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!