If, as Jay Leno says, the Ford Model T was the “great saviour of the American horse”, will the electric car turn out to be the saviour of the combustion engine? Or at least of a select group of cars – defined by their rarity, good looks and the satisfying growl of their engines – that will live on, beyond the mass of time-expired petrol and diesel? And what, from the current generation of supercars, will those collectable, museum-quality vehicles be? 

We’re talking about a special breed of car that is both brand new and heavily influenced by designs drawn from the postwar decades of the sports car. It trades speed for purity of aesthetic and mechanics, with one eye on the Pebble Beach Concours or Goodwood Revival, and another on a heightened driver experience.

Touring Superleggera Arese RH95
Touring Superleggera Arese RH95 © Massimiliano Serra
The Arese RH95 starts life as a Ferrari 488 before its hand-transformation
The Arese RH95 starts life as a Ferrari 488 before its hand-transformation © Massimiliano Serra
Just 18 Areses will be built, at a cost of £1.5mn each
Just 18 Areses will be built, at a cost of £1.5mn each © Massimiliano Serra

In Milan, Touring Superleggera, which first forged its name almost a century ago, has led the way in proving the global marketplace for made-to-measure cars issued in extremely small numbers, such as 2021’s Arese RH95, which starts as a Ferrari 488 before a transformation that takes thousands of agonising hand-built hours, all for an estimated £1.5mn. The “RH” references an unrevealed patron who helped to develop the Arese RH95 and part-guided its inspiration, drawing on the sports cars of the 1950s and ’60s and in particular the Alfa 33 Stradale, from 1967. Just 18 Areses will be built.

The Mazzanti Automobili  Millecavalli R boasts a claimed 1,300hp and 0-100kmph in 2.6s
The Mazzanti Automobili Millecavalli R boasts a claimed 1,300hp and 0-100kmph in 2.6s

Similarly rarefied is the Tuscany-based Mazzanti Automobili, which first unveiled its Evantra in 2013. Its founder Luca Mazzanti has made a series of limited-edition cars since then, all with bespoke interiors and costing from €1m-€2.4mn. 2021 saw the Classic and Pura models, while 2022 will bring the Evantra 781 and the Millecavalli R, the latter offering a significant hike in power to a claimed 1,300hp, and a 0-100kmph sprint time claimed to be 2.6 seconds, the lowest yet for an Evantra. Like the Arese RH95, it’s a throwback despite being new, with a six-speed gearbox, a whopping engine courtesy of General Motors, some extraordinary paint jobs and interiors, a weight so low that it embarrasses electric cars half its size, and a soundtrack that will bring the angels out.

Radford Type 62-2 
Radford Type 62-2  © Lella Soper
The top-spec Radford is wrapped in black-and-gold John Player Special branding
The top-spec Radford is wrapped in black-and-gold John Player Special branding © Lella Soper

Head across the Atlantic and you’ll find California-based Radford, fronted by former F1 champion Jenson Button, mechanic Ant Anstead and designer Mark Stubbs. Harold Radford became associated with Bentley modification in the 1940s, and later with special edition Minis owned by, among others, The Beatles. The rebirth of his name in 2021 is a sign that petrol power is not going down without a fight. Teaming up with Lotus and still inspired by Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s mantra to “simplify, then add lightness”, the new Radford begins with a beautiful, racing-car-liveried creature called the Radford Type 62-2 that evokes the sort of car you would have once found at Le Mans. Based on the just-retired Lotus Evora, the Type 62-2 shares its mid-rear 3.5-litre V6 engine and will sound lovely, but the looks speak louder still and this is what this type of car is all about, plus $500,000 as the starting place for an order. Sixty-two models will be produced in three different Lotus-inspired liveries and specs, the top one wrapped in black-and-gold John Player Special branding, evoking the era when big tobacco sponsorship was cool.

GTO Engineering Squalo
GTO Engineering Squalo

Radford is based in LA, where there is also an outpost of GTO Engineering, maker of the Squalo (in Italian, “shark”), whose brooding haunches recall the early 1960s, the Ferrari 250 GT SWB Berlinetta Competizione and the Class Winner at Le Mans in 1962 – the fabled Ferrari 250 GTO. Original 250 GTOs cost tens of millions, so even the £1.38mn price tag of the Squalo (that’s a pre-local-taxes-and-duty price) starts to broaden its appeal. (A Ferrari 250 GTO was sold in a private sale for $70mn in 2018). The further benefit here is that you are getting something inspired by the past but not weighed down by its shortcomings, far less likely to break down. It has a naturally aspirated, four-litre V12 engine that will sound like God while it sits in a custom-built multi-material chassis (the car will be available at the end of 2023).

Wells Vertige
Wells Vertige © Luc Lacey
Wells will produce no more than 25 examples of the Vertige a year
Wells will produce no more than 25 examples of the Vertige a year © Luc Lacey

A similar approach defines the Wells Vertige, whose creator Robin Wells has focused on producing the ultimate expression of the two-seater British sports car with a postwar feel (think Jaguar D-Type crossed with Ferrari Dino, but in a package the size of a Mazda MX-5) but totally modern spec, including a 200-litre boot. What’s extraordinary is the car’s accessibility, with a launch price of £45,000-£50,000. It’s exclusive because Wells will produce no more than 25 cars a year, not by virtue of price. At that level we’re not talking about hand-cast V12 engines but a humbler four-cylinder Ford unit that sits transversely mounted just behind the driver, separated only by a “pane” of double-glazed glass. The design of the car flows from nose to tail, Wells himself having trained as a musician and likening the car to a visual symphony, going so far as to design the gear knob, carved from African rosewood, to resemble a conductor’s baton.

The outcome of five years’ hard graft working with Robin Hall of Hall Engineering and Design, who was involved in the creation of the BMW Mini, the car is now available to test-drive in Warwickshire while a new, environmentally friendly assembly facility is being built on a nearby farm.

A successful businessman and a self-described petrolhead, Wells built kit cars as a teenager and has his own collection of supercars. He’s been able to self-fund the venture entirely (“No one in their right mind goes into low-volume sports-car manufacturing,” he jokes) and hopes that with the Wells Vertige he has created a vehicle that is not just “a car for life”, but will live on as a classic.

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