David Brown Automotive has been handcrafting 1960s-inspired, Aston Martin DB5-lookalike bodies on Jaguar XKR platforms for three years now, and badging the coachbuilt model the Speedback GT.
An updated Speedback GT was unveiled at the Geneva motor show last week, with stiffer suspension and minor design tweaks to the original prototype. Minor, but important considering that the finished article is all about the detail.
And so the updated version has clear indicators rather than orange ones, soft-close doors and windows that close when the doors are shut. The fit and finish have been improved and work has been done on the noise insulation. Altogether there have been 237 design developments.
Only 11 cars have been built so far, including the first for export outside of Europe - to New Zealand (XK platforms and running gear gets around the parts supply issues).
Each Speedback GT takes 8,000 man hours (including 800 hours spent applying 21 layers of paint) and eight months to build, and is priced at a significant £594,000.
Customer requests for pretty much anything will be considered - the New Zealand customer asked for a bespoke picnic set and a suitably retro town and country horn for their Speedback. The company says they would look at a carbon-fibre interior should anyone ask, which they haven't. Neither has anyone yet requested a leather steering wheel, preferring a polished wooden one, which is a sign of how much people want these cars for that Sixties vibe.
Still, if the Speedback GT is anything it's a good example of two worlds, or rather two very different times in which cars were built and driven, colliding. We pointed out the extraordinary single piece of wood veneer inserted in both door panels. It curves one way, then the other, but the surface is utterly smooth to the touch and looks on close inspection like it is one single shaving from the tree or burr in question. A spokesman for the company confided that they use 3D printers for the piece, which is then veneered. Try explaining that process to the Sixties.
David Brown Automotive will also revise spring and damper settings to fulfil the customer's wishes, and will uprate the Jag XKR’s 5.0-litre supercharged V8, which develops 410bhp as standard, to 600bhp for you, should you desire.
Three beautiful examples fittingly in red, white and blue, (the actual paint names follow rock music themes, so we have Ruby Tuesday, Blue Moon and White Night) were on the stand at Geneva. The red one, which we've driven (not a lot of point in driving impressions here as, surprise surprise, it drives like a Jag XJR), was decked out with a tamo ash and walnut steering wheel, the pieces of wood interlocking and beautifully veneered, satin chrome on the centre console (there is currently a choice of six looks for interior metal work - nickel or chrome in a variety of satin or polished finishes) and enamel badge made by Fattorini, a Birmingham jeweller.
One of the best design quirks of the Speedback GT is its quilted leather picnic bench, which folds out from the boot floor, via a two-stage GT-style tailgate. The chromed mechanism itself is a joy to behold. Make no mistake: it's not the sort of "bench" that a Range Rover fold-down tailgate provides; this is a proper two-man seat to make onlookers gasp and smile in genuine delight that some people still take such joy in automotive craftsmanship and the lifestyle that a true British Grand tourer inspires.
It might be slightly eccentric, but then this entire car is an eccentricity - motoring journalists will sneer and tell you that you've just paid half a million pounds for a Jaguar XKR, and if you wanted something that looked like a poor man's DB5, you should buy a DB5.
But they're missing one very obvious point: customers are well aware of that when they buy this car, and yet 11 people have still stumped up the cash so far, with more expressions of interest.
You're buying a handcrafted, whacky, coachbuilt GT which looks nothing quite like anything else, and that's at the heart of the matter.