RML Short Wheelbase review: a supercar with soul

This RML Short Wheelbase isn’t quite the finished article. Pieces of trim are missing from its interior and the analogue dials have been replaced by a GPS data display. Also, the brake pedal feels too soft, the gearshift is too stiff and the dampers need fine-tuning.

Most car manufacturers don’t allow journalists anywhere near a work-in-progress prototype like this one. But RML Group has a point to prove.

Based in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, the company designs, engineers and assembles sports and racing cars for established automotive brands. The handful of projects not covered by NDA include the Nissan Juke-R (with 545hp of GT-R power) and road-legal Aston Martin Vulcan.

Tested at Millbrook

RML Short Wheelbase

After nearly 40 years of ‘white label’ work, the Short Wheelbase is the first vehicle to wear an RML badge – and has undergone the same test regime as any low-volume supercar for a major marque.

That’s why CEO Michael Mallock and his team have spent 10 intense weeks here at Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire, simulating 40,000 miles of real-world use. It also explains why the RML Short Wheelbase costs £1.6 million.

“It began as a hypercar project – and that would have been easier, frankly, given all our motorsport experience,” explains Mallock. “But hypercars are too fast and remote to enjoy on the road. This is exactly the kind of car I wanted to drive.”

Horse power

RML Short Wheelbase

The Short Wheelbase’s classic curves pay homage to the Ferrari 250 GT SWB, launched in 1959, although its engine, transmission and steel backbone chassis come from a newer 550 Maranello (1996-2001).

The unmodified 5.5-litre V12 produces 485hp, driving the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox with an open metal gate. With a kerb weight of around 1,700kg, 0-62mph takes 4.1 seconds.  

Two carbon-composite clamshells form the car’s body, which is 14 percent larger than the Ferrari original. “I can’t fit inside a real SWB,” jokes the 6ft 4in Mallock. “This car is packaged around me with a crash helmet on.”

Suspension is by steel springs and passive Öhlins dampers, while 18-inch alloys mimic the look of wire wheels.

Cupholders and CarPlay

RML Short Wheelbase

Unlike the forthcoming GTO Engineering Squalo – another British supercar with SWB-inspired styling – the RML isn’t a stripped-out road racer. Instead, its focus is on grand touring comfort, with air conditioning, cupholders and modern infotainment.

Every surface is trimmed in supple leather or tactile Alcantara, and the switches are gorgeous nuggets of machined aluminium. “We had a ‘no-plastic’ mantra,” says Mallock.

Even “80 percent complete” and bearing a few battle scars, the Short Wheelbase looks stunning. Panel fit is perfect and the lustrous paint is a knowing nod to Ferrari’s Blu Tour de France.

The V12 ignites with a brusque bark, then settles to a stentorian rumble. It sounds deeper and more purposeful than a 550 Maranello, but certainly not Lamborghini-loud. Time to hit the Hill Route.

Old-school cool

RML Short Wheelbase

For the uninitiated, the Millbrook Hill Route recreates the best B-road you’ve ever driven: a rollercoaster series of dips, crests, tight apices and banked bends. Famously, it’s where 007 barrel-rolled an Aston Martin DBS in Casino Royale.

After so many development miles, the Short Wheelbase instantly feels at home here, its hydraulic power steering light and accurate, its chassis offering a good blend of comfort and control.

It isn’t focused or ultimately as fast as a new Ferrari, but that’s exactly the point. You sense the body roll and rotate as the rubber digs into the tarmac, backed up by a reassuring sense of balance. As for the engine, it’s just what you’d hope from a naturally aspirated V12 with a Cavallino Rampante on the cam cover: linear, sonorous and guaranteed to give you goosebumps. 

Granted, there are a few tweaks on his to-do list, but Mallock expects the first Short Wheelbase to be delivered this September. Just 30 will be made, with most already sold. If you’re bored of playing supercar Top Trumps, it offers a distinct and very desirable alternative.

Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research

PRICE: £1.62 million

POWER: 485hp

TORQUE: 419lb ft

0-62MPH: 4.1sec 

TOP SPEED: 145mph

WEIGHT: 1,700kg