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Hagerty Employee

Homage to the Tribute Car: Why we should love homemade replicas

No one knows who built the first tribute car. The question recalls the old line about racing, how the first car race took place shortly after the world’s second car was built. The first tribute car was probably assembled five minutes after some enterprising mechanic noticed that the horseless carriage he wanted was both rare and expensive. When people want what they can’t have, they often fall back on the next best thing—building one instead.


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Pit Crew

Sam. Appreciate your writing. I remember your original story on this car, and liked the fact that it didn't have all the aftermarket emblems on it. The car's soul was derived from the pure enjoyment of driving it, and not from some perceived connection to another car.

Intermediate Driver

I love "Drivers".  These to me are the best cars to own.  I've had pristine cars that just sat in the garage.  What a waste.  I would worry about it if I took it to the store.  So I sold it and bought a driver that gets plenty of looks and conversations.  Tributes are in the same boat, even a tribute like this Shelby is gaining in value and could move out of the "driver" category too.  Drive On!!

New Driver

Agree with Forester. I had a later model Shelby GT500 that was really pristine, and didn't drive it enough. I got an early TR6 with many warts that I can drive anytime, and park anywhere (when it's running!).
Pit Crew

Sam, Thank you for a great article.  You are right on point.  As far as a "real" version of a car is concerned, any such car that has not been with the owner since its original build cannot be known to be completely unmolested.  Maintenance records, service work and repairs can be fabricated to "document" originality.  I am glad that you enjoy your car and keep the marque alive! 


How many 1969 so-called SS 396’s have cheaped out 454 8.5 compression truck motors, 10 bolt rear axles, and in fact never were a SuperSport ?


The clone crowd should be aware 396/375 Chevelles had solid lifter Cams, and 3/8 fuel lines.


Too often, I’ve seen real deal cars passed over in favor of poser cars when trophys are handed out.


disclaimer:  I don’t participate in car shows, just my observations.


I hear you. My bud had a real '66 SS 396/375. I never thought about the bigger fuel line until I read this post. You really can't mistake that solid lifter sound, or the lack of it.
Intermediate Driver

I totally agree we need replicas . My favorite car of all time, the Shelby Cobra, is way to expensive for me to afford. I’ve got a replica. It’s not cheap but with a FE428 , 5 5spd. , it’s a ball to drive, and look at!

Advanced Driver

@Sam: I couldn't agree more with all the statements you have made! I have no problem with any "tribute" car as long as it is not constructed to be be passed off/sold as the real thing. I appreciate the effort that someone takes to build a dream upon the base that they have. I bought a base lo-mileage Charger from the original owner, and then proceeded to add every OEM piece to "upgrade" it to a seemingly R/T status; replicating the same formula with a lo-mileage Challenger, after the Charger was totaled. In fact, every car that I've bought has been subjected to  this same formula, including my current project, a one owner 70 Charger 500. I'm nowhere wealthy enough to own "trailer queens", my cars are driven for enjoyment; not to sit around as a static display to be looked at and dusted off.  I have them insured so that IF (God forbid!) the unthinkable accident occurs, I'll be able to repair/replace/and or move on! Let the tributes continue!! 🙂

Intermediate Driver

In an East Texas Walmart parking lot, I saw a couple getting into their tribute General Lee Dodge Charger.  Looked exactly like it, except it was a Dodge Aspen.  When I complimented them on their ride, they smiled.  That's when I realized they were able to pay for it with the money they had saved on dental work.

Intermediate Driver

Disclosed Tributes are awesome.  As long as all parties understand the product.  10? years ago, I spotted a 69 GTO convertable behind a barn in western NY and bought it for $300 with totally rusted frame/body and trees growing up through it. Entire drivetrain was original. Sold it (for a bunch more) to a body shop on Long Island area who were building a clone for a client who went broke and couldn't complete it, he left the car as payment for work done.  Body shop installed all my VIN parts and rebuilt the drivetrain...and sold clone as restored GTO.  There was no way to tell the difference.  So my barn find parts were added to a clone and sold at an auction for $70,000+, and even the diligent auction house's inspection could not tell the difference. I learned about it months after sale and was a bit dismayed.  Things are sometimes not as they seem.

