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, at any rate. Montjuïc Park was a mountain-based motor racing circuit in Barcelona, Spain. A street circuit, that is. Which told you most of what you needed to know about the machine you had just acquired. Conceptually, it modelled the Formula bikes Laverda built for their single-make race series.

Unfortunately, the racing concept was not entirely realised in the roadster. Laverda had enjoyed substantial success at Montjuïc – not least because of the sure-footed handling of their bikes. And – in terms of agility – the Mk2 came close to emulating the track tool’s prowess. That was mainly due to its light weight, tubular-steel frame and Marzocchi suspension. Likewise, Brembo disc brakes helped replicate the racer’s stop-on-a-sixpence precision. Even the high-speed weave – which had plagued the Montjuïc Mk1 – had been seen off by the Mk2’s frame-mounted fairing.

What took the edge off the new Montjuïc was its speed – or lack thereof. As mentioned, the Mk2’s manoeuvrability was razor-sharp. Straight-line speed – not so much. Throttle to the stop, the needle hovered around the 110mph mark. Whilst that was adequate, it hardly set the world alight. Though an ear-splitting exhaust note did what it could to redress the balance. To be fair, the Mk2 was powered by a 497cc parallel twin motor. Hardly cutting edge. Indeed, it ran without air-filtering – which may, in fact, have sped things up a bit! For all that, its racer’s crouch riding position signalled the Mk2’s intent. And the Montjuïc’s high price tag seemed to promise lots of whizz for your lire. Anyway, its relative lack of power was offset by other virtues. It looked Laverda lovely, standing still. And the lines it carved through corners would have made Michelangelo weep. Just that pesky top speed stat let the side down a tad. Other than that, the Montjuïc Mk2 made hay in the Spanish sunshine. Before flying back to Breganze, Italy … at 110mph!

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 unconditionally – but he sure as heck loved selling them. Cars like the Cord 810, in fact.

By \’29, Cord had already acquired Auburn and Duesenberg. In due course, he returned both of them to profitability. Time, then, for him to start up his own company. The first model off the line was 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. Indeed, Miller racing cars were fitted with it. As a result, they were leaving rivals languishing in their wake. Cord decided he could use some of that. Sadly, its FWD was not sufficient to make the L-29 a commercial success. It was held back by its high price and transmission issues. As well as the mediocre motor!

The Cord 810 was launched at the NY show – in December \’35. Its unique selling point – FWD – had been upgraded. More to the point, 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. The 810\’s innovative engineering allowed for radical styling. Its unitary construction – with no separate chassis – let Gordon Buehrig design a \’low rider\’ profile. Headlights blended in with the fenders – enhancing the car\’s clean lines still further. Inside, too, the Cord cut a dash. Its instrument panel looked as aeronautical as it did automotive. A convertible, phaeton – and two sedans – were on offer. But – even with so much going for it – the 810 did not overburden the showroom tills. To be fair, the Great Depression was not the ideal time to launch a new car. Plus, Errett Cord had other things on his mind. His ‘creative’ business practices attracted attention – some of it from financial regulators. As a result – in ’34 – Cord sought a safe haven in England. With its erstwhile captain no longer at the helm, the good ship Cord was cut adrift. In ’37, it sank without trace. For all that, the Cord 810 – and its 812 successor – had well and truly made their mark. In the annals of avant garde design, that is. Alas, not at the cash registers!

Ducati Dharma SD 900

Ducati Dharma SD 900 1970s Italian classic sports bike

The Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a fine – if flawed – motorcycle. Certainly, there was plenty in its plus column. Performance, handling and styling all passed muster – and more. In the excitement stakes, the SD scored heavily. Only in practicality terms did it fall short. And yes, superbike fans, it does matter!

Looks-wise, the Sport Desmo was on solid ground. That was thanks to the revered visual skills of Italjet. The agency was run by Leo Tartarini. In the past, he had been a Ducati race rider. Tartarini now brought his innate Italian design skills to the table. For the Dharma, he drafted a sweeping swathe of tank, seat and tail. The 864cc V-twin engine looked good from any angle. Smart Conti pipes – and neatly-forged wheels – set off the SD’s sartorial swagger.

