"Clones.” “Resto-mods.” “Replicas.” I used to think that these were just fancy ways of saying “It may look real, but it’s not.” I’ve never really been a fan of these “fake” cars, but lately I’ve been looking at them in a new light. I like to think that as I get older, I get wiser (most others might disagree), but with such a growth in the interest in these cars over the past few years, I’ve been forced to take a closer look.
If you’re a purist, and you show your cars at the highest levels where the slightest deviation from original will cost you points on the judging card, and thousands (if not tens of thousands) of dollars in value, then these “fake” cars are not for you. But if you enjoy driving your car more than showing it, then it’s worth taking a closer look at these cars.
Let’s say that you’re a fan of the straight-line tire smoking performance of the 1969 Yenko 427 Camaro with a 4-speed transmission. Why not go faster with a 502 crate engine and a 5 or 6-speed transmission in a car that looks identical to the original? Yes, you’ll be driving a “clone,” but at one-quarter the price of the real thing. And you’ll even get a warranty on the power-train!
If the idea of a weekend cruise in a 1957 Chevy Bel Air convertible appeals to you, but the half-century old technology doesn’t, consider the same car with a Chevy ZZ4 engine mated to a 700R4 automatic transmission with overdrive. Add a set of power front disc brakes and the car will stop just as well as it will go. Maybe there’s something to be said for “resto-mods” after all.
How many readers of this column would like to own a 1966 Shelby Cobra? How many readers of this column are capable of plunking down upwards of three quarters of a million dollars on just such a car? How often are you prepared to drive it on the street? For less than one tenth of the price you can buy a replica that looks and performs at least as good as the real thing. Trust me. I’ve driven these cars and they are scary-fast. Best of all, if you wreck it, you didn’t just lose an amount equal to two or three times the average U.S. home value.
The quality of all of these “fake cars” is in most cases far better than the original. This is primarily due to the advancements in the quality of materials that are used in their construction compared to the materials that were available anywhere from a quarter-century to a half-century ago. This includes everything from the paint to the power plant.
The popularity of these cars is evidenced not only by the number that we see at car shows and cruise-nights, but by the prices realized at major auctions such as Barrett-Jackson. Prices are very strong, and it is not unusual to see a car sell for more than it cost to build. Think about that for a moment. I can think of few classic cars that one can pay to have restored to the same quality as some of these “fakes” and then sell at a profit…unless they do the work themselves and do not put a value on their own labor.
This fact has not been overlooked by the classic car and performance industry. The manufacturing of parts, and the construction of these cars used to be a cottage industry. Now you can choose a year, make, model, power-plant, transmission, suspension, options and color, and order it all from a catalog or have it professionally built for you. It will look just like the original if you want it to, or it can be modified to suit your individual tastes.
I am often asked whether a particular car is “a good investment?” I usually say that investing should to be left to investors. For most buyers, a good investment is a car that they enjoy, and comes sale time, maybe get their money back. I also advise them to look at the cost of owning the car, not the cost of buying the car. If you buy a car for $50,000, use it for three years and sell it for $50,000, the cost of owning the car was $0.00.
If one must absolutely look at a classic car as an investment, that would seem to make these “fake cars” a good investment. The downside in their value is very limited, and most owners get a lot of enjoyment out of them.
Anecdotally speaking, I’ve noticed a trend over the past decade or so in which those entering the classic car market are not so concerned about everything being 100% correct on the cars that they buy. They are much more interested in the ability to take their family out for a day or a weekend in relative safety and with a high degree of dependability. A little extra performance doesn’t hurt either. Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea.