Honda VFR750R-RC30

Honda VFR750R-RC30 1980s Japanese sports bike

In many ways, Honda's VFR750R - better known as the RC30 - was the ultimate 'race replica'. Visually, at least, there was little to distinguish it from the RVF 750 racer, on which it was based. Technically, too, it was along the same lines - allowing for the fact that no roadster is ever really going to compare with its competitive sibling. The RC30's exhaust, for example, could not compete with the racer's super-light, free-flowing set-up. Not if it was going to make it through the MOT, at any rate!

Nor, of course, was the RC30's V4 engine going to be anything like on a par with the race version. That said, it still managed to output 112bhp - at 11,000rpm. Which gave a top speed of 153mph. More than enough for most wannabe GP stars! In like manner, the RC30's handling was not going to get close to that of the apex-slashing track tool on which it was modelled. Again, though, optimal tuning of its suspension enabled a passable emulation of the race god of your choice!

American rider Fred Merkel took two consecutive WSB titles on the RC30 race bike - in '88 and '89. Briton Carl Fogarty did the same in motorcycling's Formula One series. Endurance racing, too, was meat and drink to the RVF 750. So far as Honda were concerned, the RC30 was first and foremost a racer. There was little doubt, though, that the roadster benefited hugely from it. Certainly - with its low-slung front end, aluminium twin-spar frame and single-sided swingarm - the street bike looked seriously stunning. Honda's commitment to the project, then, had paid double dividends. On both road and track, the VFR750R-RC30 did the business - in every sense of the phrase!

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 made. That was the Ferrari 250 GTO which sold at a Sotheby's auction for silly money. Actually, $48.4m - in California, in 2018. It is easy to see where the GTO got its chops 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, for instance, fell within his remit. Pininfarina helped sort less race-oriented versions of the 250 GT - like the 'long wheelbase' LWB. Felice Boano - celebrated Italian coachbuilder - likewise contributed to the GT's design.

The Berlinetta was launched in '61. It was not just its looks that came out of thè top drawer. Its 3.0-litre V12 motor was also hand-crafted. The man responsible for it - Gioacchino Colombo - was an industrial designer at 14. When most young men his age were gluing pictures of cars to bedroom walls, Colombo was engineering them. Suffice it to say, then, he was a child prodigy. At one point, he drafted a supercharger for homework - as you do. Subsequently, it was shown to Alfa Romeo. Alfa must have graded it A+, since he was offered a job on the strength of it. Several engines later, Colombo was approached by one Enzo Ferrari. The maestro was managing Alfa's race department, at the time. By then, Colombo was aged 34.

When Enzo set up his own car company, Colombo was one of his first hires. The motor man arrived in Modena in '45. Whereupon, he set about adding his own input to the 250 GT project. With such a wealth of design talent dedicated to it, it is little wonder the GT soared to the heights it did. In short, Ferrari's 250 GT Berlinetta SWB was as iconic as a sports car gets. Apart from the Ferrari 250 GTO, of course. Sorry, Sotheby's!

Kawasaki Z1100R

Kawasaki Z1100R 1980s Japanese sports bike

Over the years, many a motorcyclist has had a special place in their heart for a Kawasaki 'Z'. No bike more so than the Z1100R. No flimflam or finery - just straightforward, sit up and beg-style solidity. Highish handlebars, stepped-down seat and anatomically-correct footrests. In other words - a normal riding position. 'The way bikes used to be', you might hear it said. And - after a hundred plus miles in the saddle - who could argue?

Not that that should suggest any kind of staidness! There was little sober or solemn about the 1100R. It was, after all, inspired by a US Superbike racer. The one on which Eddie Lawson won consecutive titles in the early Eighties. Hopefully - from a Kawasaki marketing viewpoint - some of the spirit of the race bike rubbed off on the roadster. Certainly, it was far from unknown for an 1100R rider to feel like Eddie Lawson! And - to be fair - the Z's 140mph top whack was more than enough for most mere mortals. Especially when the high-speed wobble kicked in - on account of the bike's bikini-type fairing. The R's 1,089cc engine made 114bhp. Thankfully - with all that power to play with - the bike was blessed with good roadholding. Squat dimensions helped - as did Kayaba remote-reservoir rear shocks.