Technically, too, the Dharma delivered. Admittedly, it was not the pokiest bike on the block. Still, its 60bhp output turned in a top whack of 115mph. Mere mortals were happy with that! The Ducati\’s bevel-driven valvetrain kept it all taut. Real-world speeds were a doddle for the Dharma. Ducatis had long been renowned for their handling. The SD’s firm, but flexible frame, sweetly-tuned suspension and responsive brakes were stability to a tee. Long but lively journeys, then, should have been a gimme. Too often, though, gremlins grabbed the reins. To put it bluntly, Ducati build quality was not the best. Electrics could be especially trying – given wet enough weather. No matter how beautiful a bike, standing looking at it in a downpour does not show it in its best light! And peeling paint and chrome – while less of a pressing issue – in time likewise tested owners’ patience. In so many ways, the Ducati Dharma SD 900 was a two-wheeled delight. Good to have a garage/lock-up at your disposal, though. Annoying little problems always need sorting in the end!

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!

Bimota DB1

Bimota DB1 1980s Italian sports bike

The Bimota DB1 was a double dose of Italiana. It was the first Bimota to feature a Ducati engine. So, the DB1 combined a deliciously torquey powerplant with the kind of looks that could only have been modelled in Italy. Bimota was based in Rimini. Unsurprisingly, then, the DB1 sold well. It came at a critical juncture for the stylish Italian specials builder. Design-driven to its core, business was never Bimota\’s strong suit. Indeed – prior to the DB1\’s \’86 release – the firm was in financial decline. Thanks to the new bike, though, Bimota\’s downward spiral was stemmed – and even reversed. Crucially – along with its long list of virtues – the DB1 was reasonably priced.

The Ducati factor in the DB1 was its desmo-valved engine. A sohc 90° V-twin, the 750cc motor made 76bhp. Built more for mid-range grunt than throttle-to-the-stop velocity, top speed for the DB1 was 130mph. In superbike terms, that stat was not too much to write home about. The way it was reached, however, most certainly was. Suffice to say, acceleration was fierce. As well as its long-stroke motor, the rest of the DB1\’s tech-spec further fueled its free-revving fire. For a start, it weighed a skeletal 354lb. Plus, Federico Martini – Bimota\’s lead engineer – blended the fairing, tank and seat into a single, streamlined shape.

Acrobatic handling was only icing on the DB1 cake. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Brakes by Brembo. Pirelli brought low-profile tyres to the DB1\’s bend-swinging party. They were fitted to nimble 16″ wheels. The whole bike was comfortabe and compact. It is true that at peak revs, the new Bimota was not the most blistering bike on the block. But, for its overall strengths – and the Italianate cut of its jib – the DB1 takes its place at superbikes\’ top table!

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport

Fiat 508S Balilla Sport 1930s Italian classic sports car

In commercial terms, at least, the Fiat 508S Balilla Sport had much in common with the VW Beetle. As with the Volkswagen – or, people\’s car – the Balilla was designed to be transport for the masses. Saying that, it was coachbuilt in Turin, Italy – at Fiat HQ. So, it went without saying that it was pleasing on the eye.

Gianni Agnelli was head of Fiat. Unsurprisingly, his core objective for the Balilla range was that it sell well. Agnelli was, after all, one of the wealthiest Italians who has ever lived. In line with his strategy, the Balilla was competitively-priced. 10,800 lire, to be precise. The first model\’s unique selling point was that it had three gears. And – with hydraulic braking also part of the package – it did indeed fly out of the showrooms. In its five-year run, 114,000 Balillas were sold. That smashed Italian automotive sales records. And it was not just Italy that caught the Balilla bug. Other parts of Europe also succumbed. Production lines started in the UK, France and Poland. Indeed, the French firm Simca was founded to flog the new Fiat.

