first full-on automotive design venture. Launched in '52, he was on Bertone's books at the time. Emboldened by the scale of the Abarth's success, he decided to go solo. He started up his own design studio, in '59. The jewel in its crown would be the 'Stradale'. Using Alfa Romeo's Type 33 racer as his template, Scaglione fashioned a stylishly muscle-bound sports car. Aluminium bodywork was draped over a tubular steel frame. An Alfa 2-litre V8 was strapped in the back. It pleased Scaglione that it be on view - in all its mechanical majesty. Fired up, it made 230 bhp. Full use could be made of that power. For a start, the throttle was ultra-responsive. The gearbox was a flexible 6-speed affair. And, the Stradale's dimensions were hang-it-out compact. Plus, it weighed in at just 700kg. In its short production run - between '67 and '69 - a total of just 18 Stradales were built. Surprisingly - given that built-in exclusivity - the car's price tag was relatively low. That did not detract from the Stradale's prestige one iota. Carrozzeria Marrazzi had made an outstanding job of the coachbuilding. And, Franco Scaglione had drafted a design tour de force. The Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale radiated design excellence. Scaglione - World War Two interruptions notwithstanding - had got there in the end!

MV Agusta 850 Magni

MV Agusta 850 Magni 1970s Italian classic sports bike

In standard form, the MV Agusta 850 was an impressive motorcycle. Add to that the 'Magni' factor - and it was even better. Arturo Magni had managed MV's racing department. Under Magni's aegis, MV took 17 top-flight titles on the trot. That surely has to be considered a success!

Eventually, Magni switched his attention to roadsters. To that end, he started up his own engineering facility - in Gallarate, Italy. A steady stream of MVs began rolling into his premises. They did not have far to come. Magni introduced them to his own take on engine components, and chassis modifications. The Magni effect was marked. A top speed of 140mph was now on tap. But, it was not only a power shift that Magni's mods had made. MV's 850 was weighed down by a bulky shaft-drive. Magni's chain-drive conversion kit took handling, too, to another level. Also key to the new 850's stability was Magni's custom-built frame. The single spine original had been replaced by two top tubes. Magni's motor-related mods included uprated cams, high-compression pistons, and a four-piece exhaust. And, that exhaust announced its arrival from a considerable distance away!

As befitted his previous exploits, Magni found inspiration in the GP scene. Most notably, the 850's race-style 'number-plate' signified its high-speed pedigree. A full fairing - on which the plate was placed - lent yet more race-bred mystique. The Magni's performance stats - at least, from a road-bike perspective - amply justified its racy looks. The addition of high-grade parts - from Marzocchi, Koni and Brembo - had fuelled the Magni's fire still further. To say Arturo Magni had racing in his veins would be an understatement. Those 17 500cc World Championship wins spoke for themselves. He had slipped seamlessly into the world of specialist road-bikes. No MV left his facility the same as any other. They were all, ultimately, bespoke bikes. As you would expect, a high price tag was duly attached. But - for those with the wherewithal - the MV Agusta 850 Magni represented the pinnacle of hand-built pedigree!

Delahaye 145

Delahaye 145 1930s French classic car

The Delahaye 145 was launched in '46. The mastermind behind it was Henri Chapron. Born in '86, he had been on the steel-crafting scene since he was a kid. Come the close of the First World War, he had begun his own company - in Neuilly, France. Its core business was to import Ford T ambulances from America - and re-cast them into saloon cars. The custom bodies Chapron created were nothing if not impressive. So much so, that he was recruited by Delage.

Chapron's entrée into automotive greatness came courtesy of Delahaye. In the mid-'40s, streamlining was all the rage. Fine, until the end of the Second World War. By then, though, even some upper-crust belts were starting to tighten. Automotive haute couture, it seemed, was no longer as firm a fit!

The 145 combined Chapron bodywork and a Delahaye chassis. A V12 engine was duly inserted. The resulting coupé was bespoke to its core. The 145's luscious exterior was matched only by its luxury interior. Suffice to say, leather and walnut abounded. With rationing now all the rage, Chapron was tossed a commercial lifeline. This time, it was Citroën who came calling. His first brief was a cabriolet - the DS 19. Subsequently, Chapron was transferred to development of the Citroën SM. At some point, Chapron was made coachbuilder to the President. Of France, that is. He also helped turn some of Phillipe Charbonneaux's exotic drafts into roadgoing reality. Chapron's last legacy to Citroën's oeuvre was the DS 23 Prestige. Always classy, then - never outré - Henri Chapron had nailed it down as a designer. From young apprentice - to superstar stylist - he was never less than a credit to his profession. Proof of that? The Delahaye 145 … amongst many others!

Ducati 851

Ducati 851 1980s Italian sports bike

The Ducati 851 was something of a slow burner. Insomuch as it took a rerun of the original - released in '88 - for the new Duc to really kick into gear. Not that the first version did not have its inches in the credit column. Mainly, they came in the form of its engine and styling. The 851cc motor would always be sound. And the three-tone paint - red, white and green - was irrepressibly Italian. The problem with the first incarnation 851 was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been fitted with smaller 16″ wheels. They were nimble - but to a fault. There was now less room for error, when it came to quick cornering. The flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down - but there was a limit.

