Honda NR750

Honda NR750 1990s Japanese superbike

Few road-going superbikes are quite so race-bred as the Honda NR750. It was a direct descendant of Honda\’s NR500 GP bike. The NR roadster was released in \’92. That was a decade or so on from when the four-stroke racer had been slugging it out with Suzuki and Yamaha \’strokers\’. Well, trying to, at any rate. The plucky Honda was always disadvantaged against its free-revving two-stroke rivals. As a result, Honda\’s NR500 race bike was retired in \’81.

The feature for which the NR is famous is its oval pistons. To be pedantic, they were not actually oval. They were lozenge-shaped. The \’ovoid\’ pistons, then, were the NR\’s most clear-cut connection with its racing ancestry. Ultimatey – whatever precise form they took – they worked. The NR delivered 125bhp – at 14,000 rpm. Top speed was 160mph. That was notwithstanding the NR\’s weight – a tubby 489lb. While the NR\’s performance was impressive – it was not earth-shattering. Honda had done its best to pull a V8 rabbit out of a V4 hat. Effectively, to double it up. With that in mind, the NR\’s V4 engine was fitted with eight fuel injectors and titanium conrods. Four camshafts depressed thirty-two lightweight valves. Sadly, though, the modifications did not equate to twice the speed!

The NR\’s styling was almost as adventurous as its engineering. Its screen was titanium-coated, for instance. That was backed up by a brilliant finish – in every sense of the word. The paintwork and polished aluminium frame were particularly lustrous. The bike\’s build quality was equally dazzling. In every department, then, the NR delivered. Above all, it oozed charisma – mainly on account of its unique engine configuration. Bikes like the NR tend not to clock up too many owners. And not just because of high price tags and running costs. Such a machine grants access to motorcycling\’s inner sanctum. Arguably – more than any other roadster – the Honda NR750 mixed visual and technical exoticism. Put simply – glamour was never an issue!

TVR Sagaris

TVR Sagaris 2000s British sports car

If you bought a TVR Sagaris new, you got a fiver change from £50K. It did not, though, come with any airs and graces attached. Built in Blackpool – on England\’s NW coast – the Sagaris delivered no-frills performance – and plenty of it. No-frills, yes – but not no-thrills. A top speed of 175mph made sure of that.

A swift glance at the Sagaris spoke volumes. The transparent rear wing could not have been clearer … in terms of the car\’s intent, that is. If you were still in doubt, an array of bonnet vents gave the game away. Does a road car need to breathe that deeply? Nikolai Smolenski – TVR\’s new owner – obviously thought so. He was a young Russian oligarch – and was taking no chances. In the past, TVR had caught flak over build quality. To be fair, as a small manufacturer of exotic machinery, it was always a risk. Smolenski, then, opted to up the ante, reliability-wise. How much he succeeded is a moot point. Anyway, a sturdy roll-cage was duly installed – which took care of over-zealous pedal-prodders, at least!

Certainly, the Sagaris\’ straight-six engine called for care. The all-aluminium unit was deceptively pretty. On top of a 406bhp output, it turned over 349lb/ft of torque. As a result, the Sagaris rocketed from 0-60 in 3.7s. 0-100 took just 8.1s. Figures like that mean precision engineering. With a bit of Northern grit thrown in, of course. After all, sports car development is no bowl of cherries! But, while the TVR Sagaris did not stand on ceremony, it was bespoke – not basic!

MV Agusta 850SS Monza

MV Agusta 850SS Monza 1970s Italian classic sports bike

Bikes named after racetracks need to be fast! In the case of the MV Agusta 850SS Monza, it was. Top speed was 145mph. That was quick for a road bike, in \’77. Mind you, it did weigh in at only 429lb. Naturally, the engine had a lot to do with it, too. The Monza\’s cylinders were wider than its MV America predecessor. As a result, capacity was increased to 837cc. The compression ratio had also been raised. Plus, a Marelli distributor – and hotter cams – had been added. All in, power had risen to 85bhp – at 8,750rpm. Previously, the 750S America – built predominantly for the US market – had upped the ante from the 750 Sport. Now, the Monza had trumped them both.

In styling terms, the new MV was equally upbeat. It had \’café racer\’ written all over it. Low-set \’bars – and a humped-back seat – referenced MV\’s GP bikes. Not only had the great Italian marque won 17 top-flight titles – it won them on the spin. Now, that is domination! Sadly – for MV Agusta, at any rate – the advent of the Jap 2-stroke motor had put the mockers on it. Design-wise, the Monza\’s red and silver livery further enhanced its race-based brief.

