Little Car Company range review: ultimate rich kids toys tested
For the car fan who has everything – an exquisite scale- model car that drives (almost) as well as the real thing
If you’re wondering how ‘good’ you’d have to be to get one of The Little Car Company’s ‘toys’ under the tree this year, we suspect it might need to involve a Nobel Peace Prize. That’s because these hand-built reimaginations of the world’s most iconic cars are quite extraordinary, with an equally extraordinary price tag to go with them. Welcome to the ultimate Christmas gift for car fans.
Prior to penning our own letter to Santa, Auto Express visited The Little Car Company at Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire to find out what new toys the company has on its order sheet. And after meeting with CEO Ben Hedley and being immersed in all things 75 to 85-per cent scale, it was impossible not to be caught up in the infectious enthusiasm Ben and his team have for their clever creations.
The Little Car Company was born when Bugatti itself commissioned an electric recreation of the Bugatti Baby, a scaled-down ride-in version of the Type 35 racer built in period by Ettore Bugatti himself for his youngest son, Roland.
The model was a phenomenal success, spurring The Little Car Company not just to create 500 units of the Baby, but to expand into other scaled-down recreations. There are now three model lines on sale, with the original Bugatti followed by the Aston Martin DB5 Junior and Ferrari Testa Rossa J. Yet that’s not all, because there’s also an 85 per cent-scale Bentley Blower in the works – now so large that it shares its wheelbase length with a modern VW Golf – as well as a life-size version of a Tamiya radio-control buggy, made bigger rather than smaller in this case. But it’s the three current models we’re here to see today.
Our visit begins in the immaculate assembly area full of customer cars all in various states of build. What strikes us, however, is not the scale of the cars, but their insane attention to detail. Standing by three examples of the Bugatti, we can’t help but notice the emblem sat atop its faux radiator. “It comes from the same manufacturer Bugatti itself uses to source its badges,” Ben tells us. “It’s made of solid silver, and the red elements are enamel inlay, so aside from being slightly smaller, it’s identical to what you’ll find on the nose of a Chiron.”
We try to focus on further synergies with the full-size Bugatti, but our attention is grabbed by the Aston Martin DB5 Junior. This is the only car in the showroom that doesn’t totally mess with the brain when viewed without context for scale. The carbon-fibre body is seamless, without the full-sized car’s door shuts, and unlike the Bugatti it has a few other tweaked elements that indicate its miniature size, such as the windscreen surround.
Yet just as with the Bugatti, the quality is off the scale – arguably good enough to challenge anything ever built out of Newport Pagnell. Ben goes on to tell us: “The colours and interior finishes are all based on the originals. The leather is from Bridge of Weir, and the custom-sized Nardi steering wheel is downsized and built especially for us.”
Beside the cars awaiting their final finishes, an Aston in an earlier stage of construction is free of its bodywork, revealing the chassis. “We upgraded on this; we used an aluminium honeycomb, so it’s super-light and super-stiff. You could put 200bhp in this quite happily,” Ben tells us.
“The Bugatti and the Ferrari are completely authentic underneath, but we designed the Aston to be more playful,” he continues. “It’s got Brembo brakes on the front and rear, Eibach springs and Bilstein dampers.” Looking over the construction, we can’t help but notice it’s not too dissimilar to the way modern Aston Martin road cars are built.
Under the skin, the Aston is available with a 13bhp or 21bhp electric motor, powered via a 4kWh or 7.2kWh battery pack. This might not sound like a lot, but in a car that’s barely 300kg, it’s plenty – as we’ll find out in a moment. It also gives the Aston an impressive range, with between 30 to 60 miles from a charge. And, of course, a natural progression from the Aston Martin Junior was to create a little Bond car – and that’s the one we’ll be taking for a spin – but sitting behind it in the workshop is something with even more distinctive bodywork and a certain Italian flair.
Much like the Bugatti Baby, the Testa Rossa J could pass for a full-sized original if it wasn’t for the giant humans standing beside it. Its aluminium skin is hand-formed, with over 300 man-hours put into every model, plus another few hundred added to the total by the time it’s painted and assembled. Ben tells us: “Most of it is made with an English Wheel or hammered over a buck. A few bits we need to stamp, such as the vented hood.” The badges, paint, leather and even the pedal facing all come from Ferrari itself.”
Perhaps even more astonishing is the tubular-steel chassis underneath. Just like the Bugatti, the chassis is built exactly to spec, only downsized, and with the suspension hardware updated with new high-end parts. “Ferrari let us into its Classiche archive and gave us the original chassis paper drawings from the fifties. We scanned them, and used this to create ours. The only thing that’s different is the doors, which don’t open.”
The Little Car Company didn’t hold back with the chassis hardware, though; as with the Aston, its dampers are from Bilstein, springs from Eibach and high-spec brakes from Brembo – here borrowed from a Ducati Diavel sports bike. Where elements could be sourced from the original’s supplier, they have been. The wheels are, astonishingly, built by Ferrari’s traditional collaborator Borrani. And the tyres? They’re Pirellis, using a heritage production run designed for the original Fiat 500.
