MV Agusta 850 Magni

MV Agusta 850 Magni 1970s Italian classic sports bike

In standard trim, the MV Agusta 850 was a class act. Add to that the Magni factor – and quality increased exponentially. Arturo Magni had managed MV’s racing department. MV took 17 consecutive 500cc World Championships. That told you all you needed to know about what Arturo Magni brought to a two-wheeled party!

In time, Magni turned his attention to roadsters. To that end, he set up his own engineering facility – in Gallarate, Italy. Soon, a steady stream of MV 850s started rolling into his workshop. They did not have far to come. Magni duly introduced them to his own take on engine components and chassis modifications. The Magni effect was marked. A top speed of 140mph was now available. The 850 was weighed down by a bulky shaft final drive. When Magni’s chain-drive conversion kit had been fitted, handling, too, improved. Also key to stability was Magni’s custom-built frame. The single spine original had been replaced by one with two top tubes. Magni’s motor-related mods included uprated cams, high-compression pistons and a four-piece exhaust system. Suffice to say, you could hear it coming a mile away!

The 850 Magni was visibly race-bred. A full fairing – complete with rider number – said it all. The Magni’s stats justified its looks. High-grade parts – from Marzocchi, Koni and Brembo – added further fuel to the performance fire. Arturo Magni – following on from his high-calibre racing exploits – had slipped seamlessly into the world of road-oriented specials. High price tags came with the territory. But – for those with the disposable – MV Agusta’s 850 Magni was the pinnacle of hand-built pedigree!

Delahaye 145

Delahaye 145 1930s French classic car

The Delahaye 145 was launched in 1946. The mastermind behind it was Henri Chapron. Born in 1886, he had been on the steel-crafting scene since he was a kid. Come the close of the First World War, he began his own company – in Neuilly, France. Its core business was importing Ford T ambulances from America – and refactoring them into saloon cars! The custom bodies Chapron created were impressive. So impressive, in fact, that he was recruited by Delage.

Chapron’s entrée to motoring greatness, though, came by way of Delahaye. In the mid-’40s, streamlining was all the rage. Which was tickety-boo – until the end of the Second World War. By then, even some upper-crust belts were starting to tighten. Streamlining – and automotive haute couture in general – came at a price. If the hooray Henrys could not afford it, sure as heckers like no one else could!

The 145 comprised Chapron bodywork on a Delahaye chassis. Plus, A V12 engine. The resulting coupé was bespoke to its core. Its luscious exterior was matched only by its luxurious interior. It went without saying that leather and walnut abounded. Of course, that fell foul of the current commercial climate. Chapron, though, was tossed a lifeline. This time, Citroën came calling – with the offer of design work. Chapron’s first brief was a cabriolet – the DS 19. Subsequently, he turned his hand to developing the Citroën SM … always a good career move in France. Indeed, at one point, Chapron was made coachbuilder to the President. Along the way, he helped turn some of Phillipe Charbonneaux’s dream-laden drafts into roadgoing reality. Chapron’s last legacy to Citroën’s oeuvre was the DS 23 Prestige. Always classy, then – never outré – Henri Chapron nailed it as a designer. From young apprentice – to superstar stylist – he was never less than a credit to his profession. The Delahaye 145 was proof of that – alongside many others!

Ducati 851

Ducati 851 1980s Italian sports bike

The Ducati 851 was a slow burner. It took a refit for it to really kick into gear. Not that the first model did not have anything going for it. The 851cc engine was sound. Styling was suitably dynamic. Especially the three-tone paint job – in Italian red, white and green. The issue with the first version was its handling. Due to a supply-chain glitch, the bike had been released with 16″ wheels – smaller than planned. The problem was that they were too good! The handling was more nimble, but there was less room for error. When it came to quick cornering – without a high degree of accuracy – the small wheels were liable to ‘tuck under’. A flexible ladder frame did what it could to keep the rubber side down – but there was a limit!

So, Ducati 851 – take 2! This time, a set of 17″ wheels were in situ. Things were looking up already … literally for some owners! The most obvious mod was the paintwork. Gone were the tricolore hues of the original. The new bike’s livery was still Italianate – but now it was fire-engine red. While there had been cosmetic and cycle part changes, the motor was untouched. Indeed, it had been universally praised. It took Ducati a year to complete the makeover.

