Indian Chief

Indian Chief

Harley-Davidson can lay claim to manufacturing the world's best-known motorcycles. Well, certainly American ones, anyway. But, Harley have 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, were 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

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!

Pontiac Club de Mer

Pontiac Club de Mer

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!

Citroën DS

Citroen DS

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

Brough Superior

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 steaming along at full chat!

Lotus 25

Lotus 25

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

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!