Oh, it’s certainly undeniably glorious when somebody rolls out a tribute car; or continuation car or whatever they want to call it. We get to see an example of our favorite car all dolled up, squeaky clean, ready to go to car show or vintage race or concours.
The only trouble is—it’s messin’ with history big-time.
Now sometimes the car is built surreptitiously by private parties. I will never forget I’m driving down the street in Italy and I see three 330GT or 250GT bodies stacked up on top of each other in a lot. Why? Because those were the bodies of “donor” cars whose chassis had been made into more sporting Ferraris.
Stripped Down Classic Ferrari 212 Used to make a replica
Now the cognoscenti, the tifosi, those who are charter subscribers to the Ferrari magazines, they scoff at the mere suggestion that anybody could mistake one of these re-creations for the real thing. Well, I’m here to tell ya that sometimes the trail gets quite murky.
If you go to a site called barchetta.cc, armed with a serial number, then you could come across more than one car history where it says “chassis replaced”. Considering the older Ferraris have a steel tube chassis that is the backbone of the car; the basis on which it is built, once you replace the chassis, well, to me, you’re on your way to building a clone. I once sent a photographer out to photograph a restored 250LM and he came back and said: “They told me the chassis has been replaced, the engine has been replaced, the trans has been replaced and the body is new.” My response: “Well then where’s the real car?”
I once was given a book on the Lola T70 to review. I couldn’t review it. Oh, it had lots of pretty pictures and information but the problem for me re-occurred every few pages where it would say “and then a new chassis was built.” Well, to me the old car ceased to exist when the new chassis was built. Now when some of those re-creations, say a 250GTO in aluminum, were commissioned in the ‘70’s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the customer and the builder knew damn well they were building a replica clone of a model that, for real ones, is up in the $30-50 million range. So they didn’t think, or pretend they didn’t think, that anyone would mistake what they were building for the real thing.
But let’s say you are copying a lesser known Ferrari than a 250GTO, will the average Joe off the street at an auction be able to tell if it was that model when it first rolled out of Maranello? As the clone moves from owner to owner over 30, 40 and 50 years, are all those buyers going to be filled in by all those sellers of the car’s history? What if the original commissioner of the car is deceased, do his relatives have a clue as to what car that is? I think sometimes the heirs just want that piece of junk out of the garage tout de suite.
RACE CARS A REAL MESS RECORDS WISE
This is particularly a problem with race cars. Sometimes automakers like Porsche would send, say, a 904GTS to the track for testing but then send along a spare chassis just in case the already finished race car crashes in practice. I have even seen pictures of identical cars, right down to the numbers in the roundels, one to be hidden in storage at the track in case the main car crashes (“Boy, that was a fast rebuild…”).
A Real Ferrari 250 LM and Ken Phillips
And then there’s cars built after the fact, after the factory supposedly stopped building them. There’s at least one Gullwing Mercedes like that, and a 904GTS, both built out of spare parts later (in both cases, you could order the chassis out of the parts catalog).
ORPHAN MARQUES EASIER TO FAKE
One of the biggest problem areas with clones/tributes/outright fakes is in the area of marques that have fallen by the wayside. Unlike say Porsche where you can check a database and find out if that is a real 356 chassis number (I even sent a chassis number reported to be that of James Dean’s 356 Speedster to Porsche and they confirmed it was a real number but couldn’t tell me who bought it).
Porsche can even tell you what engine number a 356 was built with. Handy to have a factory backing you up like that. But when you are dealing with obscure deceased marques like Iso, Bizzarrini, Intermeccanica, DeTomaso, Monteverdi, etc. factory records are few and far between, often thrown away when the factory closed down. So now we have Bizzarrinis appearing that never existed in their original era.
Bizzarrini GT 5300: Not What It Appears To Be
Auction companies are being sloppy in labeling them. I remember an Iso that was sold for heavy bread as “an Iso prototype” when in fact it was some Italian car dealer’s stillborn project based on an Iso chassis. The Iso factory never saw it. Yet it sold for near half a million some poor sucker going home to show his buddies his “factory prototype”. The auction company should have labeled it “Iso-based prototype.” That added word is all the difference in the world.
You’re telling me that the average nouveau riche that goes to the Barrett Jackson, or any other auction, knows from 50 feet away if that car on stage was built that way by the original maker? I don’t think so. And some of those buying these “barn find” discoveries are new to the car game, having a lark, bidding on something to show the guys back home how astute a buyer they are. They eat crow later when doubt is thrown on the authenticity of what they brought home.
A COMPARISON TO THE ART MARKET
In an article by Eileen Kinsella (04/01/11) on Art News.com they already were raising the alarm about fake Andy Warhol clones of his canvas silk screenprints five years ago. In the article, called “The Trouble with Warhol,” they write of the Board that was supposed to authenticate Warhol prints; “The board had another problem to deal with. A few months before the auctions, it admitted in a report that it had been misled about some of the artist’s most iconic works”.
