I would have liked to be the first person to buy a Speedback GT, but Prince Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah Bin Al Saud, the third son of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, beat me to it. The king, who died last year, had a net worth of $17 billion, so I imagine a $795,000 car wasn’t a big stretch for his kid. He’s keeping the car at his Paris residence.
The Speedback is a pretty blatant copy of an Aston-Martin DB5 or DB6 from the 1960s and early 1970s. They were certainly lusty GT cars in their day, helped no end by the James Bond connection, and soaring in value now.
It’s kind of odd, though, that the Speedback actually costs more than an original DB5 (a lovely example fetched $700,000 at Amelia Island last year). Under the skin, it’s a Jaguar XKR, with a five-liter 510-horsepower supercharged V-8. Considering I can buy a used 2005 XKR on Autotrader for $23,499 I’m not sure I totally get the business proposition, but then, I’m not rich.
Of course, the XKR doesn’t look like an Aston DB5, and it doesn’t have an interior set off with “walnut crotch gloss veneers” (from where the branch of the tree meets the trunk). And it doesn’t have a “Guns and Roses” paint scheme or Scottish cranberry leather.
Now here’s the really weird part. The company selling the Speedback GT is called David Brown Automotive. It really is headed by David Brown, but if you know the history of Aston-Martin you know its most famous owner is…Sir David Brown. He’s why the cars are the “DB5,” “DB9” and so forth.
Brown was a northern industrialist who bought what was a moribund company in 1947, started racing with the help of Bentley-designed Lagonda engines, and made the company viable through the “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” ethic (winning the 1959 World Sports Car Championship, among other honors).
Aston was never a pot of money, though, and Sir David sold the company in 1972—it’s been through a string of owners since. In its latest, fairly healthy, incarnation, it's working on an electric car with Chinese partners.
But this David Brown is not that David Brown. I asked the current David Brown, isn’t “David Brown Automotive” going to confuse potential buyers of the Speedback GT?
“We have gone to great lengths to distinguish David Brown from the former owner of Aston Martin,” David Brown told me. “It's a popular name, and one this David Brown didn't want to give up when he started this company!” OK, fine, but the company could have been “Acme Motors.”
I asked Aston itself what they think, and got a fairly bland answer. “The only comment I can offer you is that we don’t generally comment on the designs of other carmakers,” Aston’s U.S. spokesman, Matthew Clarke, told me. “Needless to say, we’re very proud of our own designs. We don’t have any involvement in the project.”
Retro supercars are a decent business, but you have to be prepared to make money on tiny numbers. The Speedback is limited to 100 cars—exclusivity sells. I note that recent U.S. law makes it easier for low-volume carmakers to offer what the Detroit News calls “new, turn-key versions of classic cars.”
Want a Shelby Daytona Cobra, a Ford GT-40 or a Corvette Grand Sport? The real ones cost much moolah (only five Grand Sports were made, and one owner turned down $4.9 million), but fake ones are affordable. For instance, South Africa’s Superformance LLC makes a GM-licensed Grand Sport, complete with a 600-horsepower Chevy V-8, with a base price of $89,000. There’s no historical “patina,” but the same adrenaline rush.
Here’s not-that-David-Brown on the appeal of his car:
To me, and to our customers, styling, performance and functionality are all equally important. I wanted Speedback GT to be something beautiful to look out, both from the exterior and within the interior, but also something really practical that you can genuinely use as a grand tourer. It goes without saying that the performance complements the character of the car perfectly – we like to refer to it as ‘discretionary’ – you have all the performance you could wish for thanks to its fantastic 5.0 liter V-8 Supercharged engine, but can choose when and how often you decide to use it to its full potential.
And about those Middle Eastern customers:
We launched in the Middle East at the Dubai Motor Show last November, with great success. We also had a superb reaction to the car during its U.S. launch at The Quail Motorsports Gathering in August 2015. Suffice to say, our clientele is worldwide and we regularly deal with enquiries from across the globe.
By the way, Aston Martin has some pretty strong Middle East connections, too. Plenty of the cars are sold there, and the company is partly owned, since 2007, by Investment Dar and Adeem Investment of Kuwait. And if that David Brown were alive today (he died in 1993), he’d be 114. Here's video on the Speedback GT: