One might assume the David Brown Speedback GT was inspired by the Aston Martin DB5. The styling similarities between these two hand-built, V8-engined British coupes are impossible to ignore. However, the genesis of the Speedback – so we’re told – lies elsewhere, in something far less salubrious. A Peugeot 107, in fact.
Our story starts in Spain, where company founder David Brown was driving a Ferrari Daytona Spyder, his childhood dream car, in a road rally. Sadly, meeting this particular hero proved a crushing disappointment: the Daytona was hot, uncomfortable, heavy to drive and not especially quick. Finally, adding ignominy to injury, it got stuck in gear and had to be trailered home.
Brown was desperate to finish the event, so hired the cheapest car he could find. The aforementioned Peugeot came with air conditioning, light controls, sat nav and phone connectivity. And, despite having 20 percent of the power and scarcely one percent of the glamour, he found himself enjoying the rally much more. Thus, the concept for the Speedback GT was born: a car that combines classic style with 21st-century comfort, performance and reliability.
The initial plan was for a one-off, but feedback from friends and colleagues convinced Brown to start his own small-scale car company. That was in 2013, and the Speedback GT debuted at the exclusive Top Marques show in Monaco a year later. Four years on, David Brown Automotive (DBA) boasts a gleaming new factory at Silverstone and a second model called Mini Remastered. This bespoke, modernised take on the classic Mini has many luxuries missing from the original and sells for up to £100,000. It seems Brown’s vision had legs after all.
The Speedback GT makes a not-inconsiderable 510hp from its 5.0-litre Jaguar XKR-sourced V8. The car I’m here to drive, though, is the new Speedback Silverstone Edition, which employs a smaller supercharger pulley and software tweaks to liberate 601hp and a stonking 565lb ft of torque. This one-of 10 special also ditches the chrome bumpers and naff wire wheels of the standard car, gaining a honeycomb grille, handsome 20-inch alloys and an oh-so-subtle racing stripe.
Inside, you’ll find four seats (an additional rear luggage compartment is optional), tan leather designed to mimic a fighter pilot’s gloves and hand-stitched maps of the original Silverstone circuit. Regrettably, you’ll also spot Mercedes A-Class air vents and a hopelessly outdated Jaguar media system – again, sourced from the XK.
There’s no faulting the build quality, though, a testament to the 8,000 man-hours DBA dedicates to each car.
There’s something appealingly old-school about how the Speedback wafts along. It’s softer and more supple than rival GTs, with light steering, a smooth paddleshift auto ’box and an abundance of effortless oomph. The four exhaust tailpipes – which resemble vintage jet turbines – serve up a suitably malevolent snarl at high revs, but otherwise stay remarkably quiet.
The trade-off for this calm, easygoing demeanour is a chassis that flexes perceptibly and soon feels outclassed if you push hard. There isn’t the tied-down tautness of a Bentley Continental GT, or the driver engagement of an Aston Martin DBS. Does it matter? I’m not convinced it does. The Speedback is a grand tourer in the original sense: adept at crossing countries, not blitzing back roads.
What may matter is the price. At £744,000, the Speedback Silverstone Edition costs five times as much as the Bentley, a car that’s objectively superior in every way. Judging the David Brown objectively, though, may be missing the point. The car park of any upmarket golf club or country house hotel is littered with Continental GTs. You’ll never see another Speedback, and the classic craftsmanship involved in creating it goes a long way – if you’re so minded – towards justifying the cost.
It’s still cheaper than a Ferrari Daytona Spyder, too...