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Sebastian Faulks's first drive: David Brown Speedback GT (2014)

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sebastian faulks reviews the david brown speedback gt

David Brown Speedback GT, £594,000

THE SPEEDBACK GT is a remarkable car. Created by the Yorkshire engineer, businessman and car enthusiast David Brown, with the help of Alan Mobberley, former head designer at Land Rover, it is the gran turismo that your naughty uncle might have longed for back in 1967: like an Aston Martin DB6 but bigger; like a Jaguar E-type but less obvious; like a Bentley but much sportier. It is as though some time warp had fulfilled a King’s Road Romeo’s fantasy — and then added modern electronics and more horsepower than in his raciest dreams.

Only one of these cars exists. The plan is to build up to, but not more than, 100 — each according to the specification of the buyer in matters of external colour and interior finish. The prototype pulled up outside my London house last weekend with Mr Brown himself at the wheel. As he handed over the key, he said, “You’re the first person to drive this car unsupervised. I feel I’m watching you take my daughter out for the first time. No pressure.”


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On the back seat Mr Brown had left a bag of goodies from Bettys tea shop, in his home town of Harrogate. They included two Fat Rascals — plump rock cakes with extra dried fruit. This is not the sort of sweetener to give Sepp Blatter sleepless nights, I know, but I thought I should declare them, especially as I made such short work of them.

The next morning I found the Speedback still parked, mercifully, where I’d left it and settled in to give it a go. “Key not recognised,” said the electronic screen. “Insert key in the slot.” Mr Brown had mentioned no slot when he talked me through the controls. I gave the cockpit a panicky once-over, even looking in the footwells for the elusive slot. Ever since his parting shot the previous night I had been suffering a degree of performance anxiety, and I now faced an embarrassing call to his mobile: “Mr Brown, I can’t get your daughter going.”

writer sebastian faulks with the david brown sportback gt car, sunday times review

For some reason the key suddenly took pity. I pressed the Start button and a small cylinder rose from the centre console. This is the gear selector: you rotate it to pick Park, Reverse or Drive. There are paddles on the steering wheel, but they looked a bit Formula One for me. After a casual nine-point turn, I was eventually facing in the right direction; a stop at home to pick up my wife and I was soon edging towards the open road.

The prototype pulled up with Mr Brown himself at the wheel. As he handed over the key, he said, “You’re the first person to drive this car unsupervised. I feel I’m watching you take my daughter out for the first time. No pressure.”

The previous week, this very car had done a grand tour of Europe with its owner on board. Something about its size and sportiness makes you long for the Côte d’Azur, the Alps, the Autostrada del Sole, Rome and Naples, but in the time allotted we had to make do with Blandford Forum and the A303.

The firmish suspension was not happy with the bossy speed bumps of west London, but once we were on the M25 the Speedback began to ease out. It’s a bit like riding a thoroughbred horse with a soft mouth and a Spanish bit: it does anything you ask.

It’s flattering because it makes you feel as though you know what you’re doing. The engine likes it if you fire up through the gears, but it also doesn’t mind if you’re in high gear with low revs and ask for a bit more. You squeeze its flanks just a fraction and away you go, uphill, downhill, through the bends — it’s almost obsequious in its desire to please.

David Brown Speedback GT prototype interior

The Speedback is a two-plus-two, though you’d have to be very small to fit into the back seats; this is more like a space where your uncle might have kept his AA gazetteer and spare cravats, or his dolly bird might have thrown her PVC trench coat.

The front seats are adjustable to the nth degree and supportive of the stiffest back; the burgundy leather gives only the faintest whiff of clubland, not the overpowering, sickness-inducing smell than can be found in posh cars.

The interior has grey suede and polished elm, as well as shining chrome around the instruments; the overall effect is flash without being vulgar, fun without being frivolous. The polished wooden steering wheel is on the small side, but exactly the right size, it transpires, to give immediate response without frightening the life out of you. You do have to turn it, in other words, but not that much.

