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Largely a phenomenon of the nineties, most every auction, classified site and car show you visit will turn up a good number of very hot and very original looking cars, especially in the muscle car category. Call them clones, reproductions, tributes, re-creations or whatever you want (each has come to represent a variation on the overall theme), at the end of the day they are a wannabe copy of the real thing.
While many in the hobby look down on these with disdain, our view is that there is fundamentally nothing wrong with this, as long as each carries full disclosure. Not everyone can afford a real hemi 'cuda or Trans Am convertible, and this type of car allows them to come very close to the experience. Often they have been subject to a full, expensive restoration with the correct engine and transmission, all the proper chassis components and a full set of reproduction trim and interior items. Many have been created from just the basic body shell of the model, with everything else new to the car. Unlike the genuine article, they lack genuine and verifiable pedigree, and problems arise when these are built and sold with the intention of passing them off as the real thing. That is fraud, and it's all too prevalent in today's collector car world.
Another reason for creating a clone, money! Muscle cars were generally based on popular lower priced family style mid-size models. Pontiac's GTO was born from the Le Mans series in the mid-1960s, while the Plymouth Satellite spawned the GTX. Thousands of Chevrolet Camaros were built in 1969, but a relatively few of these came with the hot Z-28 package. Obviously, the collector car market operates like any other marketplace -- supply and demand rules. The larger the demand and smaller the quantity, the higher the price.
Some unscrupulous dealers and individuals try to profit from the ignorant buyer or one who is suffering with the "just has to have it" syndrome. Often this condition blinds the buyer to obvious things such as non-number matching components, ID numbers or registration papers that don't seem to connect. Worse, the creator may have mounted reproduction id and trim tags in a deliberate attempt to mislead buyers. Many are done so well that even experts can't tell it is not the real thing. We've seen many fakes being sold as genuine by unwitting 2nd or 3rd owners, causing legal problems for an innocent owner who thought they had the real thing.
What Gets Cloned?
But don't get the idea that only muscle cars get this treatment. For example, in 1960 76 Edsel convertibles were produced before the Edsel was discontinued in November 1959. Over 44,000 1960 Ford Sunliner convertibles were built and these two cars are so similar that with a set of wrenches, a 1960 Edsel two door sedan, and a little bodywork, you too can have one of these rare oddballs. We know of at least a half dozen "clone" 1960 Edsel convertibles, and at least one backyard artisan actually created a "replica" ID number that passed one state's criteria to officially become a 1960 Edsel. That car is now out in the public, with the current owner believing it is the genuine item.
Another long-time favorite for clone producers has been the mid-1960's Ford Mustang based Shelby GT-350s and GT-500s. Through the diligent work of the Shelby American Automobile Club, a complete registry of all Shelby Ford based products exists, and a quick check with their headquarters can help determine if the car you are looking at is real or fake. We find it quite interesting that the prices for "clone" Shelby Mustangs rarely do as well, had the owner decided to restore the car to stock Mustang condition.
"Clone-makers" for years have been replicating the 1962 and 1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster. From the factory this package featured wire wheels, a fiberglass tonneau that covered the rear seats, and special emblems. When the package was first released in the fall of 1961 for 1962 models, the data plate and ID numbers were no different than the standard T-bird convertible. Later in the 1962 model year, the body code was changed from "76A" to "76B" for the Sports Roadster. Also changed was the body code information in the ID number, from an "85" to an "89". For the owner of an early 1962 T-bird convertible, the conversion to a Sports Roadster would be quite simple, just add the emblems, wheels and tonneau cover. However, there were records kept on all of these special cars, and the only way to really verify if the car was an authentic roadster would be to get a copy of the original factory invoice, as the Roadster package would be indicated on that form.
Recently we have seen a number of "clone" 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Yenko SC coupes on the auction circuit. We have also seen several of the genuine articles out there. Prices for the replicas generally runs from one-fifth to one-fourth that of a real, certified ultra-muscle car.
One of the most popular reproductions is the fabled Shelby Cobra. Dozens of companies have produced kits, completed models, and composition vehicles. Currently Shelby American itself produced a limited number of composition vehicles marketed as the CSX-4000 series. A customer can order aluminum or fiberglass body on a special chassis, and then specify their own desires for engines, transmissions, suspension and so on. Due to the outstanding documentation of the originals from the Shelby American Automobile Club, most real Cobras have been accounted for and are easily identified by chassis set-up and serial numbers.
Two other often cloned models are big block Corvettes and Hemi Mopars. Unfortunately, many are are passed off as real (It's a well known "fact" that there are more of these around today than were originally produced!) and sometimes the buyer is none the wiser.
Another item to check when determining the authenticity of a General Motors vehicle is the "build plate" or "Buck tag" that is installed on the body at the factory. This plate often carries the original paint and trim codes, as well as an "ACC" code which may have the option code for a model such as a "Z-28" Camaro, or a "W-30" Oldsmobile 442.
Collectors of Mopar products have little to go on for early production muscle cars relating to the engine. But starting in 1966, a company-wide change to the ID numbers included the engine code, which today is very helpful in determining a real muscle car from an everyday family coupe. Certain models, especially the early Chrysler 300 letter series cars, have a place to turn to for help right at Chrysler, where many of the original factory invoices are stored digitally or on microfiche.
Ford's ID methods were a bit better in the earlier years, but lagged behind their GM and Mopar competitors when those two companies began upgrading their body, engine and trim identification. Because of the limited information on Ford body tags, many collectors look for a "Marti Report" on 1967 and up Ford collector cars.
For a time in the 2000's, clones were all the rage and brought some big money. Shops everywhere were churning out "tributes" and bringing them to auction to make some money. Mopars in particular were subject to this practice and crate Hemis could be found in in just about every E-body that had been recently restored. When the collector car market fell, clones took the hardest hit. Today (2013), it is much more difficult to make money in this manner. The original Reproduction Discount table has changed, with cloned Hemi 'cudas, LS6 Chevelles and Trans Ams now at more than a 50% discount. A Shelby Mustang clone is now valued at much less than even 50% of the real thing, although this is due to the strong increases the originals have enjoyed in the last couple years.
Good or Bad?
note: this article first appeared in the September 2000 issue of Collector Car&Truck Market Guide. Updated 2010. (C) Copyright 2000-2010, VMR International, Inc. All rights reserved.