Buying a fake

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Dear Reader,

You will remember that last year I tried to buy a Ferrari with a good friend of mine, and we failed miserably. Not because we could not find a Ferrari for sale, nor because we could not find a suitable one, but because the whole business was so complex. We just gave up in despair. Recently my friend came to see me again and naturally we were talking cars and discussing what we would like to own. He had come to the conclusion that not only had old cars risen to prices that were way beyond his means, but even if he could afford them he could not justify paying that sort of money for something that was no more than a toy to play with in his spare time. His normal car, that he uses for business and pleasure, is a Porsche 944 Turbo, that cost enough money when he bought it secondhand with a low mileage on the odometer. The thought of paying twice the price of the Porsche (or even ten or twenty times) for something he would only use a few times a year did not make sense. When I suggested that glossy monthly magazines’ saying that paying a high price for an old car was a good financial investment, he became very short with me. He has a very comfortable lifestyle, has a good business totally divorced from the motor trade or money market gambling, and was really rather put out by the suggestion that he should buy an old car simply to make money.

Thinking about the overall old car scene he had come to the conclusion that he was not interested in joining the rat-race of auctions and collectors, he just wanted an old car to mess about with. He had decided that basically people were paying high prices for the history that went with the old car, not for the old car per se, so a complete fake would satisfy his needs as long as it had all the qualities of a car made in the old fashioned way. He did not want something made from modern car components in the style of an old car, and anyway most of the ones on offer were a bit grotesque. “A ‘genuine replica’ is what I want,” he said to which I replied: “You want a fake real car?”

Looking through the advertisements in Motor Sport he got very excited when he saw a 1951 Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica that one of the dealers was advertising for sale. When I told him that it would be very expensive because it was a genuine 1951 car, very original and unspoilt, he asked how it could be a genuine 1951 car if it is a Replica? Even after I had explained that Frazer Nash named those particular models Le Mans Replica when they were built, because they were Replicas of the actual car that finished third in the 1949 Le Mans 24 Hour race, I still was not sure he really understood. I explained that in 1972 or thereabouts, a firm built seven fake Le Mans Replica Frazer Nash cars that should have been described as Le Mans Replica Replicas, but nobody really understood. Being on my Frazer Nash hobby-horse I then explained to my friend that in 1931 two Frazer Nash cars were run in the RAC Tourist Trophy race, or TT for short, and the following year AFN Limited, who made the Frazer Nash cars, offered for sale identical models to the two IT cars and called them Frazer Nash TT Replicas. I added that there were two very nice TT Replicas for sale, both extremely genuine cars.

He was now a bit confused and said, rather petulantly, “I don’t understand, I was asking about relatively cheap replica cars and you produce genuine, high priced cars that you call replicas.”

“Exactly, which is why I prefer the term ‘fake’ because then there is no confusion.” After some thought my friend said: “I think what I really want is something fairly straightforward and uncomplicated, like a Jaguar or an Austin-Healey, that I could use to go to the pub on Sundays.”

We found two E-type Jaguars, one described as a ‘Lightweight Replica’ and the other a ‘Lightweight lookalike’. I had to explain that back in the Sixties Jaguar was battling with Ferrari on the circuits of Europe and there was no way a standard E-type could challenge a 250GT Ferrari, and Ferrari was bending the rules anyway, calling his competition models standard production, so Jaguar built a handful of special E-types, with alloy cylinder blocks and 5-speed gearboxes among other things. These were known in racing circles as Lightweight E-types, and they were very effective in racing and made superb road cars, but they were never put into series production. Because they were such good cars the old car industry has been building fake Lightweight cars, which of course now cost a lot less than any of the handful of cars that Jaguar built. But for the money being asked for these fake cars you could buy a brand new genuine Porsche Carrera 2 plus a standard 944 for shopping.

My friend was beginning to go off the idea of a Replica (fake) car, because he had an uneasy feeling that there was a bit of a racket going on somewhere, and didn’t like the smell of things. He still liked the idea of an old Jaguar, but was nonplussed when we found a C-type, which he liked very much as being one of the last of the old style Jaguars, and a D-type, which everyone likes for its sheer audacity of style and line. Both had been built from a lot of Jaguar components and both were fakes, not built by Jaguar Cars Ltd and both had some other name on the nose, neither of which meant anything to us. He was quite tempted by these, but the prices were far more than he was prepared to spend on a Sunday morning toy. He kept saying how he could have a brand new Porsche, which is what he really wanted, and drive it all over Europe at really high speed, which is what he really enjoys with his present 944 Turbo.

Thumbing through the magazines he posed more questions. “It says here, 1926 Bentley 6½-litre Le Mans tourer, but surely in 1926 the Bentley team hadn’t run the 6½-litre at Le Mans? It must be a fake.” Then he found a really lovely looking GT40; it certainly looked like the Ford GT40s that raced in the Sixties, except that the description said ‘made in 1990’. It had a Ford engine, but did not make claim to being a Ford GT40 so we passed that over as we did not really understand it, though the price seemed pretty reasonable.

Then there was a 1949 Bentley 4½-litre with ‘accurate’ Vanden Plas style open tourer body, which prompted the thought that as the firm of Vanden Plas were coachbuilders of known repute, then the body on this Bentley was either a Vanden Plas or it wasn’t, and if it wasn’t then it was a fake. We found another Bentley for sale that was a ‘4½-litre Supercharged replica, nearing complete rebuild…near copy of the famous short-chassis Birkin Blower Team Car’. It sounded like a very genuine fake. There was also a car described as Brooklands but the only part of it that had been round the Brooklands track was the makers name!

There were a lot of interesting ‘Specials’ but few of them showed any serious thought by the builders, being copies of known production models, which really defeats the object of the special-builder. However, there were one or two which really did express the builders own ideas, they were not copies, replicas, fakes or anything else, but nice simple straightforward homemade specials, using Alvis, MG or Riley components, and were good examples of a healthy pastime. I was not very popular on one occasion when somebody produced a very good copy of a famous Grand Prix car and I said it was “a beautifully made special but showed no spark of imagination on the part of the builder.”

By now my friend had run out of steam and had lost interest in his idea of buying a genuine fake old car and was beginning to make pencil sketches of a Porsche Special. The trouble was that almost every idea he came up with had already been built by the Porsche Weissach Research and Development Centre, even though many did not see the light of day. In desperation he sketched a front engined flat-six air-cooled 911, but we could not really see the point of it. Yours, DSJ.

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