Albeit in a no-frills way, the Z1100R was still a stylish motorcycle. Few paintjobs are as emotive as those of Kawasaki's 'green meanies'. Of course, green bikes are considered unlucky by some. That said, owners of spanking-new 1100Rs were obviously prepared to take a chance. For the superstitious, though, other colours were also available. Launched in '84, the Z might be said to have straddled classic and race-rep. To wit, comfortable ergonomics - plus searing speed and cute handling. Fans would argue, then, that with a lime-green Kawasaki Z1100R, you got the lot. Now, that can hardly be considered unlucky!

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale 1960s Italian classic sports car

The driving force behind the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale was Franco Scaglione. He was an engineering whizz-kid from an early age. He was also blessed with precocious design sensibilities. A mechanical marvel of one sort or another, then, was always on the cards. It was just a question of what. Thankfully for car buffs, automobiles were amongst the subjects Scaglione found himself drawn to.

Engineering, then, was a walk in the park for the young Scaglione. Even as a student, he was a natural. He duly graduated to more advanced learning. That is, until the Second World War threw a spanner in the works. Scaglione's studies – started so swimmingly - were decimated. Back in Civvy Street - in '46 - he was 29 years old. Training to be an engineer was in tatters. Time to look for alternative employment. Maybe the motor trade held something for him?

The Fiat Abarth was Scaglione's first full-on design gig. Not a bad way to cut your styling teeth! Launched in '52, he was on Bertone's books at the time. Surprised by the scale of the Abarth's success, Scaglione opted to go solo. In '59, he opened his own studio. The jewel in its crown would be the Stradale. Using Alfa's Type 33 racer as a template, Scaglione fashioned a suitably muscle-bound sports car. Aluminium bodywork was draped over a tubular steel frame. Alfa's 2-litre V8 was installed in the back. Scaglione drew the engine in plain view - in all its mechanised majesty. Once fired up, it made 230 bhp. And full use could be made of the power. For a start, the throttle was ultra-responsive. The gearbox was a flexible 6-speed affair. The Stradale's dimensions were hang-it-out compact. Plus, it weighed in at just 700kg. In its short production run - from '67 to '69 - just 18 Stradales were built. Oddly - given the built-in exclusivity - the price tag was relatively low. That did not detract from the Stradale's prestige one iota. Carrozzeria Marrazzi made a magnificent job of the coachbuilding. Franco Scaglione, of course, drafted a car design tour de force. In short, the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale radiated excellence. Scaglione, then - World War Two interruptions notwithstanding - got there in the end!

MV Agusta 850 Magni

MV Agusta 850 Magni 1970s Italian classic sports bike

In standard trim, the MV Agusta 850 was a class act. Add to that the Magni factor - and quality increased exponentially. Arturo Magni had managed MV's racing department. MV took 17 consecutive 500cc World Championships. That told you all you needed to know about what Arturo Magni brought to a two-wheeled party!

In time, Magni turned his attention to roadsters. To that end, he set up his own engineering facility - in Gallarate, Italy. Soon, a steady stream of MV 850s started rolling into his workshop. They did not have far to come. Magni duly introduced them to his own take on engine components and chassis modifications. The Magni effect was marked. A top speed of 140mph was now available. The 850 was weighed down by a bulky shaft final drive. When Magni's chain-drive conversion kit had been fitted, handling, too, improved. Also key to stability was Magni's custom-built frame. The single spine original had been replaced by one with two top tubes. Magni's motor-related mods included uprated cams, high-compression pistons and a four-piece exhaust system. Suffice to say, you could hear it coming from a mile off!

The 850 Magni was visibly race-bred. A full fairing - complete with rider number - said it all. The Magni's stats justified its looks. High-grade parts - from Marzocchi, Koni and Brembo - added further fuel to the performance fire. Arturo Magni - following on from his high-calibre racing exploits - had slipped seamlessly into the world of road-oriented specials. High price tags came with the territory. But - for those with the disposable - MV Agusta's 850 Magni was the pinnacle of hand-built pedigree!

