Andy Palmer tells us more about the car Aston will race in Le Mans’ new top class
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David Brown Automotive? I’m going to need a recap. Here goes. The company emerged four years ago, with the Speedback GT, an Aston DB5 pastiche built around the underpinnings of a Jaguar XKR. Reception was mixed. Then last year it did something much cooler, and Singer-ised a Mini. A few months ago, the firm, newly relocated to a brand new premises at Silverstone, revealed this, the Speedback Silverstone Edition. Faster? Of course. 600bhp instead of 510 from the supercharged 5.0-litre V8, which knocks about half a second off the 0-62mph time (now 4.2secs). Top speed is still limited to 155mph. But the biggest changes are to the way it looks and feels. The standard Speedback with wire wheels and chrome bumpers is, well, an acquired taste shall we say. This, dechromed, on better wheels with a honeycomb grille and the bumpers removed, is far better looking. Of the 100 Speedback GTs David Brown is planning on building, ten of them will be these. Only ten? All of them should look like this.
Agreed. Despite there being no changes to the aluminium bodywork, the alterations give the Silverstone Edition an entirely different identity. And it’s the same inside, too. The aesthetic is more pared back, there’s antique-look leather, hand stitching (a track map of Silverstone is stitched into the headrests), and the air vents, nabbed from Mercedes, have a very similar design to the alloy wheels. A very steady, creative design hand has been at work here. Can you spot the Jaguar bits? I can, but will owners? Instead it’s fairer to consider it as a whole and see if any of it is offensive and really shouldn’t be on a car of this price (something I’ll come on to in a bit). None of the Jaguar bits are outstanding, but the steering wheel doesn’t offend me, nor the column stalks or minor switchgear and although it’s weird to see a CD slot in the dash, the only thing that actively offends me and looks out of place is the infotainment screen. It’s tiny in the dash, the graphics are rubbish, it’s sluggish to operate – all very 2006. But changing it – and a lot of the other on-board systems and parts – simply wasn’t an option when so much of the electronic architecture of the chassis, engine and ECUs is inter-dependent. Does it feel like you’re driving a Jaguar then? No. Partly because this isn’t a modern Jaguar and partly because the set-up of the car means it is a proper single-minded GT car. Not sporting in any way? It might be the Silverstone Edition, but this does not have the rigid body control, response, stiffness and agility we’re used to from a modern 600bhp super-GT. And that’s actually quite refreshing. It’s a calmer car on the road and soaks up miles very easily indeed. The cabin is very quiet indeed – one of the biggest challenges for small car companies is getting the door seals right to keep water, wind and noise out – and DBA has managed that really well. The suspension is soft and although there’s a bit of kickback through the suspension and the chassis isn’t the most rigid, there’s a nice feel to the way it goes down a road. Hang on, structural shake from a coupe? There’s a reason. The Speedback is built around convertible underpinnings, not coupe. This has allowed the firm to package the rear of the car in its own way. The Silverstone Edition doesn’t come with rear seats (although you can add them back in if you want), instead supplying a couple of storage lockers. Behind them a long, unimpeded load bay (with a maximum capacity of 502 litres) stretches far and flat enough to provide all the suit/gown space you might need. The boot really is generous. And there’s a trick – a split tailgate, the lower half of which contains a flip out boot seat that’s neater and more usable than the Bentley Bentayga’s. Just the thing for those stately home picnic-and-proms events. And the handling? Imagine, if you can, something midway between a Jag and a Bentley. Effortless speed, but something that doesn’t like to be taxed that heavily. There’s oodles of torque, very little supercharger whine, the V8 revs to 7,000rpm, and has good bite at the top end. It delivers its power smoothly and swiftly – entirely in keeping with the way it drives. The six-speed auto is smooth and will hold manual gears in Dynamic mode, but it’s slow and slurred compared to the snappy shifts we’re used to. There’s no steering feel, and not a great deal of precision. It’s more laid back and genteel than that, more old-fashioned. As such it’s hard to judge it by modern standards. I suspect it’s well judged for the kind of people who’ll buy it and what they’ll use it for. It’s cohesive all round, developed and engineered by people who had a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve. What price have they put on it? £620,000. What?! Plus VAT. So £744,000. How on earth do they justify that? Good question. Naturally it’s a very bespoke machine, but you have to appreciate the value is not in the speed or dynamics, but the less tangible areas – specifically the craftsmanship. The body is made up of 142 pieces of aluminium hand-rolled on an English wheel and seamlessly braised together. That’s massively complicated, specialised and time-consuming to achieve. It takes thousands of hours to make each car, the paint is up to 21 coats thick, the fuel filler and several other components are milled from solid billets of aluminium. But you have to really see the value in this to believe the car is worth the money. But think what else you could have for the money. Ah, but that’s where you and I run into issues, because where we see what we’d spend the money on instead, for the people who buy cars like this it’s an ‘as well’ purchase. They have all the other stuff, they might only use their Speedback for two picnics and a polo match each year, but it gives them a different experience to anything else they have in their collection. I get that. I still struggle with the cost involved, but defend to the hilt their right to spend it. Are there rivals? I think so. Personally, I’d be having a look at other coachbuilt machines like the Zagato Astons, Touring Superleggera Bentleys and so on. Those are cars that have pedigree: they have the history, the name and the brand that David Brown Automotive doesn’t. Yet. Score: 6/10 Specs: 5000cc V8 supercharged, 601bhp @ 6000-6500rpm, 565lb ft @ 2500-5000rpm, 0-62mph in 4.2sec, 155mph max, 23.0mpg, 292g/km CO2, 1920kg