Honda RA302

Honda RA302 1960s Japanese classic F1 car

Honda\’s RA302 car was a while in the making. The Japanese giant arrived in F1 in \’64. It brought with it a transversely-mounted V12 motor. A complex masterpiece of engineering, it was the talk of the GP world. It took Honda nearly two seasons to make it to the top step of the podium. The first win came in Mexico – in the final race of the 1.5-litre era. If Honda thought they had cracked it, they were ahead of themselves. In \’66 and \’67, results were lacklustre. At the time, all F1 engines were heavy. Honda\’s exotic V12, though, tipped the scales at 100lb more than its rivals. Not ideal!

Thankfully for Honda, John Surtees was on the driving roster. By the start of the \’68 season, he had helped develop the RA301 car. It was tidier of design than its predecessor. It was also more powerful. Surtees was assured that a lightweight V12 was on its way. At that point, head honcho Soichiro Honda threw a spanner in the works. Well, it was his works, to be fair! Honda-san\’s priority was selling N600 saloon cars. Their engines were still air-cooled. Honda\’s increasingly successful motorcycles were also on Soichiro\’s mind. They, too, were air-cooled. For Mr Honda, bread and butter business trumped motorsport. He instructed the race department to come up with an air-cooled motor – to match the roadsters\’ powerplants. The lightweight V12 Surtees had been promised was mothballed.

In due course, Soichiro got his air-cooled F1 car. Parked in Silverstone\’s paddock, the Honda RA302 looked a dream. Light and compact, its 120° V8 sat snugly at the back of a monocoque chassis. When the time came to fire it up, Innes Ireland was at the wheel. The erstwhile Lotus legend was now a journalist. Ireland was about to take the RA302 out for its first test-drive. When he returned to the paddock, it was not with good news. Handling-wise, he said, the new car was all over the shop. Surtees\’ mood that day was already testy – and Ireland\’s report did not improve it. Surtees had not even known the car was coming, until the last minute. Never mind that it was already entered in the upcoming French GP. Surtees declined to have anything further to do with the RA302 – which was clearly way underdeveloped. Honda France duly stepped into the GP breach. Jo Schlesser – looking to move from F2 to F1 – would do the driving at Rouens. Come race day, the French weather was dreadful. Schlesser – and the RA302 – started towards the back of the grid. Surtees, meanwhile – driving the RA301 – was vying for the lead. On only the second lap, Schlesser\’s new air-cooled engine let go. The RA302 careened into a bank and caught fire. Tragically, the French ace died in the blaze. Later that year – in the Italian GP, at Monza – Surtees did finally drive the recalcitrant RA302. But, to no avail. At the end of the \’68 season – perhaps chastened by the RA302 experience – Honda withdrew from racing. It did not return until the Eighties!

Tyrell P34

Tyrell P34 1970s British classic F1 car

To have described the Tyrell P34 as radical would have been understatement. After all, six-wheeled cars are not exactly two a penny – on road or track! Over time, other F1 constructors would also try six-wheelers on for size, however – so Tyrell cannot have been that far out on a limb. Derek Gardner designed the car. His primary aim was to reduce frontal area. Four 10″ front wheels helped do just that. The wheels and tyres on Formula 1 cars do tend to be rather large, do not forget! The result was more than merely improved aerodynamics – deeply desirable though that was. Grip, too, was substantially upped – especially on turn-in to corners. Having four front wheels took the P34\’s traction to a new level. Aesthetically, it may have been open to doubt. Functionally, though, there was no doubt at all.

The \’P\’ in P34 stood for Project. To begin with, it was to be no more than a prototype. Boss Ken Tyrell was dubious that the car would make it from test-bed to race-track. But when the \’project car\’ was put through its paces, it was found to be formidably quick. Quick enough, in fact, to give the then current car – the Tyrell 007 – a run for its money. Ken Tyrell\’s reservations rapidly vanished. A no holds barred racer was duly green-lighted.

