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 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!