On the track
Outside, all three cars are ready to be driven over to the small, bumpy test track that sits adjacent to Bicester Heritage’s airfield. We decide to start with the Bugatti, jumping into the alarmingly open cockpit to see up close just how stunning the build quality is. The gauges are near-identical to those found on an original Type 35, only now they have been repurposed to indicate power percentage, battery charge and speed.
Trundling past the period workshops of this former World War Two RAF Bomber Training Station, there’s a very odd but tangible feeling that this is probably quite similar to driving the authentic full-size Bugatti – only, instead of a fuel-spitting straight-eight in front of us, there’s a 13bhp electric motor whirring away. As we stop at the entry to the track, Ben tells us: “The set-up of each dynamic element takes direct inspiration from the original. That’s why our miniature has the same, quite unique, positive camber on the front wheels.”
Hidden within the turned-aluminium dashboard (unsurprisingly, to the same specification as the original) is a remake of a modern Bugatti’s ‘speed key’. One of the technicians comes over and suggests we go straight for the Advanced mode, putting all the electric motor’s energy to maximum use. The change makes a difference, but the relative lack of side support within the cabin makes us slightly thankful for the 14mph speed limit.
Next up is the Aston Martin which, by comparison to the Bugatti, feels like, well, an Aston Martin… Inside, the tiny Nardi steering wheel and bespoke, hand-assembled gauges are once again simply stunning to look at, yet on the move it’s clear how differently this drives. Thanks to its modern chassis design, the Aston rides and corners as convincingly as a sporting classic should. It’s also significantly more powerful than the Bugatti, and thanks to the extra stability from the lower driving position, this is a much more serious experience.
We can’t help but play with at least one of the toys that come with this James Bond edition, and soon we’re driving down the runway with smoke billowing out from the rear pipes – just as Sean Connery’s Silver Birch DB5 did in the Goldfinger film decades ago.
Now it’s time for the model that we’ve been most looking forward to. The Testa Rossa J instantly feels more intense than the Aston, and more sophisticated than the Baby – almost as if the decades of racing-car development after the Bugatti have been channelled in miniature. Our example boasts a few special extras, including a roll-hoop behind the driver that also acts as a support for a four-point harness fitted as part of the optional Pacco Gara upgrade. This, as well as the moulded, offset seat, gives the driver a lot more side support – crucial considering the higher cornering speeds these tiny Pirellis are capable of generating.
Floor the stunning milled-aluminium accelerator pedal, and the rear wheels chirrup as the full blat of torque from the electric motor hits. This thing is genuinely fun, and fast, too. On the back straight, we hit an indicated 80kph, or around 50mph, at which point the tiny air deflector isn’t quite enough to keep the icy wind out of our eyes.
But this doesn’t matter, because it’s just so enjoyable to drive. In fact, looking down the perfectly polished paint and curvaceous front wings, past the ornate bonnet catches and leather hold straps, we almost feel guilty pushing the tyres to the edges of their capability – but Ben is eagerly willing us to go on.
A few laps in, with some extra confidence in the car’s limits, we hit the brakes, and they feel as powerful as anything you might experience in a top hot hatch. Next corner there’s a damp patch just past the apex, and the front tyres wash wide ever so slightly, but a small lift from full throttle brings things back into line. Next corner, tighter this time, we decide to trail-brake – or apply a touch of brakes after initially turning in – to see if the rear will rotate. Right on cue, it does, doing the impossible by making the smile on our face even wider. All this with just 13bhp.
As we head back to the main assembly area in the cutest convoy you’ve ever seen, we can’t help but think about the sort of people who might buy just such a toy. We ask Ben, who tells us: “We’ve started to build stock cars to sell at retailers such as Harrods and Selfridges. Some customers see it and just say ‘I want it’ – but when the sales staff explain there’s a three or six-month waiting list, they get bored and blow £100k on a watch instead.”
Yet The Little Car Company’s heart and soul are with more traditional car-enthusiast buyers. Ben says: “More discerning customers who are adding them to a collection will generally take much more time, opting for a distinct specification. We’ve also had occasions where they’ve matched the paint and trim to their full-sized car already in the garage. We even have a couple in the USA who bought two to use as ‘mail cars’. Their driveway is two miles long, and they race each other to get the post in the morning.”
If you don’t wake up on Christmas morning to find one of these beauties under the tree, don’t worry. A basic Bugatti Baby II can be yours from just under £31,000, rising to around £53,500 for the top-spec model. The Aston starts at £49,000; the Bond Edition costs £90,000. And the Testa Rossa J? Well that’s a touch under £80,000 – but as with all Ferraris, most will leave the factory with a decent swathe of options adding to the cost. Or you could always try to get off Santa’s naughty list.
Which model is your favourite and why? Tell us in the comments section below...