RML Short Wheelbase UK review

The biggest car company you have never heard of is paying tribute to the iconic 1960s Ferrari

What is it?

Some cars are so obscure that it is difficult to find the right place to begin, so I will just throw it out. The RML Short Wheelbase (SWB), a V12-engined berlinetta, is heavily reminiscent of the 1961 Ferrari 250 GT SWB. It was built using the bones of a Ferrari 550 Maranello and a lot of composites.

It’s not a restomod like the Alfaholics GTA-R because there is no 250-series Ferrari involved. The carbonfibre bauble is not a clean-sheet project like the Porsche 964-flavoured Ruf SCR. RML’s work blends 1990s hardware (the suspension layout and driveline) with cutting-edge manufacturing technologies (the Wellingborough-based business’s raison d’etre). This allows RML to capture, in Michael Mallock’s words, “look, sound, and tactility” of a classic GT car from the golden era of motoring.

Although you might not have heard of RML before, I bet that you do know the name of its founder Michael, a former race driver Ray, and some of its back catalog, though much of it isn’t publicised.

RML once reengineered an Aston Martin Vulcan to make it road legal. It was a bit like preparing a Tornado for commercial duties out Stansted. But it did it.

It also designed the engine for the Deltawing, which Nissan won at Le Mans. The company has a long history of managing works teams in the top touring car and sports car series dating back to Group C.

It also has contracts with the Ministry of Defence in relation to the reliability and upgrading of our armed forces vehicles. However, a Chinese company recently ordered an EV capable of storming the Nurburgring in under seven minutes, and it obliged.

An application to enter Formula 1 was made in 2010. Lotus is currently working on the new GT4 Emira racer.

RML is not only qualified to make the SWB, but is probably more skilled than most major manufacturers.

This means that the SWB is currently going through the same validation process and durability signing-off process as you would expect for a low-volume high-price offering by one of the major names in the industry. There is no stone unturned.

It’s what?

Mallock described the SWB at Millbrook Proving Ground as being between 80 and 85% ready for finish and setup. It is evident that the exterior is there. Even for someone who isn’t too sceptical about such projects it still has an unmistakable presence.

The Scaglietti’s beautiful curves were recreated in carbonfibre, with the body bulges at the right places. Unmistakable features include the stacked tail-lights that sit just inches above the exhausts and the crisp wheel arches. The wire-mimicking 18in wheels may seem a little unconvincing, however, if there is one thing the restomod scene has shown us, it’s the fact that both classically designed bodies and modern, low profile tyres can make a difficult marriage.

The SWB avoids appearing too large. The 550 base is compact and attractive, even before driving starts.

It’s made of soft leather, Alcantara, and aluminium. You’ll find cupholders and plenty of headroom (the 250 GT SWB doesn’t have either), as well as air conditioning. The SWB was designed for touring.

The prototype uses a Motec-type readout instead of analogue dials. A slot in the transmission tunnel, from which a touchscreen will eventually rise, remains empty.

The production-spec jewels that will draw your attention are the pure 550M drilled aluminium pedals, open-gate gearlever and filigree steering wheels that wrap aluminium in leather. This trio is accompanied by the romantic pillbox view forward that sets the tone.

The SWB is a great choice for the Hill Route. The 550’s 479bhp V12 5.5-litre V12 is louder and more vocal than ever. The throttle response is responsive but not sharp so it’s perfect for this application. RML is still adjusting the tolerances so the clutch and gearshift are firm but overall, the driving experience is much smoother than you would expect. The Mazda MX-5 is easier to drive than this one, but it’s not as easy to control. Part of that is due to the incredible comfort of the driving position. Everything feels natural and special.

The structure’s stiffness is something you can’t help but marvel at. RML preserves the steel floor’s corners, subframe and central spine. However, it grafts on the carbon-composite lid to form the monocoque. It is a tub like the McLaren 720S but upside-down.

The suspension, control passive Ohlins dampers, and steel springs hang from this. The car is prone to bottoming out due to vicious compressions. However, progressive springs are currently in development and should provide better support and finesse.

The SWB steers light and precise, but not too precisely. This helps to keep it classic. The hydraulic 550 rack, I believe, is closer in character to the 250 GT SWB than the more hectic setup of today’s Ferrari 812 Superfast. This car can be controlled with your fingertips. A sneeze will not cause you to fall into the undergrowth.

The primary ride is excellent; the SWB glides effortlessly when you are just going from one place to another. You might notice that the steering can be a bit more sluggish on rougher roads, but you’ll soon realize how isolation is possible and how it maintains the classic feel.

The best part? The best part? The pedals are placed well for heel-and toe shifts. The chassis maintains a nice homogeneous appearance during hard cornering. The nose stays in line, the body remains flat but not completely flat, and the rear has enough stability to take large openings at the throttle mid-corner.

Do I need one?

It is fun to use, as long as you forget about the PS1.6m cost. The result could be amazing if RML can achieve a little more throttle adjustability during the last 15% of development. We will see what happens later in the year.

It will take approximately six months to complete the 30-car run. 70% of the cars will be going overseas, most notably to the US. Mallock says that the purpose of the whole thing is twofold. It’s part passion project and part catalyst for RML’s public recognition after decades of white-label work. You have to say “job done” for the former.