Selling the Shelby Mustangs That Ford Didn’t Make
Classic Recreations owner Jason Engel, 40, grew up in Banner, Oklahoma, a country farm town so small that Google Maps hasn’t been out there yet with its cameras.
His father was a used-car salesman with his own repair shop, and Jason started fixing cars from the age of 10. Paint, wiring, body work. Living out in the country, Jason had to learn to do all that and more.
There were advantages.
“As a 12-year-old, I remember driving a ‘78 Chevrolet Camaro through the pasture, jumping hills,” he told me by phone when I called him to ask how he came by his obvious love of cars. “You’d probably get arrested if you did that today.”
It was a high school term paper on Howard Hughes that inspired him to take a chance on building a dream car, he said. That car was an Eleanor Mustang, the same one driven by car thief Nicholas Cage in the 2001 remake of the film Gone in 60 Seconds. At the end of the movie, Cage jumps the car over a traffic jam on L.A.’s Vincent Thomas Bridge. Building his very own “Eleanor” car cost Engel $70,000. He took the car to Barrett-Jackson, the classic car auction house…and sold four of them.
“We didn’t even have a business card,” he recalled. “We were using the back of the Barrett-Jackson brochure.”
He was in business. Fortunately, he had the sense to license his Eleanor from Denice Halicki, the widow of the original film’s director and producer. The license kept Classic Recreations from being just another clone.
Turns out that there is a market of 35-45 year olds who love classic cars but want to do more than admire them in their garage. Classic Recreations specializes in custom-built and Carroll Shelby-licensed Mustang recreations, and aims to give his customers what they want—like right-side steering wheels—even if it would make purists groan.
Fast forward to today and Engel now has a framed print of The Aviator, the Howard Hughes biopic, on his office wall. With a slight price increase, Classic Recreations’ Shelby GT500 CR 545 sells for $169,000, and the “900” goes for $219,000. International orders get free shipping.
Restoration involves bringing a great classic car back to life with as many original factory parts as are available. The result is a beautifully authentic car in mint condition, but with decades-old brake and engine technology. Think Mille Miglia, the Italian rally race that’s prized among collector car purists for fielding mostly original classics in the event.
Recreation—sometimes considered restomodding—is basically restoration plus new parts. A restomod car looks like the original, but has stuff like air conditioning and airbags for comfort and safety, not to mention a faster engine.
Automakers including Ford and Fiat sell their own restomods, in a way. Fiat just launched a “vintage”-inspired version of the new 500. And Ford is selling “original” Mustang bodyshells and panels so enthusiasts can repair or recreate their own.
Faithful recreation of an historic car model is not equal to the real thing, in Jason’s view: it’s better.
“It depends on what you are gonna do with it. Ninety-nine percent of people want to go to a car show or go burn it out on the highways. You can’t do that with the real thing,” he said.
Classic Recreations, based in Yukon, Oklahoma, now makes about 30 cars a year and has opened a shop in Germany. Engel has clients from Morocco, Bahrain, Europe, and Canada. Now, Jason is eyeing opening an office in Moscow.
To start, however, things are the same as they have been: Engel scours the market for junked Mustangs from the ‘60s, and then rebuilds them from the ground up—it takes about a year.
Any thought that the Mustang wouldn’t resonate with Europeans because it’s such an American car is quickly dismissed—overseas, the model is still a sought-after rarity.
“I love doing business overseas,” he said. “These guys have rarely seen these cars. Grown men get tears in their eyes.”
Images Source: www.classicrecreations.com