Ducati 851 - take 2! The most obvious update was paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike was pure fire-engine red. More importantly, the wheel-size issue had been resolved. A set of safer 17-inchers were now in situ. Things were looking up for the 851 … literally, perhaps! But - while there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes - the engine stayed untouched. The water-cooled 8-valve V-twin had been universally praised. It had taken Ducati just a year to complete the 851 makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for the great Italian marque. Not only was its V-twin engine liquid-cooled, it came with 4 desmodromic valves per cylinder. Ducati's 'desmo' system saw valves opened and closed by cams alone - as opposed to the standard cams and springs set-up. Springs, after all, are prone to go out of adjustment. That had long been a feather in Ducati's powerplant cap. Massimo Bordi - lead engineer - now added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the motor mix. Torque - and its rev-range spread - was upped significantly. At the top-end, 104bhp meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Super-tuned Marzocchi shocks fanned the performance flame still further. Time to call Ducati's race department! Three WSB titles on the spin duly followed - courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. The Ducati 851 road-bike - and its race-going derivative - had truly taken the world of superbikes by storm!

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia 1930s Spanish classic car

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. The culmination of his life's work, though, would be the Hispano-Suiza Xenia. From a wealthy background, Dubonnet was a car-crazed kid. The only toy he ever really wanted was a one-of-a-kind 'supercar'. Finally - in ’45 - he got it!

For all his wealth, Dubonnet was a worker. Over time, he made himself a more than competent car fabricator. Hispano-Suiza was his marque of choice. Using their style-soaked creations as source material, Dubonnet fashioned several racing prototypes. They graced grand European events – including Monza, the Targa Florio, Le Mans and Boulogne. Not only did Dubonnet build the cars - he drove them, too. He did so well enough to be asked to join the Bugatti race équipe - by boss Ettore.

Dubonnet built up an impressive portfolio of clients. No less a player than GM acquired some of his research work - into hydro-pneumatic suspension, and pumpless oil delivery. But, even Dubonnet needed help from time to time. He recruited Jacques Saoutchik to the Xenia cause. The fabled Russian coachbuilder was tasked with sorting the aerodynamic aspects of the car. Dubonnet had land speed record attempts in mind. So, Saoutchik's wind-cheating know-how would be vital. He also knew how to design a stunning-looking automobile. Sadly, the Xenia never broke a speed record. Though it did get to open the Saint-Cloud tunnel - near Paris. None of which is to suggest it did not have any of the must-have attributes of an LSR car. It was a stability-inducing 5.7m in length. And could clock up 200km/h. Despite its shortcomings, then - in speed record terms, at least - Dubonnet's Hispano-Suiza Xenia was one of the most innovative and spectacular cars of all time. Motoring was never so en vogue! Cheers, André!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2 1980s Italian sports bike

The Bimota HB2 was the second offering from the illustrious Italian bike builders. The HB1 set the template. Massimo Tamburini – designer at Bimota – had totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Its four-cylinder engine was salvaged from the wreckage. Bimota bodywork was then wrapped around it. The resulting Honda/Bimota hybrid was the first in a line of stylish, trend-setting motorcycles.

The HB2 upped the power ante. The new bike sourced the motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the Honda. It weighed in at just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then added. Ceriani teles were dialled in with a progressive-rate monoshock. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame ensemble gave extra stability. With a 138mph top speed – and more than impressive handling – the new Bimota etched a benchmark. It had taken the superbike fight to its Japanese rivals.

The challenge would have come as no surprise to the Oriental ‘big four’ manufacturers. Bimota had long done the business in GPs. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was superb Italian looks, aligned with Japanese hi-performance. Sadly, less than 200 HB2s went on sale. The HB3 set the seal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. As the HB2 had done before it, the HB3 also uprated the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, however, the Japanese marques had caught up. Notwithstanding – with the HB2 – Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending bikes!

De Tomaso Mangusta

De Tomaso Mangusta 1960s Italian classic supercar

Coach-built by Ghia, the de Tomaso Mangusta was about as chic as a sports car gets. Well, apart from its name … a mangusta being a mongoose. Its body was a sleek lattice-work of lines, slats and shapes. Even the make/model graphics were stylishly scripted.

The Mangusta was on the money technically, too. Its Ford 4.7 V8 motor made 305bhp. Top speed was 250km/h. Released in ’66, just 400 Mangustas were built. 280 of them were sold in the States – no doubt helped by the Ford engine. That was a fair old jaunt from Modena, Italy – mythical melting pot of all things motor racing. A lovely location, then, for Alejandro de Tomaso to have based his workshop.

De Tomaso hailed from Buenos Aires. With a government minister for a father – and an heiress for a mother – it is safe to say young Alejandro was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It was not long before de Tomaso’s motoring muse came calling – mainly, in the form of Maserati. At 27, he moved to Italy – to pursue a career as a racing driver. He was quick … but not quick enough! So, instead, he set up a supercar company. As a designer – rather than driver – de Tomaso fared much better. Soon, both sports cars and single-seat racers were rolling out of his 'shop. In his youth, de Tomaso had idolised Fangio – the Argentinian race ace. Acolyte would never match master, in that regard. But – in penning cars like the Mangusta – de Tomaso had found his own means of automotive expression. By the way - if you are planning to buy a Mangusta - a word to the wise. Mongooses eat snakes. You’ve been warned!