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!

Maserati Bora

The Bora was Maserati’s response to the Lamborghini Miura. It matched the latter’s mid-engined layout. Ferrari’s Berlinetta Boxer also joined the mid-engined party. But, it arrived late. The Bora beat the Boxer to it by a couple of years. The Bora was launched in ’71 – and the Boxer in ’73. The name of the game for the mid-engined cars was handling. In Maserati’s case, the Bora was an improvement on the Ghibli’s front-mounted motor. Now they had a car which could ‘handle’ however much horsepower was thrown at it. And the Bora produced plenty of it. Its 4.7-litre Maserati V8 was a motor of a certain age, by that point. Indeed, it now had twelve years on the clock. But – with 310bhp on tap – drivers were not much fussed about its timeline. The Bora was good for 175mph. That left many a motor half its age trailing in its wake!

The Bora was styled by Giorgetto Giugiaro. Previously employed by Ghia, he was now in his own studio. It went by the name of Italdesign. The full creative force of the firm was brought to bear on the Bora. Elegantly space-age, the car radiated Seventies chic. In other words – finesse and excess, in equal measure.

In engineering terms, too, the Bora exuded class. Even with its V8 heart beating for all it was worth, cockpit noise levels were almost eerily low. That had a lot to do with Citroën – who now controlled Maserati. They brought a host of hydraulic parts to the Bora table. Its brakes, pedals, seats and steering-column were precision-fitted by the French firm. The Bora was Maserati’s flagship model – so, equipment levels were high. In the whole of its nine-year run, the sole modification Maserati made was a slight engine enlargement, in ’76. Throughout that time – in true Italian style – the Bora delivered a bravura blend of power and panache!

Porsche 928

The Porsche 928 was the first front-engined car the firm produced. Up to that point, Porsche motors had been rear-mounted. The exception to that rule was the 924 – though that was almost as much Audi as Porsche. In the Seventies, the 928 was sold as a supercar. Indeed, Porsche were banking on it being the new 911. That was not to be. 911 fans stuck stoicly to what they loved. Porsche took the hint. They started targeting the 928 solely at the GT market.

The landmark front-mounted motor was a 4.5-litre V8. Built in Germany, it was smooth, tractable and beautifully-engineered. But – in some drivers\’ eyes – it had a flaw. It was not a 911! In its first iteration, the 928 pulled a top speed of 143mph. That climbed to 171, in the course of its run. Certainly, not to be sniffed at. But, also not enough to keep up with a 911. Not in a specification race, at any rate! The 928’s gearbox was a 4-speed, rear-mounted manual – or, a 5-speed Mercedes automatic. Output was 240bhp. The 928S upped it to 300.

Styling-wise, the 928 was on solid ground. Its profile, in particular, was pure coupé. The interior, too, was more than impressive. Its most striking feature was the fascia – which visually echoed the steering-wheel. It was a cosseting cabin, in every respect. On top of that, the 928’s ride and handling were never less than reassuring. Over time, there would be S4, GT and GTS versions of the car. Each of them ushered in incremental improvements. The 928, then, was a significant addition to the Porsche roster. Even if, for some, it would never be in the same league as the 911. Saying that, nor would any other car!

Pegaso Z-102

In the Fifties, the Spanish firm Pegaso made some of the most glamorous cars in the world. Among them was the Pegaso Z-102. Designed by Touring, the Z-102’s alloy bodywork combined beauty with light weight. For whatever reason, though, the car suffered in the showrooms. Its replacement – the Z-103 – was a toned-down version of the Z-102. Its engine, for example, came with a single-overhead-camshaft. Not surprisingly, Pegaso intended that the Z-103 sell better than its predecessor. Between the pair of them, however, only around 100 units were shifted. Thankfully, Pegaso’s bread and butter sales were in trucks and coaches. Their foray into sports car manufacturing was something of a sideline.

At the race-tracks, too, the Z-102 under-achieved. It started out with a 2.8-litre V8 engine. Baseline power was 175bhp. Bolting on a supercharger substantially upped that number – to 280bhp. Taking the 2.8-litre motor out to 3.2 upped it still further – to 360bhp. That should have been enough to be competitive. Especially, given that at lower speeds, the Z-102 handled well. Despite its light alloy body, however, in overall terms, the Z-102 was heavy. That could make it recalcitrant through higher-speed corners. Its top speed of 160mph did redress the balance somewhat – but not enough. At least it sounded great – courtesy of its gear-driven camshafts!

