The classic car world is full of “coulda, shoulda, woulda” stories of people who had the opportunity to buy something when it was affordable only to see it sail out of reach. If you didn’t buy a Shelby Cobra during the Nixon administration for 10 grand, the only alternative for most people today is a replica. It’s all good fun unless someone tries to pass one off as the real deal. Here are five of the most common classic car counterfeits:
1. 1967 Shelby Cobra 427
The Cobra might just be the most desirable sports car on the planet. Not coincidentally, it’s also the most replicated. With bulging, macho good looks; a big block Ford V-8; side pipes; shattering performance; and only around 300 originals made, it was a certainty from almost the beginning that supply and demand would never be equal. The originals have always commanded good money — by the late 1970s, they were approaching $50,000, and around that time, cottage industries sprang up everywhere to build Cobra replicas. Some were quite good while others bordered on undriveable. A lot depended on the skill (or lack thereof) of the builder. Even Carroll Shelby, the car’s original creator, got into the act. Some argue that the 1992 Dodge Viper was the ultimate tribute to the Cobra. Fortunately, it’s really hard to pass off one of the replicas as the real deal; the Shelby Club maintains a registry of the real cars by serial number and history
2. 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder
The 550 Spyder (of James Dean death car fame) and the more common bathtub-like Porsche 356 Speedster have a long history of being replicated. A Canadian company called Intermeccanica makes very high quality Speedster replicas, while Beck in the U.S. has a great reputation for making 550 Spyder replicas. Because the originals were alloy and steel, respectively, and the replicas are fiberglass, there’s no danger of one being passed off as the real thing. Real 550 Spyders are $4 million or so and Speedsters can bring more than $300,000. Replicas can be had for around $30,000, which combined with the fact that they’re quite fun to drive explains their appeal.
3. 1961 250 GT Ferrari California Spyder
Before Ferrari got serious about cracking down on violations of its intellectual property rights, its products were among the most commonly knocked-off cars on the planet. A very bogus California Spyder built by a company called Modena Industries shot to fame as the hero car in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” About 50 were built between 1987 and 1989, before Ferrari said “basta!” Real ones start at about $9 million.
4. Ferrari 308 GTS
After the “Ferris Bueller” car, the Ferrari with the most screen exposure was the red Ferrari 308 GTS that Tom Selleck drove on “Magnum P.I.” Conveniently, as the 308 reached the apex of its fame via the TV show, Pontiac came out with the mid-engine Fiero, whose space frame design combined with non-stressed removable plastic body panels made it the ideal platform for conversions designed to simulate far more expensive mid-engine exotics. The most famous (or perhaps infamous) of these was the MERA, a replica of the Ferrari 308. While the proportions were off and the interior screamed cheap, we suspect that most of the then 20-something barflies taken in by the guy with gold chains and a polyester Hawaiian shirt driving the bogus 308 never suspected a thing.
5. 1935 Auburn 851 Speedster
Other than a slew of neoclassics that vaguely replicate Mercedes-Benzes of the 1930s, pre-war cars are seldom faked. But the Iconic Indiana-built Auburn Speedster (along with its equally stunning sister the Cord 810/812) is an exception. We’ve lost count of how many companies have built replicas over the last 40 years are so. Like the Cobras, some are quite good and some exhibit the build quality of a Sochi hotel room. A replica Speedster was featured in the opening scene of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”