The style-laden Balilla 508 was released in \’34. And the 508S Sport had speed, too, on its side. Its four-cylinder engine made 36bhp – at 4,400rpm. Top speed from the 995cc side-valve set-up was 110km/h. More than enough to sweep a young lady off her feet! So long as you did not forget your petrol money. The Balilla Sport drank around 9.5 litres/100km. For Fiat, then – and Gianni Agnelli – it was mission accomplished. The 508 series did more than make its mark – it became the stuff of legend. In the Thirties, the 508S Balilla Sport was mass marketing big business. Like the team behind the VW Beetle, Fiat got its sales sums spot-on!

Honda VFR750R-RC30

Honda VFR750R-RC30 1980s Japanese sports bike

In many ways, Honda\’s VFR750R – better known as the RC30 – was the ultimate \’race replica\’. Visually, at least, there was little to distinguish it from the RVF 750 racer, on which it was based. Technically, too, it was along the same lines – allowing for the fact that no roadster is ever really going to compare with its competitive sibling. The RC30\’s exhaust, for example, could not compete with the racer\’s super-light, free-flowing set-up. Not if it was going to make it through the MOT, at any rate!

Nor, of course, was the RC30\’s V4 engine going to be anything like on a par with the race version. That said, it still managed to output 112bhp – at 11,000rpm. Which gave a top speed of 153mph. More than enough for most wannabe GP stars! In like manner, the RC30\’s handling was not going to get close to that of the apex-slashing track tool on which it was modelled. Again, though, optimal tuning of its suspension enabled a passable emulation of the race god of your choice!

American rider Fred Merkel took two consecutive WSB titles on the RC30 race bike – in \’88 and \’89. Briton Carl Fogarty did the same in motorcycling\’s Formula One series. Endurance racing, too, was meat and drink to the RVF 750. So far as Honda were concerned, the RC30 was first and foremost a racer. There was little doubt, though, that the roadster benefited hugely from it. Certainly – with its low-slung front end, aluminium twin-spar frame and single-sided swingarm – the street bike looked seriously stunning. Honda\’s commitment to the project, then, had paid double dividends. On both road and track, the VFR750R-RC30 did the business – in every sense of the phrase!

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB

Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta SWB 1960s Italian classic sports car

The Ferrari 250 GT was the base model for the most expensive car ever made. That was the Ferrari 250 GTO which sold at a Sotheby\’s auction for silly money. Actually, $48.4m – in California, in 2018. It is easy to see where the GTO got its chops from. In the case of the Berlinetta, bodywork was by Scaglietti. He styled the 250 GT-based competition cars – and their sports siblings. The \’short wheelbase\’ SWB, for instance, fell within his remit. Pininfarina helped sort less race-oriented versions of the 250 GT – like the \’long wheelbase\’ LWB. Felice Boano – celebrated Italian coachbuilder – likewise contributed to the GT\’s design.

The Berlinetta was launched in \’61. It was not just its looks that came out of thè top drawer. Its 3.0-litre V12 motor was also hand-crafted. The man responsible for it – Gioacchino Colombo – was an industrial designer at 14. When most young men his age were gluing pictures of cars to bedroom walls, Colombo was engineering them. Suffice it to say, then, he was a child prodigy. At one point, he drafted a supercharger for homework – as you do. Subsequently, it was shown to Alfa Romeo. Alfa must have graded it A+, since he was offered a job on the strength of it. Several engines later, Colombo was approached by one Enzo Ferrari. The maestro was managing Alfa\’s race department, at the time. By then, Colombo was aged 34.

When Enzo set up his own car company, Colombo was one of his first hires. The motor man arrived in Modena in \’45. Whereupon, he set about adding his own input to the 250 GT project. With such a wealth of design talent dedicated to it, it is little wonder the GT soared to the heights it did. In short, Ferrari\’s 250 GT Berlinetta SWB was as iconic as a sports car gets. Apart from the Ferrari 250 GTO, of course. Sorry, Sotheby\’s!