It felt almost as if the Z-102 had been built on a whim. Dominant though they were in the commercial vehicle world, Pegaso were less than savvy about the sports car business. The Z-102 stayed in production for seven years. The last cars left the factory in ’58. As a money-maker, it had been pretty futile. On the bright side, Pegaso had demonstrated that it could make stunning-looking automobiles – on top of its more monolithic stock-in-trade. Ultimately, insufficient attention had been paid to the Z-102’s bottom line. The Z-103 had tried to make amends – with its more prosaic approach. But, the financial damage was done – and a line had, eventually, to be drawn. The marque of Pegaso – based in Barcelona – will probably never be spoken of in the same breath as Ferrari or Lamborghini. But, for a while, the Pegaso Z-102 showed that Spanish sports cars could be every bit as exotic as their Italian counterparts!

Bugatti EB110

The ‘EB’ in Bugatti EB 110 stood for Ettore Bugatti – the firm’s founder. On the 110th anniversary of his birth, the new supercar was unveiled. Fittingly, the launch took place in Paris – since Bugatti was a French firm. When it went on sale – in ’91 – the EB110 had a price tag of £285,000. But, if the standard EB 110 was not to your taste, you could always stump up another £50,000 – and drive off in the Supersport version. The latter’s 611bhp output delivered 221mph! The stock EB 110’s top speed was 212mph. If you had the money – do the math!

Superstar designer Marcello Gandini was recruited to style the EB 110. His mock-up, though, was deemed too radical by Bugatti’s top brass. The brief was passed to Italian architect Giampaolo Benedini. Clearly, he was able to style cars, as well as buildings! The aluminium body he drafted was breathtaking. Even the car’s engine was a work of art. Its V12 layout took in 4 turbochargers and 60 valves. There was a 6-speed gearbox – and 4-wheel drive. Handling was precise – to put it mildly!

In ’87, entrepreneur Romano Artioli had stepped in to rescue the struggling Bugatti brand-name. He built a state of the art supercar factory – in Campogalliano, Modena, Italy. Benedini – the EB 110’s designer – had previously architected the factory in which it was built! The EB 110 thus became a sort of French/Italian hybrid – the only Bugatti model to have done so. To head up the engineering team, Artioli had hired acclaimed technical director Paulo Stanzani. The EB 110’s four-year run stretched to ’95 – when Bugatti was wound up. 139 EB 110s were built. Among their owners was a certain Michael Schumacher. The ultimate seal of automotive approval? Off hand, I cannot think of a better one!

Nissan GT-R

Launched in ’07, the Nissan GT-R followed on from the Skyline GT-R. The new model was effectively two cars in one. Insomuch as it was equipped with a speed switch – to toggle between performance and cruise modes. Full-on, its 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged V6 put out 479bhp.

Key to the GT-R’s success was its exotic drive-train. It comprised a paddle-shift transmission, twin-clutch transaxle and 4-wheel drive. With all that in place, the GT-R’s power delivery was straightforward to manage. A 6-speed gearbox helped, too. 0-60 took just 3.5s. The GT-R maxed out at 194mph.

Despite such high-performance credentials, the GT-R sported a well-appointed cabin. The deep front seats were a deliberately close fit – to assist quick, but controlled driving. Soft leather upholstery kept things comfortable. If you liked cutting edge sounds – as well as cars – there was a high-tech music centre in situ. It came complete with downloading capabilities, of course. There was even an LCD screen – courtesy of Sony Playstation. As filed under ultimate all-rounder, then, the Nissan GT-R was pretty hard to fault!

Lamborghini Countach

The Lamborghini Countach was styled by Bertone – Italian masters of automotive design. In its first incarnation, the Countach flew to a top speed of 186mph. That was exceptionally quick in the Seventies. Its engine – a classic Lamborghini V12 – produced 375bhp. Again – in the 1970s – that was a gargantuan stat. The models that followed output still more power.

Handling-wise, too, the Countach was well up to snuff. Mid-engined as it was, its gearbox was at the front – nestled snugly beneath the banana seats. Weight distribution was optimised. As a consequence, the Countach’s cornering capabilities soared. A 5-speed set-up only added to the fun!

Countach is a Piedmontese exclamation/expletive. In its mildest form, it means ‘wow’ – though it can have fruitier connotations! Certainly, the first definition was more than apt. Later versions of the Countach, though, somewhat over-egged the stylistic pudding. Pointless spoilers – and over-sized wheel-arches and ducts – bordered on the kitsch. To be fair, by the time such models hit the showrooms, the firm’s founders were no longer at the helm. Financially, it found itself in choppy waters. Latter-day faux pas notwithstanding, it was largely down to the Countach that Lamborghini stayed afloat. When it made its début – in ’74 – the Countach stunned show-goers. Lamborghini’s rivals were left reeling. In a way – over the course of its run – the Countach summed up the Seventies. Insomuch as it was a decade which could veer wildly between masterpiece and parody!

