Pontiac Club de Mer

Pontiac Club de Mer 1950s American classic concept car

The Pontiac Club de Mer prototype was inspired by land speed record cars. Head of design, Harley Earl - and studio leader Paul Gillian - were given the styling brief. It went without saying that 'space-age' imagery - pretty much ubiquitous in the '50s - would get its foot in the design door, too!

The most obvious lift from LSR cars was the shark-like stabilising fin at the rear. The front-end featured retractable headlights. The low nose tapered into a blunt arrowhead. Two chrome bands flowed up to air scoops at the back of the hood. The Club de Mer was a shoo-in for the '56 'Motorama'. It acquitted itself well - alongside GM's other 'dream car' exotica.

Not that the Club de Mer was all style, and no substance! Beneath the aerodynamic hood was a 4,392cc, 300bhp V8. First and foremost, though, the car was a trend-setter. 'Club de Mer' evoked Meditteranean panache. That was blended with all-American élan. A tad outlandish for some tastes, perhaps ... but then, the Pontiac Club de Mer was was in 'show' business!

Indian Chief

Indian Chief 1950s American classic motorcycle

Harley-Davidson can lay claim to manufacturing the world's best-known motorcycles. Well, American ones, at any rate. But, Harley has always had a rival. The mere mention of 'Indians' has long instilled panic in the suited and booted, in the Harley marketing department!

In the '20s, Indian's Springfield factory was high up the motorcycle heap. The Chief was their biggest asset. The 1200cc engine, in the 1947 model, was good for 85mph. Tuning took it to the 'ton'. An Indian, though, was not about death-defying numbers. Rather, it evoked the spirit of adventure. A bit like that firm in Milwaukee, in fact!

Indian motorcycles were extravagantly styled. Nowhere more so than the finely-fettled fenders. Their trademark curvature was unmistakable. Harley front mudguards are sometimes skimpy affairs. Those which adorn an Indian are heraldic. Almost as if the front wheel were wearing a headdress! Indian, then, was a company which liked to cut a dash. Sadly, the 'Roaring Twenties' glory days faded for Indian - while Harley went on to world domination! But, as in the game ... while most kids grow up wanting to be a cowboy, there are always one or two who would really much rather be an Indian!

Fiat 500

Fiat 500 1950s Italian classic car

In '57 - when the Fiat 500 was released - motorcycles ruled Italian roads. Whether solo - or attached to a side-car - they were the way most people got from A to B. The Fiat 500 was set to change that. It was convenient and economical. Okay, so were motorbikes. But, the '500' came with a roof ... and a sun-roof, at that! By '77 - twenty years later - Fiat had sold over 4,000,000 of them.

The 500's stats were not shattering! It had a twin-cylinder, 499cc motor - producing 18bhp, in standard trim. Top speed was 60mph. Enter Carlo Abarth! His 695cc SS model pushed 90mph. The 'Abarth' featured flared wheel arches, oil cooler, and raised rear engine cover. They were there to prevent over-heating, and increase stability. A pleasant side-effect was that the Abarth acquitted itself well at the racetracks. The roadster, too, handled well. Complete with rear-mounted motor, it delivered a desirable 52mpg. It cruised at 55mph. It was best not to ask too much of it, though - due to the drum brakes, and non-synchromesh gearbox. A modification made to later models was the move from rear to front hinges for the doors. That was especially good news for those still on two wheels!

So far as comfort was concerned, the little Fiat was 'utilitarian'. That said, '68's '500L' came with reclining seats, and carpets. Not exactly 'Rolls-Royce' ... but then a Rolls-Royce did not do 52mpg! The Fiat 500's mission was to provide stress-free motoring, to as many people as possible. That mission, it accomplished ... with petite, but impressive aplomb!