Advanced Driver

A driver that looks like a limited edition collector car? what is the problem?

As an example, there are a slew of "not quite authentic" Pontiacs out there that look great. They tend to be mostly "GTO" and "Trans Am" lookalikes. How about a "fake"

AC Cobra with a 427 or similar rolling through the downtown and shaking the windows? 

As long as you are not representing the car as the real deal, then it's all good.

I personally know of a hotrod "reseller" who created many fake GTO's that started life as a common Le Mans. We should all call out those bandits, and I do when asked.

A few "classic car dealers" are just money grubbing lowlifes. Identify and avoid them! 



I have no problem with tributes.  For me, I would just hate always telling people, "No, it's not real".  I'd rather have a good pro touring car with no excuses for anybody.

Pit Crew

It's your car, do what you want. Totally stock is nice in a showroom, but on the road is where the car belongs. Drive it and don't worry about what the odo says.  When someone criticizes what I've done to my car, I ask them to show me the work they've done on theirs.


Ever since the mid 60's I lusted after a 427 Cobra. By the time I was ready to realize my teenage dreams their pricing was out of sight. A friend with similar dreams and I decided to build a pair of kit Cobras. We had a ball and I kept reminding my friend that we should slow down because building these cars together was going to be the most fun we would ever have with them. 10 years later and we still have our completed cars and we still enjoy them tremendously. We can take them out and flog them, pitch them sideways and smoke the tires without a care. My teenage dreams were fulfilled without breaking the bank.

Intermediate Driver

If you love cars, then you do what you can to enjoy them. Some bank accounts allow more flexibility than others.

My bank account allowed for a Factory Five Cobra, not a real one.


any 1 who mods, restores-in-exactly, etc hasa 'tribute car'. U can't pick upa wrench w/o doing so. 'Concourse correct' are even so to an extent.  Who cares? 'Plenty of folk' but not me.  On this forum a post hada link to a newsman who did not understand this cadre of  'Plenty of folk' and sat ona display car, or banged a door, may B both. There was an out cry to fire him from his job and sue in a court of law.  I "didn't get it" (in a way I did). Its just a car...


Amen brother. Build what you like and drive the heck out of it. There's a place for garage queens (I have one myself), but you can often have a lot more fun with a tribute - and not suffer major financial pain if something bad happens.


Love this article!  "And in that light, anyone who takes issue with you building your dream should probably lighten up. More important, they’re just plain missing out."  "Carve out your piece of the rock, and don’t worry what others think. And most of all, when in doubt, fling open that garage door and just drive the thing."  Amen brother!


Exactly. My stepdad and I built a Duster Twister replica out of his '71. At car shows the "makers of the marquee" try and find every thing incorrect, like for instance, having a gullwing spoiler. Never mind the fact that many a bodies didn't come with them and got them installed as a dealer option. Meanwhile if you compliment their car, you get a twenty minute "observance of their greatness".
Pit Crew

I couldn’t agree more, to me the tribute can be more like the original than the original has become. In 65’ Shelby sold cars to regular working people, albeit those that were either foolish with their money or VERY hard working, and they drove them like they were meant to be driven. Today a 1965 427 S/C Cobra is owned by a wholly different crowd and traded for millions. That isn’t what the car was about to Carroll Shelby. And I took that philosophy to heart when I built my Factory Five - inside and out it reminds you of 1965, but under the hood and fender wells it brings the technology. In my opinion, it’s what Ken Miles would appreciate were he alive today. 

Intermediate Driver

At some point, someone is going to write about the inherent evil of building a tribute car. They will probably offer up pedantic points about authenticity and the ultimate truth belonging only to the original production run. I hope they think twice and read the article again.

  Most, if not all, of the touchstone racers, commissioned one-off's, and the cars Steve McQueen washed by hand are owned by serious collectors. Considering those facts, I think it is a compliment to the museum pieces for someone to invest themselves in a tribute car. The tribute edition must mean something deeper to the owner and if changing the aesthetics or running gear makes the owner happy,  more power to them and the car! 

