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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I have an old VW Beetle with the Rolls Royce style replacement hood/grille assembly. I was scorned by a Rolls owner who felt I was disgracing the Rolls image. So I bought a Rolls Royce and added a Beetle-style front end to it to make things even. LOL!
My only issue is having to answer the question that you get every time.
”Is it real?”
I drive everything I have and I don’t care if it has matching numbers or not. But if it looks like a Shelby and I have to say “no it’s not real” all the time that would bug me. At some point I will buy a Mustang fastback with a big engine and drive it regularly.
When I answer, "no, it's not real", it quite often (almost always) leads into a more in-depth telling of how/why the car was built. It starts a conversation. And I happen to think that my "story" is much more interesting than, "yep, it's real - had 7 owners and I bought it from a restoration shop last year"... end of story. The story of my car has many twists, turns, points of interest, and personal emotional attachments. I get to show folks what has been done to it, what are tell-tale signs that it's fake, things that a real one would have, why mine doesn't - all kinds of stuff that maybe lets them walk away more informed about what a real one is all about than if they'd just been shown one that is a pure original. Even if not, they are certainly more informed about what it takes to build a car.
Last week, I received from my "rebuilder specialist?" my resto-mod-tribute Pantera. It looks like a group 4 car, it has a different interior - closer to a Ford GT, new suspension, new breaks, and a 427 cu in (7 liter) engine that produces over 600 hp and more torque than you can put on the road.
In everyway, this is an improvement of the original.
I don't understand why, if a person has the time, money, and desire, a person wouldn't do this.
I have a 51,000 original mile 100% orig 68 Camaro convertible. I bought it with 48,000 orig miles...21 yrs ago!! 3k miles in 20 years? Not much fun and I constantly refer to it as my albatross. Sitting next to it? An AC Ace replica built on an MG chassis. It had 3k miles on it in less than 4 months after I bought it and still continues to rack up miles. Which one do you think I have more fun with?
Mine is not exactly a tribute car, but it started with an idea of building a tribute car. I wanted to own a 1969 Boss 302 more than 30 years ago, but the price and rarity made it impossible to obtain. I decided on building a fake one out of plain-Jane, '69 Mustang. Well, finding a Boss 302 engine wasn't easy, or modifying a Windsor with Cleveland heads was too iffy for me, so I got a 351C instead. That's where the "tribute" ended and became more of a fantasy, "what if?" kind of project. I built a 1969 Boss 351. Mine was not the first '69 Boss 351 at the time. I've seen at least one other before me.
Most people liked it and was even featured if couple of magazines, but there were some who couldn't stand the idea of building something that Ford never built.
"That's a fake Boss 351...Boss 351 is a '71"
Me: This is a real 1969 Boss 351..
"There is no such thing at '69 Boss 351...
Me: It's here, isn't it? It looks real to me.
Me: Then, what does a real '69 Boss 351 look like?
"Ford never made a '69 Boss 351...
Me: I know, so I did...
I still have mine. Is yours an authentic Boss 302 shell? I don't think I could ever part with mine as long as I live. My kids will have to deal with it after I'm gone.
If I modded an early Mustang, or on the opposite extreme could buy a Revology, it wouldn't say Shelby anywhere on it. But I love seeing tributes on the road and props to anyone who builds or buys one. BTW the pics in this article are great.
My first car was a 66 GTO I bought from my boss at the car wash for $150. It had a 68 350 4 bbl. I did not care a bit - it was a car. Upgraded to a 66 GTO 389 when a buddy wrecked his car. Not to make it more original, but it was a bigger motor with 69k on it.
My next car was another 66 GTO. Couldn’t pass it up - 70 454 Chevelle SS motor. 15,600 miles on the body. Still have the protecto plate - original purchaser was a reverend.
Next came my 67 Z/28. Original block was cracked, so they used a 327 block and all the internals, right down to the carb and distributor. It was actually Trans Am raced for several years, so things like springs and shocks had been upgraded.
These were all cars I bought, drove, and enjoyed. Numbers matching and original - nice to look at, but never is something I placed a premium on for owning.