Citroën DS

Citroen DS 1950s French classic car

From an engineering perspective, the Citroën DS must be one of the most exciting roadsters ever built. Its 4-cylinder engine powered a hydraulic system - which found its way into just about every part of the car. The motor itself was straightforward - dating back to the '34 'Traction-avant'. But, the hydraulic set-up it sparked into life was revolutionary. Most notable was the suspension. Instead of springs, the 'DS' was fitted with 'self-levelling hydropneumatic struts'. As a result, the car was able to raise and lower itself in a way that had never been seen - or felt - before. Potholes and bumps were easy pickings for the DS. When stationary - with the engine switched off - the Citroën sank serenely down. The power steering, disc brakes, and 'clutchless' gearbox were all hydraulically-operated. In each case, performance was substantially improved.

At its Paris début - in '55 - the DS' avant-garde styling went down a storm! The fluid lines of the bodywork were - and are - unique. They were functional, too - cleaving cleanly through French air. Front-wheel-drive, the DS handled well. But, to custom coach-builders - like Henri Chapron - the standard car was just a jumping-off point. They created coupés and stretched limos - taking DS aesthetics to the next level.

The DS set a trend for Citroëns. The ID19, and D Super became stalwarts of the Paris taxi scene. Sprawling Safari Estates ferried many from 'A to B'. The convertible version looked stunning - and had a price tag to match. The last of the high-end derivatives was the DS23. With a 5-speed 'box - and fuel injection - it delivered 117mph. In the end, almost 1.5m DSs were sold ... a fittingly high figure for a fine product.

Brough Superior SS100

Brough Superior SS100 vintage motorcycle

When it came to his best-known motorbike, George Brough did not beat about the bush. 'Superior' said it all. And, to be fair, it was! Saying that, Brough - and his small team of Nottingham-based engineers - were responsible only for the frame. The engine and cycle parts were outsourced. Initially, JAP - and later Matchless - provided the power. All the parts, though, still had to be coaxed to work as one. Brough, and the boys, clearly did a good job ... the SS100 was widely considered to be the best bike in the world!

Brough was among a group of riders, who, time and again, set about proving the Superior's worth. Both at circuits - and in land speed record attempts - the bike was a regular sight, in the '20s and '30s. As usual, racing 'improved the breed'. Tweaks at the track trickled down into mainstream SS100 production.

TE Lawrence - better known as 'Lawrence of Arabia' - was in love with Brough Superiors. He owned a succession of them ... all topped off with his trademark stainless steel tank. Sadly, he was to be fatally injured, whilst riding one of them. Of course, his best-known mode of transport was the cantankerous camel. But, for many, no 'ship of the desert' could ever match a Brough Superior SS100 steaming along at full chat!

Lotus 25

Lotus 25 1960s British F1 car

The Lotus 25 was all about innovation. It was designed by Colin Chapman - charismatic top man at Lotus. In a quest to lower the nose of the car - in the interests of aerodynamics - Chapman envisioned a one-piece chassis. The previous car - the Lotus 24 - had been built around space-frame steel tubing. That was the standard, in '61. The '25', though, allowed its aluminium shell to act as the frame. Not only was the 'monocoque' lower and narrower - it was stronger and lighter, too. Frame flex was substantially reduced. That also let the suspension function to better effect.

Chapman boxed clever! The '62 season started with the old Lotus 24 on the grid - complete with its space-frame chassis. Early, non-championship races were a perfect opportunity to pull the wool over rival teams' eyes. Come the Dutch GP, though - and the Lotus 25 was revealed! With master craftsman Jim Clark at the wheel, the new Lotus quickly established itself as the class of the field. It would have won the World Championship at the first time of asking - were it not for last-round reliability issues. The following season, though, saw no such slip-up. A record-breaking seven-win haul saw Lotus take its first world crown. They would repeat the feat, in '65 - with the wider-wheeled '33'. That was a great year for the Norfolk-based team ... Lotus also won the Indy 500!

The synergy, then, between the 25 and Clark was an automotive marriage from heaven. They lit up the F1 1.5-litre era. Colin Chapman - the arch-innovator - had done it again. Chassis and frame technology had morphed into the modern era. GP cornering would never be the same again!