Key to that brief was Arturo Magni. He was MV\’s chief engineer. Reporting to him were mechanics from MV\’s former 4-stroke race team. Taking MV\’s already cutting edge technology, Magni meted out still more modifications to the Monza. Among them were a free-flowing exhaust, a chain-driven conversion from the standard shaft-drive and a bigger-bore kit. In turn, Magni\’s twin-loop frame firmed everything up. Under Arturo\’s tutelage, top speed and acceleration had both improved. Handling, too, was a beneficiary – since power delivery was smoothed out. The MV Agusta 850SS Monza was an impressive motorcycle with factory settings. Magni\’s magic mods made it yet better!

Maserati MC12

Maserati MC12 2000s Italian supercar

The Maserati MC12 cost £515K. 50 were sold – twice as many as were needed to let the competition version race in the FIA GT World Championship. For your half a million quid, you got a Ferrari Enzo, into the bargain. Well, sort of! Much of the MC12 was based on the Enzo – as a by-product of the Ferrari Maserati Group partnership. Replication ran to the carbon monocoque, V12 engine, steering wheel and windscreen. The MC12\’s 6-litre motor was detuned a tad from that of the Enzo – but still managed to provide a cool 622bhp, at 7,500rpm. Top speed was 205mph. 0-60 took 3.8s.

Remarkably, the MC12 took a mere twelve months to make. Maserati\’s engineers were, of course, aided by the Ferrari Enzo factor. Even so, to take a top-grade supercar from drawing board to production line in a year was impressive, to say the least. Design duties fell to Frank Stephenson. He had previously masterminded the Mini Cooper. In terms of the MC12\’s aerodynamic package, a quick glance told you all you needed to know. Seriously slippery was understatement!

The MC12\’s white and blue paint mirrored Maserati\’s \’Birdcage\’ racers. The Tipo 60/61 machines had competed in sports car events in the early Sixties. The racing theme continued inside. Lightweight carbon-fibre was used for the MC12\’s cabin – including the fully-harnessed seats. Practical problems arose from the rear window – or lack of it! A quick removal of the targa top, though, soon sorted the shortcoming. Other than that rear visibility \’glitch\’, the MC12 was reasonably user-friendly. Sequential gear-changing was straightforward, steering nimble and the ride smooth. The sole issue, then, for owners, was sourcing spare parts. Best way around it was buying a Ferrari Enzo as back-up. Or – better still – two MC12s. Maserati probably preferred the latter option!

Harley-Davidson XLCR

Harley-Davidson XLCR 1970s American classic motorbike

Marketing-wise, Harley-Davidson\’s XLCR fell between two stools. It was neither a full-bore sports tool, nor – in typical Harley fashion – a laid-back cruiser. More than anything – as far as categories went – it was classic café racer. In the Seventies, though, performance was key. That was, after all, the decade of the first wave of Japanese superbikes. There was no way the XLCR was going to compete with them. While its pushrod V-twin engine packed plenty of torque, it was some way off its Oriental rivals at the top-end of the rev range. On the other hand – dramatic though it looked in its jet-black livery – it did not have enough \’attitude\’ chops to keep Harley die-hards happy. As a result, just 3,200 XLCRs were sold.

Willie G Davidson – Harley\’s head of design – had fulfilled his brief. For sure, the XLCR looked the business. From its flat-handlebars fairing – via an elongated tank – to the racy seat/tail unit, the XLCR\’s lines were in all the right places. Certainly, the swoopy siamese exhaust set-up was stunning. Sadly, the XLCR\’s speed stats did not stack up as neatly as its styling cues. A peak power output of 61bhp – at 6,200rpm – did not set any alarm-bells ringing. A top speed of 115mph was average – and no more. Suffice to say, then, that boy racers – of whom there were a lot in the late \’70s – were underwhelmed.

Harley\’s sales brochures, however, took a different tack. They pointed to the fact that the XLCR\’s performance was a marked improvement on what had gone before. Up to a point, they were right. But then, the same could be said of Harley\’s new Sportster. In white knuckle terms, the XLCR did not do much the Sportster was not already doing. And – crucially for a Harley – the Sportster scored more \’sit up and scowl!\’ points. Harley-Davidson was right to try to tap a new trend. But – for two-wheeled speed merchants – the XLCR Cafe Racer simply could not cut the cappuccino!

