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 brand of motorcycle, George Brough did not beat about the bush. 'Superior' said it all - and very succinctly. And, to be fair, it was just that - as compared with many of its two-wheeled rivals. 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 made a good job of it - since the SS100 was widely considered to be the best bike in the world at the time. The Superior range as a whole was produced from 1919 to 1940.

George Brough was among a group of riders, who, time and again, proved 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 in a 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, at any rate. Montjuïc Park was a mountain-based motor racing circuit in Barcelona, Spain. A street circuit, that is. Which told you most of what you needed to know about the machine you had just acquired. Conceptually, it modelled the Formula bikes Laverda built for their single-make race series.

Unfortunately, the racing concept was not entirely realised in the roadster. Laverda had enjoyed substantial success at Montjuïc - not least because of the sure-footed handling of their bikes. And - in terms of agility - the Mk2 came close to emulating the track tools' prowess. That was mainly due to its light weight, tubular-steel frame and Marzocchi suspension. Likewise, Brembo disc brakes helped replicate the racers' stop-on-a-sixpence precision. Even the high-speed weave - which had plagued the Montjuïc Mk1 - had been seen off by the Mk2's frame-mounted fairing.

What took the edge off the new Montjuïc was its speed - or lack thereof. As mentioned, the Mk2's manoeuvrability was razor-sharp. Straight-line speed - not so much. Throttle to the stop, the needle hovered around the 110mph mark. Whilst that was adequate, it hardly set the world alight. Though an ear-splitting exhaust note did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair, the Mk2 was powered by a 497cc parallel twin motor. Hardly cutting edge. Indeed, it ran without air-filtering - which might have sped things up a bit! For all that, a 'racer's crouch' riding position signalled the Mk2's intent. And the Montjuïc's high price tag seemed to promise lots of whizz for your lire. Anyway, its relative lack of power was offset by other virtues. It looked Laverda lovely, standing still. And the lines it carved through corners would have pleased a maturing Michelangelo. Just that pesky top speed stat let Laverda's side down a tad. Other than that, the Montjuïc Mk2 made hay in the Spanish sunshine. Before flying back to Breganze, Italy ... at 110mph!

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 unconditionally - but he sure as heck loved selling them. Cars like the Cord 810, in fact.

By '29, Cord had already acquired Auburn and Duesenberg. In due course, he returned both of them to profitability. Time, then, for him to start up his own company. The first model off the line was 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. Indeed, Miller racing cars were fitted with it. As a result, they were leaving rivals languishing in their wake. Cord decided he could use some of that. Sadly, its FWD was not sufficient to make the L-29 a commercial success. It was held back by its high price and transmission issues. As well as the mediocre motor!

The Cord 810 was launched at the NY show - in December '35. Its unique selling point - FWD - had been upgraded. More to the point, 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. The 810's innovative engineering allowed for radical styling. Its unitary construction - with no separate chassis - let Gordon Buehrig design a 'low rider' profile. Headlights blended in with the fenders - enhancing the car's clean lines still further. Inside, too, the Cord cut a dash. Its instrument panel looked as aeronautical as it did automotive. A convertible, phaeton - and two sedans - were on offer. But - even with so much going for it - the 810 did not overburden the showroom tills. To be fair, the Great Depression was not the ideal time to launch a new car. Plus, Errett Cord had other things on his mind. His ‘creative’ business practices attracted attention – some of it from financial regulators. As a result - in ’34 - Cord sought a safe haven in England. With its erstwhile captain no longer at the helm, the good ship Cord was cut adrift. In ’37, it sank without trace. For all that, the Cord 810 – and its 812 successor – had well and truly made their mark. In the annals of avant garde design, that is. Alas, not at the cash registers!

Ducati Dharma SD 900

Ducati Dharma SD 900 1970s Italian classic sports bike

The Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a fine - if flawed - motorcycle. Certainly, there was plenty in its plus column. Performance, handling and styling all passed muster - and more. In the excitement stakes, the SD scored heavily. Only in practicality terms did it fall short. And yes, superbike fans, it does matter!

Looks-wise, the Sport Desmo was on solid ground. That was thanks to the revered visual skills of Italjet. The agency was run by Leo Tartarini. In the past, he had been a Ducati race rider. Tartarini now brought his innate Italian design skills to the table. For the Dharma, he drafted a sweeping swathe of tank, seat and tail. The 864cc V-twin engine looked good from any angle. Smart Conti pipes - and neatly-forged wheels - set off the SD's sartorial swagger.

Technically, too, the Dharma delivered. Admittedly, it was not the pokiest bike on the block. Still, its 60bhp output turned in a top whack of 115mph. Mere mortals were happy with that! The Ducati's bevel-driven valvetrain kept it all taut. Real-world speeds were a doddle for the Dharma. Ducatis had long been renowned for their handling. The SD's firm, but flexible frame, sweetly-tuned suspension and responsive brakes were stability to a tee. Long but lively journeys, then, should have been a gimme. Too often, though, gremlins grabbed the reins. To put it bluntly, Ducati build quality was not the best. Electrics could be especially trying - given wet enough weather. No matter how beautiful a bike, standing looking at it in a downpour does not show it in its best light! And peeling paint and chrome - while less of a pressing issue - in time likewise tested owners' patience. In so many ways, the Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a two-wheeled delight. Good to have a garage/lock-up at your disposal, though. Annoying little problems always need sorting in the end!