Matchless G50

Matchless G50 1950s British MotoGP bike

The Matchless G50 had a lot to live up to. To name your new company 'Matchless' needs confidence in its products - to put it mildly! That was something Charlie and Harry Collier clearly possessed, when they opened for business in 1899. They were located in Plumstead, south-east London. Both brothers were racers - of some repute. In 1907, Charlie rode a Matchless to victory at the first TT - in the single-cylinder category. Harry performed the same feat two years later. At the time, then, the Matchless moniker was pretty much justified.

Fast-forward to the Sixties - and Matchless were dominant again. Now, it was the turn of the G50 to hold all-comers at bay. First unveiled in the late '50s, the Matchless G50 was - to all intents and purposes - an AJS 7R, re-badged. Matchless had acquired AJS, in 1931.

More proof of confidence within Matchless can be found in its logo. It takes some hutzpah to rely on a single letter to get your marketing message across. Charlie and Harry, though, clearly felt that a winged 'M' was sufficient to identify a motorcycle as a Matchless. It is not as if it was an excessively long brand-name to display on the tank! There is a fine line, of course, between self-belief and hubris. The former is a prerequisite for success - the latter, an almost cast-iron guarantee of failure. However, it would seem that the two young Londoners got the balance spot-on. After all, Matchless motorcycles began winning races at the turn of the 20th century. And - at classic bike events, at least - they are still there or thereabouts well into the new millennium!

Ariel Atom

Ariel Atom 2000s British sports car

In some ways, the Ariel Atom was as close as a roadster gets to an F1 car. Hang on … hear me out! The lack of proper headlamps was a dead giveaway, for starters. There was not enough frontal area for such fripperies. Anyway, the Atom would be wasted at night. Far better to spend the running costs blitzing daylit open roads. Not that those costs would be too exorbitant. The Atom could definitely have been filed under 'pared-down'. It was first glimpsed at Birmingham's British International Motor Show - in October, '96. Production began in 2000. Eight iterations of the Atom have subsequently been released. Enthusiasts are counting on more!

Simplicity was the Atom's watchword. Tightly focused simplicity, that is. Just as an atomic particle is a pretty miniscule piece of kit, so Ariel's automotive take went right back to bare-bones basics. Its weight said it all. Even by stripped-down supercar standards, 1,005lb was light. And it was not just the dearth of standard headlights. The Atom's 'cabin' was minimal, to say the least. Composite bucket seats were about it! Strapped into 4-point race harnesses, though, the two occupants were not going anywhere - except through high-speed bends. With suspension modelled on single-seater race cars - and tuned by Lotus - cornering was always going to be a gimme.

There are, of course, limits to the Atom/F1 car comparison. It is true to say that a top speed of 150mph might be less than competitive down today's straights. That was, though, from a 4-cylinder 2-litre engine - the i-VTEC - borrowed from the Japanese market Honda Civic Type R. Likewise, the original 220bhp may be considered down on power for a contemporary Formula One grid. That would, however, be increased to 245bhp with the Atom 2. And 350bhp was available from the supercharged Atom 3.5R. So, with adroit use of the 6-speed 'box - also sourced from the Civic Type R - scaled-down GP driving was clearly on the cards. To be fair, Ariel Motor Company - based in Crewkerne, Somerset - comprised just seven staffers. The proverbial whip was cracked by boss Simon Saunders. In the past, he had worked at Aston-Martin and GM. Styling was by Niki Smart. At the time, he was studying transport design at Coventry University. British Steel and TWR were among the sponsors of the student-led project. Asking price for the Ariel Atom was £26,000. Not half bad - especially for owners with vivid imaginations. For, it would not be too far-fetched - on a sunny day, at a twisty track - to feel yourself capable of similar feats to drivers of, say, your average F1 car. Up and Atom!

Buick Gran Sport

Buick Gran Sport 1970s American classic muscle car

The Buick Gran Sport had Pontiac to thank. The latter's 'GTO' was the first 'muscle car'. As such, it saw a big-block V8 fitted in a medium-sized chassis. The result was hard-punching power - at a competitive price. Not surprisingly, then, the GTO sold well. Again, not surprisingly, Pontiac's rivals picked up on the fact. The muscle car era was born.