The 851 was the start of a new superbike era for Ducati. Its V-twin engine was now liquid-cooled – and came with 4 valves per cylinder. Desmodromic valves, in Ducati’s case. Its unique set-up saw valves opened and closed by cams alone – as opposed to the standard cams and springs system. Springs are all well and good – but are prone to bounce and go out of adjustment. Its ‘desmo’ valve-train had long been a feather in Ducati’s cap, powerplant-wise. Plus, Massimo Bordi – Ducati’s lead engineer – added Weber-Marelli fuel injection to the mix. As a result, torque was significantly increased. At the top-end of the rev-range, 104bhp was now on tap. That meant the 851 maxed out at 145mph. Souped-up Marzocchi shocks sorted the suspension. With the road bike seen to, it was time to call the race department. Three WSB titles on the trot for Ducati duly followed – courtesy of riders Raymond Roche and Doug Polen. Truly, Ducati’s 851 roadster – and its race-going counterpart – were on top of the superbike world!

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia

Hispano/Suiza H6B Dubonnet Xenia 1930s Spanish classic car

André Dubonnet was a doyen of the drinks industry. Many a tippler has had him to thank. His finest hour, however – at least so far as Dubonnet was concerned – was the Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia. From a wealthy background, Dubonnet was a car-crazed kid. It was a gimme, then, that he had plenty of toy automobiles to play with. The toy he craved most, though, was a one-of-a-kind supercar … a real one. Finally – in ’45 – he got it!

For all his wealth, Dubonnet was a worker … well, of sorts. After a lot of graft, he had made himself a respected fabricator. Hispano-Suiza was his marque of choice. Using their style-soaked creations as source material, Dubonnet fashioned several racing prototypes. They graced grand European events and circuits – Monza, the Targa Florio, Le Mans and Boulogne among them. Not only did Dubonnet build his cars – he drove them, too. And did so well enough to be asked to join the Bugatti race équipe – by boss Ettore, no less.

Over time, Dubonnet assembled an impressive portfolio of clients. Indeed, GM acquired some of his research work – into hydro-pneumatic suspension and pumpless oil delivery. Even Dubonnet, though, needed help. To that end, he recruited Jacques Saoutchik to the Xenia cause. The fabled Russian coachbuilder was tasked with sorting the aerodynamic aspects of the car. After all, Dubonnet had land speed record attempts in mind. So, Saoutchik’s sought-after streamlining skills would be vital. Saoutchik also knew how to design a stunning-looking motor car. Sadly, the Xenia never broke any speed records. It did, however, play a prominent rôle in the opening of the Saint-Cloud tunnel – situated near Paris. The publicity must have been some consolation to Dubonnet for the Xenia’s lack of sporting success. Not that the Xenia lacked all of the attributes of an LSR car. For starters, it was 5.7m in length – aiding straight-line stability. Partly as a result of that, it could clock up 200km/h. So, for all its shortcomings – at least in LSR attempt terms – Dubonnet’s Hispano-Suiza H6B Xenia was an innovative and spectacular autocar. Motoring had never been so à la mode. Cheers, André!

Bimota HB2

Bimota HB2 1980s Italian sports bike

The HB2 was the second offering from Bimota – the radical Italian bike builder. The HB1 had set the template. Massimo Tamburini – Bimota’s chief designer – totalled a Honda CB750, at Misano racetrack. Tamburini managed to salvage its four-cylinder engine from the wreckage. He then wrapped it in Bimota bodywork. The resulting HB1 – Honda/Bimota – hybrid became the first of the firm’s stylish, trend-setting roadsters.

The HB2 upped the ante, power-wise, from the HB1. The new bike sourced its motor from Honda’s CB900F. 95bhp was duly available. And the Bimota was lighter than the big Honda CB. It weighed just 441lb. State of the art suspension was then fitted. At the front, Ceriani teles were synced with a progressive-rate monoshock at the back. A tubular steel/aluminium plate frame added still more stability to the mix. With a 138mph top speed – and high-class handling – the HB2 etched a technical benchmark. Bimota had taken the superbike fight to its Oriental rivals. Pretty impressive from a small-scale manufacturer – certainly as compared with the Japanese ‘big four’.

Not that the Bimota challenge came as a surprise to Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Yamaha. In no particular order, by the way! After all, Bimota had been around the GP scene a while by then. In the showrooms, their unique selling-point was super-cool Italian looks – plus a Japanese engine! Sadly – even for a bespoke builder like Bimota – less than 200 HB2s were sold. The HB3 came to the rescue – to some extent, at least. It sealed the deal on the Honda/Bimota alliance. Like the HB2, the HB3 upgraded the package. This time, the Honda CB1100R engine was used. By that point, the Japanese marques were leading the pack again, in terms of overall performance. Notwithstanding – with their HB2 – Bimota had blazed a trail for beautiful, brain-bending motorbikes!