Toyota 2000GT

The Toyota 2000GT was designed by Graf Goertz – an industrial design firm, based in New York. The GT’s styling was clearly influenced by the Jaguar E-Type. The lines of its bodywork were off-the-dial subtle. That was a mixed blessing. While immensely pleasing on the eye, manufacturing costs soared. Just 337 GTs would be built. As a result, the car is now highly sought-after. To be fair, the GT was intended to be a loss leader. That said, Toyota did not intend the losses to be as large as they became. For all that, when the 2000GT prototype appeared – at the ’65 Tokyo Show – Toyota’s brand-image sky-rocketed!

The 2000GT’s speed matched its staggering good looks. A twin-cam straight-six engine developed 150bhp. Top whack was 135mph. The motor’s hemi-head set-up featured straight-through ports – and large valves. Suffice to say, it took deep breaths! On the inlet side were two double-throated Mikuni/Solex carbs. The engine was connected to a five-speed gearbox. Mercifully, high-grade disc brakes were fitted all round. The backbone chassis came with a full set of wishbones. Options for the final drive ratio were duly provided.

Crucially, the 2000GT failed to crack the States. A mere 63 American drivers saw fit to buy one. That was due, in large part, to its relatively high price tag. It far exceeded that of both the Porsche 911 and, indeed, E-Type Jag. In a desperate bid to placate the American market, Toyota went on to produce no less than nine more versions of the GT. To a car, they were more conservatively turned out than the original. As a bonus, they came complete with air conditioning and optional auto transmission. To no avail – as US sales continued to stagnate. Nonetheless, the Toyota 2000GT – along with the Datsun 240Z – were the strongest of signals to the sports car world that the Japanese were coming!

Lamborghini Murciélago

The Lamborghini Murciélago was styled by Belgian Luc Donckerwolke. He had been chief designer at Audi – which, in ’98, was taken over by Lamborghini. Traditionally, the latter had recruited Italian design houses. On that basis, Bertone were briefed to create the new car. And indeed, their work was ready to go into production. At the last, though, the Bertone project was canned. The design reins were duly passed to Donckerwolke.

When the Murciélago was launched, it was with no lack of fanfare. Sicily’s Mount Etna provided the backdrop. The accompanying son et lumière show was equally spectacular – including, as it did, a volcanic eruption. Well, a virtual one, at any rate!

Designer Donckerwolke decked the car out in razor-sharp lines. Bodywork was carbon-fibre and steel. The chassis was fashioned from high-tensile tubing. Given the supercar’s shape, a low drag coefficient was a gimme. As a result, top speed for the Murciélago was a searing 205mph. 0-60 appeared in 3.85s. Notwithstanding, steady torque delivery – and electronic engine management – rendered the car relatively tractable. Suspension and brakes were, naturally, state of the art. Late in the day though it had been, Lamborghini’s decision to give the design gig to Luc Donckerwolke paid off. The Murciélago exhibited plenty of Italian flair … as well as a dash of Belgian panache!

Lamborghini Espada

The Lamborghini Espada was designed by Bertone. Their styling standards were of the highest – both inside and out. Sitting pretty atop the tail lights, for example, was a clear glass panel. Not only was it a sweet visual flourish – it assisted with parking, too. An impressive blend, then, of form and function. The Espada’s interior was state of the art. Its focal point was a control console, between the front seats. The console – and ‘techie’ dashboard above it – housed an aircraft-type array of dials and switches. And – Sixties supercar though it was – the 4-seater Espada was far from cramped.

The top-spec Espada was good for 155mph. It was powered by a 4-litre V12. The motor sat beneath an alloy bonnet. Pierced NACA ducts adorned the front profile. Engineering-wise, a one-off 5-speed gearbox did shifting duty.

The Espada’s ride was smooth and pliant. That was aided by all round wishbone suspension – plus, a wide track and fat tyres. Overall, handling was excellent. Power-steering and auto transmission were options on later models. The Espada was based on the Marzal concept car. On its release – in ’68 – the Espada set a new speed benchmark for 4-seaters. So – in every automotive aspect – the Lamborghini Espada was a genuine Italian masterpiece!

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