One of those rivals was Buick. In '65, they took their 'Skylark' car - and mated it with their 401ci 'nailhead' V8. As a consequence, the Skylark's output soared to 325bhp. While the Skylark 'Gran Sport' never played in the same sales league as the GTO, it nonetheless did good business for Buick. In '66, they followed it up with a more powerful Gran Sport. It now kicked out a cool 340bhp. Sales, though, were down on its first year. Attractive as it was, a brand-new Buick did not come cheap! So - in '67 - the 'GS' 400 was launched. A 3-speed auto transmission appeared. As an alternative, Buick offered the budget GS 340. Sales started to climb again.

The Gran Sport's finest hour came in the form of the GS 455. Released in 1970 - complete with a 355ci engine - oomph was nominally upped to 360bhp. However, Buick were almost certainly underestimating it. Road testers swore it felt more like 400bhp. At any rate, it was in 'Stage One Special Package' tune. That comprised a hotter cam, larger valves, and a modified carb. With all that hooked up, the Gran Sport was good for 130mph. Exotic 'GSX' styling options went toe to toe with the performance stats. Spoilers, stripes and supersize tyres made the GS 455 look as well as it went. Sadly, all good things come to an end. As soon as '71, the Gran Sport's best days were behind it. Low-lead gas led to less power. Insurance hikes kicked in, too. One way or another, the muscle car game was up. Like its power-mad siblings from other marques, the GS simply faded away. Times change - and the world moves on. But - like everything else - progress comes at a price. In automotive terms, that meant cars like the Buick Gran Sport. For - despite all their foibles - driving has never been quite the same since!

Laverda Montjuïc Mk2

Laverda Montjuic Mk2 1980s Italian classic sports bike

When you bought a Laverda Montjuïc Mk2, you got what it said on the tin. Well, on the side-panel, anyway. Montjuïc was a motor racing circuit in Barcelona. Which told you most of what you needed to know about the bike. Conceptually, it modelled the 'Formula' flyers Laverda built for their single-make race series.

Unfortunately, that race-based concept was not entirely realised in the roadster. Certainly, Laverda had achieved substantial success at Montjuïc. And - in handling terms, at least - the Mk2 came acceptably close to replicating the agility of the track tools. That was largely thanks to the bike's light weight, sturdy tubular-steel frame, and Marzocchi suspension. Likewise, Brembo disc brakes recalled the race bikes' sixpence-stopping precision. And a high-speed weave - which had plagued the Montjuïc Mk1 - had been seen off by the Mk2's frame-mounted fairing.

No, it was the new bike's speed - or lack of it - which ultimately took the edge off its razor-sharp manoeuvrability. Flat out, the needle hovered around the 110mph mark. While that was adequate, it hardly set the world alight. Though the exhilarating exhaust note did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair, that was from a mere 497cc parallel twin motor. Even so - on paper - the Montjuïc had plenty going for it, in the performance stakes. For sure, a 'racer's crouch' riding position signalled straight-line intent. As did its 'tuned' engine - fed by air-filterless carburettors. The Montjuïc's high price tag, too, seemed to promise lots of whizz for your lire. A relative lack of power, though, was offset by other virtues. It looked lovely in the way that only a Laverda can. And the lines it carved through corners would have graced a maturing Michelangelo. Just that pesky top speed stat let the Laverda side down a tad. Apart from that, the Montjuïc Mk2 made motorcycling hay in the Spanish sunshine. Before heading back to Breganze!

Cord 810

Cord 810 1930s American classic car

Errett Cord was a man on a mission. To get rich - or die trying! Maverick to his core, cars were one of several saucers he was spinning. Cord may not have loved cars, as such - but he sure loved selling 'em. Cars like the Cord 810.

By '29, Cord had acquired Auburn and Duesenberg. And he had returned the two of them to profitability. Time now, then, for him to strike out on his own. First off, came the Cord L-29. It featured a Lycoming engine and front wheel drive. The motor was not much to write home about. But the FWD most certainly was. Miller racing cars were fitted with it. As a result, they were leaving their rivals languishing in their wake. Cord decided he had have some of that. In the showrooms, though, the L-29's high price, transmission issues - and lacklustre engine - held it back.

