Gilera Saturno

Gilera Saturno 1950s Italian classic motorcycle

The Gilera Saturno was launched in ’46. Its heyday, though, came in the Fifties. In the fickle realm of motorbike manufacturing, Gilera was a big player in that fashionable decade. After that, the firm met with mixed fortunes. But – in the ’50s at least – the Saturno was a flagship for the Italian brand. It rolled into the showrooms in Sport, Touring and Competition guises. And immediately began to sell well.

The Saturno was a hit on both road and track. The production racer version was competitive for many seasons. Indeed, it remained so for some time after the bike’s production run finished – at the fag-end of the ’50s.

In roadster mode, too, the Saturno stayed tethered to the tarmac. That was largely thanks to its telescopic forks – and vertical rear shocks. It rapidly gained a reputation as a performance bike of its era. Towards the end, Gilera linked up with Piaggio and Vespa. It found a much-needed niche as part of the scooter scene. Illustrious though those names were – and are even now – for Gilera, its best days were gone. The Saturno, though, still shone a light for the glory years!

Honda CBX1000Z

Honda CBX1000Z 1970s Japanese classic motorcycle

The Honda CBX1000Z was a child of its times. In the Seventies, performance was everything. Japanese superbike performance, that is. At the time, the ‘big four’ – Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha – were more concerned about how a bike went than how it looked. The ‘CBX’ could have been cited as a case in point. Its inline-six motor was prioritised over other areas of the bike. Its 24-valve DOHC air-cooled inline-six motor, to be precise. It had been designed by a one-time GP engineer. Most famously, Mike Hailwood’s Honda RC166 racer had displayed the virtues of a 6-cylinder layout.

Given the girth of its 6-pot block, the CBX handled well. Its manoeuvrability was still more impressive when its cycle parts were factored in. By today’s standards, the tubular steel frame, telescopic forks, narrow wheels and high-profile tyres were spindly. And dwarfed by the mass of the motor. Straight handlebars – and twin rear shocks – were similarly conventional. In fact, the width of the engine was deceptive. Just 2″ wider than the CB750. That was due to its unusual layout. The alternator and ignition parts were located behind the block. Well out of the way, should the bike ever find itself sliding down the road!

Flat out, the CBX did 140mph. Striking though that was, it was as nothing next to the noise the bike made reaching it. The high-pitched howl of a CBX at full chat is something that once heard, is never forgotten. Especially with a slightly less than legal pipe fitted. At which point, it sounds as much like a jet plane as it does a motorcycle! Sadly, the CBX did not sell well. In time, its design would be diluted down into less extreme machines. But, motorcycling would be the poorer without bikes like the CBX. Look on them as a challenge. Get a corner just right – and there are few feelings like it. The Honda CBX1000Z was flawed, for sure … but fantastic fun, nonetheless!

Ferrari Testarossa

Ferrari Testarossa 1980s Italian classic supercar

The Ferrari Testarossa was released in ’84. ‘Testarossa’ is Italian for redhead. That referenced the red cylinder head of the car’s 5-litre flat-12 engine. Within the head were 4 valves per pot. They were heat-protected by state of the art nickel-alloy. That was a wise move on Ferrari’s part – since there was every possibility of temperature build-up, at some point! Power peaked at 390bhp.

While the nickel-alloy valves worked a treat, yet more needed to be done to dissipate heat. The engineers had done their bit – now it was down to the designers. The Testarossa was mid-engined – to help with handling. So, cooling was moved to the rear. Pininfarina oversaw the styling mods. They drafted a wide back-end – with plenty of room for the cooling components. The car’s striking, side-mounted air-ducts were trademark Testarossa.