Riley 2.5 Walter Köng Saloon

Riley 2.5 Walter Kong Saloon 1940s British classic concept car

Walter Köng\’s Riley 2.5 Saloon was unique. That made sense – since it was a solo effort. Well, apart from the engine. All other aspects of the car were overseen by Köng. No wonder, then, that it took him 5,000 man-hours – or two years – to complete.

Köng was Swiss. In \’45 – with the war only just over – not a huge amount was happening in his native land. Switzerland\’s key industries – textiles and clock-making – were having a tough time of it. Köng was well-versed in all things automotive. He had worked at Sala, in Italy – as well as French firm Gallee. Oh, not forgetting Chrysler and Packard. With the fighting now finished, Köng was hankering to get back to work. With Swiss manufacturing still in the doldrums, he decided to take things into his own hands. Köng would build his own car!

Köng\’s inspiration came in the form of aircraft. Specifically, fighter planes. That was hardly surprising – since he had, after all, seen a few in recent times. The design brief was radical – especially for someone putting it into practice himself. Bodywork would be aluminium. The roof would be a two-panel, removable affair. In truth, Pontiac and Ford had already pioneered that set-up. What they had not pioneered were mahogany bumpers. They came courtesy of Köng – and his fertile imagination. Eventually, the time came when all the car needed was an engine. A Riley 2.5 was duly sourced and installed. Sadly – after so much effort – Köng\’s project was not to be a lucrative one. While his work appeared at \’49\’s Geneva Motor Show – and generated a good deal of interest – no sales materialised. But, all was not lost. The annals of motoring history were another matter entirely. Walter Köng slotted into them with aplomb. To motoring\’s cognoscenti, he was now a kingpin of bespoke car-builders. The Riley 2.5 Saloon was proof positive of that!

Bimota SB2

Bimota SB2 1970s Italian classic sports bike

\’SB\’ stood for Suzuki/Bimota. It signalled Bimota\’s standard practice of incorporating other marques\’ engines into its own bespoke chassis. In the case of the SB2, power was provided by the Suzuki GS750. The 8-valve inline-four motor peaked at 68bhp. That gave the the SB2 a top speed of 130mph. Credit was also due to its slippery lines. A dry weight of just 440lb sealed the high-speed deal. This was still the Seventies, do not forget.

The driving force behind the SB2 was Massimo Tamburini. He had been a Bimota co-founder. Tamburini fitted the \’legendary engineer\’ bill to a tee. In his time, he had designed chassis for 250 and 350cc World Championship-winning bikes. In \’77, Tamburini tipped his technical brilliance into the new Bimota. It was a gimme, then, that the SB2 would handle as well as it went. Ceriani telescopic forks – and a first-of-its-kind rear monoshock – did the business suspension-wise. They were duly hitched up to a tubular steel space-frame. The monoshock alone separated the SB2 from its rivals … in every sense of the word!

First and foremost, though, a Bimota is about style. As befits a firm from Rimini, Italy. Certainly, the SB2 ran true to form, in that regard. Its bodywork wrote the book on \’swoopy\’. The tank protector/seat was a self-supporting one-piece – which saved the weight of a subframe. That innovation – like the rising-rate rear shock – would subsequently be seen on mass-produced machines. So, Bimota – that consummate special-builder – had done what it did best. In the beguiling form of the SB2, it merged dynamite design and top-drawer technology. Again!

Fiat 8V

Fiat 8V 1950s Italian classic sports car

Had the 8V – or, Otto Vu – been built in the US, it would have been dubbed the V8! But since it was, of course, built in Italy, the Fiat powers that be opted to call it the 8V. Then again, countries often do things different ways round – like letting people drive on the wrong side of the road, for instance! Anyway – the engine in question was a 2-litre 70° V8 … in American money, that is. Whatever the nomenclature, once put through its paces, Fiat declared itself well-pleased with the result.

The 8V was released in \’52. At the beginning of the Fifties, the upper echelons at Fiat were in disarray. Rumours spread that chicanery and sharp practice were rife. In fact, it was an ideal time to consider climbing Fiat\’s corporate ladder. Young Dante Giacosa – head of testing – saw the new car as a chance to impress. Amidst all the chaos, his superiors made it clear the 8V needed to deliver.

The 8V was conceived as a luxury sedan. So impressive, though, was its V8 motor, that thoughts soon turned to the sports car market. Initially, the 8V served up 105bhp. That was later upped to 115. After still more development, it finally maxed out at 127bhp. Top speed was a handy 190km/h. The 8V\’s price tag was 2,850,000 lire. Value was added by all-round independent suspension – a first for Fiat. Originally, the idea was to lengthen – and co-opt – the Fiat 1400 chassis. Then have Pininfarina work its stylistic magic on top. Excess weight, however, put the kibosh on that plan. Into the design breach stepped Fiat\’s Fabio Rapi. It was his proprietary bodywork which bewitched visitors to \’52\’s Geneva Motor Show. Just 114 8Vs, though, would subsequently be built. By \’54 – a mere two years after its launch – it was game over for the 8V coupé. A bit of a damp squib, then, all in all? In a way – but, during its brief lifespan, the 8V returned Fiat to the sports car fold. It got the illustrious Italian firm back on track – manufacturing classy, fast and agile automobiles!

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow

Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow 1960s Italian concept car

The Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow was a dream car. Actually, four dream cars! \’Dream cars\’ are offbeat design prototypes. Typically, they are displayed at motor shows. In the same way couturiers go out on a limb to impress fashionistas, so coachbuilders create a \’buzz\’ for potential car buyers. So, a catwalk dress is not designed to be worn, just as a concept car is not designed to be driven. In other words, the whole point of a dream car is to make an exhibition of itself!

When it came to creativity, Battista \’Pinin\’ Farina was a past master. His career started in Turin, Italy, in 1930. Pininfarina – his automotive design studio – would become world-famous. In \’46, Alfa presented Pinin and his team with a template. A 3,000cc 246bhp template. Alfa – based in Milan – had built half a dozen cars for experimental purposes. Pininfarina was briefed to put fancier flesh on the Alfa bones. \’Superflow\’ would be the way to go. As in advanced aerodynamics.

The inspiration for the Superflow was the US. Alfa had its sales sights set on America. Stateside motorists had gone gaga over Sixties sci-fi – as they had in the Fifties, too. Basically, they were suckers for anything that smacked of Space. The Ford Mystere had a lot to do with it. Its roof consisted of a transparent plastic bubble. Back in the day, it conjured up images of lunar landing craft and the like. Alfa were minded to cash in on the fad. In all, Pininfarina would have four conceptual shots at the Superflow – namely, the I, II, III and IV. For starters, fins were added to the rear wings. Technically, they were there to assist with high-speed stability. However, it did no harm at all that they also looked Saturn 5 cool. The Superflow\’s roof emulated that of the Mystere – since it, too, was made from see-through plexiglass. Likewise, the headlights were covered by the same streamlined material. As things turned out, the Superflow\’s space-age charms did not cut it with gizmo-addicted Americans. As a result, Alfa U-turned – and readdressed the European market. Styling briefs would be altered accordingly. Nonetheless, the Alfa Romeo 6C 3000 Superflow had given futuristic wings to Pininfarina\’s distinguished design skills.

B Engineering Edonis

B Engineering Edonis 2000s Italian supercar

B Engineering began as an offshoot of Bugatti – when the latter went bust, in \’95. A small group of ex-Bugatti staffers banded together to create their own take on a supercar. Not just any old supercar, mind – a one-of-a-kind supercar. Enter the Edonis! Arguably, the best tagline a car could have would be \’Made in Modena!\’ Certainly, the Italian city is now synonymous with automotive excellence. B Engineering never used that slogan. But – while \’B Engineering\’ may not have quite the same cachet as \’Ferrari\’ – it can still hold its own in high-calibre company.

\’Edonis\’ is Greek for pleasure. In the case of a supercar, the kind of pleasure that 720bhp generates. It came courtesy of a twin-turbocharged V12 engine. The Edonis\’ top speed was 223mph. No surprise, then, that it broke the lap record at the Nardo racetrack. When it came to the car\’s colossal power output, every other component was clearly supremely in sync with it. Edonis project director Nicola Materazzi led a crack team of engineers. Between them, they had worked for all of the top supercar marques. Jut 21 Edonis units were built. The figure referenced the 21st century.

B Engineering\’s links with Bugatti stayed strong. Its owner – Jean-Marc Borel – had been Bugatti\’s vice chairman. 21 carbon-fibre tubs – originally earmarked for the Bugatti EB110 – were duly used for the Edonis. The latter\’s 3.7-litre engine was developed from that of the EB110. It was hooked up to a 6-speed gearbox. The Edonis cost a cool £450,000 – from a manufacturer without a proven pedigree. Those in the know, though, did not baulk at the price. After all, the crème de la crème of the car industry had contributed. For the B Engineering Edonis, then, quality was never going to be an issue!