You see it all the time in the market as people come up with more inventive ways to dance around the word Replica. A word that in my mind has always been treated a little unfairly and masked with such artistic wordplay as evocation, continuation or even tool room copy. I know that they all have subtle nuances which differentiate them but underneath they are all under the umbrella of Replica.
Now we all know that every rule needs an exception and I think that that I may have found it.
As soon as friends and new acquaintances learn of your passion for classic cars all kinds of tenuous conversation making references such as “That old boy down the road has one” or “My brother’s uncle used to pick us up from school in one” come to the surface. However, I tend to continue to conversation and enquire politely lest it be a long lost D-Type but quite often it ends up being a 1994 Honda Civic.
On this one occasion however, my ears pricked up when talking to a friend who lives in Wiltshire; “There’s a group of guys building old Le Mans cars in a shed down the road” my friend proudly announced. At this point, the story fell flat because frustratingly that was all the information she had. Anyway after a quick google and bit of Instagram stalking I happened upon a company by the name of Grandstand Coachworks. Even to the casual observer, this was no back yard shed operation. They’d been showcasing a repaint in their workshops of what appeared to be an Aston Martin DB3S (amongst other Superleggera bodied exotica). Inquisitive I picked up the phone and had a chat, they kindly filled me in on the back story of the car and invited me down to see it in the flesh.
The story goes that fifties sports car racer and Aston aficionado Bill Monk setup a small company reproducing DB3S replicas. The owners of Grandstand had an existing relationship with Bill so when Mr Monk decided to hang up his plug spanner after many successful years, Grandstand became the proud owner of the very last car that Bill produced along with all of the jigs, moulds and tooling etc.
Fast forward many many hours of fettling and development and as I drive slowly along the gravel drive to the main workshop I see sat before me in resplendent and iconic Aston Martin green what appears to be a DB3S.
The mastermind behind the re-development of this car is ex-Ascari works guru James Pearce. With a Tigger-like enthusiasm James comes bouncing over hand outstretched and a positively paternal joy in his eyes for his baby. “This is it!” he proudly exclaims making a grand sweeping gesture towards the car whilst grinning from ear to ear. Immediately I see the reason for his pride and I’m so bowled over by the presence of this machine I could almost accuse him of being modest. The light bounces off of every panel and really shows off the design features and curves that were born of both necessity and desire. Not a Venturi, barge board or winglet in sight. Bliss.
“We want people to enjoy this car in the way it was intended but without any of the downsides associated with classic motoring” James says. “Lots of people find these cars in original form too uncompromising and intimidating to enjoy. Don’t get me wrong though, if it rains you’re going to get wet but that’s all part of the experience.”
The proportions of the car are exact to its original cousin and only a few concessions have been made to modernity although I certainly wouldn’t list them as a compromise. The ‘boot lid’ for example now has hinges so that you don’t have to place the panel on the floor when loading up your wife’s luggage (or someone else’s wife’s luggage). There is also a discreet third brake light moulded into the rear to hopefully halt onlookers just in time.
James begins to list off the performance enhancements which he’s keen to stress are designed as much to maintain the character as they are to aid reliability and pace. “We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel with this car and as a result it can’t be sterile”. Sentiments that I fully subscribe to in a world of launch control, torque-vectoring and other ‘hero modes’ that belie a driver’s real talent or starvation thereof. He continues to tell me about the options for carburettors or throttle bodies along with the numerous suspension modifications which he has started work on but is yet to fully sign-off. This car isn’t intended for mass production or even modest production with Grandstand planning to produce just five cars a year with chassis No:001 rolling into the light in 2020 starting from £132,000.
On the road the car is extremely rapid to say the least. Fitted with a BMW in-line six of which the production cars will have the fully rebuilt 343bhp E46 M3 engine, the sub 900kg kerb weight feels like nothing. As mentioned suspension work is ongoing but even as a development car it’s devoid of tramlining or bump-steer and doesn’t ‘hunt’ at higher speeds. The six-speed BMW manual is mated to an axle from the same manufacturer and performs as expected although with the wind in your hair and the two side exit exhaust blaring in your right ear you have little to think about other than imagining you’re Tony Brooks four-wheel drifting your way elbows out to victory. This car doesn’t need to you to saw at the wheel as you go through the corner but it makes you want to.
After having spent a little time with it and the passionate individuals around it I can see that they’re not really trying to build an exact replica. Don’t get me wrong it’s beautifully put together and when subject to the majority scrutiny it’s a full blown several million dollar sports car but this is as much of an homage, a tip of the cap if you like to the days when sex was safe and motor racing was dangerous. It’s everything you want from a fifties sports racer but with none of the downsides and packaged in arguably one of the most iconic and effortlessly beautiful shapes of all time.
A tribute not a Replica then so maybe that’s your exception.