The Testarossa’s top speed was 180mph. 0-60 arrived in 5.5s. Steering was superb – the smallest of inputs being sufficient. The body was, in the main, aluminium – assisting with weight loss. Aerodynamics were wind tunnel-tested – including downforce. In ’92, the Testarossa 512 TR appeared. The fastest production car in the world at the time, it knocked the Lamborghini Diablo off top spot. The Testarossa F512M came along in ’94. By now, it was a true 200mph supercar. Redheads are reputed to be a tad on the fiery side. The Ferrari Testarossa did absolutely nothing to debunk that stereotype!

McLaren-Honda MP4/4

McLaren-Honda MP4/4 1980s F1 car

The McLaren-Honda MP4/4 is, arguably, the most successful F1 car in history. Then again, it could not have had two more able drivers. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost were at the peak of their considerable powers at the time. Throughout the ’88 season, the pair extracted the max from the MP4/4. Well, almost! Between them, they won 15 times from 16 starts. The Italian GP was the one that got away. Senna got bamboozled by a back-marker. With Prost also out, victory at Monza just was not to be.

McLaren began the ’88 campaign with mixed emotions. In the plus column, they had secured Honda as an engine supplier. The year before, the Japanese giant had helped arch-rivals Williams win the World Championship. But, in the minus column, McLaren had lost ace designer John Barnard. Given that he had sculpted every McLaren since ’81, he would inevitably be sorely missed. In his stead, Steve Nichols and Neil Oatley stepped boldly up to the high-tech plate. The previous year’s car – the MP4/3 – had been powered by Porsche. The Honda motor that replaced it was also a V6 – and similarly configured. That meant it slotted neatly into the MP4/3’s tried and trusted aerodynamic package. The only visible change to the bodywork was a narrower cockpit.

The ’88 season would be turbocharged engines’ last hurrah. The F1 powers that be had decreed that thereafter they would be banned. Notwithstanding that their engine would soon be obsolete, Honda in no way took their foot off the gas. They wrung every last drop out of the new V6. Indeed, they went so far as to build alternative versions – the XE2 and XE3. They could be toggled by McLaren, according to the circuit layout. Because of the extra prep, McLaren were late for pre-season testing. If that made their rivals chuckle, the mirth was short-lived. McLaren duly fired up the new engines – and sent the cars out. They left the opposition for dead. Come the first race – and it was more of the same. So it stayed for the rest of the season. Proof was provided by that near-perfect win tally. Senna and Prost, then, were nigh on unbeatable … stymied only by that Monza back-marker. That made the McLaren-Honda MP4/4 the greatest GP car of them all … well, statistically-speaking, at least!

Cadillac Eldorado Brougham

Cadillac Eldorado Brougham 1950s American classic car

As Fifties cars go, the Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was understated. Next to its sibling, the Eldorado Biarritz, for example, the Brougham’s tail fins were positively petite. Such delicacies were to be found on other parts of the car, too. The aluminium roof – minus pillars – was a shining example. And the narrow, whitewall tyres were a stylish delight. From a design history point of view, the Brougham was the first car to feature twin headlights. It was based on a ‘dream car’ prototype – first shown at ’54’s Motorama. The Park Avenue was a four-door sedan. It made serious waves when exhibited on GM’s stand. As a result, Harley Earl – General Motors’ head of design – hinted it might go into production. It duly did. The Eldorado Brougham was released in ’57.

The Brougham’s brand of elegance was more than skin-deep. The interior accessories list was a long one. It comprised items more associated with fashion than automobiles. Female passengers were particularly pampered. How about polarised sun visors, magnetised tumblers – and cigarette and tissue dispensers? Lipstick and cologne, a compact and powder puff, and a mirror and comb were thoughtfully provided. There was even an Arpege atomiser – with Lanvin perfume. And carpeting was in karakul – or lambskin. Hey, any lady who complained about that little lot might be asked to exit at the next set of lights!