The Cord 810 was launched at the NY show - in December '35. Its unique selling point - FWD - had been upgraded. Powering it was a new V8. With the optional supercharger, it produced 190bhp. That gave a top speed of 110mph. Gear changes were electric - literally. A small lever activated cog-shifting solenoids. Innovative engineering enabled radical styling. Unitary construction - with no separate chassis - allowed Gordon Buehrig to draft a 'low rider' look. Headlights blended in with the fenders - enhancing the 810's clean lines. Inside, too, the Cord cut a dash. Its instrument panel was aeronautical in design. Convertible, phaeton, and two sedan models were available. But - even with so much in its favour - the 810 did not break the sales scales. To be fair, the Great Depression was not the best time to be in marketing! Errett Cord had other things on his mind, anyway. His ‘pushy’ business practices had attracted attention – some of it from financial regulators. So - in ’34 - Cord sought safe passage to England. With its captain no longer at his station, the good ship Cord was cut adrift. In ’37, it sank. The Cord 810, though – and its 812 successor – had made their indelible mark in the design annals. If not the cash registers!

Ducati Dharma SD

Ducati Dharma SD 1970s Italian classic sports bike

The Ducati Dharma SD was a fine, if flawed motorcycle. Certainly, there was much in the plus column. Performance, handling and styling all passed muster - and more. In excitement stakes, the SD scored heavily. In practicality terms - less so.

Styling-wise - thanks to Italjet - the Sport Desmo was in fine fettle. The agency was run by Leo Tartarini. In the past, he had been a Ducati race rider. Now bringing his design skills to the table, for the Dharma, Tartarini fashioned a free-flowing seam of tank, seat and tail. The bike's 864cc V-twin engine looked impressive from any angle. Smart Conti pipes - and well-crafted wheels - set off the SD's sartorial swagger.

On the technical front, too, the Dharma delivered. Admittedly, it was not the most powerful bike on the block. Its 60bhp output gave a top speed of 115mph. Real-world riders, however, were happy with that. And the bevel-driven valvetrain meant maximum use could be made of the poke that was available. Reasonable speeds, then, were a doddle for the Dharma. Ducatis had long been revered for their handling. The SD's firm, but flexible frame, sweetly-tuned suspension, and responsive brakes and tyres provided a reassuring and relaxed ride. Long and lively journeys, then, should have been a gimme. Too often, though, they were an opportunity for gremlins to emerge. To put it bluntly, build quality was not Ducati's forte. Electrics, say, could be 'trying' - especially in wet weather. No matter how beautiful a bike, viewing it in a downpour does not reveal it in its best light! And, peeling paintwork and chrome - while less of an immediate issue - eventually would also test owners' patience. So, a classic case of swings and roundabouts. In many ways, the Ducati Dharma SD was an all-round delight. So long as you had a lock-up! Oh, I almost forgot … Dharma was a cuddly lion in a children's book.


AMC AMX 1970s American classic muscle car

The AMC AMX was effectively a stripped-down Javelin. It was a full foot shorter - and weighed a lot less. That made sense - since it was the sole US 2-seater sports car, in '68. It stayed in production until '74. 'AMX' stood for American Motors eXperimental.

When a car sets 106 speed records - in a month - you know you have struck pay dirt! That is what Craig Breedlove did, in February, '68 - behind the wheel of an AMX. No surprise, then, that AMC saw fit to mark his success with 50 red, white and blue AMX Breedlove specials. Back in the real world, the AMX roadster's top speed was 120mph. The SS version - with a 390ci V8 - made at least the claimed 340bhp - and probably a whole lot more. If anything, muscle car stats at the time tended to be understated. Would that were still the case! Built with one eye on the drag strip, just 50 SSs were sold. Partly that was because the SS was supercharged in price, as well as power! If you needed more muscle from a standard AMX, way to go was … well, a Go pack! That gave you a 401ci V8 to play with. Output climbed to 330bhp. Go pack goodies also included uprated brakes, suspension, and wheels and tyres. Virtually a new car, then, really!

