Porsche 911

Porsche 911 1960s German classic sports car

Birthplace for the Porsche 911 was Stuttgart, Germany. On both road and track, its sales and success stats have been off the scale. Throughout motorsport’s modern era, the Porsche 911 has been seeing off the best of them. Entire series have been devoted to it. As a rally car, it was right up there. Indeed, the Porsche 911 is virtually synonymous with close, competitive racing. When the 911s come out to play, hamburgers are put on hold!

‘Ferry’ Porsche – son of founder Ferdinand – drafted the outline design. His own son ‘Butzi’ fleshed out the details. Many versions of the 911 duly appeared. The Carrera model, in particular, packed panache, as well as power. It sported a duck-tail spoiler, flared wheel arches and racing-derived decals.

Stamina has been key to 911 development. Each model iteration has relentlessly refined its predecessor. By a process of incremental improvement, then, its engineers and designers have reached four-wheeled perfection. In one or other of its now eight variants, the Porsche 911 has been an automotive icon since September ’64. Such has been its staying-power that a sports car world without it would be inconceivable!

Britten V1000

Britten V1000 1990s MotoGP bike

At top velocity, the Britten V1000 was a glorious sight. Race bikes are not normally considered style classics. As the name suggests, they are built to win races – not design awards!

The Britten, though, was an exception to that rule. Pop Art on wheels, its sleek curves were dual-purpose. Visually stunning, they were aerodynamic, too. Proof of that was the V1000’s top speed – a cool 185mph.

The Britten’s technical virtuosity went beyond aerodynamics. Its fuel-injected engine was highly innovative. Take, for example, its computerised management system. Heady stuff, in ’95. All this racing research and development was by New Zealander John Britten – and his small team of mechanical engineers. Tragically, Britten lost his battle with cancer at the age of just 45. Bike racing will never know what further visions – and composite materials – he would have dreamed up. The Britten V1000, at least, stands as testament to his avant-garde skills.

Kawasaki Z1

Kawasaki Z1 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

The Kawasaki Z1 was nick-named the ‘King’ … which kind of said it all! Suffice to say – on its release, in ’73 – it was well-received. British riders had been putting up with past its sell-by date technology for years. Almost always, due to outdated management techniques. All that was blown away by the two-wheeled Oriental invasion. When the Japanese – and their new wave of machines – disembarked at the Isle of Man, ‘Brit bikes’ were already dead in the water. They just did not know it yet. The TT wins which followed presaged the future – not just for racers, but roadsters. When the Z1 hit the showrooms, the future had finally arrived.

The Z1’s twin-camshaft, four-cylinder motor left its road-going rivals reeling! The ageing ‘thumpers’, twins and triples simply could not compete. The Z1 took cycle parts, too, to another level. Performance stats had gone up a gear … well, several gears, actually! The King came, saw and conquered. For the time being, at least, the British bike industry was history!

The new machine heralded Kawasaki’s iconic ‘Z’ series. A plethora of Jap superbikes – from the ‘big four’ manufacturers – soon followed. Never again would bikers have to settle for second-best. From that point on, a test-ride delivered outstanding performance, handling and braking – or the deal was off! The Kawasaki Z1 secured its place in motorcycling’s pantheon. As for Brit bikes … the king was dead, long live the King!

Suzuki GSX-R750

Suzuki GSX-R750 1980s Japanese sports bike

By no means every motorbike can claim to be the first of its kind. One that can is the Suzuki GSX-R750. So closely did its looks reflect those of Suzuki’s ’85 Endurance racer, that it was dubbed a ‘race-replica’. Performance-wise, too, it did not fall far short. 145mph on the road was not for the faint of heart!

The ‘Gixer’, then, was built to go fast. Corners were no hindrance to that mission statement. The GSX-R’s light aluminium frame – and beefed-up forks – rendered it highly ‘flickable’. Powering out of bends, though, needed the rev-needle planted firmly to the right. The GSX-R’s power-band was uncompromising. Low-down ‘grunt’ was not its strong suit. Keep the revs high, though, and you were flying. And when slowing could be put off no longer, the GSX-R’s state of the art stoppers responded with relish.

The first GSX-R 750 was nick-named the ‘slab-side’. That referenced the perpendicular lines of its design. Certainly, it communicated solidity – and a strong sense of purpose. So – single-handedly – the Suzuki GSX-R750 sparked the ‘race-rep’ revolution. After that, roadsters really would not ever be the same again!