Tributes / Clones are something I look at that when done right, can many times be as good or better than what rolled off the line. As long as the owner enjoys it, that is what matters. I can appreciate a car that looks the part until you open the hood just as much as a numbers matching original. You lose me completely when your 69 Z/28 has an auto, drum brakes, a 10 bolt, and a 5000 rpm redline on the tach, and tell me it’s a Z.
I can remember my wife’s cousin with a 69 350 two barrel swapping on a four barrel, then telling me it was an LT-1 and how fast it was. At the time, I had a numbers matching 70 Z/28 RS, with 4.10’s and an M22. I took him for a quick spin. Never heard another peep about the LT-1 he had. I do recall Holy Shi** coming out of his mouth as I shifted at 6500 rpm. Moment of enlightenment I guess.
A lot of guys used to claim LT1 back in my day. My cousin Donny had a 70 1/2 z28 LT1 four speed. That car would scream. I also remember the first time he wound it out to over 6 grand. My response was about the same as your wife's cousin. Unfortunately, it was the 80s and they weren't quite as valuable as they are now and the Illinois winters took care of the body being that it was his year round driver for six years. I loved that car. I think the early second gen Camaros were a thing of beauty.
I really enjoyed this article, especially because my dream car is a 1965 Shelby GT 350. One of my life goals is to own a genuine '65 Shelby GT350 when Im older but as soon as I graduate college I plan on buying a 65 Fastback 2+2 and learning how to bring it to Shelby spec. Guys like David Tous (@blkors) on instagram inspire me to recreate my own tribute car but also add my own touch to it. I also thought about what most of you guys have said in the comments about if you owned such a rare care that you wouldn't drive it as much and the same way as if you built your own tribute. One day I'll have a genuine one right next to my tribute one, and Ill have to write an article on which one I truly enjoy more. Cheers and have a happy Thanksgiving everyone!
I respect a well done tribute. My friend has a GT40 tribute but it has a real Gurney Westlake set up in it.
Where I tire of them is like the great number of Cobras with just a stock 5.0 and cheap Crager steel wheels.
Thanks Sam for writing a great and timely article. It spoke to my interests and experiences in two ways. First- I bought a ‘69 Trans Am Convertible about 5 years ago. I found not have afforded the real thing because the last I checked it would be about $3million for a 4 speed like mine. I paid a fraction of the cost and I would challenge any Pontiac expert to tell the difference. The two things different or in correct are my serial number and the fact that I have a Ram Air IV Engine. Ram Air IV’s were available, but out of the 8 produced, none were ordered with that engine( all were Ram Air IIIs ).
The Second Experience I had was this last weekend in Palm Springs. The McCormicks auction sold the Ferrari 250 GTO that was used in movie “Ford vs Ferrari.” It sold for just over $50,000. That would be just a fraction of the cost of the real thing. It was built on a 280Z foundation. The buyer was probably just as happy( or more ) than someone wealthy enough to purchase the real thing.
Thanks again for writing a great article, please keep them coming! I just wish someone would publish a guide to let people like me know what tributes are worth. Randy
15 years ago I got a 69 Firebird convertible for free. And I paid too much as it was a beat up rusty 350 2 barrel 3 speed base model with almost no options. It was substantially complete and could have been a numbers matching car. But why? Who would find that interesting? Who would value it anywhere near the resto cost? I decided to do it up as one of the 8 Trans Am convertibles. After 10 years of scaring up repop and used parts as well as building a 400 CI Pontiac engine (from a Bonneville) it is a very accurate looking copy that gets tons of positive attention from a broad range of people that want to know more about the history of the Trans Am, and I am happy to share But I would never take it to the Trans Am Nationals because the purists would rip it to shreds. If I could afford a real one I would never drive it, so why own it? I can drive the wheels off this one and enjoy it and if it gets banged up, no big deal. For these reasons, I prefer clones or tributes or whatever you want to call them.