Kawasaki Z1100R

Kawasaki Z1100R 1980s Japanese sports bike

Over the years, many a motorcyclist has had a special place in their heart for a Kawasaki \’Z\’. No bike more so than the Z1100R. No flimflam or finery – just straightforward, sit up and beg-style solidity. Highish handlebars, stepped-down seat and anatomically-correct footrests. In other words – a normal riding position. \’The way bikes used to be\’, you might hear it said. And – after a hundred plus miles in the saddle – who could argue?

Not that that should suggest any kind of staidness! There was little sober or solemn about the 1100R. It was, after all, inspired by a US Superbike racer. The one on which Eddie Lawson won consecutive titles in the early Eighties. Hopefully – from a Kawasaki marketing viewpoint – some of the spirit of the race bike rubbed off on the roadster. Certainly, it was far from unknown for an 1100R rider to feel like Eddie Lawson! And – to be fair – the Z\’s 140mph top whack was more than enough for most mere mortals. Especially when the high-speed wobble kicked in – on account of the bike\’s bikini-type fairing. The R\’s 1,089cc engine made 114bhp. Thankfully – with all that power to play with – the bike was blessed with good roadholding. Squat dimensions helped – as did Kayaba remote-reservoir rear shocks.

Albeit in a no-frills way, the Z1100R was still a stylish motorcycle. Few paintjobs are as emotive as those of Kawasaki\’s \’green meanies\’. Of course, green bikes are considered unlucky by some. That said, owners of spanking-new 1100Rs were obviously prepared to take a chance. For the superstitious, though, other colours were also available. Launched in \’84, the Z might be said to have straddled classic and race-rep. To wit, comfortable ergonomics – plus searing speed and cute handling. Fans would argue, then, that with a lime-green Kawasaki Z1100R, you got the lot. Now, that can hardly be considered unlucky!

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale

Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale 1960s Italian classic sports car

The driving force behind the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale was Franco Scaglione. He was an engineering whizz-kid from an early age. He was also blessed with precocious design sensibilities. A mechanical marvel of one sort or another, then, was always on the cards. It was just a question of what. Thankfully for car buffs, automobiles were amongst the subjects Scaglione found himself drawn to.

Engineering, then, was a walk in the park for the young Scaglione. Even as a student, he was a natural. He duly graduated to more advanced learning. That is, until the Second World War threw a spanner in the works. Scaglione\’s studies – started so swimmingly – were decimated. Back in Civvy Street – in \’46 – he was 29 years old. Training to be an engineer was in tatters. Time to look for alternative employment. Maybe the motor trade held something for him?

The Fiat Abarth was Scaglione\’s first full-on design gig. Not a bad way to cut your styling teeth! Launched in \’52, he was on Bertone\’s books at the time. Surprised by the scale of the Abarth\’s success, Scaglione opted to go solo. In \’59, he opened his own studio. The jewel in its crown would be the Stradale. Using Alfa\’s Type 33 racer as a template, Scaglione fashioned a suitably muscle-bound sports car. Aluminium bodywork was draped over a tubular steel frame. Alfa\’s 2-litre V8 was installed in the back. Scaglione drew the engine in plain view – in all its mechanised majesty. Once fired up, it made 230 bhp. And full use could be made of the power. For a start, the throttle was ultra-responsive. The gearbox was a flexible 6-speed affair. The Stradale\’s dimensions were hang-it-out compact. Plus, it weighed in at just 700kg. In its short production run – from \’67 to \’69 – just 18 Stradales were built. Oddly – given the built-in exclusivity – the price tag was relatively low. That did not detract from the Stradale\’s prestige one iota. Carrozzeria Marrazzi made a magnificent job of the coachbuilding. Franco Scaglione, of course, drafted a car design tour de force. In short, the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale radiated excellence. Scaglione, then – World War Two interruptions notwithstanding – got there in the end!