De Tomaso Mangusta

De Tomaso Mangusta 1960s Italian classic sports car

Coachbuilt by Ghia, the de Tomaso Mangusta was about as stylish as a sports car gets. Well, apart from its name, that is. A mangusta is a mongoose. Absolutely no offence to mongooses intended, but they are not typically considered the height of chic. Yes, I am sure there are exceptions to that rule. At any rate, so far as the roadgoing Mangusta went, its body was a sleek lattice-work of lines and slats. In like manner, graphics were elegantly scripted.

But the Mangusta was far from all show. It was bang on the money technically, too. The Ford 4.7 V8 engine put out 305bhp. Top speed was 250km/h. Released in ’66, just 400 Mangustas were made. 280 of them were sold in the States. American sales were substantially upped by fitting the Ford V8. The US was a fair old jaunt for the Mangusta, from Modena, Italy – that mythical Mecca of all things motor racing. The perfect location, then, for Alejandro de Tomaso to base his workshop.

De Tomaso hailed from Buenos Aires, Argentina. His father was a government minister – and his mother an heiress. Suffice to say, Alejandro was unlikely to go hungry. It was not long before de Tomaso’s motoring muse came calling – mainly in the shape of Maseratis. At 27, he moved to Italy – to pursue a career as a racing driver. De Tomaso was quick – but not quick enough. So instead, he set up a supercar company … as you do! As a designer – rather than driver – de Tomaso fared better. Before long, both sports cars and single-seaters were rolling out of his ‘shop. In his youth, de Tomaso idolised Fangio – the Argentinian race ace. Acolyte could never match master, in that regard. But – in penning cars like the Mangusta – de Tomaso had found his niche. His own means of automotive expression, you may say. Oh, by the way – if you are thinking about buying a de Tomaso Mangusta, a word to the wise. Never underestimate its performance. Mongooses eat snakes. You’ve been warned!

Laverda 750 SFC

Laverda 750 SFC 1970s Italian sports bike

The Laverda 750 SFC was a production racer. Originally conceived to compete in endurance races, it went on to be a shining light on the roads as well. The ‘C’ in its name stood for competizione. And, while we are at it, the ‘F’ stood for freni – Italian for brakes. That referenced the improved drum sets, with which the SFC came equipped. Ceriani suspension sealed the roadholding deal – telescopic forks at the front and twin shocks at the rear. Always a good sign, the SFC won first time out. That was the Barcelona 24 Hours race – at Montjuic Park, Spain. The bike’s bright orange paintwork was a cinch to spot, even at night – for both spectators and pit crew alike!

On the road, too, the SFC was a scintillating sight. 549 SFCs followed on from the prototype. A certain commitment was required of the rider – since they were far from ‘ergonomically correct’. Low clip-on handlebars – and rear-set footrests – meant relaxation took a back seat to a racing crouch. And it was a single back seat, at that! At least the SFC’s smart half-fairing was a concession to comfort – keeping the worst of the wind off. And – certainly in handling terms – the SFC was eminently user-friendly.

Potentially, SFC riders needed all the handling help they could get. The bike’s parallel twin engine came with high-compression pistons – fueled by 36mm Amal carbs. A close-ratio 5-speed gearbox was fitted. Top speed was 125mph. An injudicious twist of the the SFC’s throttle, then, and a race-style posture may well have proved welcome. Better a little discomfort than finding yourself lying upside down. The SFC weighed in at just 454lb – but that is a lot to pull out of a ditch! So, the Laverda 750 SFC was a true Seventies superbike. It combined impeccable Italian styling – and the technical wherewithal to keep it that way. Hopefully!

Aston-Martin DBR9

Aston-Martin DBR9 2000s GT race car

Hitting the grid in ’05, Aston Martin’s DBR9 was the racing version of their DB9 roadster. Saying that, 20 DBR9s were sold privately. So, technically, it was a race/road hybrid. Though, whether you should do the shopping in a car that won the GT1 Sebring 12 Hours race, is a moot point. To be fair, it would get done very quickly – leaving you with more time to do good deeds for the rest of the day!

It is not hard to see why the DBR9 won at Sebring – a racetrack in Florida, USA. The fact that its engine churned out 600bhp had a lot to do with it. The power was fed through a 6-speed sequential gearbox – conveniently located on the rear axle. Cutting edge carbon brakes were duly installed – and not as an afterthought!

