Fakes and phoneys

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We have had to become used to almost any old and interesting car not being the real thing as the business of building fakes, copies, replicas, clones, call them what you will, has escalated as people have found the advantage of having a history to go with the car they are selling. There are still plenty of genuine or authentic cars about, but the fake ones cover just about everything from Alfa Romeo to Wolseley, with interesting cars like Bugatti, Frazer Nash, Jaguar, Riley, MG and so on being “faked” in abundance. If not totally spurious, made from scratch, many are made into what they never were originally, by changing the chassis frame, altering the bodywork, changing the engine and so on, so that a harmless and dull tour­ing car untouched for decades suddenly has a new lease of life as an apparent sporting version of the same model. Riley MPH, Lagonda Rapide, MG K3 Magnette, SS100, 57S Bugatti, Monza Alfa Romeo, Competition Delahaye and many more have arisen from the ashes of what-were originally rather dull production versions of the cars. It is a. thriving industry that has the one good attribute that it has kept a lot of people in employment, while those with good jobs and plenty of money have been able to buy these fakes, some knowingly; others unknowingly.

Thinking about these things I began to wonder when the first genuine fake was built, and guessed it to be in the nineteen-sixties, but I was hopelessly wrong. The Editor pointed out last month that the 1907 Renault “Agatha” was a replica of a Renault racer, made by Renault themselves in 1908. However, a replica made by the parent factory has to be acceptable, like a manufacturer making a one-off prototype and then making another one; have they made a second prototype or have they started a production run? If they don’t make any more the second car can justifiably be called the first production model, even though it was the only one. Whatever the original manufacturer does is acceptable, by definition it has to be, but “backyard Joe” who makes the third one has no claim to anything connected with the factory, even though he might have acquired the original factory drawings.

This whole business of fakes and phoneys has got totally out of hand and now you have to preface your remarks to the owner of a nice looking car with “when was it built, and where?” If it has a Ferrari badge on the front it should have been made in Maranello; if it looks like an early pre-war Maserati it should have been made in Bologna, if it is a post-war Maserati it should have been made in Modena. If it is a Lagonda it should have been made in Staines, and a Frazer Nash should have been made in Kingston-upon-Thames or Isleworth, while a Cooper-Bristol should have been made in Surbiton.

While looking through back copies of Motor Sport for 1951 I came across the following little gem. In a report of the VSCC meeting at Bisley in late November 1950 the Editor mentioned a 1912 Humber in the fol­lowing words: “The sensation of this category was Denne’s 1912 Humber, a stark two-seater in ‘early racer’ trim and magnificently turned out, although, to be honest, we do not know whether it is a genuine Brooklands job or merely a replica”.

In the following issue there was a letter from Mr B. M. Samuelson of Lingfield in Sussex in which he said: “In last month’s ‘Vintage Veerings’ you mentioned Mr Denne’s beautifully turned out 1912 Humber; I am afraid that this was never a ‘real racer’, but I was guilty of disguising it as one. I found this car in a farmyard in 1942 apparently much weathered; after the war I took off the remains of the body and pro­ceeded to ‘hot rod’ the Humber in 1912 style by raking the steering, boring out to 69 mm (stroke 120 mm), raising the compression by altering the valve caps, fitting a clutch stop and taking quite a lot of pounds off the fly-wheel. All very wicked, but the car in its original form was, according to a contemporary road report, a remarkably feeble performer.

“To Mr Denne is due all the credit for the Humber’s splendid turn-out and also for the intrepid way in which he drives this desperately exposed little car to distant meetings in typically frightful Vintage weather.

“A ‘works’ edition of this Humber, or rather the 1913 130 mm stroke model, used to lap Brooklands at 70 mph, so Mr Denne has still something to aim at.”

Now, was this the first genuine fake car, built by a well-meaning amateur, and has it now become a genuine Brooklands car, or has it been put back to a standard Humber of “feeble performance”. After all, most of the pre-war cut-and-shut Bentleys have been rebuilt back to rather dull standard VdP models. – D.S.J.