Moto Guzzi Le Mans 850

Moto Guzzi Le Mans 850 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

Moto Guzzi is rightly renowned for rugged, reliable machines. If any bike is going to get from A to B, a Guzzi stands as good a chance as any. One model, though, that had more going for it than mere practicality, was the Le Mans 850. Strong and purposeful, certainly. But, also a kingpin of two-wheeled design.

The Le Mans’ top speed of 130mph was plenty impressive, in ’76. Especially, since it was delivered by shaft-drive. A relatively heavy power-train, it is more associated with low maintenance, than high performance. So, like its second to none Italian styling, the Le Mans motor was simple – but effective.

The engine in question was an across-the-frame V-twin. So interlinked is it with Moto Guzzi, that it has attained iconic status among fans of the Mandello del Lario marque. Rather like another well-known V-twin – made in Milwaukee. Except that Harley-Davidson opted for a longitudinal layout. Guzzi’s mill was first installed in a 3-wheeler … built to cross mountains. Suffice it to say, torque was not an issue! It would be a long journey from such icy wastes – to the furnace of France’s most famous racetrack. But, the Le Mans ate up the miles … and never missed a beat. Which probably goes some way to explaining why Moto Guzzi – founded in ’21 – has outlasted any other European motorcycle manufacturer. The Le Mans 850, then, blended style, power and solidity – in equal measure!

Tucker Torpedo

Tucker Torpedo 1940s American classic car

The Tucker Torpedo came out of left field. As did its designer. Preston T Tucker was a dyed-in-the-wool maverick. And cars were in his blood. He started out at Cadillac – as an office boy. After a stint as a car salesman, he became a partner in an Indianapolis motor racing business. In ’45 – with the War over – Tucker determined to create the ultimate car. Style and speed would come as standard. But, there would be more.

When it came to automotive health and safety, Tucker was on a mission. Maybe it was a war thing. In the last few years, an ocean of blood had been shed. Perhaps Tucker had seen enough – and decided to redress the balance a bit. To that end, the Torpedo would have seat-belts. A padded dashboard and pop-out windscreen, too. Where accident prevention was concerned, Tucker dreamed big. But – as the Torpedo entered production – the real world kicked in. As in, the bottom line. Customers were concerned about seat-belts. Why did the car need them, they asked. The marketing men got jitters. Seat-belts were subsequently binned. Along with swivelling headlights, disc brakes and the central driving position. In the end, Tucker settled for independent suspension. Oh, and the padded dashboard!

To be fair to Tucker, he was right to be anxious. After all, the Torpedo could certainly shift. Its flat-6-cylinder engine gave 166bhp. Top speed was 121mph. Rear-mounted – and water-cooled – the motor was bleeding edge. ’47 saw the launch of the Torpedo’s final model. Just a year before, Tucker had bought the world’s biggest factory. The new premises – in Chicago – had been an aircraft plant. But, a problem was looming. Tucker was accused of fraud. He had – it was alleged – tampered with the Torpedo’s design. Having already signed contracts. Tucker pleaded with the industry – categorically denying the claims. But – though he was cleared in court – mud stuck. Shortly thereafter, The Tucker Corporation filed for bankruptcy. It was a sad finale to so much genuine idealism. For sure, Preston T Tucker’s Torpedo was built to enrich lives – not end them!


BMW R90S 1970s German classic motorcycle

The BMW R90S’ biggest asset was its engine. The ‘Boxer’ has been a BMW bastion for decades. It was thus dubbed because of the way the flat-twin’s pistons ‘punched’ their way to and fro. Or, ‘reciprocated’, for the technically-minded. The set-up provided surprisingly swift progress. It is, after all, not a layout famed for its sophistication. However, it was well-balanced and, of course, impressively engineered.

Okay, so the R90S may have been a tad behind some of its rivals in all-out power terms. But, it more than made up the deficit with its styling. A neat bikini fairing topped off stylish smoked orange paintwork.

Within biking circles, BMWs – and their riders – enjoy a unique reputation. A BMW has long been the machine of choice for the respectable, law-abiding biker. Smooth, suave and sophisticated, hell-raising never came naturally to them. BMW’s motorcycles, then, were always a good fit. Certainly, with its blend of upright solidity – and dashing good looks – the BMW R90S exemplified two-wheeled breeding!

Laverda Jota

Laverda Jota 1970s Italian classic motorcycle

The Laverda Jota was a stalwart Seventies superbike. It combined impressive performance with Italian styling. In ’76, the Jota’s top speed stat of 140mph was admirable. Particularly, given that it was sourced from just three cylinders!

