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!