The P34 took to the grid in \’76. By season\’s end, the car had fully justified the faith placed in it. In the constructors\’ championship, Tyrell was bested by only Ferrari and McLaren. In the drivers\’ title chase, Jody Scheckter and Patrick Depailler placed third and fourth respectively. Scheckter took pole, then won in Sweden – with Depailler not far behind. There would be several more second-place finishes. Two fastest laps had been bagged – Scheckter\’s in Germany, Depailler\’s in Canada. So, things looked good for \’77. Ronnie Peterson replaced Scheckter. Sadly, though, P34 momentum was not maintained. Tyrell lagged behind in development terms. Tyre supplier Goodyear had issues of its own. It was facing stiff competition from Michelin. The P34\’s one-off tyre requirements were becoming a drain on Goodyear resources. It soon became clear that the end was nigh for the P34. Both March and Williams subsequently toyed with six-wheelers. They were both stymied by transmission issues. In due course, six-wheeled systems would be banned. During its brief time in the sun, however, the Tyrell P34 was on the front foot in pushing F1\’s technical envelope!

Honda RC166

Honda RC166 1960s Japanese MotoGP bike

6-cylinder bikes – like the Honda RC166 – are a rarity on the road. Even more so at the racetrack. Motorcycles are suckers for straight lines. To the motorbike mindset, corners are burdensome things – involving the manipulation of mass. And, the more mass there is, the less keen on cornering the bike becomes. More cylinders mean more mass – which means more meandering through the twisty bits. Well, according to the standard laws of physics, that is. The Honda RC166, however, obviously did not do things by the book. Having half a dozen cylinders strapped across its frame did not seem to bother it one jot. Numerous race wins – and world championships – were testament to that.

The writing was on the wall back in \’59. That was the year in which the Japanese first took part in the Isle of Man TT road races. As it turned out, that season brought Honda only modest success. Subsequent visits to the island, though, saw them decimate all-comers. The Sixties were a heyday for Honda. In \’66, Mike Hailwood won 10 out of 12 GPs – on the 250 RC166. On top of that, he took the 350 title – on a bored-out 297cc bike. The following year – in \’67 – he did the same again!

As befitted a bike with a \’six-pack\’, the RC166 was enviably slim. Its fuel-tank was vintage-style slender. It had clearly been designed with \’flickability\’ in mind. A dry weight of just 264lb was perfectly aligned with that. As well as its petite proportions, the RC166 brought raw power to the table. 24 small valves – 4 per cylinder, by my maths – spun up 18,000rpm. 60bhp was the much-cherished result. Certainly – combined with its skinny physique – it was more than enough to get the job done. Throw a rider like Mike Hailwood into the mix, and it was a cinch. To the racing cognoscenti, the bike\’s exhaust note was a six-cylinder symphony, no less. For many fans, old school shots of \’Mike the Bike\’ Hailwood on an RC166 are as good as it gets. Hurrah for Honda and its high-speed six-pot … bike racing had moved up a gear!

Vauxhall Cresta PA

Vauxhall Cresta PA 1960s British classic car

The Vauxhall Cresta PA appeared in \’57. At the time, Vauxhall – a mainstay of British car manufacturing – was under the aegis of GM, in Detroit. Unsurprisingly, then, the new Cresta PA picked up several US styling motifs. The rear fins, for example, were pure Americana … though suitably reined in for British tastes! Likewise, the PA\’s wraparound windscreen clearly originated on the other side of the \’pond\’. Stateside-style two-tone paint – and whitewall tyres – were optional extras. The Cresta was Vauxhall\’s answer to the Ford Zodiac. It was there in every larger-than-life line of the British-made car. The PA\’s cabin continued the \’Britmobile\’ theme. Bench seats, white steering wheel and column shift all came courtesy of the American Dream.

Mechanically, the Cresta harked back to the E Series. Its pushrod straight-six engine produced 78bhp. That gave it a top speed of 90mph. Capacity was 2,262cc. Power was delivered in relaxed fashion. The gearbox was a 3-speed synchromesh set-up. Soft suspension was via a leaf-spring rear axle, wishbones and coil springs. Many of these components derived from the Vauxhall Velox – the Cresta\’s slightly less sophisticated predecessor.

