24 November 2016

Five replicars with real cred

Few topics in the car world are more controversial than a replicar’s merits. Some, mainly those fortunate enough to own the originals, heap scorn on these obvious pretenders. And let’s face it, it does get pretty tiresome for the rest of us to look at the legions of Guardsman Blue, white striped, side-piped, chrome roll-barred Tupperware 427 SC Cobras. And don’t get me started on all the ill-proportioned, Auburn Boattail Speedsters running around with undersized wheels and tires, and J.C. Whitney spot lights and steering wheels or the litigation-bait, fake Mercedes 540Ks.

Still, there are some replicars that get the stance just right, that actually improve on the originals in some ways and are therefore actual usable sports cars. Not being as ubiquitous as Cobra or Porsche Speedster replicas helps too. Following are five replicars that aren’t remotely embarrassing:

  1. Beck 550 Spyder- It’s hard to believe that it took as long as it did for someone to copy the Porsche 550 Spyder. Beck was among the first to offer kits in the late 1980s. With all the mystique surrounding the 550 as the car that James Dean died in, and Porsche’s first purpose-built competition car, it was inevitable that replicas would pop up. The fact that originals are as delicate as soap bubbles (think thin-gauge aluminum bodywork and a complicated four-cam engine that less than ten people on the planet can rebuild properly) makes the case for a more robust replica. With a stout Volkswagen-derived pushrod engine that makes more horsepower than the original roller-bearing crankshaft tribute to German over-engineering, and easily repaired fiberglass bodywork, Beck 550s look the business and are easy to live with. Just skip the Mobil horse decals and James Dean “Little Bastard” livery, please.

  2. Westfield Lotus XI and Caterham 7- The Lotus XI was one of the prettiest small-bore racers of the 1950s. With its lovely aerodynamic lines and big headrest fairing, it had the look of a 2/3 scale Jaguar D-type. Both cars competed in international racing around the same time. Originally powered by the same overhead cam Coventry Climax engine found in the original Lotus Elite, Westfield XI replicas are designed to take modified MG Midget 1275 pushrod units. Weighing roughly 1,000 pounds, it’s more than enough to scare the crap out of anyone, as if driving around at Cadillac Escalade running board-height wasn’t enough.

    When Lotus moved beyond the kit car market, they actually sold the rights to build the coffin with cycle fenders known as the Lotus 7 to the Caterham company, which continues offering it in kit form to this day. About as basic as a sports car can be, powerplant choices are almost infinite – and any engine producing much over 130 hp gets you close to superbike performance. Like the Westfield XI, Caterham 7s will be as welcomed by nearly any Lotus club as they will be despised by your spouse.

  3. Superformance Daytona Coupe- Of all the cars on the list, your chances of ever owning one of the six original Shelby Cobra Daytona coupes is probably the most remote. It’s probably on par with being struck by lightning while simultaneously succumbing to a terrorist attack. Nevermind. The Superformance Daytona Coupe is astonishingly good. The thing that sets this one apart is the fact that it’s the only car on the list that was engineered by its original creator. The legendary Peter Brock traveled to South Africa in the late ‘90s and ensured that the company performing the contract work for Superformance did things right. And that should be enough to silence any critic.

  4. Hawk Lancia Stratos- Unless you’re a 1970s European rally fan, chances are, you have no idea what a Lancia Stratos is. But if you’ve actually seen one, you’ll never forget it. Perhaps the most aggressive expression of the wedge design trend, it’s hard to know where to start gushing over the car. The tinted, helmet visor-like wrap-around windshield that flows seamlessly into the side glass, the exceedingly stubby doorstop profile with pronounced fender flares and massive tires combined with extreme rarity give it the air of a really great concept car. A homologation special, the Stratos was never sold in large numbers and its bumperless body and unsanitized Ferrari Dino V-6 means that North America never saw them new. Hawk of the UK produces a spot-on kit that uses the brilliant and gorgeous Alfa Romeo Busso V-6. Any worn-out 164 is a potential donor. Showing up at your local cars and coffee in one of these (particularly festooned with fog lights and in Alitalia rally livery) pretty much guarantees immortality.

  5. Proteus C-type- There are plenty of D-type and XKSS Jaguar replicas out there. They vary wildly in quality, and both are shapes that are notoriously tough to get right. Ah, but the C-type, Jaguar’s first conqueror of Le Mans is more subtle and perhaps, more beautiful. Proteus Engineering did some accurate and very elegant C-type replicas. And because the actual car used a variation of Jaguar’s extremely common DOHC XK six-cylinder, plus details like Smiths gauges, Dunlop wire wheels and switchgear that are easy to obtain, making a thoroughly convincing replica isn’t tough. The fact that most people have never seen a C-type – and thus don’t know it’s a replica of anything – means fewer uncomfortable questions about whether it’s real or not.

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