When is a Ferrari not a Ferrari? When it is a Dino! How so? Well, what defines a Ferrari? Why, the prancing horse logo, of course. But the 246 only ever wore Dino GT insignia. The firm’s founder, Enzo Ferrari, wanted this car to be a ‘marque’ all its own. There was a good – and moving – reason for that. He had prematurely lost his son Alfredino – so the car was a father’s tribute. Even Enzo, though, may have conceded that the ‘Dino’ was a Ferrari in all but name.
Enzo had no qualms about including Fiat in such a personal project. The two firms struck a deal which enabled Ferrari to compete in the F2 racing series. To enter, homologation rules required that 500 roadsters be produced. Financially, Ferrari were not in a position to supply engines for that many Dinos. For the mighty Fiat corporation, though, such numbers were not a problem. So it was that – inside every Ferrari Dino – there lurks the spirit of Fiat.
Stylistically, the Dino was unaffected by the mechanical shenanigans. Beauty on wheels, its Pininfarina/Bertone styling was visible in every perfect curve. Of course, no car was ever going to make up for losing a son. It is to be hoped, however, that the Ferrari Dino was some small source of solace for the great man.
Of all the Seventies superbikes, the Ducati 900SS was one of the most pure of purpose. Unburdened by such irksome add-ons as an electric start and a pillion seat, the SS roared ‘race-bred’ – as loudly as its pulsating Conti pipes!
Ducati’s proprietary desmodromic valve-gear took pride of place in the 900’s V-twin engine. As a result, it solidly piled on revs – enough for the Duc to accrue a top speed of 132mph.
Yet, the 900’s technical prowess seemed to fade into shade, in light of its visual virtues. Achingly good-looking, the Ducati 900SS is arguably beyond compare, styling-wise!
The Triumph T120 Bonneville must be among the most iconic motorbikes ever made. Indeed, its name alone is liable to induce weak knees in its devotees. The Bonnie – as it was dubbed – invokes visions of a time when the material world was made out of metal. Plastic, back then, was but a brittle blip on the horizon. Now, it goes without saying that the future of the planet comes before that of classic motorcycles … well, it does, according to non-bikers, anyway! That said, the petroleum and oils of yesteryear had a spirit, which today’s sanitised synthetics sorely lack. Such ‘earthy’ products were an essential part of the design icon that was – and is – the Triumph Bonneville.
It is ironic that a bike that so epitomises Sixties Britain should reference the US. Utah’s Bonneville salt flats have long been the snow-white setting for many a piece of high-speed history. In ’56, for example, Johnny Allen climbed aboard a Triumph Streamliner – and proceeded to gun it up to 214mph. The Triumph Bonneville roadster was good for just over half that. Still, 110mph was more than enough for most ‘ton-up boys’, at the time. Indeed, it allowed them a bit of leeway … in case of headwinds, perhaps – or less than pristine-clean carbs! Bonnie aficionados spent so much time in the saddle that it became a virtual part of their anatomies. And that was pre-computer games!
In Triumph’s glory days, the Bonneville was the beacon for the brand. Some quarter of a million Bonnies passed through the firm’s Meriden factory gates. On the Isle of Man, a Bonneville won the Production TT – in ’67. Two seasons later, and a Bonneville set the first ‘proddy racer’ 100mph lap of the island. The ton-up boys were in seventh heaven! And even on less celebrated roads, the Triumph T120 Bonneville was a legend in its own landscape. So, when the rockers decamped to the seaside, that infamous day in the Sixties – to do battle with the mods – it is a sure bet there was many a Bonnie seen blasting down to Brighton beach!
The BMC Mini was launched in ’59. Just in time for the Swinging Sixties – a British cultural highpoint it helped to define. Subsequently, a poll of motoring luminaries went even further – voting it Car of the Century. You did not have to look too hard to find its unique selling point. That was its size – or lack of it. Alec Issigonis – the Mini’s designer – was obsessive about not wasting an inch of automotive real estate. The Mini was a utility vehicle, par excellence. Yet, it was also one of the coolest cars ever to turn a wheel – which, by the way, was a mere 10″ in diameter. Issigonis’ design process really did include sketches on the backs of envelopes. But, then, they were for the Mini! Anyway, it worked – more than 5,300,000 Minis were built. That made it Britain’s best-selling car – ever!