 At the end of the day, it's your car. If the tribute issue causes an ethical dilemma, the next time you are behind the wheel, if you like, ponder whether your favorite band remains original when only one founding member is still on stage. If you go far enough and fast enough, I don't think it's going to matter. 


I have mixed feelings on this.  I fear a lot of these cars will be misrepresented further on down the line as they change hands, either intentionally or because communication breaks down as the car changes hands. 


I also have heard guys who had tributes claiming to onlookers that their car is the real deal.  I really don't like when they do that.   Not that they were trying to sell their cars but still misleading onlookers.  


But the one good thing I see in them relates to my experience with street rods.  I owned a steel '32 Ford De Luxe Tudor for 20 years.  I didn't care for the fiberglass versions but I realized that because of them, the prices of the steel cars were more affordable.  I probably never could have been able to buy a steel Deuce if only steel cars were available.   And it's the same with tributes.

Pit Crew

No problem with tribute cars as long as there is full disclosure. That said, there are probably 2x as many claimed Cooper S's than were ever built. Then throw in a bunch of re-VINing to get around import/California restrictions over the years and buyer be very aware if you are paying more than fun driver prices.



New Driver

I couldn't agree more! My car looks like a stock bodied C3 with fat tires with deep gloss black paint, oh never mind they never built any black 72's,  until I open the LT 1 style hood, or if they dare to crawl under the car. Nothing has been untouched. The best part, I love driving it. If it were that rare LT 1 or original big block, I doubt it would come out of the garage for fear of putting miles and ruining resale. God forbid! I had one Corvette elitist walk away muttering something about it being just a small block. Lol, well I guess if you call a 600 hp, 434 cu in of fuel injected small block just a sbc, you would be in for surprise when I cranked it up. Anyway, yup, enjoy them, drive them and never be ashamed of building your vision! 

Pit Crew

I'll just leave this here..  Mr. Ben Beames of California is an admirer of Lotus, particularly the Lotus 38 Indy Car, winner of the 1965 Indy 500 with Jim Clark and the 1967 Indy 500 won by Graham Hill.  Car is a full aluminum monocoque tub built in his side yard.  Power is a 302 Ford with an Audi transaxle.

New Driver

I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment and it strikes a chord because right now I am trying to figure out what to do with a v8 automatic 66 Mustang Coupe. I was fortunate enough this year to purchase the 356 roadster that had been owned by an old friend who passed away. It is the definitive hobby/driver quality car and after getting it running I was asked more than once ”is it a replica?” I know this will sound strange but I found myself answering the question with a yes partly because I didn’t want anyone to think that I spent the amount of money it was worth to buy it and partly because it would be less likely to be stolen. And partly, or mainly because I am a goof.

Pit Crew

I recently bought a 2012 Mustang GT Premium GT500 conversion at a bargain price.   By far the funest and fastest car I have ever owned.  Big attention getter.   Hats off to the guys who pay attention to detail and build a perfect replica that looks and performs as good or better.  Every part is GT500 except it's a5.0 supercharged Coyote vs. the 5.4L and I can drive it as my daily driver without worries but i treat  it as the king of the road that it wants to be.

New Driver

Great article. I have two "take to car show cars". One of them has never been in the rain ever in its entire life. The other I drive every chance I get. I plan to put 100,000 miles on my Shelby and my pristine Trans Am will be going down the road. I will drive the Shelby until they pull the shifter out of my cold dead hand. 

Pit Crew

Have fun. No one can tell you what is fun. Try not to break traffic laws. 


If I can ever find a '71 Plymouth E-Body that is good enough to build at a price I can afford, I am building a replica of the Phantasm 'Cuda(the original small block four speed car). Well, with the exception of those stupid fender flares. 

Intermediate Driver

I am not a fan of "tribute" cars. Call them what they are modified or restomods or "my baby".  I have no problem with anyone building whatever they want but putting a pretty name on it just turns me off.


I'm ok with tribute cars as long as they are not misrepresented as real cars. Case in point, I was at a local car show years ago where there was a real 1977 Pontiac LeMans Can Am and a tribute Can Am. The tribute was restored and the real Can Am car was not as it was in original condition. The tribute car won a third place trophy while the real Can Am didn't win anything. Judges should have been aware of this. Tribute cars are fine as most of us common folk cannot afford the real car of their dreams so this is a way to have their dream car. I have an issue when they're misrepresented and touted as real cars at either car shows or selling them as real.