AMC AMX

AMC AMX 1960s American classic muscle car

To all intents and purposes, the AMX was a stripped-down AMC Javelin. It was a foot shorter - and weighed a lot less. On its release - in February '68 - it was the sole US 2-seater sports car. It stayed in production until '74. If AMC stood for American Motors Corporation, AMX did the same for American Motors eXperimental.

When a car sets 106 speed records, you know you are onto something. When it does so in a month, you know you have hit pay dirt! So it was when Craig Breedlove got behind the wheel of an AMX, shortly after its launch. Unsurprisingly, AMC saw fit to mark his success - with 50 red, white and blue AMX Breedlove specials. Rewind to the real world, and top speed for the AMX roadster was 120mph. The SS version - complete with a 390ci V8 - made at least 340bhp, and probably a whole lot more. Muscle car stats at the time tended to be understated. Built with one eye on the drag strip, just 50 SSs were sold. Partly, that was because its price was supercharged, as well as its power! If you needed more muscle from a standard AMX, way to go was a Go Pack. It included a bigger 401ci V8 motor. Output duly climbed to 330bhp. The Go Pack also provided uprated brakes, suspension and wheels/tyres.

By '71, though, the AMX's hot shot days were numbered. At that point, the top-of-the-range Javelin ruled AMC's roost. Come '74 - and the end of its run - its superstar status was substantially reduced. In its day, though, the AMX was more muscular than most. And certainly more modish. Saying that, the Mustang gave it a run for its money in the stylishness stakes!

Bimota DB1

Bimota DB1 1980s Italian sports bike

The Bimota DB1 was a double dose of Italiana. It was the first Bimota to feature a Ducati engine. So, the DB1 combined a deliciously torquey powerplant with the kind of looks that could only have been modelled in Italy. Bimota was based in Rimini. Unsurprisingly, then, the DB1 sold well. It came at a critical juncture for the stylish Italian specials builder. Design-driven to its core, business was never Bimota's strong suit. Indeed - prior to the DB1's '86 release - the firm was in financial decline. Thanks to the new bike, though, Bimota's downward spiral was stemmed - and even reversed. Crucially - along with its long list of virtues - the DB1 was reasonably priced.

The Ducati factor in the DB1 was its desmo-valved engine. A sohc 90° V-twin, the 750cc motor made 76bhp. Built more for mid-range grunt than throttle-to-the-stop velocity, top speed for the DB1 was 130mph. In superbike terms, that stat was not too much to write home about. The way it was reached, however, most certainly was. Suffice to say, acceleration was fierce. As well as its long-stroke motor, the rest of the DB1's tech-spec further fueled its free-revving fire. For a start, it weighed a skeletal 354lb. Plus, Federico Martini - Bimota's lead engineer - blended the fairing, tank and seat into a single, streamlined shape.

Acrobatic handling was only icing on the DB1 cake. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Brakes by Brembo. Pirelli brought low-profile tyres to the DB1's bend-swinging party. They were fitted to nimble 16″ wheels. The whole bike was comfortabe and compact. It is true that at peak revs, the new Bimota was not the most blistering bike on the block. But, for its overall strengths - and the Italianate cut of its jib - the DB1 takes its place at superbikes' top table!

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport 1930s Italian classic sports car

In commercial terms, at least, the Fiat 508S Balilla Sport had much in common with the VW Beetle. As with the Volkswagen - or, people's car - the Balilla was designed to be transport for the masses. Saying that, it was coachbuilt in Turin, Italy - at Fiat HQ. So, it went without saying that it was pleasing on the eye.

Gianni Agnelli was head of Fiat. Unsurprisingly, his core objective for the Balilla range was that it sell well. Agnelli was, after all, one of the wealthiest Italians who has ever lived. In line with his strategy, the Balilla was competitively-priced. 10,800 lire, to be precise. The first model's unique selling point was that it had three gears. And - with hydraulic braking also part of the package - it did indeed fly out of the showrooms. In its five-year run, 114,000 Balillas were sold. That smashed Italian automotive sales records. And it was not just Italy that caught the Balilla bug. Other parts of Europe also succumbed. Production lines started in the UK, France and Poland. Indeed, the French firm Simca was founded to flog the new Fiat.

The style-laden Balilla 508 was released in '34. And the 508S Sport had speed, too, on its side. Its four-cylinder engine made 36bhp - at 4,400rpm. Top speed from the 995cc side-valve set-up was 110km/h. More than enough to sweep a young lady off her feet! So long as you did not forget your petrol money. The Balilla Sport drank around 9.5 litres/100km. For Fiat, then - and Gianni Agnelli - it was mission accomplished. The 508 series did more than make its mark - it became the stuff of legend. In the Thirties, the 508S Balilla Sport was mass marketing big business. Like the team behind the VW Beetle, Fiat got its sales sums spot-on!