SILVERSTONE, the U.K.—If you are of a certain age and like cars, the appeal of a classic is understandable. It could be something you admired as a kid, drooled over—or maybe you just prefer the hand-drawn lines of a classic.
But there are drawbacks to owning a vintage car, starting with reliability. Old cars are not easy to run, will break down, and will be costly to fix. Plus they don’t have the ride, handling, and braking of modern cars. And when it comes to safety, well, let’s just say it’s best not to hit anything.
So what if you want the style of a classic but with modern-day reliability and performance? That’s exactly where David Brown Automotive and its Speedback GT steps in.
When I met Mr. David Brown – surprise, he’s the company’s owner – in April, he told me about a classic car rally he undertook in a Ferrari 365 GTB/4 Daytona. The car looked good, sounded great, and was a joy to drive—until it broke down. His fun time cut short, he had to call a tow truck and arrange for a rental, a Fiat Panda. The compact was nowhere near as exciting as the Daytona, but it did work flawlessly.
That’s when inspiration struck: what if he could combine the style and thrills of a classic car with modern-day technology and reliability? And so the Speedback GT was born.
A tale of two David Browns
When it came to styling the car, the iconic 1963 Aston Martin DB5 caught Brown’s eye, a grand tourer that was, coincidentally, the brainchild of a man also named David Brown, Aston Martin Ltd’s owner from 1947 to 1972. The DB5 is one of the most beloved cars of all time, mainly thanks to its association with fictitious British spy James Bond.
In terms of a platform, it might’ve made the most sense to build such a car on the chassis of a current Aston Martin. However, Brown preferred the Jaguar XKR convertible’s, which was more rigid and afforded more cabin space.
The XKR platform also had a smooth and powerful drivetrain going for it, an engine perfect for a grand tourer. With 510 hp and 461 lb-ft of torque on tap, plus a quick-shifting ZF six-speed automatic, the Speedback GT allows for effortless cruising, with enough punch to overtake most cars with ease.
An optional power upgrade, which takes output to 600 hp for just $12,400, was developed in-house by David Brown Automotive itself; it trades some of the car’s bottom-end torque in favour of more oomph at higher engine speeds. (Yes, the company has a dealer in Germany, home of the Autobahn.)
For most of David Brown Automotive’s customers, however, the Speedback GT is not for setting new land speed records but for driving in luxury and style.
The body is made of aluminium, and is hand-crafted. All the bits and pieces that look like metal are real metal. Open the door, and you’ll find hardly anything made of plastic—it’s either metal, wood, or leather in here.
All the buttons, switches, and knobs are refinished to a much higher quality than the donor Jaguar’s; even details like the company badge on the hood and trunk are painted by hand by artisan jewellers.
Speaking of, the automaker offers a 24-layer paint job to give the Speedback GT that ultra-lustrous finish—that goes for the colour-matching key fob, too.
That 8,000-hours fit-and-finish
The details don’t end there. At the back is a two-piece tailgate, which splits open to form a sort of bench seat, perfect for picnicking or taking in a Polo match; the rear seats fold flat, for cargo room, too, since this is a GT car after all. My personal favourite detail? The daytime running lights in the front headlamps look like gun nozzles. I’m sure Bond would approve.
The list is endless, as it should be for a car that’ll set you back roughly $830,000 (the base price is currently set at 495,000 GBP plus tax in the U.K.). That’s a lot, but it’s not some plucked-from-the-air figure. David Brown Automotive says over 8,000 hours of skilled labour are invested into each Speedback GT. And don’t forget the cost of the donor Jaguar, about $130,000.
It’s a lot of hard work hand-building one of these, but the results are breathtaking, with a frankly impressive sense of style and a level of build quality on par with exotics from Bentley or Bugatti. Brown’s experience manufacturing heavy-duty machinery with DJB Engineering, the company his father started in 1972, certainly helps.
For true petrol heads, however, beauty and detail are worth nothing if the car isn’t a fun drive. Luckily, you’re reading the words of the first Canadian journalist to be handed the keys to a Speedback GT. So what’s it like?
One quick-as-heck grand tourer
If you’ve ever driven a Jaguar XKR, well, the Speedback GT will feel like déjà vu. Based on the same platform and with the same drivetrain, that should come as no surprise. But that’s not a bad thing; I can vouch the XKR was among the greatest grand touring cars ever made, having spent many weeks with the supercharged Jags.
While the general feel is the same, the experience isn’t identical. The Speedback GT feels more solid, partly because they took the XKR convertible platform and turned it into a coupe, making its shell ultra-strong, and partly because of the painstaking by-hand re-assembly of the vehicle.
Spend a good deal of time with it, and you’ll also notice the extra girth: the Speedback GT is roughly 200 kg heavier than the donor car, putting it at around 1,800 kg dry. Despite the weight, the Speedback GT is still impressively quick, with 100 km/h arriving from zero in just 4.8 seconds; and top speed electronically limited to 250 km/h.
I certainly wasn’t going to get anywhere near that, but I would bury the throttle on open stretches, just to see what it could do. Powering down the highway, the car felt very planted – that extra weight helped in stability – and the accompanying exhaust and engine noise never failed to plant a stupid grin on my face. Thankfully, the brakes – standard XKR units – are good enough to bring you down to legal in a hurry.
Off the motorway and on the (shockingly narrow) country roads of the U.K., the Speedback GT dealt with bumps and crests with ease. On twisty roads, it won’t zip around like a Lotus Elise, but it managed better than expected. This, after all, is a road car, not a track-day weapon, a grand tourer, a role only a handful of cars fill well. Most of all, cars like this are about making their occupants feel special, and it certainly succeeds in that.
A million-dollar bargain
Of course, what will bother people most about this car is that price tag. It simply can’t be worth over six times the value of a Jaguar XKR, they implore. But to look at the Speedback GT as a re-bodied XKR would be doing all that labour that goes into it a disservice. Plus, with just 100 units planned for production, we can’t neglect the premium David Brown is excising for exclusivity.
Look at it this way: a 1963 to 1965 Aston Martin DB5, without any modern amenities, will run you about $1.2 million to $1.8 million in the current market. Using that metric, the Speedback GT is a bit of a bargain, especially if you’re the sort of collector accustomed to buying, say, Ferraris or Lamborghinis. (These sorts of people were a lot less likely to balk at the GT’s price, I found.)
David Brown Automotive has found a niche, and some clients along with it; it’s currently building its 12th customer car. All of the buyers so far have come from mainland Europe, but since it is a coachbuilt car, the Speedback GT can be had in any market the XKR was available in.
Will any make their way to Canada? I certainly hope so.