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Replica's ’R Us

Sheehan Speaks
by Michael Sheehan
(Sports Car Market—November 2000 issue)

There’s really not much difference between buying a knock–off Louis Vuitton handbag in Times Square for $20, and picking up a replica (read that as fake) Ferrari 250 TR for $150,000 at an auction. The dollar amounts may be different, but the percentage of savings is the same. However, just as your repli–bag might be fine at a Saturday matinee of the San Jose Light Opera, you probably wouldn’t want to try to flaunt it at opening night at the Met. Similarly, any number of vintage race organizations would probably love to have your rebodied 250 GTE on their starting grid but the chances of Steve Earle letting you run in the Historics are somewhere between zero and none.

That said, for aficionados on a budget, a well–done replica allows them to own, use and enjoy a near duplicate of a 250 TR, TDF, SWB or GTO at a tiny fraction of the price of the real thing. There is a market in replicas; www.eCarCentral.com has a number of recent transactions in its database, and I track 167 different 250–based replicas in mine. For instance, at the December 1999 Brooks Europe sale in Gstaad, Switzerland, S/N 1067, born as a PF coupe, and now reborn as a pontoon–fendered 250 TR by Giordanego, sold for $196,000 and S/N 3839, originally a 250 GTE and now a 250 GTO created by Allegretti, sold for $155,000. In March of this year, S/N 1657, formerly a PF Coupe and now a 14–louver 250 TdF built by AutoSport in Modena, sold for $171,600 at the RM Auction at Amelia Island, Florida.

Before spending $150K for a recreation, do your homework. Don’t be in a hurry, and buy the best. The quality of construction in these cars varies radically, from Datsun 240Zs with plastic body panels to all–Ferrari-sourced component tube–framed replicas that are very difficult to tell from the real thing.

The less–expensive 250–series replicas (SWBs, TdFs and Cal Spyders) were generally built on a shortened 250 GTE chassis, with a mildly hot–rodded engine and a decent copy of the original bodywork. At a glance they look right, but all too often they were built to low–budget specs, so the engines are underpowered, the steering ratios are wrong, the shifter is in the wrong location, the rear leaf spring mounts protrude into the cockpit, moving the seating position too far forward and so on. They are anything but user–friendly to drive at speed, so stay clear unless you intend to limit your use to driving in small–town “Italian Day” parades.

Shortened and modified 250 PF coupe or 250 Lusso frames, which are very close in dimension to the more expensive car’s chassis, are the foundation for the best of the 250 TDF, SWB or California Spyder replicas. The front crossmember, spring mounts, brakes and suspension were updated with 250 GTE components, and correct duplicates of the headers, exhaust, transmission cases and differentials were fitted. The result is a well–balanced car that is a pleasure to drive, with a cockpit that is well laid out, and brakes, suspension and gear ratios that all work well together. Most were built in the late 1980s when values of the originals were soaring. They took a year to build and cost more than $250,000. They can be purchased today for about $150,000.

As for 250 TRs and GTOs, the best replicas were constructed around new frames built from the correct–size small, light diameter tubing as used in the originals. The engines were lowered and moved back in the frame and rebuilt with the correct carburetors, cams and other internals, matching the authentic cars millimeter for millimeter. Aluminum ribbed gearbox castings and correct shifters were also fitted, and 250 GTE suspension components were fitted and modified in a near duplication of the parts fitted by the Ferrari factory decades earlier.

Top–flight 250 GTOs and TR replicas are finished with flawless aluminum bodywork and are nearly perfect copies of the originals. When built in the late 1980s they cost well over $300,000. Today, they bring $150,000 to $200,000. This is a bargain compared to the $4M–8M an original will set you back, but of course, you’re still behind the wheel of a replica, and don’t have the “E–ticket” ride necessary to gain entrance to the most desirable vintage car races, rallies and concours.

The highest–quality replicars were built by Joe Marchetti, Greg Jones, Fossil Motorsports and the Fine Car Store in the US, DK Engineering in England, and Giordanego in Italy. They all carry the original serial numbers from their respective donor cars and were not created to deceive unknowing buyers. Many are actively raced in events such as the Chicago Historic races or the Walter Mitty Challenge. Almost all have been modified with updated engines, brakes or suspension tweaks that make them much faster and safer than the originals, even when driven very aggressively.

Many owners race, rally or run touring events with their 250 replicas several times a year, pleasing themselves, race fans and event organizers alike. They can offer great pleasure for the money. They may not be the real thing, but they are as close as most will ever get, at a tiny fraction of the cost. However, they’re an investment in looks and performance, rather than a financial one that has any real possibility of a positive return.

And when replica owners are asked, “Is it real?”, they can take solace knowing that the owners of the real thing get asked the same question. They just have a different answer.

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