My wife and I were staying the night at an old-fashioned country-house hotel, which seemed appropriate. After a short walk to stretch the legs, we noticed an Aston Martin DB9 in the guest parking area — a beautiful car that at any other time would have entitled its owner to feel like the alpha male as he took his girlfriend out for a last gloat before heading for the bedroom. We rather caddishly parked the Speedback alongside, its gunmetal colour subtly gleaming with the added rose tints in the darkness. Apart from anything else, it was much bigger than its neighbour. I hope the Aston driver skipped the late-night stroll; or, if not, that it didn’t put him off his stroke.

David Brown Speedback review

The next day we did some country-lane driving and found the Speedback still eager to please; at one point in a longish bend it obligingly changed down of its own accord and pushed us through the apex. I couldn’t have managed half as well without its timely contribution. There was no hint of oversteer or understeer; just a dogged adhesion to the surface of the road.


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Beneath the bonnet is a 503bhp 5-litre V8 supercharged engine, and I would be testing your patience if I made any comment on that, other than to say that it gives off a pretty hefty growl. There is only one engine available to customers, but frankly you’d be mad to ask for a bigger, smaller or differently aspirated or aligned version: this one is the business. If for some reason you wanted a different sound from the engine and/or exhaust, however, that can apparently be supplied.

The Speedback’s paint job is called Guns N’ Roses: gunmetal grey with rose tintsThe Speedback’s paint job is called Guns N’ Roses: gunmetal grey with rose tints

“Do you like it?” my wife asked.

“Yes, I do rather.”

“I thought so,” she said, “because for the past hour you’ve been making a funny noise.”

“What sort of noise?”

“You’ve been purring like . . . like . . .”

“Like the Queen?” I suggested.

“Yes. All the way to Wincanton.”

It’s difficult not to make some sort of appreciative sound when you are at the wheel of this car. It doesn’t kick you back into your seat when you accelerate, but it has a wonderfully smooth power delivery, I attempted to explain. But I could tell I was starting to sound like a lounge-bar poser, so I put a sock in it.

David Brown, the man behind the car, has the same name as the one-time owner of Aston Martin who gave his initials to its much-loved DB series. They are not related, though oddly enough both their fathers were originally tractor producers. It is no coincidence that the Speedback owes so much in looks to Aston Martins, however, because the Sixties DBs are the cars the Speedback most wishes to evoke — most of all, to my untrained eye, the DB6, which came at the moment of sublime transition when the sports car had emerged from oily hands, goggles and check caps but had yet to go for bulbous space-age macho.

“Do you like it?” my wife asked. “Yes, I do rather.” “I thought so,” she said, “because for the past hour you’ve been making a funny noise.”

I had one nasty moment with Mr Brown’s only daughter when on the M25 a Ford Fiesta chose to use the five lanes as his personal slalom track. I am happy to report that the brakes and steering of the Speedback were well up to the challenge, even leaving me a hand free with which to make a point.

David Brown Speedback GT action shot

How much is this going to cost you? I dare say that in the conversation with Mr Brown about colour and trim choices there might be some room for manoeuvre, but the basic asking price for the Speedback is, alas, £495,000 plus VAT. A quick internet search shows that a good-quality Aston Martin DB6 now costs £230,000 — and that will be roughly 50 years old. So perhaps for a new car with modern safety features and electronics, tailored to your specification, more than half a million is the going rate.

I myself won’t be expecting a bulky package outside on Christmas Day. But I think when I get a spare moment I may well borrow the wife’s runaround, drive up to Harrogate and ask David Brown for his daughter’s hand in marriage.

Verdict ★★★★★

Looks like a DB6; feels like DB heaven

 

David Brown Speedback GT specifications

  • Engine: 5000cc, V8, supercharged
  • Power: 503bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Torque: 461 lb ft @ 2500rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed sequential/automatic
  • Performance: 0-62mph in 4.8sec
  • Top speed: 155mph
  • Fuel: 23.0mpg
  • CO2: 292g/km
  • Road tax band: M (£1,090 for first year; £500 thereafter)
  • Price: £594,000
  • Release date: On sale now

 


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