David Brown Speedback GT: Review


The David Brown Automotive Speedback GT has been, um, much discussed here on PH. Unlike an Eagle E-Type, which is generally adored, there's more controversy about this approach to reimagining a classic 1960s sportscar, which preoccupied me throughout the drive to its North Yorkshire launch. But then, as I arrived at the posh B&B base, a surprise. There, parked outside, in real world context, was the Speedback GT launch car we'd viewed back in March. Which, would you believe, looked pretty convincing.

Design mood board didn't get past 'DB6'
Design mood board didn't get past 'DB6'
It was clearly a very richly finished car, with its 120-hour paint job beaming and those divisive wire wheels glinting. But it also had authority; the Alan Mobberley lines seemed elegant, with a flowing delicacy only hand-beaten aluminium can offer. There was not a hint it was based on a Jaguar XK, either. It's a retro Aston Martin DB5 done by someone who knows what they're doing and, love or loathe the idea, the design itself requires no apologies.

Yes, yes, you're thinking, I'll be the judge of how it looks. What's it like to drive? Cue a return of that trepidation next morning as I eased myself into the richened but not too obviously 'XK' cabin (over a deep sill - to guarantee rigidity, it's based on the XK Convertible), with David Brown himself sat next to me. See, I've never driven a Β£594,000 car before. And the last XK-based car I'd been in set a very high bar: we know how good the F-Type R Coupe is.

Old cat, new tricks
First impressions would thus count for a lot. So, in quick order, they told me the Jaguar V8, here in 510hp supercharged guise, remains very creamy and plush when shorn of the F-Type's aggressive sports exhausts, but the six-speed auto hunts a bit more than you'd prefer now we're used to the eight-speed. Ride quality, when you swap the Jag wheels for deep-sidewall 19s, is pliant and pleasant around town, with air suspension adding the Jaguar-copyright supple but tightly controlled damping at speed. Steering is light, front end is punchy and clear in response, cornering faithful and confident.

XK owners will feel right at home...
XK owners will feel right at home...
All a bit like a Jaguar XK, then. And discovering this was actually a relief rather than a disappointment. Coming from a company with zero automotive experience, the Speedback GT could have felt like a kit car, could have lost the Jaguar integrity and become something that floods your mind with doubts: a car developed by newbies that, through every corner, has you wondering about its safety and solidity. I've driven cars like this (I drove the original Keating). It doesn't feel like that. It feels like a proper car. Albeit a pleasantly familiar one.

Mind at ease, I could now explore the deaths and nuances of the car. It's interesting how snorty the Jaguar V8 has become these days, for example, because the Speedback GT offers a reminder of what a cultured thing it actually is. Torque is ample, power delivery is even and the woofle as the revs rise is very classically appealing (its linearity is welcome, too). Same for steering: the current cars are all about sharpness and response, but the more fingertip-like setup still has merit. Such a combination suits the DBA very well. Pity the stiff brake pedal jars this easygoing approach: bite needs to be higher up and brake step-on more immediate. Hopefully fixable - this is a prototype after all.

Squint and you could be back in the 60s
Squint and you could be back in the 60s
Purr-fect combination?
Enter some ex-Tour de France roads, and an opportunity to press on a bit. Integrity continues, from the way it remains unruffled by mid-corner bumps to the way it shrugs off scary-looking undulations at speed (Brown braces himself here; even he seems surprised with how well the car deals with it). While not the most dynamic of cars, it's a satisfying one to press on in, and certainly doesn't throw up any nasty surprises.

But then, neither does an XK. What does your extra half-million buy, then? An enhanced feeling of craftsmanship, mainly. The view down the long and sculptural bonnet, with its liquid-look paint finish, is pretty special, particularly as it's viewed through a unique and more upright windscreen angle (for which Pilkington, remarkably, has made bespoke heated glass). There's an intense smell of leather inside, which covers almost every surface, and the way it all looks and operates with an OEM feel adds to the reassurance. Tailored finishing to something that was right in the first place, rather than wasting the craftsmen's time trying to be carpenters and OEM production engineers.

Bespoke Britishness; yours for half a million
Bespoke Britishness; yours for half a million
There are gripes, mostly down to it being a first (and the only) prototype. The driver's door needs a hefty slam and makes a hollow clang when you do so (auto soft-close is on the way). The display screen in the dials alarmingly reads 'JAGUAR' on startup: self same is helping make the supplier introductions to change this, just as it did for the central infotainment screen. This is as clunky and dated as it is in a Jag, unfortunately. Not David Brown's fault but disappointing nonetheless. Those metal console switches are also impossible to read, so tolerances will be changed for production.

A whisker off perfection
This doesn't spoil what's a likeable car to drive. It's a familiar car, yes (if with an emphasis shift from sport to comfort), but it's fundamentally a good car too. For those who can get over the fact it's a retro DB5, the styling is elegant and the interior hides its XK roots successfully. After a morning behind the wheel, being stared at wherever we went, I concluded David Brown's reason for making it to be a success: this is a retro-look car with modern car refinements, that you can easily use for grand tours with the DB5 kept safe back in the garage.

Not all tastes; DBA hopes to enough though
Not all tastes; DBA hopes to enough though
But, is it Β£600K's worth? To people like us, no. A Rolls-Royce Wraith offers an even richer experience and more bespoke feel for half the price, and an Aston Martin Zagato cracks the coachbuilt body atop a production car deal for Β£200K less (oh, and an F-Type R Coupe costs 14 per cent of its sticker price). But to the person who owns a superyacht, seeking a usable, easily-drivable piece of what they consider classic Bond-inspired auto design art? Quite possibly.

The core market for it is another world far removed from the regular, and not least because money is largely immaterial; that the Speedback GT drives nicely without moving the game on will be enough. More important is its rarity, its finish, the fact it is something they simply can't get anywhere else: a DB5 with sat nav, climate control, ample power, ease of use and, significantly, reliability. Credit where credit's due?


DAVID BROWN AUTOMOTIVE SPEEDBACK GT
Engine:
5,000cc V8 supercharged
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 510@6,000-6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 461lb/ft@2,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.8 sec
Top speed: 155mph (limited)
Weight: 1,800kg
MPG: 23.0 (NEDC combined)
CO2: 292g/km
Price: Β£594,000

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Comments (202) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Monty Python 01 Aug 2014

    Given that a DB5 would set you back a lot more than it, it looks pretty good. Problem is, this or the Eagle Speedster.

  • SturdyHSV 01 Aug 2014

    Presumably it's better in the flesh, as the photos look like a DB5/6 through a fish eye lens, nasty!

  • pSyCoSiS 01 Aug 2014

    Good effort, but £600k?!

  • madbadger 01 Aug 2014

    SturdyHSV said:
    Presumably it's better in the flesh, as the photos look like a DB5/6 through a fish eye lens, nasty!
    I saw this car on Northallerton High Street on Monday. Looked brilliant. Also looked very distinctive and I knew what it was immediately.

    smile

  • wildatheart 01 Aug 2014

    I didn't know anything about this car but when I saw the pic from the front I thought it looked like an XK. The rear is more successful methinks (because it looks like a flattened DB5/6 I guess).

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