Space-saving, then, was the Mini’s raison d’être. Its front-wheel-drive set-up was key to this … as was the fact that the gearbox was placed beneath the engine. The Mini was a tour de force, technically. Dr Alex Moulton dreamed up radical rubber-cone suspension for the car. BMC quoted ‘penny-a-mile’ running costs. Bear in mind that the Mini was conceived in the wake of the ’56 Suez Crisis – when fuel prices were at a premium. But, economical as it was, the Mini could shift a bit, too. Fastest of all was the Mini-Cooper S model. Named after John Cooper – the legendary race-car constructor – the top-spec version delivered 76bhp. And a top speed of 96mph. The Mini had always handled well … now it had a motor to match. Standard-spec Coopers won the Tulip Rally – in ’62 and ’63. The Cooper S won the Monte Carlo Rally – in ’64, ’65 and ’67. That was on top of ruling the roost in British saloon car racing.
The Mini even moved into the luxury car market … well, after a fashion! Both Radford and Wood – and Pickett – turned out coach-built versions of the car. Pink Panther actor Peter Sellers owned one of Radford and Wood’s creations. Presumably – after all his success – Sellers bought a Mini with an eye to style, rather than cost. But, Minis were comparatively affordable … in standard trim, at least. The cost of the original cars was kept down by fitting sliding windows, cable-pull door releases, and externally welded body seams. To begin with, there were just two models to choose from – the Austin Mini Seven, and Morris Mini-Minor. The latter came in basic or de luxe versions. Over time, the use of alternative sub-frames enabled several variations on the theme. There were Mini vans, pick-ups, and estate cars. Not to mention, the Mini Moke and Cabriolet. The Mini, in turn, went on to influence other cars – like the long-boot Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet. Ultimately, though, the Mini was unique. Usually, iconic cars are comprised of vast swathes of metal. The Mini, though, went to the other extreme. Petite, certainly … but also perfectly-formed!
The Williams F1 team has proffered many an exotic race car over the years. Few, though, have had quite the allure of the FW14B. From the moment its designer Patrick Head picked up his pen, the ’92 World Championship was decided. But, there was another key FW14B factor. The legendary Nigel Mansell! For, he was in sync with the car to an uncanny degree. Are certain drivers born to certain cockpits? Who knows! One thing is for sure. No-one else was going to be winning that year’s titles. That is how far ahead of the field Mansell and the FW14B were.
The key component in the FW14B package was ‘active-ride’ suspension. Lotus had already blazed a trail for the new set-up. Williams followed suit, in ’87. In ’88, too, it continued the active-ride mission. Patrick Head’s faith, though, was shaken by reliability issues. Nothing daunted, Adrian Newey – Williams’ chief aerodynamicist – had done enough wind tunnel testing, to be sure that active-ride was still the way to go. The idea was to keep the FW14B uniformly upright – or, as close as possible, given the humungous forces to which it was subjected. Newey badgered Head into giving active-ride one last chance – reliability gremlins, notwithstanding. Come ’91, and the system was duly slotted into the Williams FW14 chassis. The motor racing gods must have been smiling. This time, it all gelled!
Immediately the FW14B dropped off the blocks, it hit the ground running. It won the first five GPs. Four more victories would follow – as Mansell grabbed the ’92 season by the scruff of its neck. There were just two races at which he and the Williams did not start from pole. The car’s Renault V10 engine performed perfectly, while using far less fuel than its main rival – the McLaren-Honda V12. There was nowhere to hide for the opposition. Williams had covered all bases. Even the FW14B’s paint scheme outshone its competitors! With those bold primary colours careening round circuits, spectators were treated to a rich visual feast, too. Of course, that iconic livery will be forever associated with the great Nigel Mansell. A pundit was once asked who was the most determined F1 driver he had ever met? “Oh, that’s easy”, he said. “Nigel Mansell would’ve driven a car through a brick wall to get something done!” But – with the FW14B – he did not have to. Head and Newey had made his life easy … relatively speaking, at any rate. One of the most iconic cars ever to lap a track, the Williams FW14B was miles ahead of its rivals. Something that makes an F1 driver very happy. Including Nigel Mansell!
The Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark 1 ‘dream car’ was one of the most stunning conceits in automotive history. An exotic blend of muscle car styling and supercharged grunt, it paved the way for one of the most spellbinding roadsters ever made. The Corvette Stingray took low-slung chic to another level. A production car had seldom – if ever – looked so good.
A marine mammal provided design inspiration. William Mitchell – GM’s chief stylist – went fishing, off Florida. His luck was in. After landing the catch, Mitchell was blown away by its beauty. He had caught a mako shark – a streamlined slab of predatory power. It was graced with to-die-for blue and white hues. Immediately, his design sensibilities kicked in. He saw a way to bring to the roads what had previously been confined to the deep. That short-fin shark was about to go global!
The Stingray ‘Spider’ was first of the breed. A racing test-bed, it was the high-revving base upon which the Mako Shark was built. The Stingray would be the final piece in the jigsaw. Of course, many of the Stingray’s styling motifs can be seen in the Mako Shark 1. Indeed, they had the same designer – Larry Shinoda. But even the Stingray had its work cut out to compete with its prototype predecessor. Its projectile-style bodywork and gradational paint took pride of place – but they were just the beginning. Not just the exterior – but the interior, too – were a futuristic time-warp of avant-garde art. It was the start of the Sixties, after all – the ideal time to get radical with form and function. With plastic now the new gold standard, the wraparound windscreen and see-through hardtop were classic space-age styling touches. Topping them off was a ‘periscope’ rear-view mirror. Ranged along the car’s flanks were two banks of exhausts – catering to the 456bhp that its V8 engine output. One thing is for sure. When that mako shark mammal gave up its life – in the waters off Florida – an automotive legend was born. Long live the Chevrolet Corvette Mako Shark 1!
The AC Ace was a sweetly-styled British sports car. It came about thanks to John Tojeiro. He was a ‘specials’ builder, of some renown. AC Cars asked him to dream up something, well, special – to help transform their ageing product range into a selection fit for the Fifties. The Ferrari Barchetta was clearly a source of inspiration. Tojeiro, though, developed the theme, and stamped a British take on the Italian template. He hung the flowing contours of the Ace bodywork on a trellis-style tubular frame. That was supported on all-independent, transverse leaf-spring suspension.
Soon, AC were casting about for a suitable powerplant for Tojeiro’s handiwork. Early Aces were fitted with AC’s 2-litre straight-6 motor – which had appeared just after the First World War. A replacement was required. Riding to AC’s rescue came Bristol. The engine they supplied was still a 2-litre straight-6 – but it gave 120bhp – and was mated to a smooth 4-speed gearbox. Top speed had now climbed to 116mph – and 0-60 arrived in less than 10s. An overdrive gear was introduced – and a set of front disc brakes was fitted. To describe the Ace as a performance car – even in 1956 – may have been to overstate it a bit. But things were definitely moving in that direction. Tojeiro had specified that the engine be located to the rear of the chassis. That – as well as its firm suspension – made the Ace a fine-handling car. It was competitive at the racetracks, too.
So, the AC Ace was already a sound all-round package. And it was about to get even better! From ’61 to ’63, Aces were available with a Ford 2.6-litre straight-six – modified by Ken Rudd. 170bhp was now on tap. The Ace had always had hand-crafted aluminium bodywork … now it had a suitably refined power-train, to match. AC Cars – based in Thames Ditton, Surrey – had excelled themselves. They had emerged from the Second World War – if not fighting fit – ready and able to look to the future. This they had done – in spectacular style – with the Ace. These days, this classic two-seater is highly sought-after – especially when fitted with a Bristol engine. AC Cars played a wise move, by teaming up with John Tojeiro. In the AC Ace, they created one of the finest sports cars GB has ever produced!