From £495,0008

The David Brown Speedback GT, a coachbuilt coupé costing almost £600k, blends modern underpinnings with classic looks

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David Brown (1904-1993) was the legendary tractor manufacturer and post-war rescuer of Aston Martin, who bought the company in 1947, and helped create some of its best-remembered cars by donating his initials to them, then sold up in the '70s when Aston struck financial trouble.

However, another car-making David Brown has sprung to notice. Also an entrepreneurial Yorkshireman, this new DB's business is also based on the launch a luxurious new GT car – which looks a lot like a classic Aston Martin.

When it comes to fine cars, the name David Brown is currently creating clarity and confusion in equal measure

But this time there's no formal connection to the century-old Gaydon-based sports car maker. This Brown is the man behind the super-exclusive Speedback GT, priced at over £500,000. It uses the contemporary underpinnings from one of Jaguar's finest cars but its shape and details recall the most iconic features of the Aston Martin DB5, all realised in a modern package.

Despite the uncanny similarity of his background and business career to Aston Martin's venerable Sir David Brown (the later DB is a patriotic British entrepreneur; his interests run to retailing, brewing, interior design, retailing and his background is in manufacturing large, off-highway vehicles), the new Brown never set out to take advantage of any perceived Aston connection.

He's an outgoing, wisecracking sort of bloke, but you can see the suggestion irritates him, though he acknowledges that a company called David Brown Automotive has more instant gravitas today than a Trevor Smith Automotive would do. That much he knows he owes DB Mk1.

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The Speedback idea sprang by degrees from the fun Brown has had over the years building wild rally cars, and entering both UK events and globetrotting productions like the Paris-Peking Rally (in a '20s Rolls-Royce).

Many years ago '60s-loving Brown bought an Aston DB5 and modernised it with more power, soundproofing and better brakes. "I love it, and still have it," he says, "but after all that it was still a '60s car. I kept wondering how I could have a modern car with the look I liked."

Under the skin the David Brown Speedback GT uses a Jaguar XKR chassis, engine and all its other significant mechanical components, but is carefully designed so virtually everything you see is unique.

The interior is a celebration of wood, leather and metal details. The exterior does plenty of DB5 details better than the old original (check the finely sculpted front bumperettes). As you would expect nothing is left to chance, with the Speedback GT capable of stowing 243 litres of luggage with the seats up and 502 litres if you lower the rear ones. The body is made of aluminium to increase structual strength and reduce the overall weight, while there are LED headlights, performance brakes, active differential and dynamics. 

Inside there is a plush interior for occupants to enjoy, led by the wooden-rimmed steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, soft-close doors, automatic wipers, electrically folding door mirrors, parking sensors and reversing camera. Like any modern vehicle, dominating the centre console is a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth, USB connectivity and a Bowers and Wilkins audio system.

However, one very special feature is a so-called picnic seat, an ingenious mechanism that springs from the flat boot floor. It's a two-person perch to please any SUV owner, except that this is a svelte GT car.

The Speedback's use of proven high-performance components recall days when those who could afford fine cars would buy a rolling chassis from the likes of Bentley or Alvis and have it fitted with a body of their own specification – perhaps with some personal design elements thrown in by their choice of coachbuilder, who at the time were dealers in exclusivity.

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The Speedback's styling, inside and out, is the work of the well-known ex-Land Rover designer Alan Mobberley, who came out of retirement for this because he reckoned he was old enough to understand what made Astons of the DB5 era so special. "It's a contemporary GT with the heart and soul of a classic," he says.

For all the logic of coachbuilding for exclusive, expensive cars, Brown has already met criticism that his car is ‘only a Jaguar underneath’. 

That's despite the fact that the Jaguar components are some of the best available, developed over at least half a dozen iterations by some of the world's best engineers.  Jaguar itself seems happy with the idea, and the Speedback GT's concept seems splendidly at home with its dynamic bits.

That's something we pretty soon established on some of the finest roads of Yorkshire, many of them comprising the route recently traversed by the Tour de France.

The car is everything that a fine Jaguar is - beautiful to steer, controlled but flat-riding, neutral at all sensible speeds on the road, equipped with very powerful brakes, and it positions its driver perfectly so the car pivots around him.

The usual chassis stability and traction gadgets are aboard and power is transmitted to the rear wheels via a paddle-actuated six-speed ZF auto box.

The Speedback GT also a shade softer riding than the XKR and generates marginally less road noise, perhaps because it rolls on slightly higher profile tyres, one of Brown's three-line demands.

Bottom line: no car maker this small could hope to build a chassis and powertrain of such all-round distinction. To spend millions trying would scupper a promising enterprise and a desirable car.

Brown has ‘previous’ with the 503bhp, 5.0-litre supercharged V8 as an owner and rightly believes it's perfect for his car, woofing gently and smoothly at low revs most of the time, but eating up any straight with a delicious bark if the driver gives the accelerator a half-interested prod.

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Its muscular nature is clarified in the GT's claimed performance figures, with a 0-62mph time of around 4.6sec and a top speed that's limited to 155mph.

People seem to love the Speedback, if you discount a few snide web forumers. It certainly created a stir wherever we went in Yorkshire.

Most people instantly get the classic-meets-modern idea; the two aspects more likely to bother actual buyers will surely be the lack of old-time provenance for the car (DB believes this can be acquired) and the eye-watering price, which simply reflects the cost of hand-making something so superbly resolved and detailed.

But buyers who understand that are already circling - to the extent that Brown is looking for other coachbuilding opportunities. He's coy about saying where they lie, but they definitely exist. "Let's see the Speedback reach its potential," he says, "and then we'll see.

"We have half a dozen customers ready to go," says Brown, "and the car's ready too, give or take a few mods. We have staff of eight in Coventry – our job is to manage the skills of trusted suppliers – and a manufacturing system we know will work. In March 2014, this car was no more than some sketches on paper."

At the time of our drive, there was only one completed Speedback GT in existence, our test prototype beautifully built by Envisage of Coventry. Envisage is one of those accomplished but rarely noticed prototype builders that have always discreetly fed the big companies with their news-making cars.

Envisage will build the production Speedbacks, too. Brown has already said he'll never make more than 100 Speedbacks but given that the XKR is heading for the exit, the tally might be fewer than that because finding donor cars may get difficult.

Brown currently owns about 10 - convertibles are best because of the extra 'beef' in their lower bodies - but says he knows how to find another 50. "We have some big decisions to make about the scale of our business," says Brown. "We'll do it when the car feels like it's properly launched."

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Those decisions appear to have been made, with David Brown Automotive opening its first dealership in Germany in 2016 and followed that up with its first appearance at the Geneva Motor Show in 2017.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.