In \’59, the Cresta got a face-lift. Its three-piece rear screen became one-piece. Up front, the \’egg-crate\’ grille was revised. Coachbuilders Friary built an estate car version. The Queen gave it her personal seal of approval … she drove one for years. 1960 brought further Cresta updates. Its motor was taken out to 2.6 litres. That upped output to 96bhp. The PA was given larger wheels and fins. The gearbox was now a two-pedal Hydramatic auto. Or, alternatively, a dual overdrive manual. Front disc brakes were servo-assisted. British motorists gave the improvements a thumbs up. The PA sold soundly, right up to \’62. By then, though, its fins – whilst the \’in thing\’ in the Fifties – were starting to show their age. Its production run now over, the Vauxhall Cresta PA was put out to well-earned pasture. British cars would seldom look as American again!

Daimler Majestic Major

Daimler Majestic Major 1960s British classic car

At first glance, the Daimler Majestic Major may not appear to be much of a performance car. But – at least by the standards of its day – it was. Notwithstanding the Major\’s large dimensions – and a separate chassis – it could outpace the best of them. And, it had manoeuvrability to match! Top whack was 122mph. Enough for it to glide with ease past many a sports car. Come the corners – and things were no different. Power steering saw to that. Key to the speed was a 4.7-litre hemi-head V8. 0-60 turned up in less than 10s – 9.7, to be precise. Impressive acceleration for a car of its bulk. Transmission was via a 3-speed auto \’box.

Few saloons cruised Britain\’s highways and byways like the Major. Of course – being a Daimler – elegance came as standard. The cabin was all one would expect from a car of its class. Leather pews – and a wooden dash – made it home from stately home. Seating arrangements were suitably spacious. The boot – about the size of your average black hole – could accomodate every golf club known to man. A limousine version – the DR45 – was tailor-made for the carriage trade. Funeral parlours doted on it. And yet – for all of its high-end charm – the Majestic Major had a trace of the common touch. It was drawn by the same designer as the FX4 taxi-cab!

1,180 saloon version Majors were built. Plus, 864 limousines. In the course of the car\’s run, Daimler was taken over by Jaguar. indeed, a Daimler engine was ear-marked for a new MkX – Jaguar\’s flagship model, at the time. Sadly, a prototype of the V8 motor was as far as it got. It blew all the Jaguar engines into the weeds. That did not endear it to Jaguar\’s top brass. After all, shareholders might legitimately have asked what they had been doing for the last few years! So, the Daimler Majestic Major combined edge-of-your-seat speed with rarefied styling. In short, it was a souped-up saloon car for the wannabe aristocrat in all of us. Well, all right, most of us!

Renault Sport Spider

Renault Sport Spider 1990s French sports car

The Renault Sport Spider came fully-focused. It was built with just two objectives – to go like stink in a straight line and through corners with a minimum of fuss. Both of these goals it achieved. Top speed was 134mph. Roll was near to non-existent. In weight terms, just 1,740lb tried to rein in the Spider\’s free-revving spirit. It did not stand a chance. Four cylinders were all that were needed to overpower it. Output was 150bhp. The Spider was equally unburdened by the weight of expectation. Renault never intended that it sell by the shedload. Rather, it was an exercise in performance and aesthetics – specifically, the trade-off between the two. Hopelessly impractical, there was no way the Spider was ever going to cash in on a mass audience. On that basis, Renault Sport\’s design team swung into action. Patrick Le Quément led the way. With the creative dust settled, stylish minimalism had reached a new level. No roof, no windscreen, no side-windows. Exposure as an art form, so to speak. To be fair, there was a wind-deflector … and a roll-bar!

It was a gimme that the Spider would take to the track. Renault Sport set up a one-make race series for it. Compared to the roadsters, competition cars were boosted – to the tune of 25bhp. Renault Sport Spider racing was fast and frenetic – to say the least. Many a top driver took part. Motorsport fans loved it – and turned out in droves. Renault\’s top brass were ecstatic. The number of Spiders exiting their Dieppe Alpine facility was small. The buzz they were creating, though, was anything but!

The Sport Spider\’s chassis was aluminium. That meant not only light weight – but high rigidity. It was supported by rose-jointed double wishbone suspension. Outsize vented disc brakes were borrowed from the Renault Alpine A610. The Renault Clio Williams supplied the Spider\’s two-litre engine. 62mph arrived in 6.9s. So, the Renault Sport Spider provided you with the quintessential driving experience – and not a lot else. Though a later model did sport a windscreen and wiper. Oh, the decadence!