Andy Warhol Campbell Soup Can 1968
Dozens of Brillo boxes the board had authenticated over the years had to be “reclassified” as posthumous works, the report said, because they were fabricated not in 1968, but in 1990, three years after the artist’s death (see The Brillo-Box Scandal,November 2009).” Now it’s 2016 and I would say the problem with Warhol works is much worse: a much darker shadow has been cast over the authenticity of all Andy Warhol prints. Unlike faking a car, all you need to fake one is a good eye, a set of silk screens and a silk screen press. I would say, increasingly, art is becoming a bad investment vehicle because of rampant cloning.
COMPANY SPONSORED CLONES
Now not everybody building fake cars is an individual or a small cabal planning to pull the wool over our eyes. Sometimes its major corporations like Jaguar. I cringed when, a few years back, they announced the Lightweight E-type program, where they said in effect: “Gee, we were supposed to build 18 but only built twelve so we’ll build a few more.”
I don’t think it’s possible for them to build old cars without using modern methods. Allow me first to go through the shop and confiscate all tools made after the year of the car they are cloning. No Cad Cam. In fact no computers. They can use slide rules like the original engineers. It is really unfair to owners of the real cars that these clones will be welcomed at concours, and at vintage races, shown alongside cars that owners took decades to restore.
Now Jaguar is doing it again. Now they are resurrecting the XKSS, the road-legal version of the D-Type that won Le Mans. This time they are saying in effect “the plant caught fire,” we didn’t get to finish the ones on the line. Well, sorry guys, if I went back in my time machine and resurrected all the other stuff destroyed in fires and war, I could make money too.
1957 Jaguar XKSS Once Owned by Steve McQueen
The car magazines, TV car programs and websites who celebrate these clones are guilty of riding along on the gravy train of these factory built clones. And why is that? Don’tcha think these clones are being introduced at nice soirees, with the champagne flowing, at places like Goodwood and Monterey and Amelia? A good time was had by all at the intro but meanwhile each new introduction of clones means more confusion being sewn down the road in the classic marketplace of the future.
Jaguar is using serial numbers that were in the records of the time. “Oh, but everybody will know by the chassis numbers that these are clones” I can hear you pro-clonesters saying. But I am talking 10, 20, 30 years down the road, is that chassis number list going to be that available?
THE SHELBY RE-DO
It all reminds me when I skewered Carroll Shelby in my last book on him for claiming he had re-discovered a number of chassis built for 427 Cobras. He announced he was going to complete them.
Working with a Cobra restorer in Torrance, at least five rolled out the door, some fetching sales prices in excess of $500,000.
Now back in the ‘80s, when the Department of Motor Vehicles in California began to question when the chassis were laid down. Shelby moved his whole operation to Nevada and phased out the use of the word “continuation” or whatever he was calling them (completion cars?). But the demand is still there. And wouldn’tcha know, a Shelby press release told a little of that story.
The first 100 cars were designated to be competition versions so that the car could compete in FIA races, ergo the “S/C” designation appearing after ‘427.’ Only 53 were completed before Henry Ford II made his special request of Carroll to take on Ferrari in the “Prototype” class. This, in reality, marked the end of the Shelby Cobra builds…998 in all. Until now!
Carroll Shelby began the sacred task of completing the “Remaining 43” in 1988 when he hired the legendary restorer Mike McCluskey, who began the painstaking job of making the tooling, jigs and fixtures necessary to build these vintage cars true to their original specifications.
The Real AC Shelby Cobra CSX 2001
Carroll completed and sold five of the 427 S/C Cobras for $500,000 each between 1990 and 1992.
But the amazing thing is that the same press release of May 12, 2015 goes on to say they are resurrecting the project and building out the run to 100 cars. Using the numbers accorded them by the FIA in the Sixties.
But now they have a firmer leg to stand on with Jaguar doing it. And nobody is criticizing them (except me, and it’s lonesome adopting this position).
WHEN WILL THE OTHER AUTOMAKERS JOIN IN?
Now look at the luxury sports car field. You don’t have to be too smart to predict that It’s only a matter of time before the other automakers will take note of the millions Jag is raking in on these clones. If not already soon they will be asking themselves: “What do we have in our past that people want?”
Like in Mercedes, the 300SLR or at least a few more Gullwings.
Porsche: How ‘bout some 904’s, 906s and 908s and oh,yeah, some 356 Carrera Speedsters.
Lamborghini: Hey, how ‘bout some more Miuras, this time Targas or Jotas too.
The amazing thing is, if they are exact copies as they maintain, they will ignore all the laws about new 2016 cars having to have air bags, side door guard beams, crush zones, dual master cylinders, yadda yadda. How can they do that? Oh, they are whatever year they look like—a ’57 Gullwing, etc. Back then even seat belts weren’t mandatory.
I don’t know if California will buy that ruse but I can bet those cars will be out and about, maybe registered in some place where you can buy a PO box and use the street address of that and pay the annual license plate fee. Or run on dealer plates, in some states it doesn’t take much to score one of those (had one myself before they tightened the rules).
And so it is, the private clonesters inspired one automaker to jump in and you can bet that if Jag succeeds, others will follow.
All of which will make classic car auctions a lot more dicey in the future…
by Wallace Wyss