if you build a tribute to a special car and try to pass it off as the real deal, you should be hung, drawn, and quartered. if you take a run of the mill car made in the tens of thousands and build your dream car to flog the snot out of it and have fun, by all means go for it, enjoy! but i cringe when some person asks if i am going to "ghost buster" my hearse. i am not an idiot, so no. why would i butcher one of them into a cartoon car? my 74 superior end loader is one of ONLY 611 made that year, and my 77 superior 3 way is one of ONLY 58, that's fifty eight, made that year. commercial chassis cars are hard to find, and the attrition rate, is high. all commercial chassis production for any given year, all makes, in total measures in the hundreds of units, not tens of thousands. but i still drive em. more freak outs and thumbs up per mile than you can shake a stick at
Great article and so true. I just finished my last touch, front Kelsey Hayes disc brakes, on my ‘69 Barracuda 340 Formula S Convertible tribute. There were only 83 made and if I owned a real one it would sit in the garage waiting for show days. My tribute leaves the garage on “go” days.
I don't mind inaccurate tribute cars at all -- like the Aspen based "Colonel Lee" (not quite a General, but still demands respect...). It's when the tribute is built exactly like the original that bothers me -- wit only differences that make it hard to tell it's not. Unless you know the particular car really well you might get suckered in to spending more than you should. I've even heard of a couple people who unintentionally did this. The seller told them it was a (whatever make/model) with some options added by later owner, they had only had it a few years. Looked so much like the original that the buyer thought they were "stealing" something -- the owner didn't know he had. Those are few and far between, as most who are looking for a particular (usually rather rare) car do their homework. But there are some unscrupulous sellers out there who will go to great lengths to disguise the fact that the car is a tribute, or clone, and only the most detailed inspection by a very knowledgeable collector will reveal the truth.
I have no problem with tribute car’s as long as they are not passed off as being the real thing! I have a 71 Cutlass supreme convertible that when I bought it the engine was a late model engine and I was considering doing a SX tribute car buy putting in a period correct 455 but then I found the original engine from the person I bought the car from so I went with it, true it’s not a high value car but I drive it and enjoy it! I still plan on building a 442 W30 from a regular Cutlass.
The only thing I don't like is there are few surviving examples of base model cars. Small V-8 and 6 cylinder cars, three on-the-tree cars are almost impossible to find, they are part of auto history, too.
Tribute cars often have components that make the car better than the original as far as daily driver. Have 68 Chevelle SS Tribute and it is awesome to drive and enjoy
Oh if I had an original, don't think for a second I wouldn't flog it. '71 Hemi Cuda? It's getting wrung out more than once. It's what it was built for. Too bad I don't have one.
Lots of great and logical points in the article and subsequent comments. Also, this is the USA— do what you want (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else). But...
I can’t come around on this subject. Let’s say you have one of these things; and you never plan to tell a buyer anything but the truth. And you always fess up when asked. What about all the folks that don’t ask? What about those people that see it going down the road? By making it look like something it’s not; aren’t you assuming/expecting that (most) people will think it’s authentic? I just find this stuff inherently dishonest.
Question for everyone; when you see an easily “clone-able” vehicle, do you immediately assume it is a fake? Imagine how tiring it must be to own an authentic example and constantly have to defend it. Guilty until proven innocent.
Please allow me a sarcastic comment; made to bring a smile to those that share my views:
When you get caught buying Just for Men hair dye with a “replica” $20 bill— tell the judge “It’s not counterfeit, it’s a tribute”.
If the people who see it driving down the road get some pleasure out of viewing a classic great, what harm does their assumption do?
Asking for a friend...
Should we outlaw hair gel, elevator shoes, buffing machines, hair extensions, padded bras - ad infinitum? All things that make something appear to be something that they are not?
Replicas make a lot of sense. And I think most people are fine with them. But I like knowing what it is I'm looking at. If you have built up a Datsun 280Z with fiberglass panels and major modifications, don't tell me I'm seeing a "1962 Ferrari GTO." And if your fastback 2+2 Mustang 6-cylinder now has white paint, blue stripes, and mag wheels, please don't claim it's a "1965 Shelby GT 350." As for the Cobra kit-cars of various manufacturers, why not let us know who created it instead of the standard "This is a '65 Shelby Cobra 427." A little truth in advertising would go a long way.