Yet – for all its virtues – the bike might never have been launched. Prior to the Jota, Laverda had knocked out a few frankly average motorcycles. Average, but affordable. At the same time, a wave of cheap cars – like the Fiat 500 – rolled into showrooms. Non-bikers – especially, those with families – tended to plump for four wheels. As a result, Laverda came close to going out of business. In the nick of time, the management changed tack. They gave the green light to the two-wheeled exotica for which the firm is now renowned. Classic bike aficionados will forever be in their debt.

But, the bike’s British importer also deserves credit. It was they who suggested to Laverda’s top brass that the latter pack more power into what was already a perfectly pukka motor. Thank goodness, the marque’s managers rose to the challenge. Laverda lovers have not stopped dancing since! Now, they had an engine which did justice to the Jota’s impeccably-drawn lines.

Ford GT

Ford GT 2000s American supercar

The Ford GT was the American firm’s birthday gift to itself. Or, anyone with a spare $203,599 lying about! Created to mark the company’s centenary, it was released in 2005. The new GT was inspired by one of the finest cars Ford had ever produced. The iconic GT40 racer was a multiple Sixties Le Mans winner. The new GT prototype débuted at the 2002 Detroit Auto Show. Feedback was fulsome! In short order, Ford confirmed that they would be putting the prototype into production. 4,038 GTs were built … somewhat shy of the 4,500 Ford envisaged.

If the GT’s styling harked back to the past, technologically-speaking, it was cutting edge. A venturi – cut into the floor-pan – provided plenty of downforce. High-speed grip was further enhanced by huge Goodyear Eagle tyres. And the GT needed every bit of that grip – as its 5.4-litre engine pushed traction to the limit. The aluminium V8 was fitted with a Lysholm supercharger. The cylinder-heads were well-fettled – including high-lift cams. When the Ford engineers finished, there was 550bhp on tap. Torque was massive – 0-60mph turning up in just 3.7s. The GT’s body and space-frame chassis chipped in on the acceleration front, too – both being forged from light aluminium. Transferring torque to tarmac was independent, double-wishbone suspension.

Despite its power, this car was way more practical than its race predecessor. GT40 referenced height – all 40″ of it! The new GT was, at least, wider and longer. Performance-wise, too, the new car was more user-friendly. Those titanic torque stats translated to to-die-for acceleration. The GT, though, could mood-shift in an instant – cruising, seamlessly and effortlessly. A 6-speed transmission was there, if required. With the new GT, Ford had homed in on the ultimate all-rounder. To say the least, it took the sales fight to its rivals. A top speed of 204mph was more than competitive in supercar marketing terms. The Ford GT, then, was a nostalgia-laden celebration of speed!

Chrysler Airflow

Chrysler Airflow 1930s American classic car

The Chrysler Airflow was where Art met Science! Its body lines were aerodynamic – at a time when that craft was a mere glint in a boffin’s eye. Indeed, the Airflow was the first production car to feature the fledgeling craft. A wind tunnel was duly constructed. Today, such systems are considered arcane … in the early ’30s, they were a black art! The Airflow wizards of engineering were Carl Breer, Fred Zeder and Owen Skelton. Breer had been first to be smitten by the new-fangled science. Zeder and Skelton soon followed suit. And it did no harm at all when pioneer pilot Orville Wright’s input was added. Over 50 test cars were subsequently built. So – by a process of painstaking refinement – the Chrysler Airflow gradually took shape.

The Airflow, though, was not just aerodynamics. Weight-saving, too, was part of its brief. Its svelte frame was made from light metal – rather than heavy timber. Perched on that frame was a monocoque body. That reduced weight still further. What mass was left was optimally placed. The engine was over the front wheels – with ride and handling in mind. The seats sat neatly within the wheelbase – in the interests of balance. Thanks to all the wind-cheating work, the Airflow was well-placed to turn up the wick. A top speed of 88mph was not to be sniffed at, in ’34.

The Airflow’s sales, though, were lacklustre. Walter Chrysler showed courage and commitment, in commissioning the car. But, the Airflow was the future. Buyers were not yet ready for its free-flowing lines. On top of that, there were rumours of build quality faults … on account of new welding techniques. Ultimately, though, cars like the Airflow are not about sales. Rather, they are about the legacy they leave – and the visions they engender. The Chrysler Airflow influenced automotive design for decades!