But, the Brougham’s litany of luxuries did not stop there. It was only right that more masculine tastes be catered to, too. Like a 6.3-litre V8 – dishing up 325bhp. It was hitched up to GM’s Hydramatic transmission. The chassis was X-frame – held up by air-assisted suspension. There were both power brakes and steering. Plus, electrically-operated seats and windows. The cabin was wired for pretty much everything – given that this was still the Fifties. Gadgets and gizmos abounded. The Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was one of the most exotic cars ever to have come out of Detroit. A skilfully contrived cocktail of restrained glamour. And on top of all that, it could be customised. With 44 trim combinations available, your dream Caddy was a cinch!

Hesketh V1000

Hesketh V1000 1980s British sports bike

The Hesketh V1000 might be viewed as a mechanical folly. In production terms, was all the time, effort and expense incurred worthwhile? Not from a financial viewpoint, certainly. Only a few of them were sold, after all. Then again, an architectural folly stands tall – boldly proclaiming itself a glorious failure. Perhaps the Hesketh V1000 should do someththe same.

It was not as if the losses would hit Hesketh hard. After all, Lord Hesketh funded the F1 team which bore his name. Along with some sponsors, of course. Certainly, the noble lord did not lack for ambition. His goal with the V1000 was nothing less than the resurrection of the British bike industry. And he might have succeeded. All things considered, the V1000 was far from a bad bike. It was stylish, for starters. And, when it came to the cycle parts, everything was tickety-boo there, too. The frame was made from nickel-plated steel tubing. Suspension was by Marzocchi. Disc brakes by Brembo. As you would expect, then, the V1000 handled and stopped with aplomb. So far, so good! Why, then, did the bike fail? Did it, perhaps, have an Achilles’ heel?

Lord Hesketh’s choice of engine designer could not be faulted. Weslake were at the top of their game. What they did not know about 4-strokes was not worth knowing. But, something went badly awry. When tested, the V-twin was noisy – and prone to leak oil. The gearbox was basic, at best. That said, the twin-cam set-up, with four valves per pot, gave 86bhp – and did so smoothly. Top speed was a cool 120mph. So, things certainly were not all bad. Sadly, though, there were more than enough ‘issues’, to sow doubts in buyers’ minds. Which was a shame. Because Lord Hesketh’s vision for the V1000 could have led to a good British bike. Maybe even a great one. In true folly fashion, though, it finished up mere whimsy. The Hesketh V1000 promised so much – but delivered so little. Anyway – hats off to his Lordship for trying!

Lancia Stratos

Lancia Stratos 1970s Italian classic sports car

Design-wise, the Lancia Stratos was a wedge on wheels. Stratos was short for stratosphere … which was precisely where the driver would be headed, should the car’s performance not be treated with the necessary respect! The car’s blade of a shape sliced through air. It was only on the road, as a means to a competitive end. 500 production models had to be built, to allow Lancia to contest the Group 4 rally version.

The Stratos was not conceived with motorsport in mind. For some time, Lancia had been slipping behind its rivals – both on the road and at the racetrack. As soon as Cesare Fiorio – head of Lancia’s autosport arm – clocked the Stratos concept car, he straightaway saw a chance to get things Lancia back on track. That was at 1970’s Turin motor show. Styled by Marcello Gandini – at Bertone – the Stratos looked stunning. But, technically, too, it was perfect for Fiorio’s purpose. Suitably light, its engine bay was centrally-located. Install a Ferrari Dino motor – and Fiorio was sure it would have the trappings of a top-flight rally car.

It was a long way from the cool confines of the Turin show, to the blazing heat of the world’s hottest rally stages. But, with beefed-up suspension – and a more upright driving position – the Stratos was eventually good to go. And in its iconic Alitalia livery, it certainly looked the part. As a rally car, it would be legendary. And – in road-going mode, too – there have been few cars so sharp as the Lancia Stratos!

Norton NRS 588

Norton NRS 588 1990s BSB race bike

The Norton NRS 588 – the ‘rotary racer’ – was the brainchild of engineer Brian Crighton. His innovative project was rejected by Norton management. Crighton built the bike anyway – off his own bat. In the caretaker’s shed! Subsequently, it performed so well in speed tests that the Norton top brass had a sudden change of heart! Indeed, they flashed the green light for its development.