Re: Cobras - I asked a guy once, "Is it real?" to which he haughtily replied, "Of course". I knelt down to look at the undercarriage, and could actually see the mesh fabric lines on the inside of the fenders. Did Shelby really put fiberglass fenders on Cobras? "Of course"!
This is why I love my 911 based (993 3.6 engine, 1987 Carrera mechanicals), Intermeccanica built replica of a 1955 356 Pre-A Porsche speedster. Looks fairly original, but can be driven anywhere - unlike an original, underpowered, garage queen.
Let me start out by saying that I have owned a 1969 Shelby GT350 Fastback for the past 3 plus years. It's a blast to drive and I do so here in Arizona fairly regularly. It took me over 6 months to find my car as I wanted a car with factory air conditioning to make driving on hot Arizona possible. I also see no problem with tribute and restomod cars either. I see them at car shows fairly often and
enjoy finding out what sort of modifications have been done to improve the cars over the originals. What I do despise, however, are people that build clone cars and attempt to sell them as originals to the unknowing and/or uninformed.
Honesty is always the best policy. But for some, not the most profitable. That, I think, is why they invented the term, "Let the Buyer beware." We must ALL be aware that there are unscrupulous people in the world, and it's incumbent on us to watch out for them!
By-the-way, my "GTO" is actually a LeMans - a fact I readily offer up to anyone who is interested in it...
Great point. That term (Let The Buyer Beware) was first taught to me in consumer economics, which was also mandatory when I was in school. It has served me well. That's not to say that people who pass off a clone or tribute car as the real thing aren't unscrupulous. But it IS the responsibility of the buyer to do his due diligence.
Kind of like the whole sub prime home lending thing. If the buyer doesn't read the paperwork, it's on them. It's THEIR responsibility to be sure of what they are getting themselves into.
My 67 GT-350 Tribute Story-
When GT-350 project engineers learned of the major changes in the 1967 mustang, they began working on the 1967 Shelby. They started with the things that dealers indicated buyers were interested in: Distinctive styling, greater choice of colors and options and increased performance within the limits of comfort and not at its expense. For 1967, emphasis was placed on making the Shelby a road car. Primary consideration was given to the styling. The 1967 Shelby would have its own nose and tail treatment which would set it head and shoulders above the standard mustang. Stock mustang front and rear bumpers were used but the hood, nose section and tail were executed in fiberglass. The hood was elongated, making the long nose / short tail mustang styling even more exaggerated. The headlights were smaller diameter than the mustang. High beam headlights were added in the center of the cavernous blacked –out grille and another cooling opening was added below the bumper. A large, functional scoop was incorporated into the hood. At the rear, a cut-off kamm-backed look was attained by using a fiberglass deck lid and fiberglass end caps ending in a swoopy spoiler. Two large rectangular taillights (cougar minus the trim bezel) were used with new bezels along with a Shelby gas cap totally changing the appearance from the rear. A pair of fiberglass scoops on each side – The upper scoops replaced the mustang vents and functioning to draw cockpit air out of the car and the lower scoops led to brake cooling ducts. The Shelby trademark of rocker panel treatment and racing stripes continuous along the entire length of the car as well as special emblem badges and engine aesthetics finished the exterior design. The interior of the 1967 Shelby was all business. The first American car to incorporate a roll bar complete with an inertial reel racing harness. By the end of 1967 production, 3225 cars had been built.
When the car was purchased the engine compartment was empty. The interior parts were in several boxes located where the front seats would normally reside. The hood was duct taped shut since there were no hinges installed. The only parts that were in the right place were the doors and even they were missing the locks and handles. When I saw the car even though it lacked many parts, I saw the potential that it had. It was a slow process but the investment was worth it.
My life at one time was very similar to this old car wasting away. I too was just an empty shell. Day to day life just accumulating mileage. When repairs to my life were needed I did the best I could, sometimes accidentally changing the wrong part. I knew of God but I did not have a personal relationship with him. Just as I restored the car, Jesus has given me a new life. If you have an empty heart and are in need of a restoration ask Jesus to come into your life. Ask him to be your Lord and Savior. Begin to read his shop manual for all men – the Bible.