Intermediate Driver

Wow! Great article. I love to modify/restomod and tribute cars are just fine with me.  The people who have to have everything original I like to call them “originaros”.  That’s cool but for me, building something with my own flare is not only rewarding but fun.  Most people can’t tell anyway except the “originaros”.  

Intermediate Driver

Our favorite classic is our 70 Chevelle SS 454 clone. The engine doesn't have 450 hp, but it does have a mild cam and it's set-up for driving not drag racing. How many original SS 454s with an LS5 or LS6 BBC are driven from Chicago to Santa Monica on Route 66, or taken on 800 mile road trips to Cruising the Coast???? We go to car shows and take an occasional trophy, but that's not why we're there...meeting people, talking about cars, and enjoying car people and the car hobby is the key!


I think "tribute" cars are really a separate thing from "restomods", "drivers", and such, which most commenters on this article seem to be talking about.  A "tribute" (or more honestly, as some say, a "clone") car is a fake, and nothing else.  It may be a really good fake, but is a fake, nonetheless.


Sam, thank you for this.

Another approach to tribute is to make the car your own; in other words update or modify the existing machine to make it better, more reliable, tractable in traffic, whatever. Without disturbing the outer manifestation of the car itself so that anybody looking at it will think it's original. Several years ago I bought a '57 Bird, a design and car I always liked, and proceeded to lengthen its springs, install Vintage Air and Heat, variable ratio steering and disc brakes on all four wheels. 50s Birds and Corvettes ride like trucks, so the modification made for much more comfortable motoring. The car also had electronic ignition which made a difference in driveability. I don't like portholes in hardtops because there's no continuity with the rest of the car's design but my hardtop 

has it anyway. The car was a delight, and I sold it with fair profit to as collector in Texas who writes ocassionally and tells me he's still driving it and won't sell it.


My story is much like

Spider Larry , The AC Cobra has always been a dream car for me.

Thanks to Dave Smith and team at Factory 5, I've been able to live that dream, and now I'm working on the Type 65 coupe. aka Daytona.  Its a great feeling to open the garage and try to decide how you want to make your heart race !!! " BIULD EM AND DRIVE EM "


Pit Crew

I think that I still prefer the real deal and don't like "clones."  I can appreciate all of the current slew of "resto-mods" out there, but when someone shoves a new Corvette engine/drive train into a 1962 C-1 look alike, I just shake my head and wonder why.  If you want a 1962 Vette, you should just buy a 1962 Vette.


The Shelby Mustang in your article looks like it will pass muster.  It looks like the real deal, probably sounds and handles like the real deal, but obviously comes in at a much lower price.  As far as other clones out there, the Pontiac car from "Smokey and Bandit" is probably one of the most copied.  Who would not want to be Burt Reynolds behind the wheel of that black beast with the T-Tops open?  But I guess if it is what you want to have in your garage, I say go for it.  Just my 2 cents worth.

Intermediate Driver

In reality, isn't a Camaro a tribute to the Mustang? The Thunderbird a tribute to the Corvette? And so on.... good article Sam 

Intermediate Driver

Great article. Who gives a damn; a true classic or a tribute. The whole adventure of owning a classic is the opportunity to cruise, with a smile on your face.

It is not the value or the truth of the model; it is the fun factor and the enjoyment of the moment.

Life is too short to stand in the garage and admire what cannot be driven. Regardless of the wealth, you cannot take it with you. I would rather go with a smile on my face than a doubt in my mind about "what if"!

Intermediate Driver

My 66 Mustang 2+2 is a tribute car of sorts. It's a tribute to what MAY have been. I call it a GT350S.  Kinda figured after the R model S may be next.....a combo of street and race models. Not a full race car but not a regular street car.  When asked what 'S' is I say letter after R, Stealth, Street.  I used as many NOS parts and filled in with good repros. Ford Avalanche Gray with the normal twin black Shelby stripes. So not really sure where my car fits but I enjoy it and that's number one.  