To racegoers of a certain age, riders Trevor Nation and Steve Spray were joined at the hip with the ‘JPS Norton’. In their black, silver and gold leathers, they – and their bikes – were a sight to behold at British circuits. ‘Rocket’ Ron Haslam, too, played a pivotal rôle in the bike’s success. And Robert Dunlop – younger brother of the great Joey Dunlop – also graced the saddle of the iconic black Norton.

Revered for its jet-like straight-line speed, the rotary engine’s braking – or lack of it – made cornering much more of a challenge! The rear end, snaking this way and that, was the source of much spectator mirth at the time. The Norton NRS 588, then, was a legendary British race bike – one guaranteed to render misty-eyed those privileged to have seen it. And all thanks to Brian Crighton … and his powers of perseverance!

Aston Martin DB5

Aston Martin DB5 1960s British classic sports car

The Aston Martin DB5 was an automotive aristocrat. The member of society’s upper tier with whom the car is most associated is, of course, James Bond. For, the DB5 played a starring rôle in Goldfinger. Indeed, it was unthinkable that ‘007’ would have been seen in anything else! And, when Bond was in the countryside – recuperating from the rigours of defending the Western world – he would, of course, have been in a ‘shooting-brake’ DB5. Just 12 of these rarefied estate cars were built. Now, that is exclusivity, Miss Moneypenny!

At the heart of the Aston’s allure was its beautiful bodywork. Alloy panels came courtesy of Touring – the illustrious Italian design house. A network of minimalist tubing made up a skeletal frame. On that was laid the car’s finely-chiselled outer skin. Flared-in headlights were a fashionable feature. They also helped the DB5’s aerodynamics. A top speed of 140mph said it all. If you needed an extra 10mph on top of that, a tuned Vantage engine was always an option. The 4/5-speed ZF transmission was eminently tractable. Solid disc brakes were fitted all round.

So, the DB5 mixed cutting edge technology with sought-after styling. It added its own take to decades of impeccably-wrought Aston craftsmanship. It was as suave and sophisticated as cars get. It had ‘licensed to kill’ looks. And its 4-litre straight-6 engine had performance to match. 282bhp was on free-flowing tap … shaken, but not stirred, of course! ‘DB’ stood for David Brown. And his firm’s reputation now soared to new heights. After all, the Aston Martin DB5 was James Bond’s personal transport. And it does not come much classier than that!

AC Cobra

AC Cobra 1960s American classic sports car

Rarely has the ‘special relationship’ – the trans-Atlantic alliance between the UK and the US – come up with something quite as special as the AC Cobra. Texan Carroll Shelby sought out AC Cars – in Thames Ditton, England. The firm had been founded by the Weller brothers – in West Norwood, London – in 1901. How would AC feel about Shelby inserting a Ford V8 engine into his take on their sinuous bodywork? The curtain was about to be raised on one of the most memorable sports cars of all time.

The Cobra’s svelte lines were clearly drawn from the AC Ace. The Ace was an elegant British sports car. But the Cobra’s beefcake build would be boldly all-American. Shelby was a successful racing driver. When it came to the Cobra, then, he wanted power – and plenty of it. Its 7-litre Ford mill unleashed 490 wild horses – or their automotive equivalent! And the Cobra’s pushrod V8 spat out torque on tap. The AC’s light-alloy body shell slimmed-down power-to-weight still further. Thankfully, disc brakes were fitted all round!

The cars were sold as both Shelby and Ford Cobras. In race trim, they were Shelby American Cobras. Only 1,000 or so cars were built. Their legacy, though, will live forever – or as long as men like Shelby feel compelled to compete. There have been Presidents with less presence than the AC Cobra. Big fun – in a big country!