BMW M1

BMW M1 1970s German classic supercar

The BMW M1 was race-based, to its beautifully-conceived core. It was made – by BMW Motorsport – as a response to the Porsche 935. BMW\’s CSL was by then past its sell-by date – and struggling to keep up with the Porsche. That was in the Group 5 Silhouette series. From BMW\’s point of view, the gap needed to be closed – lest race losses lead to the same on the balance-sheet! Cometh the M1 – and its M88 straight-six motor. The M1 was the first BMW roadster to be fitted with this race-bred powerplant. The cast-iron bottom-end was sourced from the BMW parts bin. In every other respect, it comprised state of the art engineering. The 24-valve twin-cam head was chain-driven. The crankshaft was fashioned from forged-steel. The M88 had longer conrods – and a race-derived dry sump. It was fed by Kugelfischer-Bosch indirect injection. The net result was a top speed for the M1 of 161mph. BMW were back on track!

Group 5 homologation made the M1 roadster resemble its racing counterpart – within reason, at least. 400 road-going \’equivalents\’ were required to be built, before the M1 racer be given the keys to the grid. Unfortunately for BMW, by the time the M1 was ready to go racing, the homologation rules had changed! The stipulation now was that 400 cars already have been sold. That threw a giant-sized spanner in the works – since that was liable to take a while, even for a company with the cachet of BMW. By the time it had complied with the new regs – in \’81 – the M1 was no longer competitive! Not at the racetrack, that is. On the road, it was more than a match for most of its rivals. A tubular steel chassis – and mid-engined layout – provided near-perfect handling. The ride was comfort incarnate. Initially, Lamborghini had been asked to design the chassis. Mounting financial woes, though, at the Italian marque, meant BMW sorted their own chassis, in the end. Once done, a 5-speed ZF trans-axle transferred 277bhp to the tarmac. Massive vented disc brakes retarded the M1 with aplomb.

The M1\’s looks were seen to by Italdesign. The agency would, however, have been first to acknowledge the debt owed to the BMW Turbo – the prototype by Paul Bracq. Between the pair of them, the M1 was a masterclass in supercar styling. It was built in both Germany and Italy. Indeed, it may be said to have embodied the best of both realms. For all that, a mere 450 M1s were manufactured. A harsh critic, then, might judge it a failure. After all, it was no great shakes, either at circuits, or in showrooms. Saying that, the BMW M1 was still a hugely impressive sports car … which surely smacks more of success than failure!

Rover P5

Rover P5 1960s British classic car

The Rover P5 was private transport of the highest order. For years, it ferried the great and the good about their well-heeled business. Government ministers – and top civil servants – put down their attaché cases and relaxed on its sumptuous seats. Security picked up the purr of its engine, as one – whether at Downing Street, Parliament or Buckingham Palace. So, on state occasions, the four-wheeled presence of Rover P5s was a given.

The P5 was impeccably styled by David Bache. It was so-named because it was \’post-war design number 5\’. Its exterior was the pinnacle of saloon car sophistication. Sober lines – and toned-down hues – exuded due gravitas. The interior, too, was quality incarnate. The materials used said it all. The dash was fashioned from African cherry wood. The carpet was Wilton. Seats were, of course, luxury leather. To all intents and purposes, the P5 was a banqueting-room on wheels. The pliancy of its ride echoed the subtlety of its styling. The P4\’s separate chassis was now history.

On the surface, the P5 was the quintessence of Englishness. From \’67 on, however, the US lay beneath – in the form of a 3.5-litre Buick engine. It brought some much-needed speed to the P5 package. No more running late for top-level meetings. Previously, the P5 had been powered by a 3-litre motor. Buick\’s V8 made 185bhp. The P5\’s top speed climbed to 110mph. The powerplant was sourced from parent company GM. Rover got it at a discount – since it had become surplus to requirements. The gearbox was 3-speed auto. Thoughtfully, Rover provided a toolkit – albeit, somewhat basic. It was discreetly tucked away in the dashboard. Not that the P5\’s passengers would have had much of a clue what to do with it! Many of the key decisions of our times were made with the help of the P5. Many a soirée could not have happened without it. In motoring terms, society\’s crème de la crème had never had it so good. We must all, then, be thankful to the Rover P5 … I think!