Delahaye 145

Delahaye 145 1930s French classic car

The Delahaye 145 was launched in 1946. The mastermind behind it was Henri Chapron. Born in 1886, he had been on the steel-crafting scene since he was a kid. Come the close of the First World War, he began his own company - in Neuilly, France. Its core business was importing Ford T ambulances from America - and refactoring them into saloon cars! The custom bodies Chapron created were impressive. So impressive, in fact, that he was recruited by Delage.

Chapron's entrée to motoring greatness, though, came by way of Delahaye. In the mid-'40s, streamlining was all the rage. Which was tickety-boo - until the end of the Second World War. By then, even some upper-crust belts were starting to tighten. Streamlining - and automotive haute couture in general - came at a price. If the hooray Henrys could not afford it, sure as heckers like no one else could!

The 145 comprised Chapron bodywork on a Delahaye chassis. Plus, A V12 engine. The resulting coupé was bespoke to its core. Its luscious exterior was matched only by its luxurious interior. It went without saying that leather and walnut abounded. Of course, that fell foul of the current commercial climate. Chapron, though, was tossed a lifeline. This time, Citroën came calling - with the offer of design work. Chapron's first brief was a cabriolet - the DS 19. Subsequently, he turned his hand to developing the Citroën SM ... always a good career move in France. Indeed, at one point, Chapron was made coachbuilder to the President. Along the way, he helped turn some of Phillipe Charbonneaux's dream-laden drafts into roadgoing reality. Chapron's last legacy to Citroën's oeuvre was the DS 23 Prestige. Always classy, then - never outré - Henri Chapron nailed it as a designer. From young apprentice - to superstar stylist - he was never less than a credit to his profession. The Delahaye 145 was proof of that - alongside many others!

Ducati 851

Ducati 851 1980s Italian sports bike

The Ducati 851 was a slow burner. It took a refit for it to really kick into gear. Not that the first model did not have anything going for it. The 851cc engine was sound. Styling was suitably dynamic. Especially the three-tone paint job - in Italian red, white and green. The issue with the first version was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been released with 16″ wheels - smaller than planned. The problem was that they were too good! The handling was more nimble, but there was less room for error. When it came to quick cornering - without a high degree of accuracy - the small wheels were liable to 'tuck under'. A flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down - but there was a limit!

So, Ducati 851 - take 2! This time, a set of 17″ wheels were in situ. Things were looking up already … literally for some owners! The most obvious mod was the paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike's livery was still Italianate - but now it was fire-engine red. While there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes, the motor was untouched. Indeed, it had been universally praised. It took Ducati a year to complete the makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for Ducati. Its V-twin engine was now liquid-cooled - and came with 4 valves per cylinder. Desmodromic valves, in Ducati's case. Its unique set-up saw valves opened and closed by cams alone - as opposed to the standard cams and springs system. Springs are all well and good - but are prone to bounce and go out of adjustment. Its 'desmo' valve-train had long been a feather in Ducati's cap, powerplant-wise. Plus, Massimo Bordi - Ducati's lead engineer - added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the mix. As a result, torque was significantly increased. At the top-end of the rev-range, 104bhp was now on tap. That meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Souped-up Marzocchi shocks sorted the suspension. With the road bike seen to, it was time to call the race department. Three WSB titles on the trot for Ducati duly followed - courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. Truly, Ducati's 851 roadster - and its race-going counterpart - were on top of the superbike world!

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia 1930s Spanish classic car

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. Many a tippler has had him to thank. His finest hour, however - at least so far as Dubonnet was concerned - was the Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia. From a wealthy background, Dubonnet was a car-crazed kid. It was a gimme, then, that he had plenty of toy automobiles to play with. The toy he craved most, though, was a one-of-a-kind supercar ... a real one. Finally - in '45 - he got it!

For all his wealth, Dubonnet was a worker ... well, of sorts. After a lot of graft, he had made himself a respected 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 and circuits - Monza, the Targa Florio, Le Mans and Boulogne among them. Not only did Dubonnet build his cars - he drove them, too. And did so well enough to be asked to join the Bugatti race équipe - by boss Ettore, no less.