Sadly - by '71 - the AMX's muscle car days were numbered. In fact, they were over! By that point, it was no more than an alias for the top-of-the-range AMC Javelin. By '74 - and the end of its run - its superstar status was diminished. In memoriam muscle cars, though, the AMX was as moving as any. And as modish, too. Well, apart from the Mustang, maybe!

Bimota DB1

Bimota DB1 1980s Italian superbike

The Bimota DB1 was a double dose of Italiana. It was the first Bimota to feature a Ducati engine. As such, the DB1 combined a deliciously torquey powerplant with the kind of looks that could only have been fashioned in Rimini. Unsurprisingly, then, the DB1 was a Bimota best-seller. It came at a critical juncture for the style-obsessed Italian marque. 'Arty' to its core, business was never Bimota's strong suit. Prior to the '86 release of the DB1, financially, the firm was in decline. But, with its long list of virtues - and a reasonable price-tag attached - the DB1 stopped, and then reversed, the downward spiral.

The Ducati factor in the DB1 was a desmo V-twin. A sohc 90° affair, it made 76bhp. Designed more for mid-range grunt than throttle-to-the-stop velocity, Ducati's output gave a top speed of 130mph. If that stat was underwhelming - at least, in superbike terms - the way the DB1 arrived at it was not. Suffice to say, acceleration was fierce! On top of Ducati's long-stroke motor, the DB1's tech-spec further fueled its fast-revving fire. For a start, it weighed a skeletal 354lb. As well as that, Federico Martini - Bimota's lead engineer - had blended the bike's fairing, petrol tank and seat unit into a single, streamlined shape.

Acrobatic handling was icing on the cake. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Brakes by Brembo. Pirelli brought low-profile tyres - on 16″ wheels - to the DB1's bend-swinging party. And - especially if you were short of stature - Bimota built the bike to be comfortably compact. It is true that - as 750cc machines go - it was not the most blistering bike on the block. But, for its overall strengths - and the Italianate cut of its jib - the Bimota DB1 takes its place at the top table of the world's superbikes!

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport 1930s Italian classic car

The Fiat 508S Balilla Sport had much in common with the VW Beetle. And not just that it looked like one from the back. As with the 'Volkswagen' - literally, people's car - the Balilla was designed to be transport for the masses. That said, it was coach-built in Turin, Italy - so it went without saying that it was pleasing on the eye, too. Fiat HQ was in Turin.

Gianni Agnelli - head of Fiat - had a core objective for the new Balilla range. He wanted it to sell well. That comes as no surprise - Agnelli was one of the wealthiest Italians ever. The first model's unique selling point was that it had three gears. Plus, it was cheap … sorry, competitively-priced. It set you back 10,800 Italian lire. Throw in hydraulic braking - eat your heart out, Citroën - and it was a steal! Fiat's sales pitch clearly worked. 114,000 units rolled into - and out of - showrooms, during the car's five-year run. That was a record number of sales - up to, and including 1934, when the first 508 was released. And not only in Italy. Other parts of Europe also caught the Balilla bug. Production lines were started in Poland, GB and France. Indeed, the French firm Simca was founded to flog the new Fiat.

Particularly in France, then, the Balilla was possessed of a certain «Je ne sais quoi» - something its British rivals were perceived to lack. The 508 Sport had speed on its side, too - as well as style. Its four-cylinder 995cc side-valve engine made 36bhp - at 4,400rpm. Top speed was 110km/h. More than enough to sweep a lucky lady off her feet! So long as you did not forget your petrol money … the Balilla Sport drank around 9.5 litres/100km. But - all in all - mission accomplished for Fiat. The 508 series did more than make its mark - it became a sales sensation! That was the result of what passed for mass marketing, in the 1930s. The Balilla Sport was big business. Like those behind the VW Beetle, Fiat had got their sums spot-on!