Enthusiasts of exotic machinery may remember that in March last year David Brown Automotive gave the world’s press a sneak preview of their forthcoming impressive Speedback GT. This is a V8-powered sports coupe aimed, with a list price of around a cool £600,000, at a very select market place.
The intention of David Brown Automotive was to produce, in essence, a modern classic, blending together the style and panache of a timeless Aston Martin DB5 for example, with the robust reliability of, say, a modern Jaguar. That is exactly what they succeeded in doing, for whilst the Speedback embodies more than a hint of Aston styling, under the skin it shares a drivetrain with the latest model Jaguar XKR.
Styling is invariably a matter of personal taste, so whether in your view the Speedback is an icon of motoring perfection or a pastiche of ideas borrowed from other cars is for you alone to decide. Certainly the Speedback received amazingly good reviews from the world’s press both at and following its launch in Monaco in April 2014. Top Gear for example, not normally shy in critical reviews, found the fit & finish of the Speedback immaculate, the bodyshell surprisingly rigid and the ride “even better than a standard XKR” – praise indeed!
How did an unknown in the world of car design and manufacturing come up with such an iconic product? Well, as ever, money talks, and the founder of the company – David Brown – is not short of a bob or two. Davids father – also called David – was instrumental in inventing the Articulated Dump Truck, those mammoth machines which are invariably seen all over the world on infrastructure projects and construction sites.
That business, Artix, was eventually sold to construction equipment Caterpillar, leaving David senior to exercise his inventive & entrepreneurial talents on other projects, not least developing a novel side-engined telescopic materials handler – again, another machine in universal use – the layout of which went on to be copied by competitors around the globe.
Inevitably, some of his other projects were a little less successful. He bought the remnants of the Bedford truck operation, renamed it AWD & attempted to re-establish the brand as a leading player in the off-road truck market. One of the prime aims of AWD was to secure significant orders for a huge forthcoming British Army 4×4 truck, however sadly this was thwarted when the British Government opted to award the contract for these vehicles to Leyland Daf.
David senior also invested in buying the former GM Engineering Centre in Luton, rebranding it as ADC (the Automotive Development Centre) with the objective of securing project design and low volume manufacturing business from the bigger players in the worlds motor industry. ADC scored some successes in this field, developing amongst other models the MG R-V8 and the Vauxhall Frontera.
ADC also carried out some bespoke conversions themselves aimed at demonstrating the capability of the business. Notable of these was an impressive long wheelbase version of the Range Rover. Ironically and fatefully however Range Rover themselves produced a LWB version shortly thereafter, rendering the activity wasted, and not long afterwards ADC followed AWD into oblivion. Sadly, David senior lost his life when his prototype long wheelbase Range Rover slid off an icy road on his country estate in Yorkshire and rolled over.
How do I know all this? Well, I was privileged to work for David senior (and indeed his son) as Chief Engineer of a number of his projects, gaining a close insight into both the man and his unique abilities.
And how does that all affect the Speedback project? Well, David Junior, if I may call him that for clarity, was deeply involved in his father’s businesses for many years, and thus had, as well as the necessary funds, a great insight into how to get things done to make a project like Speedback happen.
A prime example of that insight was to recruit as Chief Designer Alan Mobberley, former Head of Design for many years at Jaguar Land Rover. Equally important was the decision to work closely with the Premier Group of Coventry, long-established experts at crafting bodywork and other products of the highest order, turning out hardware as diverse as the Olympic Torches and the bodyshell for the reborn Morgan 3-wheeeler. Also critical to the success of the venture was utilising the Envisage Group, also of Coventry, to provide key state of the art design and manufacturing input.
Confirmed orders to date for the Speedback are unknown, beyond the 6 advised by the company a few months ago, however at the outset the company declared that to preserve exclusivity no more than 100 are to produced.
Sadly, even this target production quantity could be at risk with the news in recent days that Aston Martin themselves are taking legal action against Envisage, and, presumably, by extension against David Brown Automotive. Envisage have for some years provided design and manufacturing to Aston Martin, and the writ apparently alleges that their access to confidential Aston Martin data has resulted in infringement of Aston’s trademarked designs in areas such as wheel and headlamp design, as well as the Speedback’s logo.
Will the heavy-handed legal pressure from mighty Aston Martin cause the Speedback project to fold before it has really established itself? Only time will tell, although I for one would be extremely disappointed to see this brave all-British venture obliterated needlessly. Sure, there are recognisable overtones of the DB5 in the styling of the Speedback, but this is a far cry from the car being confused with any current Aston Martin product. A number of other low volume manufacturers of similar products equally echo the styles of classic exotica – the Eagle comes to mind – but none seem to have been hounded as aggressively as the makers of the Speedback.
Interested? Find out more about the Speedback on the David Brown Automotive website here.