One big difference between my two restorations is that my cars mechanical restoration was expensive, costing thousands, but my spiritual restoration by far the most valuable thing I have, could not be bought or worked for. My salvation was a free gift.
This article strikes a chord for me, decades old. Back in 1967, home on leave from the USAF, I bought a used 66 GT350 and drove it to several assignments including the Detroit area and Woodward Ave. Drive hard? Oh yeah. That launched ambition to race. I sold the Shelby in 1971 to buy a GT350 that had been set up and raced in SCCA Nationals, except that it was a "tribute" not a Shelby. I took that car as far as Trans Am, and now is owned in North California, I wish I knew where.
In the day, as an expert, I turned my brother's Mustang into a "tribute" complete with race engine, he still has it.
My current "Tributes" (in process) are a 1929 Mercedes SSK with Lexus 2JZ parts and a mid-engine 246 Dino with Toyota SW20 turbo 3SGT parts. Yes, they will be appropriate for enthusiastic driving, even autocross or a track day.
BTW my street Shelby eventually became a "tribute" vintage race car. It has auctioned twice recently, once for $134K and the second time for $145K. Not in my league anymore.
I come at this issue from the other side. I have a 66 GT350 which I drive (I ran Tail of the Dragon earlier this year). But having had "old Blue" for 51 years, it has changed a bit - Webers and a 5 speed the more obvious changes. A lot of folks don't know if it's real or not, but the truth is - it doesn't matter. I'm not trying to sell it. We are out enjoying the roads with like-minded people. It all comes down to the old "run what you brung" attitude. Running the older iron is not as simple as some of the newer stock but it brings a helluva satisfaction getting it done. The issue being brought up is similar to the "Stolen Valor" law. There's a point of honesty involved when trying to sell these cars. I believe it doesn't matter when driving them. You show off your engineering skills for features you improved on (and your car obligingly explains to you which features do not work <g>).
I had a clone experience a bit different from most. Back in 1970s high school I had a 68 GTO 4-speed, so I always notice those models. It was very common back then to apply "Judge" graphics to any GTO, or even a Tempest. Lotsa guys would also add the spoilers or the hood tach, so "Judges" were everywhere back then.
Decades passed, and one day I drove my 1968 Camaro SS to meet some friends for a round of golf. A buddy tells me he has a 1970 455 GTO sitting in his garage. I tell him to bring it out but he says it has not run for years. I offer to get it going, just for grins. He says thanks, maybe someday.
A year later, we're golfing again and my buddy says he has to move 1200 miles away and cannot afford to take the car with him, so would I be interested in buying it? OK I say and go to take a look.
Sure enough it looks like a 1970 GTO and it has Judge graphics/spoilers, however no hood tach - so I think another Judge clone. Inside are buckets with a stick shift, but he informs "only" a 3-speed. The car is covered in years of dust with flat rotten tires. so I am not very interested. Plus the 455 is not so desirable that year, also no power anything, no AC, no FM radio, no disc brakes - a "stripper". I make a low offer (when's the last time it ran?) and he thinks a minute then says OK. I load up my trailer and take it home.
Here's the punchline: I order the PHS package and learn the car is an original 1970 Judge with very few options, not even 4-speed or hood tach. Also it's not a 455, but a RAIII 400 lightly optioned with posi-trac and 8-track. Numbers all match and it runs and sounds great. I keep it more than 10 years, then finally sell to pay some bills.
Great article. It’s not the numbers matching that’s important. It’s the joy of driving a great machine and the smile that is generated when sitting in your dream car. A multi million dollar car that just sits in the garage is not as valuable as one that gives lifetime memories every time you turn the key.
Sam! Judging from the responses, you hit it out of the park with this article. Congratulations, for tapping into something that makes so many people want to respond in writing. 🙂 I wholeheartedly agree; " fling open that garage door and just drive the thing." . 🙂
I like to drive my cars also. My daily is a '64 Chevelle and my other daily is a '64 El Camino. Both get way more love that they probably should, from the rest of the motoring public, sometimes it's even a bit embarrassing.