Over time, Dubonnet assembled an impressive portfolio of clients. Indeed, GM acquired some of his research work - into hydro-pneumatic suspension and pumpless oil delivery. Even Dubonnet, though, needed help. To that end, he recruited Jacques Saoutchik to the Xenia cause. The fabled Russian coachbuilder was tasked with sorting the aerodynamic aspects of the car. After all, Dubonnet had land speed record attempts in mind. So, Saoutchik's sought-after streamlining skills would be vital. Saoutchik also knew how to design a stunning-looking motor car. Sadly, the Xenia never broke any speed records. It did, however, play a prominent rôle in the opening of the Saint-Cloud tunnel - situated near Paris. The publicity must have been some consolation to Dubonnet for the Xenia's lack of sporting success. Not that the Xenia lacked all of the attributes of an LSR car. For starters, it was 5.7m in length - aiding straight-line stability. Partly as a result of that, it could clock up 200km/h. So, for all its shortcomings - at least in LSR attempt terms - Dubonnet's Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia was an innovative and spectacular autocar. Motoring had never been so à la mode. Cheers, André!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2 1980s Italian sports bike

The HB2 was the second offering from Bimota - the radical Italian bike builder. The HB1 had set the template. Massimo Tamburini – Bimota's chief designer – totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Tamburini managed to salvage its four-cylinder engine from the wreckage. He then wrapped it in Bimota bodywork. The resulting HB1 - Honda/Bimota - hybrid became the first of the firm's stylish, trend-setting roadsters.

The HB2 upped the ante, power-wise, from the HB1. The new bike sourced its motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the big Honda CB. It weighed just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then fitted. At the front, Ceriani teles were synced with a progressive-rate monoshock at the back. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame added still more stability to the mix. With a 138mph top speed – and high-class handling – the HB2 etched a technical benchmark. Bimota had taken the superbike fight to its Oriental rivals. Pretty impressive from a small-scale manufacturer - certainly as compared with the Japanese 'big four'.

Not that the Bimota challenge came as a surprise to Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. In no particular order, by the way! After all, Bimota had been around the GP scene a while by then. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was super-cool Italian looks - plus a Japanese engine! Sadly - even for a bespoke builder like Bimota - less than 200 HB2s were sold. The HB3 came to the rescue - to some extent, at least. It sealed the deal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. Like the HB2, the HB3 upgraded the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, the Japanese marques were leading the pack again, in terms of overall performance. Notwithstanding - with their HB2 - Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending motorbikes!

De Tomaso Mangusta

De Tomaso Mangusta 1960s Italian classic sports car

Coachbuilt by Ghia, the de Tomaso Mangusta was about as stylish as a sports car gets. Well, apart from its name, that is. A mangusta is a mongoose. Absolutely no offence to mongooses intended, but they are not typically considered the height of chic. Yes, I am sure there are exceptions to that rule. At any rate, so far as the roadgoing Mangusta went, its body was a sleek lattice-work of lines and slats. In like manner, graphics were elegantly scripted.

But the Mangusta was far from all show. It was bang on the money technically, too. The Ford 4.7 V8 engine put out 305bhp. Top speed was 250km/h. Released in ’66, just 400 Mangustas were made. 280 of them were sold in the States. American sales were substantially upped by fitting the Ford V8. The US was a fair old jaunt for the Mangusta, from Modena, Italy – that mythical Mecca of all things motor racing. The perfect location, then, for Alejandro de Tomaso to base his workshop.

De Tomaso hailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father was a government minister – and his mother an heiress. Suffice to say, Alejandro was unlikely to go hungry. It was not long before de Tomaso’s motoring muse came calling – mainly in the shape of Maseratis. At 27, he moved to Italy – to pursue a career as a racing driver. De Tomaso was quick - but not quick enough. So instead, he set up a supercar company ... as you do! As a designer – rather than driver – de Tomaso fared better. Before long, both sports cars and single-seaters were rolling out of his 'shop. In his youth, de Tomaso idolised Fangio – the Argentinian race ace. Acolyte could never match master, in that regard. But – in penning cars like the Mangusta – de Tomaso had found his niche. His own means of automotive expression, you may say. Oh, by the way - if you are thinking about buying a de Tomaso Mangusta, a word to the wise. Never underestimate its performance. Mongooses eat snakes. You’ve been warned!