It fits in in the following way:It's YOURS to enjoy how YOU see fit.

I love it when th. e experts can not agree on what is original and what a tribute, clone or 

whatever is.

I do have a survivor, original paint, original interior , Max Wedge car. I receive both positive and the negative comments on the car. Most way out of line by someone who read a magazine article somewhere. When I sit in the car it is 1963 all over. Nothing sounds like a solid lifter 426 Max Wedge engine. I only have to be the only one happy with it. Do not want trophy's. The car is the only Trophy I will ever need. 

Thank you Dodge for building it.......


Oh man, a true Maxie. I had the privilege of driving a Savoy with one. You're right, nothing sounds like a Max Wedge. Nothing.

I just saw a clip on Youtube showing a 64? Belvedere with modded 383 racing a Neon SRT4. Man, the sound of that 383 was AWESOME! You can watch the clip to see who won... 


I belong to the Jurassic Park Motor Pool with over 2000 members world wide that all share a common love for and ownership of early 1990's Jeep Wranglers turned into JP tributes.  My personal is a 1994 Wrangler YJ with screen accurate paint and a few modern mods.

Pit Crew

I have absolutely no problem with tribute cars themselves; what bugs me is the owners that pass them off at car shows as the real thing and even on occasion win awards as originals. OK, I'm being a little petty I know but that really is my only beef about Tributes or Clones, whatever you want to label them as. After all, there aren't enough originals out there for everyone that would like to have one even if they were affordable.

As far as the comments about driving collectable originals; come on people they're just cars, they were built to be driven. I am fortunate enough to own an original 68 Shelby GT-350 and a 68 Hemi GTX. They are both projects that I restored over many many years as I could afford to purchase the needed parts and had the time to complete the work. Both cars are what Hagerty rates as #2s. I drive them every time I get a chance and the only limiting factor (other than weather) is that my insurance restricts me from a "daily driver" status meaning shopping or work related; no restriction on mileage. My belief is drive them and enjoy them, If I break it - fix it, I already built it once, no big deal. If its a major collision situation, well, that's why we have insurance. By all means don't let paranoia prevent you from having the pleasure of enjoying your ride the way it was meant to be. Soak up all those high fives and smiles you get while cruising  your favourite streets and roads.

Intermediate Driver

Not so much a tribute car story but more of a it's your car, enjoy it story:  Back in the day I had a 66 notch back mustang that I "tributed" the 66 shelbys.  Fiberglass hood and scoop, brake scoops, ducktail spoiler and the requisite shelby markers on it.  The thing was also lowered about 2" with big ole gnarly flares and 10" wide tires and wheels.  (Remember when 10" wheels and tires were considered "HUGE"!)? 


Anyhow the local mustang club (Tulsa circa 1982) was having a mall show one weekend.  I spotted it going thru town one day so decided to stop and check it out.  I roll into the parking lot and shut her down and walk around enjoying the nice cars and on the last few cars in the last row an older guy asked me "Is that, that, that. . . . thing  over there yours?"  I affirmed his suspicion to which he made some comment about destroying a perfectly good car.  I told him how I saved it from the wrecker when my neighbor crashed it, nursed it back to health, pulled the 200 out of it and installed a mildly warmed over 351, etc.  He continued to chide my efforts the whole time. 


He was standing next to a pristine 66 convertible with a For Sale sign in the window so I asked if it was his.  He responded that it was and it was a 100 point concours correct blah, blah, blah, blah.  I asked him for his phone number as I had always want to lower, hop up, flare, stripe, gut, rollcage, etc a convertible to match my coupe.  I thought they were going to have to call a paramedic as he appeared to be having a heart attack immediately after my comment.  His buddy later thanked me for making his day.


It's your car, enjoy it.  If that means entering the hermetically sealed chamber each day to stare out it or hang the tail out on your favorite remote set of twisty turnys just ENJOY it!

Pit Crew

I couldn't agree more! Most of the nitpickers and naysayers don't even have a hobby car...they are like the dude with no girlfriend who puts down the looks of everybody else's girl. Like the song says..."If it makes you happy!".