Suzuki T20 Super Six

Suzuki T20 Super Six 1960s Japanese classic motorcycle

For Suzuki, bikes like the T20 Super Six had been a long time in the making. Originally, silk was the route to success for the Japanese company. Specifically, silk looms. In 1909, Michio Suzuki founded a firm to produce said items. It was not until \’54 that Suzuki became … well, Suzuki! For, it was in that year that it built its first bike – the 90cc Colleda. It was taken – hot off the production line – to the Mount Fuji hill-climb, where it saw off all-comers. The motorcycle world would never be the same again.

Fast forward to \’66. It was a great year for two reasons. England won the World Cup – and Suzuki served up the Super Six. Suzuki went global with the the T20. It was named Super Six after its 6-speed gearbox. But, innovative engineering did not stop there. Its 2-stroke engine featured the Posi-Force lubrication system. And – holding the engine securely in situ – was Suzuki\’s first twin-cradle frame. That – combined with a dry weight of just 304lb – meant the T20 handled with aplomb. The parallel-twin motor made 29bhp. Top speed was 95mph. Suffice to say, the Super Six sold by the shedload!

The T20 was a good-looking bike. Lustrous paintwork – plus gleaming chrome – made for a notably fetching finish. Festooned around it were neat design touches. The front-end, especially, was drafted with panache. What with an intricately-spoked wheel, finely-crafted forks and elegantly raised \’bars, the T20 did not stint on detail. So, a landmark machine, from one of the all-time greats. Suzuki\’s T20 Super Six mixed speed and style – to more than impressive effect!

Triumph Roadster

Triumph Roadster 1940s British classic sports car

The Triumph Roadster was a direct challenge to the Jaguar SS100. In \’44, Sir John Black – owner of Standard – took over Triumph. He was keen to throw down the gauntlet to Jaguar. Over the years, Black had sold many an engine, gearbox and chassis to the automotive giant. Indeed, having Standard as a supplier played a part in Jaguar\’s success. There was more than a hint of table-turning, then, when Black suggested to William Lyons that he take over Jaguar, too. Lyons was having none of it. Black retreated to lick his wounds – and scour his Standard components catalogue. Already, a vision of a new Triumph was forming in his mind.

Standard knew their stuff all right. In the Second World War, they had engineered aircraft. So, it made sense for Black to use the Standard 14 engine – and its gearbox – to power his Triumph Roadster. The motor had already been modded to take an overhead-valve configuration – by Harry Weslake, no less. Measuring 1,776cc, it had also served time on the 1.5-litre Jaguar SS. More Standard parts were sourced for the suspension. Up front, the transverse-leaf independent set-up of the Flying Standard Series was co-opted. At the rear, a Standard Fourteen back-axle found another home. Not everything on the new car harked back to the past, though. There was a brand-new ladder-frame chassis, for example – made from 3½″ round-section tubing. Roadster bodywork was aluminium. It was hung on a timber frame – since there was a shortage of steel, in the wake of the War.

The Jaguar SS100 served as design template for the new Triumph. Pre-war, it was a byword for style and sophistication. Frank Callaby drew a Triumph variant on the Jaguar theme. He was inspired by the SS100\’s huge headlamps – and the languorous curves of its wings. For his part, John Black was adamant that a dickey-seat be fitted. The 3-plus-2 cabin was unique amongst post-war cabriolets. In \’48, the Roadster had a bigger engine installed. Power increased by all of 3bhp. Plus, the new model was 36kg lighter. 0-60mph was reduced to 27.9s. The re-vamped motor was a Vanguard \’wet-liner\’. It was linked to a 3-speed gearbox. The two Roadsters – 1800 and 2000 – had a combined sales tally of just 4,501. So, Sir John Black\’s dream of supplanting Jaguar had not materialised. The Triumph Roadster will never be spoken of in the same hushed tones as the Jaguar SS100. Even so, it was a dynamic, attractive addition to the British sports car roster.