- The RML Short Wheelbase resembles a Ferrari 250 SWB, but it’s a 550 Maranello underneath.
- RML, which produces the replica, is a well-known motorsport engineering specialist in the UK.
- Production is limited to a run of 30 cars, each priced for an equivalent of $1.6 million.
There is a long, ignoble tradition of building replica Ferraris from lesser cars. These have been based on everything from the Pontiac Fiero to the C3 Corvette that sat beneath the alleged Daytona Spider of the original incarnation of Miami Vice. But the RML Short Wheelbase takes a radically different step, that of being a replica Ferrari built around an actual Ferrari.
The term replica sells it short, nor is the Short Wheelbase an official Ferrari product, and you will look in vain for any prancing horse logos on it. But it is clearly inspired by the Italian company’s gorgeous sports cars from the early 1960s, most obviously the famous 250 GTO which has long since ascended into the classic car stratosphere. The Short Wheelbase’s carbon-fiber bodywork pays reverential homage, but it doesn’t become a pastiche, and the proportions are clearly different from those of an actual ’60s Ferrari. That’s because underneath it sits on the structure of a ’90s Ferrari 550 Maranello, using much of the chassis plus the same 5.5-liter V12 engine and six-speed manual gearbox.
RML may need a more detailed introduction, although you will undoubtedly have seen some of its products before. Ray Malloch Limited is a UK-based engineering group which has enjoyed considerable success in different forms of motorsport, from ’80s Le Mans prototypes to touring cars, but in recent years it has diversified so that most of its work is now road-car projects for larger OEMs.
The Short Wheelbase was born from the idea of a portfolio piece to show the company’s capabilities. The original intention was to make a hypercar, something RML has plentiful experience of having produced the Nio EP9 EV that set a Nürburgring Nordschleife record in 2017, plus a street-legal version of the otherwise track-only Aston Martin Vulcan. But the abundance of seven-figure performance cars at the top of the market led to a change in direction, with RML’s CEO Michael Malloch, son of the eponymous founder, ordering the creation of something he would like to drive himself and that would combine ’60s elegance with modern practicality.
The 550 was chosen to serve as the basis both because it would give a modern-ish Ferrari V12, but also because of a relative abundance; Ferrari produced more than 3000 globally between 1996 and 2001. RML plans to build a run of 30 of the Short Wheelbase, each of which will require a donor car. The transformation is more complex than just changing bodywork; the 550 is stripped to its component parts and its chassis blasted clean, repaired if necessary and repainted. The Short Wheelbase retains the original car’s floor pan, front subframe, and firewall, but has a new carbon-fiber upper structure which makes it both stronger and lighter than the original. The V12 is rebuilt without any major mechanical alterations, with RML quoting the same peaks of 485 hp and 415 lb-ft.
Autoweek drove the prototype, which is still sort of final mechanical specification, experiencing it on a variety of roads from tight-fitting English villages to highways. This being a UK winter it was, to no great surprise, raining throughout almost all of my time in the car.
The driving experience feels much more ’90s than it does ’60s. The naturally aspirated V12 lacks the low-down punch of the turbocharged engines common to more modern exotica, and the gradual progression of power and torque suit the car’s dynamic character well. The engine remains as flexible as it was in the 550, one of the fastest cars in the world when it was new, pulling without complaint from low revs and with enthusiasm mounting all the way to the 7500-rpm limiter, the exhaust note gaining a muscular voice as revs ascend.
That breadth of the power band means that gear changing is largely optional on twisty roads, experimentation proving that third gear remains a viable choice all the way from 20 mph to over 100 mph. But there is so much tactile joy in negotiating the planes of the open-gate shifter that it encourages purely gratuitous use, even if the prototype’s felt stiffer than I remember the 550’s being.
The engine’s proportionate power delivery worked well in slippery conditions, the subtlety of the throttle response making it easy to push without overwhelming the grip of the rear tires. Beyond that the Short Wheelbase keeps the original Ferrari traction control system, but this intervenes with all the subtlety of an insulted bouncer as it chokes the engine when slip is detected. It is far better to try and stay on its right side, especially given the chassis’s finely balanced neutrality. I would have preferred some more steering weight—the prototype’s generous assistance smothering some of the messages doubtless coming from the front end.
The Short Wheelbase is clearly intended to be a cruiser rather than an uncompromised sports car. That’s obvious in the cabin, where the niceness of the fixtures and fittings is combined with a very comfortable passenger space—uncoincidentally, Michael Malloch is 6-foot-4. But it is also obvious in the softness of the prototype’s suspension settings. While pliant over smaller bumps, a lack of ground clearance created some abrasive car-on-road noises in bigger compressions, and also while negotiating some of the UK’s many, many speed bumps. The engineering team say the production version will switch to more forgiving progressive springs, and will also gain fatter door seals to eliminate the wind noise that hindered the prototype at cruising speed.
Tempted? The good news is that RML is planning to produce a limited run of 30 cars. The bad, for those of us who don’t possess the liquid wealth necessary to indulge every automotive whim, is that each will cost £1.35 million—that’s $1.62 million at current exchange rates. For contrast, even the nicest and most original Ferrari 550 won’t run past $300,000 these days—nor will it win anything like as much attention as this stylish reskin.
Share your thoughts on RML’s Ferrari 250 SWB replica in the comments below.