Brough Superior SS100

Brough Superior SS100 vintage motorcycle

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 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 well into the 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!