Boutique motors: How a specialist industry is reviving the great British sports car

The best models from the UK that will help you stand out from the crowd in the Middle East

Dowsetts Classic Cars' Comet is a greatest-hits design medley of classic sports cars such as the Lancia Flaminia Sport Series 1, Ferrari 250 GT SWB and Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato.. Photo: Carrie Wilson
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Why do people buy exotic cars? To declare their coolness? To stand out? To make a statement? Yet, it's not unusual to see at least a handful of Bugattis driving past on any given Friday night in the UAE. So, is the message you're actually thrumming out as an owner of one of the more established supercars that you are, in fact, less imaginative and discerning than you believe yourself to be?

To better demonstrate a visual eloquence of taste and sophistication, you need to take the path less trodden, or the road less driven on, if you will. To truly realise your maverick motives, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and even AMGs should be spurned in favour of the lesser-spotted specialist sports cars, and where better to find them than in Britain? I drove Morgan sports cars (1950s British roadsters with modern drivetrains) in the UAE and never before had I attracted so much attention.

The rise of the British boutique car

To many "carnoisseurs", the concept of living their driving dreams with bespoke vehicles from boutique car makers is well established. It's not surprising that the British specialist car industry is booming, with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders saying in an industry report in 2017 that specialist car makers made more than £3.6 billion (Dh9.8bn) in turnover. The report said the industry employed more than 11,000 people and produced about 32,000 cars the year before, 65 per cent of which were exported to international markets, including the Middle East.

This sector comprises marques such as Rolls-Royce, Bentley, McLaren, Lotus, Caterham and the Morgan Motor Company. But beyond these renowned names is a profusion of smaller manufacturers that adhere to the highest principles of craftsmanship, design, innovation and engineering, and they are producing some truly enticing cars.

Look through the gallery below to see some fine examples of boutique British cars:

David Brown's Speedback GT

Among them is David Brown Automotive, a British car maker founded in 2013, which produces the Speedback GT. Formed along the philosophy of a high-end coachbuilder, the company has created a grand tourer inspired by famed GT cars of the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Ferrari 250 (as you can see in the styling of the Speedback GT's flanks); the Jaguar E-Type (headlights); the Maserati 3500 (grille); and the Aston Martin DB series (alluded to by the overall impression of the Speedback). The Speedback GT employs the platform and running gear of the 2007-2014 Jaguar XKR, complete with the supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine and ZF transmission, proven and rapid underpinnings.

The Speedback GT is a grand tourer inspired by famed GT cars of the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Ferrari 250, the Jaguar E-Type, the Maserati 3500 and the Aston Martin DB series. Courtesy David Brown Automotive

The entire body is new, made from hand-rolled aluminium body panels and, while the dashboard architecture is carried over, all the surfaces of the interior are ­completely retrimmed in fine and exquisite materials. The car is the realisation of a lifelong dream held by company owner Brown and was born out of an incident during a classic car rally.

After borrowing a Ferrari Daytona for the occasion, Brown was let down by the whole driving experience, finding it to be less than enjoyable thanks to the heavy steering and agricultural gear change. But the frustrating drive was short-lived, as the decades-old supercar soon broke down and he had to complete the rally in a modern hire car.

You don't need one of our cars, you want one of our cars

Brown decided the answer to his problem was to have a car that, aesthetically speaking, harked back to a golden era of motoring, but that was created with modern mechanicals. "Originally, I wanted to make a car for myself, something that was functional and that's how the Speedback GT was born," Brown says.

Now committed to a limited run of 100 cars, the first 16 of which are on roads across the world already, including the Middle East, Brown describes his customers as people who are independently minded. "You don't need one of our cars, you want one of our cars," Brown says. "The people who own them don't mind standing out, but they want the car because it's elegant, not shouty; it's sophisticated, design-led but discreet. They appreciate craftsmanship and understand what goes into building one of our cars."

Buyers would have to truly appreciate the craftsmanship, as the Speedback GT starts at £520,000, with the newer 600bhp, more driver-­focused, Silverstone edition starting from £620,000. It's a stratospheric price to pay, but when you witness the production processes involved (all potential customers, and even people who are only casually interested in the car, are able to make an appointment to visit the factory at Silverstone), you understand why it takes 8,000 hours to produce each car. The paintwork alone requires 800 hours and 24 layers. Examining it up close, the finish feels supremely smooth and deep enough to dive in to. Behind the wheel, the car is comfortable and a potent performer that presents an agility and lightness of poise that belies the GT's significant road presence.

The Mini Remastered

In 2017, David Brown Automotive launched the Mini Remastered, which employs brand-new heritage classic mini body shells that are heavily enhanced, before being mated to an entirely new interior and uprated electronics. Like the Speedback GT, the Mini Remastered is not cheap, with prices starting at £75,000, while it can also be highly personalised and tailored to your specific requests.

In 2017, David Brown Automotive launched the Mini Remastered. Courtesy David Brown Automotive

A new kind of Ford Mustang

If the idea of taking a much-loved classic car and renovating it for the modern world seems appealing, another option is a 1960s Ford Mustang, reproduced as a full electric vehicle. They are being developed by London car company Charge Cars and due to be launched later this year. They are made using brand-new Licensed body shells imported from the US and the electrified muscle cars, which will cost from £200,000, will have 350kW motors that catapult them from rest to 100kph in about four seconds.

London car company Charge Cars has reproduced the 1960s Ford Mustang as a full electric vehicle. Courtesy Charge Cars

The Noble M600

Alternatively, how about a more traditional supercar that would appeal to the purists? That means no electronics, no active suspension, no auto­matic transmission. Not even anti-lock brakes. Well, it doesn't get more back-to-basics than the Noble M600. This stainless steel and carbon-­fibre mid-engined speed merchant uses a Yamaha V8 to great effect, producing remarkable performance figures, such as 0-100kph in three seconds. It's also priced from £200,000.

It doesn’t get more back-to-basics than the Noble M600.

Dowsetts Classic Car Company

For something much prettier and far newer, turn your attention to Dowsetts Classic Car Company, founded by TV personality Ant Anstead from For the Love of Cars and Wheeler Dealers. Not unlike the Speedback GT, the car this firm produces, called the Comet, is a greatest-hits design medley of classic sports cars such as the Lancia Flaminia Sport Series 1, Ferrari 250 GT SWB and Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato. It also utilises a tried-and-tested drivetrain with a GM-sourced LS3 V8 crate motor and a Tremec five-speed manual transmission. Prices for the Comet, and the convertible version, the Barchetta, start from £125,000 before you begin to customise it. But you need to get your order in early because it takes between six to 12 months to make, while the company only produces a run of about eight cars each year.

Prices for the Comet, and the convertible version, the Barchetta, start from £125,000. Photo: Carrie Wilson

While the prices of the cars presented are expensive, it's a matter of context. When you consider that the current value of Aston Martins from the 1950s and 1960s can stretch into the millions of dirhams, they are too valuable and too delicate for most owners to actually drive them with any real vigour.

But these new boutique beauties allow you to truly enjoy the open road without fretting.

As such, anyone who might want the latest offering from Ferrari, Lamborghini or McLaren to become their next dream machine should stop and consider the less obvious options. To quote Mark Twain: "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." I would add an addendum to that: "And treat yourself to a bespoke British supercar." You can't put a price on that sort of wisdom, or this sort of style.