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First drive: David Brown Automotive Speedback GT. Image by David Brown Automotive.

First drive: David Brown Automotive Speedback GT
A classic car with modern underpinnings was David Brown's dream - has he made it reality?

 



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David Brown Automotive Speedback GT

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The DBA Speedback GT is one man's vision of having a vehicle that looks as beautiful as a classic from the 1960s, but one that possesses the usability and reliability of a modern grand tourer. David Brown's bespoke project is bound to draw detractors, but the end product is to be commended for its all-round air of quality and for fulfilling its specific design brief to near perfection.

Key Facts

Model tested: David Brown Automotive Speedback GT
Pricing: from £594,000
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8 petrol
Transmission: six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door coupé GT
Rivals: Eagle Low Drag GT, JIA Interceptor, Singer 911
CO2 emissions: 292g/km
Combined economy: 23mpg
Top speed: 155mph
0-62mph: 4.8 seconds
Power: 510hp from 6,000- to 6,500rpm
Torque: 625Nm from 2,500- to 5,500rpm

In the Metal: 4 4 4 4 4

While it might seem like an easy get-out clause for a lazy motoring hack, you really need to see this car in the metal to get the best from Alan Mobberley's design. There are said to be influences from any number of 1960s classics within its DNA but it obviously first of all brings to mind an Aston Martin DB5. However, it is much longer, lower and wider than that and the unswerving quality of the build shines out of its creases and shut lines. Penned using CAD (and a clay model too, just for posterity's sake), the Speedback GT looks like it has been put together with a huge engineering budget, rather than as a low-volume special. And quite why people are getting so upset about the wire wheels is beyond me. Put this onto modern alloy rim designs and it would look horrendously clunky; you wouldn't run a set of 20-inch Wolfraces on a DB5, would you? The wire spokes suit the whole ethos of the car, so, personally - while never the biggest fan of such items - I think they fit right in.

The interior is lovely too, with the unusual elm burr panelling in the dash, on the door cards and used for the steering wheel. The bespoke centre console of the car has been created using five-axis milling machines and this 'prototype' has its own DBA-specific graphical displays and dials - although boss David Brown says the latter of these need refining due to daytime legibility issues. While the seat frames are those of the XKR, the padding used in them is subtly reshaped to make the chairs flatter and more bench-like, as per the cars the Speedback is supposed to evoke. They're still comfortable, though, and the leather used is of the highest, British quality. Alcantara headlining is classily done, while in the boot there's a fold-out picnic bench trimmed in the same burgundy hide as the rest of the car. Oh, and the back seats fold down (see 'Worth Noting'), increasing the practicality of this GT. True, you can see the Jaguar heritage here and there (most notably in the seat adjustment and the way the rotary gear selector rises out of the dash), but it still feels markedly special in the Speedback's sumptuous cabin.

Driving it: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

No complaints here. Indeed, there are three areas where the Speedback possibly edges out the Jaguar XKR it is based on, which is a very, very good car indeed. Firstly, it has a sublime ride. Those wire wheels are 19-inch items, meaning the Speedback runs on 40/35-profile front/rear Dunlop SP Sport rubber. The XKR is fitted with 20s. This gives the DBA a little bit more pliancy to cope with larger imperfections and ridges in the gnarly North Yorkshire tarmac, making it supremely comfortable when cruising about on a trailing throttle. A serene, GT cruising attitude? Box ticked.

The performance stats show that its hand-crafted aluminium body doesn't bring with it a weight penalty and the DBA feels as rapid as you'd expect of something with a 510hp supercharged V8 under the bonnet, despite the kerb weight being just shy of two tonnes. The second benefit here is the noise. Nothing has been done to the exhaust system of the XKR, but the change in body shape (i.e., the resonance chamber for acoustics) seems to have blessed the DBA with an even throatier bellow under full throttle. Finally, wind noise is non-existent; maybe it's a quirk of the Speedback's long, sloping rear, but those precisely matched exterior panels and corollary narrow panel gaps make the car magnificently refined. Loud when you want it to be and quiet for long distances? Another big tick.

And although our test drive was entirely conducted with Mr Brown sitting in the passenger seat, keeping a watchful eye on his 'baby', the DBA felt perfectly capable in terms of road holding. The steering is precise and nicely weighted, there's little body roll and grip is abundant. So, overall dynamically there's no issue at all with the cultured way the DBA goes about its business. You're driving it along in a totally relaxed manner, looking out over that lovely sculpted prow, with the headlamp-bearing wings framing the road and the bonnet vent centre front, but at the same time you've got proper air conditioning, Bluetooth and MP3-compatibility cosseting you within - that's the Speedback's real party trick, right there.

What you get for your Money: 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5

I honestly don't know what to put here. Yes, you can buy a Jaguar XKR for less than £100,000. Yes, you can probably also buy a classic DB5 for less than £500,000, subject to one appearing at auction. And yes, there are other supercars and above that would offer you the same sort of feel-good factor as the DBA for about half the price.

But that's all said from the point of view of someone who can only dream of affording a car like this. The fact of the matter is, David Brown is expecting any Speedbacks he sells to be fourth, fifth or maybe even 20th cars in the collections of people who like classics; indeed, when pressed, the DBA team says the Speedback is likely to be bought by collectors who have bona fide classic cars in their dehumidified garages, but who want something similar in outlook yet with none of the old motor histrionics that come with them, in order to drive them every day. Pretty much exactly why Brown built the thing in the first place...

Worth Noting

The Speedback is built on the chassis of the XKR Convertible, not the Coupé, as the extra structural bracing the rag-top Jag possesses helps torsional rigidity on the DBA. There is a slight modification to the rear cross-member of the chassis, which is now U-shaped rather than straight so that the rear seats can be folded down, but other than that the underpinnings and running gear are pure XKR.

Summary

Some people will never like the DBA Speedback GT on principle - owing to the confusion between this David Brown and the Aston Martin chap, the steep asking price for something based on a £76,000 Jaguar, the overtly retro (and DB5-esque) styling... it's a car which will divide opinion, that's for sure. But having seen it in the metal, the design works far better than it does in pictures, as the Speedback is a big, long, low contrivance that looks great in 'Guns N'Roses' grey paint.

The incredible quality of the work too, from the handcrafted body panels with their tight shut lines to the bespoke interior incorporating a folding picnic bench in the boot, is something to be hugely admired. Needless to say, it drives every bit as well as the XKR upon which it is based, with an arguably better ride and more intoxicating sound. DBA hopes to sell 100 of these and no more - we reckon this small British firm will easily find that number of buyers for this 'modern classic', and we wish them all the best in doing so.


Matt Robinson - 11 Sep 2014









      - David Brown Automotive road tests
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2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.



2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 

2014 David Brown Automotive Speedback. Image by David Brown Automotive.
 






 

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