Light weight was key to the DBR9’s success. Just 2,425lbs needed to keep contact with the tarmac. Contrast that with the DB9 road-going equivalent – which weighed in at a comparatively lardy 3,770lb. Much of the reduction was down to the competition car’s body panels – fashioned from carbon-fibre composite. Aston Martin Racing designed the panels – with top-flight aerodynamics in mind. An aluminium chassis also shed weight. Aptly, the DBR9’s Sebring win was on its first outing. For spectators of a certain age, it conjured up memories of Le Mans, ’59. That was the scene of another famous victory for the great British brand. So, Aston Martin race fans had been patient a long time. But they say great things come to those who wait. Those words were never so true as in the streamlined form of the DBR9!

Dresda Triton

Dresda Triton 1960s British classic motorcycle

It has doubtless been discussed – in refreshment rooms around the world – which is the greatest café racer ever made. Dave Degens could be forgiven for making the case for the Dresda Triton. His company – Dresda Autos – was based in west London. As well as a race engineer, Degens was a rider of high repute. It followed, then, that he would be on the lookout for high-performance tips and techniques. A logical way to go, in that regard, would be to take a well-sorted motor – and install it in an equally well-sorted chassis. Which is exactly what Degens did. Indeed, since the mid-’50s, two-wheeled tech-heads had been bolting Triumph engines into Norton frames. The hybrid fruits of their labour were dubbed Tritons. Triumph’s powerplants were the most potent around, at the time. And Norton’s Featherbed frame rewrote the rulebook when it came to firm, but flexible geometry.

In the mid-’60s, Triumph’s parallel-twin engine layout was cutting edge. The 650 unit was kicking out 50bhp – at 6,500rpm. Top speed was 120mph. Do the caff racer math, and that exceeded ‘ton-up boy’ requirements – to the tune of 20%! And all from an air-cooled four-valve twin. But – as Dave Degens knew only too well – horsepower is only half the equation. Handling, too, needs to be factored in. Cometh the hour, cometh the Featherbed! Norton’s steel twin-cradle frame had excelled on both road and track. Norton’s TT rivals could vouch for that! Put it all together – and Triumph engine, plus Norton frame – equalled fast and fluid motorcyling.

By the end of the Sixties, the Triton ‘brand’ had gone beyond its geeky beginnings. The dream ticket – courtesy of Triumph and Norton – now ate a substantial slice of the Brit bike pie. But, ‘mass-production’ for the Triton held a sting in its tail. Downmarket, if not dodgy deals increased – both in parts and build quality. Of course, Dresda Autos – with Dave Degens at the helm – never lowered its standards. Even now – decades later – they provide bespoke bikes to discerning buyers. A legend in the specialist motorcycle world, then, the Dresda Triton took on – and beat – all comers!

Honda NSX

Honda NSX 1990s Japanese supercar

For a car maker seeking feedback in the late Eighties, Ayrton Senna was probably first on your wish list! In ’89 – with the NSX in the pipeline – that was the enviable position in which Honda found itself. As luck would have it, Senna was in Japan, at the time. Honda wondered whether he would like to take the NSX prototype for a spin? What could the world’s finest F1 driver do, but accept! On returning the NSX to its technicians, Senna declared it impressive – but delicate. That could be remedied. In short order, Honda had made the car half as strong again.

A new NSX bagged you £5 change from £60K – which you, of course, used to tip Ayrton Senna! As supercars go, sixty grand was cheap. Assuming you considered the NSX a supercar, of course. Not everyone did – among them, some with pronounced European tastes. But – if you could stand a few withering looks from more ‘discerning’ drivers – the NSX gave you plenty of sports car bang for your bucks. Or indeed, yen. For a start, a top speed of 168mph was not to be sniffed at. It came courtesy of Honda’s VTEC V6. Said engine was fixed to the first all-aluminium chassis and suspension set-up installed in a production car. The result was fast acceleration – plus, firm but finely-tuned handling. Especially when Honda’s Servotronic steering system was added to the mix.

The design of the NSX was inspired by the F16 fighter plane. Good aerodynamics, then, were a gimme! With so much going for it, it is no surprise Honda held a special place in its heart for the NSX. Only their best engineers were allowed anywhere near it. Okay – so Honda did not have quite the cachet of supercars’ past masters. That said, the NSX still had plenty to offer less picky connoisseurs … particularly ones who liked a bargain!