Biggest car company you’ve never heard of pays tribute to an iconic 1960s Ferrari

What is it?

Some cars are so esoteric that it’s hard to know where to start, so I’ll just spit it out. The RML Short Wheelbase (SWB) is a V12-engined berlinetta heavily redolent of the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB and built on the bones of a Ferrari 550 Maranello, mostly using composites. The result costs £1.6million.

So it’s not really a restomod, like the Alfaholics GTA-R, because no 250-series Ferrari is involved. But neither is the carbonfibre bauble before you an entirely clean-sheet affair, like the Porsche 964-flavoured Ruf SCR. RML’s work instead blends 1990s hardware (the driveline and suspension layout) with cutting-edge manufacturing techniques (the Wellingborough-based company’s raison d’être) to capture, in the words of CEO Michael Mallock, the “look, sound and tactility of an epic GT car from the golden age of motoring”.

You might never have heard of RML, but I’ll wager that you know the name of its founder (Michael’s father, former racing driver Ray) and some of its back catalogue, although much of that can’t be publicised.

RML once re-engineered an Aston Martin Vulcan in order to make it road-legal, which is a bit like readying a Tornado for commercial duties out of Stansted, but it did it.

It also developed the fully bespoke engine for the far-fetched Deltawing that Nissan took to Le Mans and has a history of running works teams in top sports car and touring car series going back to the days of Group C.

It has contracts with the Ministry of Defence relating to the upgrading and reliability of our armed forces’ vehicles, too, yet not so long ago a Chinese company ordered an EV that could storm the Nürburgring in less than seven minutes and it obliged.

In 2010, an application to enter Formula 1 was even considered, and it’s currently developing the all-new GT4 Emira racer for Lotus.

The point is that RML isn’t merely qualified to try making something like the SWB but probably better so than many major manufacturers.

Among other things, that means the SWB is currently undergoing the same validation and durability signing-off process that you would expect from a low-volume, high-price offering from one of the big names in the business. No stone unturned.

2 Rml short wheelbase prototype 2022 uk review side pan

What's it like?

When we try the SWB at Millbrook Proving Ground, Mallock describes it as 80-85% ready in terms of finish and chassis set-up. The exterior is basically there, and even for someone vaguely cynical about such projects, it has an undeniable presence.

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Scaglietti’s delicious curves have been recreated in carbonfibre and the body bulges in all the right places. The stacked tail-lights just inches above the exhausts are unmistakable, as are the crisp wheel arches. Maybe the wire-mimicking 18in wheels are a bit unconvincing, but if the restomod scene has taught us anything, it’s that classically styled bodies and modern, low-profile tyres have difficult marriages.

Crucially, what the SWB avoids is appearing awkwardly large. The 550 base keeps its dimensions neat, and overall it succeeds as an object of desire even before the driving begins.

Inside, it’s soft leather, Alcantara and aluminium, all nicely done. It has cupholders, too, and lots of head room (the 250 GT SWB has neither), plus air conditioning. All this because the SWB is intended for proper touring.

This prototype still uses a Motec readout rather than analogue dials, and the slot in the transmission tunnel from which a touchscreen will eventually rise remains vacant.

However, the production-spec jewels towards which your gaze is inexorably drawn are the drilled aluminium pedals (pure 550M), open-gate gearlever and exquisite filigree steering wheel that wraps aluminium in leather. It’s this trio, along with the romantic pillbox view forward, that set the tone.

17 Rml short wheelbase prototype 2022 uk review rl driving

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On the Hill Route, the SWB ticks some big boxes instantly. The 479bhp 5.5-litre V12 is more gruff and vocal than it ever was in the 550, and that’s welcome. Throttle response is alert but not sharp, so just right for such an application. The clutch is firm and the gearshift tight, because RML is still working on the tolerances, but general drivability is far slicker than you might expect. It’s barely harder to guide than the Mazda MX-5, and part of that is down to the surprising comfort of the driving position. Everything feels special but natural.

What you also can’t help marvelling at is the stiffness of the structure. RML retains the front subframe, central spine and corners of the 550’s steel floor but grafts on a carbon-composite lid that forms the monocoque. Think of it as a traditional tub, like in the McLaren 720S, only turned upside down.

From this hangs the suspension, controlled passive Öhlins dampers and steel springs. Our car bottoms out through vicious compressions, but progressive springs are in the works and ought to provide much improved support and finesse.

The SWB otherwise steers lightly and precisely, but not too precisely, which helps it retain a classic feel. I suppose the hydraulic 550 rack is in many ways closer to that of the 250 GT SWB in character than it is to, say, the frenetic set-up of today’s Ferrari 812 Superfast. You guide this car with fingertips. An ill-timed sneeze won’t careen you into the undergrowth.

The primary ride is particularly good; the SWB floats deftly when you’re simply going from here to there with minimal commitment. Rougher patches of road do fizzle up through the steering more than you might like, but then you wonder just how much isolation is possible while retaining the classic feel.

Best of all? You can really let the SWB rip. The pedals are well placed for heel-and-toe shifts and the chassis keeps a lovely homogeneous manner during hard cornering: the nose stays on line, the body stays reassuringly (but by no means totally) flat and the rear has the stability to take massive openings of the throttle mid-corner.

3 Rml short wheelbase prototype 2022 uk review cornering rear

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Should I buy one?

So long as you don’t think about its £1.6m price, it is a chuckable device and, for all its long-legged suaveness, knows how to draw you deep into the throwback experience on the right road. If RML can unlock a touch more throttle adjustability in that last 15% of development, the result could be spectacular. We’ll see later this year.

The full 30-car run will take only around six months to complete, with 70% going abroad, mostly to the US. As for the point of it all, Mallock says it’s twofold: part passion project, part catapulting RML’s name into the public sphere after decades of secretive white-label work. For the latter, you have to say “job done”.

16 Rml short wheelbase prototype 2022 uk review tracking nose


Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Join the debate

Add a comment…
Sundym 22 March 2022
Strange that there is absolutely no mention of the in my eyes far superior GTO engineering version , its more authentic , far better looking and almost half the price ...
Monza71 22 March 2022

A worthy effort but, really, what is the point ?

I would expect an aluminium body for this price and the idea of destroying a 550 to create one is shameful.

No, I would suggest you just go out and buy a 550 Maranello or, better still, a 575M like mine and enjoy it. Either are probably the best Grand Tourer you can buy for around £100,000 and you will still have £1.5m in the bank.


Anton motorhead 22 March 2022
Absolutely gorgeous and not ridiculously fast or too perfect. If I sold my house and my Alfa GT, then perhaps ....? At least in my dreams. And can I have it with 16 inch wheels? Lane is right about the unfortunate marriage between modern classics and low profile tyres.
martin_66 22 March 2022

You make a very good point Anton.

Car designers nowadays are obsessed with putting the biggest wheels and thinnest tyres they can onto cars.  I remember when the Lotus Esprit Turbo was sold in the 1980s.  That had 15" wheels and big fat tyres, and I don't remember anyone ever saying it handled (and rode) anything other than brilliantly.